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A new way to tango

Traditional sounds meet futuristic electronica at L.A.'s Fiesta Argentina -- and the dance lessons are included.

August 16, 2007|Ernesto Lechner | Special to The Times

THE history of tango can be divided roughly into three chapters. First came its golden era -- the first five decades of the 20th century, when tango developed into the achingly beautiful genre that reflected life in the hopelessly melancholy city of Buenos Aires. From the 1960s to the '80s, it was revolutionized by Astor Piazzolla, a daring composer who brought jazz and classical influences into the mix. And in the new millennium, tango is enjoying a new breath of life by merging with electronica in the music of hip outfits such as Gotan Project and Bajofondo Tango Club.

The many faces of tango -- old and new, conservative and futuristic -- will be present at Fiesta Argentina, a concert that Los Angeles musician Guillermo Bordarampé is producing Saturday at the Ford Amphitheatre.

The show, which includes free dance lessons, will be divided into two segments. The first one will touch on traditional tango, with performances by singer Guillermo Galvé, backed by a quartet of piano, bass, violin and the plaintive bandoneón -- an accordion-like instrument that represents the inherent sadness of tango.

The second segment is the much-anticipated L.A. debut of Tanghetto, the most seductive of the many electro-tango outfits that are actually based in Argentina. (Gotan Project hails from Paris; Bajofondo Tango Club operates out of L.A.)

"I wanted to create a show that would have a strong contrast to it," Bordarampé says. "Let's honor the most traditional aspect of this music but also delve into the avant-garde of the genre as well."

Bordarampé knows a little something about the avant-garde himself. In the late '60s, he co-founded the pioneering rock en español supergroup Arco Iris with future Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla.

Since the advent of electronica, many Latin American musicians have fused cool electronic beats with the folk sounds of their homeland -- from Bebel Gilberto's electro-bossa to the Nortec Collective's reinvention of Mexican banda sinaloense.

Because tango is usually characterized by a stately mood of bittersweet contemplation, its deep bass lines and soulful bandoneón riffs blend particularly well with the robotic nature of electronica. This extreme combination of hot and cold can be bewitching in concert, as demonstrated by memorable L.A. performances by Gotan Project and Bajofondo Tango Club in recent years.

Tanghetto should be no exception. Performing as a sextet, the band will present tracks from its first album, 2004's "Emigrante," marked by its languid melodies, its smoky textures and the kind of delicate piano lines that would make Massive Attack proud.

"Ideologically speaking, Piazzolla has been a great influence," Tanghetto co-founder Max Masri says from Buenos Aires. "He showed us that it was OK to challenge conventions. We were also influenced by early '80s synth-pop bands from England, as well as groups like Kraftwerk and Nine Inch Nails -- people who tried to do something different with synthesizers."

Fittingly, a recent remix album by Tanghetto includes electro-tango cover versions of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" and New Order's "Blue Monday" -- the kind of intriguing choices that tend to horrify the genre purists.

"Even though we've had platinum records in Argentina, there's some resistance to what we do in the more traditional circles," Masri acknowledges.

"And yet, when you think about it, tango has always been about breaking new ground," Masri adds, calling it "a bizarre mixture of disparate styles."

Like many young Argentines, Masri was himself prejudiced against tango when he started his musical career in Buenos Aires. But his bias faded as soon as he started to take lessons from the notable composer Virgilio Expósito.

"He made me look at this music with different eyes," Masri explains. "He gave me the liberty to fuse and experiment. He taught me to love tango and respect Piazzolla."

"When I was a young rocker, I couldn't care less about tango," Bordarampé says. "It was the music of my parents . . . . Once I moved to L.A. and matured a little, I developed an appreciation for it. Some of those classic anthems are just great. In my opinion, a song like 'Cambalache' is comparable to anything by Lennon and McCartney."


Fiesta Argentina

Where: 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Price: $35 to $42

Info: (323) 461-3673;

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