Tag Archive | "Music"

Introducing Chaski Pum: An Electro-Cumbia Pioneer


Whether blissfully misplacing dance-steps in an Argentine boliche, or praying for your life in a speeding taxi, anybody who has spent time in Latin America will have undoubtably stumbled upon one of the region’s fundamental musical genres: cumbia. As one of Latin America’s more traditional, and popular, brands of music, over the years cumbia has been combined with various different musical odysseys and trends of the day, to create a growing list of offspring genres.

One particularly contemporary example of this is electro-cumbia: the union of traditional cumbia music with electronic beats. And one of the chief protagonists of this progressive new musical genre is Argentina’s very own Chaski Pum. We tracked him down down at one of Palermo’s trendy art-houses, Casa Dasein, to bear witness to one of his high energy performances, and to learn a little more about this intriguing new genre.

Chaski Pum ready to perform.

Chaski Pum ready to perform (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Paying homage to his Bolivian Incan roots, Chaski Pum appeared onstage wearing his increasingly unmistakable poncho and sombrero ensemble, and set the night off with a bang with his trademark song ‘Alto Guiso’. The show was a delightful merger of Chaski’s unrelenting enthusiasm and quirky dances with his innovative sounds, which made for a brilliantly entertaining performance, and a crowd left wanting more.

Chaski Pum, the artist, is the hard-earned product of Wilka Rojas Caro’s many years learning and experimenting with music. As he explains: “I’ve been playing music since I was ten years old. I studied piano, guitar, and I’ve played in all different kinds of bands. First I was playing tango, and then I played with electronica and funk groups in Mexico.” For Wilka, music wasn’t just a choice, but something he inherited. “I’ve always had music all around me, as my dad is a musician. He’s from Bolivia, and plays traditional Bolivian folk music on the charango, a sort of small guitar, from Bolivia.”

Wilka has travelled across various parts of Latin America to learn about the different musical styles of the region, but was particularly influenced by cumbia music during the year that he spent in Mexico.

The origins of cumbia can be traced back to Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region as a musical and cultural fusion of native Colombians and African slaves. The music was originally played during courtship dances among the African populations in the region, and was later mixed with various instruments, to create the cumbia that can be heard today. It has since spread across the entirety of Latin America, becoming more popular than salsa in many parts of the continent.

Chaski Pum performing his mix of cumbia with electronic beats (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Chaski Pum performing his mix of cumbia with electronic beats (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Electro-cumbia is a relatively new style of cumbia that fuses traditional cumbia beats with  more modern sounds generated through electronic musical instruments. It is not a particularly well-known genre yet, but is gaining popularity throughout Latin America, and especially Argentina. According to Wilka, “electro-cumbia is not so prominent here in Argentina, but it has grown a lot over the last six or so years. People here in Argentina seem to be reacting well to it, and I’m sure that it’s going to keep getting bigger.

“There are not so many Argentine musicians playing electro-cumbia yet, but one particularly important Argentine musician is Chancha Via Circuito. I really like his style, and he is helping to grow electro-cumbia here in Argentina.”

Along with Chancha Via Circuito, Chaski Pum is pioneering electro-cumbia in Argentina. His music has evolved into its own unique sound, which combines elements of the Latin American highlands with synthesizers and electronic sounds, all under the traditional rhythms of cumbia. And, as Wilka explains, his songs each have their own stories: “I like to have messages in my music. But messages through the stories of each song. Stories of common people, real stories, and sometimes sad stories. I don’t like to talk to much about politics, or money, or women around swimming pools, but I like to make music that common people can relate to, and that people can dance to.”

While 2013 was somewhat of a breakthrough year for Chaski Pum, he promises that there will be much more to come in the new year. “I’m going to be busy next year [2014], for sure. There is going to be lots of new material, and many more shows, I’m just waiting to have the dates confirmed.” So if you fancy experiencing a modernised twist to traditional Latin American music, be sure to look out for one of Chaski Pum’s shows in the New Year.

For a taste of Chaski’s original sounds, have a listen here on his Soundcloud page https://soundcloud.com/chaskipum

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Suculentón: Improvised Genius


The latest BA Underground Christmas Market 2013, festive spirit and all, was a roaring success and if you managed to pull yourself away form the delicious and colourful food, you may have stumbled upon the amazing selection of bands. German sausage in one hand, homemade beer in the other, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than to listen to a 15-person percussion band improvising their way through a jaunty set.

Suculentón play at the December Underground Market (photo: Celina Andreassi)

Suculentón play at the December Underground Market (photo: Celina Andreassi)

Suculentón take their inspiration from all different walks of music. This latin funk band improvises all of its music, providing for a performance so dynamic it feels as though you are watching them slowly compose a song right then and there.

The band’s harmonies blend together flawlessly under the instruction of a conductor, a role that rotates between the various members of the band, leading to something new in terms of rhythm and instrument strength.

The band actually started as a percussion workshop about two years ago. People with musical backgrounds and experience in various instruments started joining the workshop, which was open initially to anyone that wanted to learn a percussion instrument.

