La Chicana - Tango Agazapado
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La Chicana
Tango Agazapado
Galileo (

cd cover Argentines of a certain age might not hear today's artists as performing the tango they know, but only if they have forgotten their own youthful illusions. La Chicana (referring to the abuse of formal justice, and disputations thereof) represent a new generation (singer Cristóbal Repetto is another exceptional example) whose modernist take on tango as living folklore reflects the capricious, brutal displacements and dashed ideals that have marked Argentine life over the past century.

La Chicana's third album (and first overseas release) sets an irreverent course; omnivorous listeners, they bring it all back home. Hardly the first time that genius has taken a wrecking ball to a treasured national tradition, but remarkably, tango's distinctive feel persists.

Fronting is singer Dolores Solá, whose cool lunfardo (the Buenos Aires underworld dialect) is such that - weary, sensuous, coquettish, resolute - she might have come up in a Berlin cabaret during the brilliant, dissolute Weimar era. Composer-guitarist Acho Estol is the intellectual co-author whose eye for the social margins defines their raison d'être. As he remarked recently to a Madrid newspaper, "Tom Waits is a great tanguero, although he might not know it."

La Chicana's embrace of tango's acoustic roots does not preclude a calculated mixing of diverse sounds: flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, African kalimba, Afro-Latin percussion, blues-rock and studio effects. Add the poetic skepticism of a generation for whom revolution, dictatorship and neoliberal democracy all have come up short, and Tango Agazapado (loosely, "tango by the scruff of the neck") comes to life.

Take "Ayer hoy era mañana," which declares, more as enigma than lament, "The revolution was deferred and no one said jack / They slipped me a note with my monthly pay / The comandante collects his pension / And the Molotov [i.e., the bottle once intended as a gasoline bomb] holds a flower in my window." In a relativist paradox exemplifying tango's despondent worldly view, "Yesterday today was tomorrow / They tell me, 'You're crazy, the future will arrive' / But it doesn't come anymore / I was born for the future / But always and forever, tomorrow remains tomorrow."

In "Una iguana y tres monedas" (listen) the exhausted, hung-over singer asks, "What would they say of your life if they looked inside your bag / Torn photos, eye shadow, an iguana, a few coins / Something's happening in your past, something that keeps on happening / Like a dimly lit film, the familiar love scene / One sees a ghost there, continuing to wait and hope / In some bar, shipwrecked in the impenetrable April night."

"La mujer del soldado" (soldier's woman), a Brecht-Weill tune, assumes a tango-like stoicism with a dark little inventory of what - from the ancient, magnificent cities of Europe, wracked and torn by war - women received instead of their returning beloved, culminating with "a widow's veil to celebrate their wedding of death."

Black Argentine history's erasure and persistent racism are prevailing artistic concerns, although hardly the stuff of traditional tango. In "Dolor Wolof," a talented black pianist, taught by his father but without university credentials, finds few opportunities. Fed up, he crosses the river to Montevideo, asking ironically, "Why is it that to be black here [in Argentina], one has to be in Uruguay?"

Other sundry strains include the yapping dogs and Jimi Hendrix "Voodoo Child" coda of "Chamarrita del chamán"; the roots-modernism of "Milonga de los perros" (wherein "God saw the world through the eyes of the hungry dogs, delinquents and misfits who slink around this port city"); and the lively chamamé strains of Argentina's rural northeast in "El Camba."

If La Chicana's tango eschews Latin American literature's exotic "magical" repute, it sustains a lyrical social realism before the utterly entangled tragicomic strands of revolution, romance and universal human fallibility. Put differently, La Chicana might have written the soundtrack for a different, less starry-eyed sort of Motorcycle Diaries, Che minus the idealism, if that's possible. But in a time - our own - when all that is solid melts into air, the heterodoxy that inspires La Chicana is reason to heed their vision. - Michael Stone

Note: Well worth a look, La Chicana's website includes some English-language text, along with music, photos, videos, and Spanish-language press reviews and lyrics. Summer 2005 will take them to Spain, Germany, France and Great Britain, touring behind a brand-new release, Canción Llorada (loosely, "crying song"), which compiles choice material from their first two Argentine releases, together with new work, including a tango take on "Frank's Wild Years," the Tom Waits song. A Waits-La Chicana collaboration is something to contemplate.

CD available from cdRoots

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