Tangopolis @ Royal Festival Hall, London, April 4, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Gigs - 2008 Gigs
Written by TK   

My first brush with tango was a night to remember, metaphorically thrusting me into the depths of a Buenos Aires tango neighborhood.

However, I was not physically in Argentina, but instead in London.  And you cannot get much more in London than the Royal Festival Hall, which the river Thames laps against.  Unfortunately, despite recently spending over a month in Buenos Aires, it had taken me until getting to England to actually watch tango.

The show Tangopolis was billed as a fusion of new and old, of classic tango and a postmodern take on the music form.  Bajofondo, a band with remarkably similar sounds to the Gotan Project, were to play alongside Daniel Melingo.  Melingo is cool epitomised, although you may question this statement upon first sighting. The thing is, Melingo is old enough to be my father.  At 51 years old, he looks a little like a mad artist and the uncle that you wished that you had, but your parents are glad you do not.  Hailing from Buenos Aires, Melingo has had various focuses during his fascinating career.  First a rock musician, and then a writer of film music, he is now doing tango around the world.

Melingo made his talented backing band about as superfluous as the Australian economy, and he soon had the crowd captivated as he fluttered his way around stage like a butterfly on a spring day, twisting and turning with the movement of a gazelle.  Talented in both the art of tango, as well as possessing the voice of a smoker of unfiltered cigarettes, Malingo inspires in his ability to tell a story through song, dance and mime.  Such is his raspy voice, Malingo is an advertisement for cigarettes and whisky combined.  His voice is stolen from a 1920s film-set when course voices were as fashionable as a top hat, his look stolen from 1960s bohemia and his miming talent stolen from Charlie Chaplin.

Considering I am not able speak a word of Spanish apart from being able to order a few beers with tacos, I was surprised at how Melingo's lyrics and music affected me, and in particular "Cha Digo", which was heart-wrenching.  But it was Melingo's more comical songs that had the crowd lapping it up, especially the song based on the life of a drunk, "Muleta", which begins with Melingo wandering around stage - like a child looking for his mother - with his shoes and socks in his hands, singing about trying to find a stone in his shoe.

Interestingly, Malingo's producer is Eduardo Makaroff, who is also the guitarist for Gotan Project, and strangely connected (in sound at least) to the act to follow, Bajofondo.  Bajofondo is in many respects about as tango as the Chemical Brothers.  However, it is the little glimpses of tango influences on the electronic band Bajofondo which soon had the crowd jumping up and down like Jack-in-the-boxes.  This change in vibe after Malingo quickly changed my belief that I was experiencing a refined night out in the Royal Festival Hall.  And the night was better for it! 

Bajofondo combines tango with electronics, with club-beats as well as even rap-style lyrics (sung in Spanish), and is led by Gustavo Santaolalla, who is the double Oscar-winning composer of the soundtracks to "Babel" as well as "Brokeback Mountain".  He is also the director behind the forthcoming Cafe de los Maestros tango film.

With an assortment of instruments being featured in the band, Bajofondo are as unique as Camden.  The song "Miles Pasajeros", with its free-style rap, is as catchy as a Christmas song, and "Perfume" is just pure tango funk.  Unfortunately, too often tunes sounded overly-similar, but the band is definitely at its best when out-on-a-limb (such as Gustavo's beautiful solo song).

I left the Royal Festival Hall as exhausted as if I had performed tango myself, and began dreaming my return to Buenos Aires.

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