Some of the members of the workshop began to play together at all hours of the day and night for fun. As Nicolas Stoliar, one of the members of this unique band, says: “that’s how we became the group we are today. Those that joined later on were people that use harmonic instruments. The onda was really good from the start between all of us so we decided that we should all continue playing together.”

As he puts it, having group members from different backgrounds means that the band as a whole does not have any one particular musical influence. They all mesh together the various styles and rhythms that have inspired them to take up their instruments from the start, though, in general, Latin rhythms are the most recognisable in the improvised music they make together.

“The best thing about being in the band is playing all together and seeing each other once a week. It has always been, and still is a great pleasure for me, in particular. I know the other band members feel the same. What we do is not something that is very often seen in the musical scene today, so the originality of what we do is what ties is all together. We all love the uniqueness of the band,” says Stoliar.

The occasional conductor leads the improvisation (photo courtesy of Suculentón on Facebook)

The occasional conductor leads the improvisation (photo courtesy of Suculentón on Facebook)

Closing the Underground Market, the band was a huge hit with the many visitors – it is a sound that makes it hard to resist dancing. With their eyes always on the conductor of the moment, the instruments grow softer and louder with each gesture, creating a truly unique musical experience. A quasi-Balkan band seems to emerge when the brass take centre stage, while the loud beats from the drums lend an African flavour to their songs when they soar over the rest.

As for their big plans for the future, Stoliar jokes: “opening the World Cup in Brazil!” The band remains true to its roots and its motivations, continuing to make the best possible musical fusion they can. “We want to keep improving and growing as a group so that people enjoy what we do and want to see us more,” he adds.

Their music and unity as a group is contagious and if the visitors at the Underground Market were anything to go by, everyone in Argentina will be enjoying their music sooner rather than later!

To find out more about the band and where their next gig will be, visit their Facebook page. For a taste of their music right now, find their improvised genius on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/suculenton.

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Afrobeat Finds its Groove in Argentina with Guanabana


If you were among the lucky in attendance at the Indy’s Underground Market last Saturday, you may remember the high-energy performance of Guanabana Afrobeat. The band is a quasi-orchestra of local talent that combines a diverse range of musical styles under the umbrella of afrobeat, a relatively unknown genre they are helping to bring to the porteño public one performance at a time.

Guanabana Afrobeat performing at the BA Underground Market (photo: Marc Rogers)

Guanabana Afrobeat performing at the BA Underground Market (photo: Marc Rogers)

The 12-person group consists of drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, guitarists, a keyboardist, and more, and it makes up a part of a movement of bands and musicians that are introducing Argentina to Afrobeat. Despite a number of established Afrobeat-influenced acts that have come out of Argentina, including Morbo y Mambo and La Antropofonica, Afrobeat as a genre remains relatively unknown amongst Argentines.

“When we say we play Afrobeat, people don’t know what that is,” guitarist Cristian Lacroix tells me. “They hear ‘Afro’ and think that maybe it has something to do with drums, but in general it is something completely new for them.”

While several Guanabana band members come from a ska background, the band’s current sound brings together other influences from across the musical spectrum.

“I began playing music centred around African percussion along with the funk I had been playing, which was further influenced by Latin American music – from Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and more specifically, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian music,” says Lacroix.

When some people hear Guanabana’s music for their first time, they may recognise what seem like Peruvian, Cuban or Puerto Rican influences, an example of the role African beats and sounds have had in the development of Latin musical traditions. Guanabana’s songs build off this synchronism with African sounds and further incorporate the elements of jazz and funk that make Afrobeat what it is.

The chief influence on Lacroix and his bandmates is Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist who first coined the term Afrobeat in the 1970s. Kuti took elements of North American Jazz, such as the emphasis on the saxophone, and combined them with aspects of Ghana’s Highlife genre and his native Nigeria’s Yoruba music, a drumming-intensive style from West Africa prevalent in Afro-Caribbean music.

Kuti’s legacy – that of a musician as well as of a radical, political figure – contributes much to Guanabana’s identity as a band. In addition to their own material, the band covers Kuti classics, including the nearly 13-minute-long ‘Mister Follow Follow’, a warning against blindly following corrupt leaders.

For members of Guanabana, Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat as Bob Marley is to Reggae, only “much more radical” – Kuti was a socialist, Pan-African activist who, at one point, even attempted a presidential candidacy. His influence on the genre is obvious: Buenos Aires’ first Afrobeat festival, on 15th December, bills itself as a tribute to Fela Kuti and even has a name that reflects his influence, the Festival Latinomericano de Afrobeat (FELA).

At a recent meet, conversation topics between Guanabana members ranged from discussions on the technical features of Kuti songs or about his efforts to use music as a force to “decolonise” Nigerian minds in the face of an oppressive government.

Fela Kuti in concert (photo via Wikipedia)

Fela Kuti in concert (photo via Wikipedia)

With a reputation to never play a song the same way twice, Kuti had a knack for improvisation, a freedom Afrobeat gets from its jazz roots. Guanabana also likes to set aside parts of their performance to highlight its talent, such as an improvised trumpet or bass solo.

Kuti was also famous for his long compositions; sometimes a song would take 15 minutes to get to the first verse. The members of Guanabana appreciate this form of music making, valuing the love they have for performing over the need for a commercially packaged four minute tune.

However, much as they draw from Kuti, Guanabana still do things their own way. While Kuti was a trained orchestra director and directed his band throughout a performance, Guanabana finds it unnecessary to have a director or leader. In their weekly rehearsals – no small feat for a band with 12 people – the group talks amongst one another and plans how a song will play out in front of an audience.

It is this kind of collaboration, highlighted by a lack of ego and unadulterated love for performing, that makes Guanabana Afrobeat such an exciting band to keep an eye on.

Guanabana Afrobeat will be playing this Sunday 15th December at 4pm at the Afrobeat Festival, Parque Saavedra, Corner of Garcia del Rio and Pinto, Saavedra.

They will be playing again on Wednesday 18th December at 5.00pm at the Festival Against Monstanto, Plaza Congreso, Microcentro. They will also be playing at an end of year celebration on Saturday 28th December at 11.00pm, Dorrego y Alcorta, Palermo.

Listen to more of Guanabana’s songs here.

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Los Monos de la China


When I went to check out Los Monos de la China, a three-part porteño band, I was blown away by the energy of their music – folky guitar and flawless harmonies sung over the top of the irresistible beat of the powerful Peruvian box drum. These boys are the height of cool, but there were no moody faces or hipster poses to be seen; the trio seemed to be loving the atmosphere every bit as much as the crowd.

Los Monos de la China (photo via official Facebook page)

Los Monos de la China (photo via official Facebook page)

The band – Nico and Erno (guitar and vocals) and Seba (vocals and Peruvian box drum) – started playing together seriously about a year ago. Before that, Nico and Erno, who are long-time friends, would get together to jam. “At first, we played songs from bands that we really dug, as an acoustic duo, trying to make them sounds as natural as possible,” says Nico. “Then Sebastian joined us and his Peruvian box drum and powerful voice seemed to complete our sound. Since then we have been describing ourselves ‘an acoustic power trio’,” he laughs.

If their name sounds a little familiar, I also wondered whether they had been inspired by Arctic Monkeys. “There is a connection, yes,” says Nico. “We were playing a few songs from the Arctic Monkeys and we just stated referring to our band as ‘Monkey’. Then, for some reason, this turned into Los Monos de la China (The Chinese Monkeys) and we liked it because we wanted a name that was catchy and kind of absurd.”

The band cite a wide range of musical influences, including The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Coldplay and Audioslave. They also admire and pay tribute to a range of Argentine and Latino artists such as Luis Alberto Spinetta, Gustavo Cerati, Charly Garcia and Jorge Drexler, and all these eclectic influences shine through the live performances.

Although a large part of the band’s current repertoire is covers, they have also been writing their own material. “At first, we played whatever we listened to and loved but, little-by-little, we started to get to know our sound and picked the covers that suited us best,” explains Nico. “But you get tired of playing covers after a while though, and want to explore your own sound. A few months ago we started writing our own songs and have incorporated some of them into our set.”

The boys plan to record their first album when they get back from a mini-tour of Argentina later this summer. “So far we have about six finished songs and we’re working on a lot of ideas,” says Nico. “We are very excited about our first album.”

The recent Los Monos de la China gig had a feel-good vibe from start to finish. “We usually begin slow and smooth to get the audience warmed up and, as the concert progresses we build up the energy until at the end everyone is dancing. We love that,” says Nico.

Aside from their new original songs, Los Monos de la China also make sure to put their own unique stamp on the covers. Their killer version of Mumford and Sons ‘Little Lion Man’ was arguably better than the original, and watching Seba, the charismatic drummer, sing his heart out to Bruno Mars’ ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ while banging passionately on his box drum was a real highlight of the show. By the end of a Los Monos de la China gig you will undoubtedly find yourself on your feet dancing and clapping and making a mental note to check out where they are playing next.

Los Monos de la China are playing on Saturday 19th October at 22.30 at the Hostel El Sol. (Marcelo T. de Alvear 1590 on the second floor, Recoleta and you can keep up with them and check out their latest gigs on their Facebook page.

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Five Minutes With… John Digweed


John Digweed

John Digweed

After selling out his show in Buenos Aires on Saturday, world famous British artist John Digweed is the man of the moment. DJ, producer, and owner of a record label, Digweed has been one of the original pioneers of progressive house throughout the ’90s and 2000s. With strong ties to Argentine music, he’s played in South America more than any other international DJ of his standing.

His visit last weekend was the second this year, and as well as his set at Mandarine Park in Buenos Aires, he also played in Rosario. The excuse for his latest visit to Argentina was the release of his album Versus, out on 7th October. However, Digweeed hardly needs an excuse to play in the country.

“The crowds are the best to play to in the world,” he says when asked why he keeps coming back to Argentina. His fans would probably say the same about him, as they still rave about his set on Saturday. During his six-hour gig, Digweed rewarded his followers, who braved the rain and cold to dance the night away, with a setlist of old favourites and new tunes.

Despite his busy schedule, The Indy managed to catch up with Digweed, just before he left Buenos Aires for his upcoming gigs in Santiago de Chile (26th) and Bogotá and Cali in Colombia (27-28th).

You’ve been instrumental in popularising electronic dance music in Argentina and Latin America. How does your success here compare to your success elsewhere in the world?

I think I have tried to spread my success across Europe, North America and Asia as much as I can. The reaction I get in South America is pretty special, I have to say.

Are you into or affiliated with Argentine dance music at all?

I have been a big fan of Argentine music for a long time with DJ/ Producers such as Hernán [Cattaneo], Martín Garcia, Elio Riso, Deep Mariano, and Luxor T.

What’ve been the main inspirations and influences behind the album you’ve got coming out in October? Why did you choose the collaborators that you did?

I have really great relationships with all the producers, so it was seeing if they could find time to work on this project alongside what else they were doing, that’s why it took about 12 months to piece it all together.

What music did you grow up on?

A mixture of Joy Division, New Order, The cure, Soul Funk, Early hip hop, and electro.

Tell us about an album that changed your life.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall was an album that I played again and again and again; I loved the idea that the whole album told a story.

Over the years you’ve shaped the direction of dance music. Where do you see dance music going now?

I think there is a good mix of cool house and techno out there which is working really well.

How do you find new talent to develop with your label, Bedrock?

A combination of tracks sent to me by producers and being given tracks at clubs and also by colleagues.

In all the years you have been in this game, you have seen many come and go. What is the one thing that helped get you to the next level and keep you so relevant despite the many evolutions, shifts, and trends within this industry?

I have always played my music from the heart and tried to be consistent with every gig I do, I always want to play better and better and try and improve all the time.

If you had to describe your current sound in three words, what would they be?

Forward-thinking electronic house music.

If you had to choose one artist to compose the soundtrack to a biopic about you, who would it be?

Vangelis makes the most amazing soundtracks.

Where do fans love you most?

Argentina for sure.

Check out John Digweed’s work on his Soundcloud and pre-order his album here.

Available to pre- order Vinyl / Limited Edition Box set / iTunes here.

Lead image by Messcupcakes via flickr.

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On Now: Yo, Sandro


Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the start of his career, a traveling exhibition on the life and times of Sandro is currently on at the Centro Cultural Borges.

The ‘Elvis’ of Argentina, singer and movie icon Sandro was born Roberto Julio Sánchez, and is considered the father of rock in Argentina.  He is also known as Sandro de América, and ‘El Gitano‘ (“the gypsy”).

Yo, Sandor: Un Mundo de Sensaciones (photo: Alejandro Belverdere/Télam/dsl)

Yo, Sandor: Un Mundo de Sensaciones (photo: Alejandro Belverdere/Télam/dsl)


 
A legend in Argentina, Sandro is credited with not only helping popularise rock in Latin America, but to bring Latin America to the rest of the world by cracking into the international music scene. He was the first Latin American artist to sing at Madison Square Garden, in 1970.
 
He has recorded dozens of albums and starred in at least 13 films since beginning his career in the 1960s. Sandro began his career imitating Elvis Presley, but evolved into a ballad singer and sold 22 million records worldwide, gathering numerous gold and platinum albums. He won a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award in 2005.
 
For the first time ever, Sandro’s widow gave access the singer’s most intimate possessions, providing records, original costumes used during performances, awards and distinctions, handwritten notes, his guitars and keyboards, unreleased photographs, his personal footage, even his recipes.
 
The exhibit occupies two rooms of the second floor of the Centro Cultural Borges.
 
The room on the right is filled with photographs that lead you through the star’s childhood and eventual rise to fame, intermixed heavily with quotes from the singer himself. The quotes are what stand out the most in this exhibit; they are everywhere, as though the singer is telling his story himself.

As you walk through listening to the singer croon heartfelt ballads, you discover his thoughts, from his childhood when he “was 13 years old and set up a sketch dressed as Elvis”, to advice given to him by his father – “no matter what you do, do it well” – to his career starting out with his band, “Los Fuegos,” where they “played dances for 25 minutes and had to clear out to let the next band in.” Finally, Sandro reveals his patriotic side when he talks about his famous performance at Madison Square Garden: “The moment I got onto the stage, I only thought about my country. I knew it was true that many countries were watching, but more than ever before, I remember that I am Argentine and this was the mark by which the public recognises me, everywhere. “
 
Walking through a 70’s-esque door of silky strings, you enter a room filled with the performer’s various costumes, posed in action movements. A shiny white jacket with wings, a bright white full suit with long tassels hanging from the arms – you can see how he embraced the opulence of the rock era, and brought it to Argentina. 
 
The final room of this side features a re-creation of Sandro’s study in his giant mansion as well as home videos touring the large rooms, multitude of cars, and pools, providing a glimpse in to the grandiose lifestyle of the rock star that matched the persona he presented to the world.
 

Yo, Sandro (photo: Alejandro Belvedere/Télam/aa)

Yo, Sandro (photo: Alejandro Belvedere/Télam/aa)

If the first part of the exhibit is a journey through the personal life of the singer himself, the second is a tribute to his legend and his fans. Wall-length photographs of the singer in his prime scatter the walls with a series of keyboards and records on one side and a wall of guitars in glass cases on the other. This room seems to exemplify the way Sandro appeared to his fans: extravagant, god-like, timeless.
 
Familiar tunes such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” are playing as you enter the room. It may take you a second to register that songs are Spanish. Sandro was famous for his cover of popular songs in Spanish.  With the familiarity of these songs, an English-speaking foreigner can get a sense of the feelings of nostalgia that Sandro’s originals spark in Argentine nationals.

At the end of this room you can see the love of the fans expressed literally, a screen flips through old fan letters written, and the high walls are covered with colourful notes written by fans who visit the museum, from “Viva el Rock” to “Dear Sandro, you will forever be in my heart.”
 
Across from the fan graffiti the wall reads, “And to think, I only wanted to imitate Elvis.”
 
The prevalence of middle-aged Argentine ladies in the exhibit speaks to Sandro’s time and appeal, but his legend reaches a broad sector of society – a young man with his toddler son browses the collection, as well as a young couple. As Sandro said “I have fans that are 15 years old, and 70. They believe in me, on top of that they love me. For this I say simply: Thank you for so much love. ”
 
For long time fans, this exhibit provides a previously unseen look into the private life and personal dreams and aspirations of the singer. For those less familiar with the star, it offers a comprehensive introduction.

‘Yo, Sandro’ runs at the Centro Cultural Borges until 6th October; entry $60. For more information (in Spanish), click here.

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Elena Roger: Argentina’s International Artist in her Habitat


Elena Roger (photo courtesy of Varas & Otero)

Elena Roger (photo courtesy of Varas & Otero)

Not many years ago, it was necessary to explain to Argentines who singer/actress Elena Roger was, even though she had played leading roles in musicals such as ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Mina… che cosa sei?’ and ‘Jazz Swing Tap’.

However, her real breakthrough, on a global scale, came when she left Buenos Aires in 2006. She then spent some good years abroad – first in London’s West End, then in New York’s Broadway- playing Edith Piaf and Evita Perón, winning a Laurence Olivier Award and, basically, becoming a big star on the top international stages of the musical world. However, Elena never forgot her origins and has come back to Argentina several times in order to be an artist – not a diva – in her home country.

Her latest tour, Tiempo Mariposa, which reaches its climax in Buenos Aires this weekend, is part of that desire to reconnect with her country, with its people. She even called some good old friends to play along this domestic tour: Javier López del Carril (guitar), Gaby Goldman (piano), Christine Brebes (violin), Osvaldo Tabilo (drums and percussion) and Andrés Dulcet (double bass and electric bass).

“We met while doing the musical ‘Mina, che cosa sei?’, some ten years ago. We are like family! At Mina… we were all taking giving our first steps, we were not well-known. Now, they are all excellent musicians with amazing careers. It is fantastic to be on stage with them again,” says Elena.

Tiempo Mariposa, she adds, is the perfect opportunity to see her, the ‘international artist’, in her habitat. She does not consider herself any kind of ambassador though. “I can’t make such a powerful statement. I am just an artist who, by definition, enjoys being on stage – I do know that comes with certain powers and responsibilities, and I am have very clear in my mind about which things I want to do and convey with my profession”.

During this exclusive interview for The Argentina Independent, Elena proves this to be true.

How do you feel right now, coming to the end of your national tour?

It is the end of this tour indeed, but only the beginning of the project. We will take a break, of course, because I will soon give to birth! However, we had a great time and the response was really good, so we plan to record an album soon and then tour again. I am very excited for what will come next.

How did you come up with the name “Tiempo Mariposa”?

When I came back from Broadway – after playing Evita in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical – I wanted to create a concert that would allow me to tour around Argentina. Also at that time, I watched a documentary about the Monarch butterfly, which is very strong and particular. This butterfly migrates from Canada to Mexico, spanning the life of three to four generations. Since I was going to be pregnant on the road, we all thought it was a nice idea to think that, while traveling, life was going to be reproduced.

Is the name also related to the environmental aspect of the show?

Absolutely. We always try to use as many LED lights as possible, all the set designs are made from recycled garbage, my own dress is basically nylon stockings and natural silk; even my shoes were made out of remaining fabrics by an artisan shoemaker. Tiempo Mariposa really is a whole concept, a kind of vogaye. Even the songs are focused on themes such as freedom, dreams, happiness.

Elena Roger in concert (photo courtesy of Varas y Otero)

Elena Roger in concert (photo courtesy of Varas y Otero)

It seems as if you were trying to sing to your baby about the world he will soon live in…

Well, the world I would like my baby to encounter is not the one we have right now. But surely Tiempo Mariposa is about the world I want to contribute to build, and the one I hope he (or she) also helps to create. However, I have always been concerned about our planet, this is not something that just came up because I am pregnant.

Why did you have this urge to tour around Argentina now?

Because it is so beautiful! Sometimes people ask me: “How come you are now playing for only a hundred people in a small town?”. I always reply I did not become an artist to be a millionaire or only to perform at glamorous international stages. My vocation is to express myself wherever, in front of whoever feels touched by my art. Furthermore, after being on Broadway, I really felt the need to come back to my home country, to be in touch with my own people.

In which way is the bond with the audience at Tiempo Mariposa different from other performances you have done in the past?

When I perform, no matter what I do (sing, act, dance or all of them combined), I always feel a special connection with the universe. Being on stage is what I enjoy the most. Particularly in the case of a concert, what I love is the possibility to connect with people being myself. No character, no fourth wall gets in the middle: it is me, Elena, singing for an audience.

You come across as a very pensive artist: you seem to reflect a lot upon your purpose, your mission…

When actress Cecilia Rosseto saw me at the musical comedy ‘Mina, che cosa sei?’ many years ago, she told me: “You are doing great. Now you just have to think about what you want to say.” She meant of course what I wanted to say as a whole artist, not in one particular performance or role. I have always remembered her words. Every artist can have an influence on people. In my case, I feel I have to be coherent with my discourse. If I want a better world for my son, I have to contribute to that goal as an artist as well.

There is also one other message I fight for: I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I don’t see why I should define myself as only a singer, a dancer or an actress. Nobody, and especially not an artist, should limit oneself like that. We are here to experiment, explore, to break boundaries.

What guides you to choose a project?

I need a challenge. I want to learn something with of each experience. I need an interesting story, a significative message for the audience to remember.

If you were a critic, why would you give Elena Roger a bad review?

… For a thousand reasons! [Laughs] I always think I should have started rehearsals earlier…

If you were the audience, why would you give Elena Roger a standing ovation?

That’s a difficult one! [Pause] I would give myself a standing ovation because I know how to identify my desires, and this has allowed me to accomplish them.

Elena Roger will be performing Tiempo Mariposa on Saturday 10th August, at 9pm at Teatro Coliseo de Buenos Aires, Marcelo T. de Alvear 1125, Retiro. Tickets from $150, available at www.ticketek.com.ar.
For more information click here (in Spanish)

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Top 5 Underground Music Venues


Buenos Aires’ music scene is one of the most vibrant and rich of the region, if not the world; a place where music lovers of all genres can find what makes them tick, dance, ‘pogo‘, or just relax. Apart from being one of the main stops for many internationally renowned artists, Buenos Aires also attracts the best underground bands from all over the country as well as a number of small bands from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and many more around the region.

Amidst this luxuriant landscape of music it is easy to get lost and it exploring the underground scene is an arduous task. With so many venues and flyer distributing hordes at popular nightspots and busy streets it’s sometimes hard to choose where to go. This is a list of five great places to go listen to live music, hopefully catering to pretty much any genre.

Obviously leaving aside the main venues were international artists play regularly, this list has also voluntarily omitted more borderline venues such as Niceto Club, Konex or La Trastienda. This has been done because although they still keep one foot in the underground music scene, bands that play those venues have mostly already achieved a certain level of recognition and are likely to be marketed much more visibly and hence easier to find…

Matienzo (photo courtesy of Matienzo)

Matienzo

Matienzo, set in the fringes of Palermo, is much more than a music venue. In a city where sometimes a lone room with two old pictures hanging in a corner is pompously dubbed “cultural centre”, Matienzo actually lives up to its name. It regularly houses theatre, photography, painting, often all at the same time, has a radio broadcasting from its rooftop, and of course is an excellent place to listen to music. It also has regular movie nights and themed film cycles. The place spreads over three floors with several spaces displaying different art. The variety and the juxtaposition of all these different forms of art make Matienzo a special space, curated with impeccable taste.

This place also serves some simple but tasty home-made food, so on busy nights if you want to be sure not to miss a particular show going early to enjoy some dinner and pick the best seats is a great option. Even if you don’t know the name of the artist, painter, collective, or musician that headlines the night, if you’re curious about exploring new art, you will very rarely go wrong at Matienzo.

Open every day from 6pm. For more information click here.

Zaguan Sur (photo courtesy of Zaguan Sur)

Centro Cultural Zaguan Sur

If your thing is screeching guitars, uncontrolled pogos and all round musical craziness and you haven’t yet found a place in Buenos Aires to blow off the steam with some proper rock and rolling, look no further than Centro Cultural Zaguan Sur. This small venue in Once is the Mecca of underground Argentine rock. Playing at Zaguan Sur is almost a rite of passage for any wannabe rockers looking to make it on the bigger stages.

The place emanates rock and roll spirit: the music is loud, the deco trashy, the crowd wild, and the nights long. The bands start playing at around 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, between 9pm and midnight on weekdays, and after each show the resident DJ keeps people moving until (almost literally) they drop. El Zaguan is also home to the best underground rock festival in Buenos Aires; Festipulenta concentrates the crème of the rock scene in a two-to-four day binge of music about twice a year. Well worth checking out.

For more information click here.

Plasma

Located in the southern neighbourhood of Barracas, near la Boca, Plasma is well worth the trip down for its great selection of artists and the quality of its sound. Keeping true to its tradition of uncovering musical gems, Plasma reached its tenth anniversary this year, still betting on new groups and launching them on to bigger stages. Catering to a wide audience, Plasma dabbles in many music genres but is best known for hosting great rock bands from Argentina and neighbouring countries.

The venue itself is located on the first floor of a converted house, and has a small and intimate feel to it. Coupled with what is probably the best acoustics of all the venues on this list, it is a must for music lovers of all genres. Drinks remain relatively cheap for these type of places and they have recently transformed the ground floor of the venue into another chilled bar where you can wait for the bands to start or a take a break from the music should you need to do so. The shows here start late, think 1am at the earliest, but as the venue is small it’s best to buy tickets in advance or to arrive early to make sure you get in.

For more information click here.

Virasoro (photo courtesy of Virasoro)

Virasoro

Set in Palermo, on the corner of Guatemala and Araoz, this small bar houses some of the best jazz gigs of the Argentine capital. Add to that the unique atmosphere and you’ll realise that Virasoro is arguably the best place in Buenos Aires to listen to the genre. Less pretentious than the two big name jazz clubs in Buenos Aires, Thelonious and Notorious, Virasoro represents the intersection of established jazz musicians and their students and disciples, sometimes on stage at the same time. The venue is on the ground floor and has a cosy feel to it, with tables going right up to within a few centimetres of the stage. The friendly staff also contributes to the home-like atmosphere.

The door fee is rather steep compared to most of the other places on this list (prices generally oscillating between $30 and $50), and you are also asked to have at least one paid consumption while you are there, but the quality of the music largely justifies this small investment, specially when compared with the prices of other jazz clubs in the city. The venue has a small capacity so booking in advance is important, while the seats are first come first serve so it’s best to get there early if you enjoy being close up to the stage.

For more information click here.

Ladran Sancho

Tucked away behind an innocuous black door on Guardia Vieja street in Almagro, Ladran Sancho is a bar with a small back room that doubles as a concert stage every night. Drinks are cheap and the music is good with the crowd generally a relaxed mixture of hipsters and jazz aficionados eager to hear an eclectic mix of tunes from folklore to rock, reggae, or jazz. The decoration is an odd mix, with an eclectic collection of objects hanging from the walls, ranging from traditional indigenous art to “pretty much anything you could find in your grandma’s living room” according to the man behind the bar.

Tuesday night jazz jams are a highlight of the week and are only $10 to get in, free if you’re willing to play a tune or two. Starting around 11pm the regulars kick off the night playing some catchy jazz tunes and then invite others to play, either with them or on their own, creating a constant flow of musicians on stage. The other regular nights include milongas on Wednesdays, Colombian cumbia on Thursdays, while the genre on Fridays and Saturday varies from week to week.

For more information click here.

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Senate Passes Music Law To Support Argentine Artists


The 60 senators present yesterday unanimously approved the Music Law, which establishes the National Music Institute (INAMU), promotes Argentine music live and on air, proposes private and state funding, and supports artists’ professional development.

INAMU will be responsible for “promoting and stimulating Argentine musical activity, the comprehensive development of artists, producing recordings, promulgating live music, and cultural and social inclusion in all regions of the Argentine territory”. The law will also establish a national audio library to “protect the patriotism that forms different musical styles”. Foreign musicians performing in the country are now required to choose Argentine opening acts.

A multiparty spectrum of senators received speakers in support of the law’s sanction enthusiastically. In turn, the law’s passage was met from above with jubilant applause from musician watching from the chamber balconies. Outside the congressional building, artists including Litto Nebbia, Teresa Parodi, Rodolfo Mederos, Vox Dei, Bersuit Vergarabat, El Otro Yo, Peteco Carabajal, el “Mono” de Kapanga, Lito y Liliana Vitale, Hilda Lizarazu and Juan Carlos Baglietto played an eclectic set to demonstrate their support.

The law is the result of a process that has lasted more than six years. After long delays, the bill lost parliamentary status last year and supporters like the Argentine Federation of Independent Musicians (Fa-Mi) had to start from scratch. Kirchnerist legislators reintroduced it last August, reminding their fellows that it enjoyed the support of Argentine musical legends like the late Mercedes Sosa and Luis Alberto Spinetta, and Gustavo Cerati before he suffered a stroke that rendered him comatose. The Lower House gave its approval in October.

Singer Diego Frenkel now anticipates “a new era” for Argentine musicians, saying, “It’s truly a force for elevating the musical and artistic quality of the country.” Miguel “Maikel” De Luna Campos of the rock band Kapanga, called the law’s passage “a triumph for all musicians and especially for kids who do not have a place to play, for professional musicians without record deals and do not have insurance.” Looking ahead, he added, “What we have to do now that it happened, is work so that everything is crystalized, the funds are utilized correctly, and they are distributed appropriately.”

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, News Round Ups, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

Buenos Aires’ Youth Orchestras: Social Change through Music


Orchestra members are all ages, ranging from 6 to 18 (Photo: Athena Feldshon)

It is a humid, overcast morning at Primary School No. 26 Bandera Argentina, in Retiro. The modest, one-storey schoolhouse, wedged between a large drab post office and the looming grey shell of a building that was never completed, pulses with activity despite the fact that it is early on a Saturday. Children run through the big central courtyard lugging instrument cases, music stands, and folders full of sheet music. The calls of a French horn echo off the mural-painted walls, and from the cafeteria come running two young boys, drumsticks in hand, locked in a swordfight.

The children all live in Villa 31, the shantytown located near Retiro’s bustling transport hub. Ranging in age from 6 to 18, they gather at the school every Saturday (and weekdays after class, as well) to participate in the Orquestas Infantiles y Juveniles programme, offered free of charge by some of the city’s finest professional musicians.

“What we are doing is utilising music as an educational tool, as a tool of inclusion,” says Néstor Tedesco, coordinator of the Retiro Youth Orchestra and cellist in the Teatro Colón’s Orquesta Estable. He is energetic and full of enthusiasm as we weave our way through the sea of mini-musicians, some of them dwarfed by the large string instruments and trombones they carry.

“And what’s more, we are offering a different way of looking at life,” he continues. “Kids who come here every Saturday over many years are going to have an entirely different vision of things than if they were out kicking around a ball, or breaking glass, no?”

The Orquestas Infantiles y Juveniles programme began independently in 1998 as a way of offering free musical training to children growing up in some of Buenos Aires’ poorer neighbourhoods. It was absorbed into the Ministry of Education’s Zones of Priority Action (Z.A.P.) programme, and has since grown to 16 orchestras throughout the city, with about 1,700 students and 240 teachers.

When a child joins the programme they are introduced to the different instruments available and allowed to choose which they want to learn. Violin, cello, xylophone, trombone, trumpet, flute, percussion, clarinet, French horn, upright bass, and viola are all options, and in the Retiro Youth Orchestra, at least, the violin is the most popular choice. In the morning, students receive individual and group tutorship before coming together in the afternoon as a complete orchestra for combined rehearsal.

Some students have individual lessons (Photo: Athena Feldshon)

We walk past the various classrooms lining the courtyard where professors work with small groups of the more experienced students, reviewing and tackling the harder measures of songs over and over again. In one room, a clarinettist expertly practises the opening bars of The Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’. In another, three teenage cellists play a brooding melody, all concentrating fixedly at the sheet music in front of them. The professor, like all others in the programme, is an experienced professional musician.

“For me, he is one of the best cellists in Argentina today,” says Néstor. “The clarinet professor, the flute professor, they’re all from the Teatro Colón! That is one of the premises of this project, that the children don’t just have any old teacher…The people who teach here, they are real professors. These kids are really learning how to play their instruments.”

Many alumni of the programme have gone on to professional music careers, a testament to the quality of education Orquestas Infantiles y Juveniles provides its participants. Today, it can boast of former students playing in the Teatro Colón Orchestra, the Lanús Orchestra, the National Symphony, and the City Municipal Band, among others. In May, ten students from throughout the city were chosen by audition to attend classes at the Leo Kestenberg Conservatory in Berlin as part of a cultural exchange between the two cities.

“After Berlin, the children changed,” says a volunteer involved with fundraising for the orchestra. “Before, some of the students didn’t want to go up on stage because they were so shy. After two weeks in Berlin, they looked so relaxed on stage, their posture was different…It was amazing, just that one little trip.”

Despite all these tangible benefits to the children and the community, the programme faces challenges financially. As a part of the city’s Ministry of Education, the orchestras all receive public funding; according to Néstor and others involved with the programme, however, these subsidies may soon dry up as the city government decreases spending in an effort to cut costs. Money needed to repair instruments, make photocopies, and provide lunch to the students – even the instruments themselves – may no longer be readily available.

“These are basic things,” Néstor says, incredulously. “We are not talking about huge sums of money; we are talking about the absolute minimum.” His disappointment is soon dispelled and a look of calm returns to his face, as we sit surrounded by the muffled sounds of screechy strings, a lonely flute melody, and children laughing. He fixes me with a look full of defiance and optimism. “I believe we’ll get out of this problem, because we’ve already outlived four governments. The governments change – the project continues.”

It’s about 12 o clock and the children have broken for lunch, which consists of a banana, a granola bar, and some milk – perhaps the first meal they have had all day. One of the older students, a big kid with close-cropped hair and a serious demeanour, makes his way to the orchestra room clutching a violin case. Néstor goes to greet the boy, who cracks a smile.

“I always greet that boy because for me he is a senior case,” Néstor tells me. “He was a violent boy, very violent. Now, he has been here for seven years. Already, two of his friends were killed by the police, but he’s here, playing the violin. Instead of vi-o-lence, vi-o-lins!”

The boy enters the orchestra room, takes out his violin, and begins tuning.

Violinists concentrate during rehearsal (Photo: Athena Feldshon)

Posted in Music, TOP STORY, VillasComments (0)

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