Published by Julio Lagos on June 2019 in Infobae. Read the original interview in Spanish.
The legendary Alberto Castillo already has an heir: his grandson triumphs in Europe playing modern tango
Juan Pablo De Lucca is proud of his grandfather. He plays modern tango and will soon give a recital at the most famous theater in the Netherlands, where Barenboim and Martha Argerich usually play. The most hilarious anecdotes and the memories of the great singer of tangos that in Argentina of the 50s led the biggest popular phenomenon.
By Julio Lagos
The young pianist Juan Pablo De Lucca is proud of his grandfather, but follows a different musical path. In August he will give a recital at the prestigious Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, where Barenboim and Marta Argerich usually play.
-I am part of my people and I owe them what I am … I speak with their words and sing with their voice !!!
This was the classic introductory phrase of Alberto Castillo (Alberto Salvador De Lucca, his real name) the popular “singer of the hundred Buenos Aires neighborhoods”. For three decades this modest quatrain (a type of stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines) became an emotional safe-conduct that shook millions of Argentines.
At this point of the 21st century, it is necessary to say: in Argentina of the 1950s, Castillo was a popular phenomenon only surpassed by the massive political concentrations of the time.
The premiere of each of his films – there were twelve in all – caused clamorous crowds at the door of the cinemas, with traffic cuts, avalanches and useless police efforts to maintain order. His presentations in the clubs and dances of Carnival called crowds. And his performances in Radio Belgrano made the traffic collapse, with several blocks of line from the public that in its vast majority had to stay outside the building.
What was the reason for this phenomenon?
Castillo was different from all the singers. He broke with the traditional stereotype: he walked on the stage, he balanced his arms, he used his hands to accompany his gestures, he moved the microphone. And above all, he communicated with the public establishing a relationship of belonging. That’s why the crowds felt it as their own.
This overwhelming personality and exuberant style caused some critics – and not a few of his colleagues – to consider it vulgar and coarse.
However, I can offer two proofs that Alberto Castillo was an extraordinary artist. One, the testimony of Aníbal Troilo, who personally told me:
–Castillo is the only tango singer that I never heard out of tune.
No one else told me this. It was Pichuco who told me one day, when we left Radio Municipal.
And the other proof of what Alberto Castillo was as a singer arises from the testimony of Edmundo Rivero. Once I asked him:
-Leonel, why do you not include the tango “Ninguna” in your repertoire?
-No, that’s what Castillo sang. No one could do it better.
With the permission of the readers, we will give this chronicle the format of a musical show. That’s why I offer you this extract of the film “El tango vuelve a París”, from 1948, when Castillo -with Aníbal Troilo´s orchestra- sang “Ninguna” to Elvira Ríos:
(plays “Ninguna” – Alberto Castillo)
Castillo – father of three children – had eleven grandchildren. One of them is called Juan Pablo de Lucca. He is a pianist and from Berlin, where he lives alternating with other European capitals, he tells me:
-I started studying piano at the age of 8 with my maternal grandmother. And I left at 11 because I wanted to play the electric guitar. I got hooked on rock. Then, when I finished high school, I went to the UCA to study Composition, piano and classical music with Antonio Formaro and Federico Wiman. I learned orchestration, counterpoint, audio-perceptive and composition.
Juan Pablo De Lucca, grandson of the mythical Alberto Castillo, feels proud of his grandfather.
Born in 1986, Juan Pablo spent his adolescence listening to Guns n’Roses, Charly García and The Beatles. And also Mercedes Sosa:
-She is the female singer that impacts me the most, by far.
His musical preferences include Sui Generis and Pescado Rabioso and Bill Evans. And that amplitude was reflected in his contact with the instruments:
-Once I entered university, my range of musical options opened. I also started traveling and in each trip I brought back a new instrument. Charango, flutes, clarinet, drums. Obviously, I did not have time to study everything. When I started to dedicate myself to tango, I realized that I had to go deeper into the piano. And little by little I calmed down.
– And how did you get to tango, after so many musical experiences?
-After I started going to milongas, I wanted to investigate more seriously what tango was about. I called Jorge Dragone, who was my grandfather’s pianist for many years and he, with unparalleled generosity, invited me to his house and so it was that week after week I began to understand how was this music played. He showed me arrangements and how he played them. He taught me how to read a tango score. Then I continued my studies with Andrés Linetzky, Nicolás Ledesma, Pablo Fraguela and Julián Peralta. And for a while with Beba Pugliese.
All these stimuli led to a style in which his admiration for Osvaldo Pugliese is recognized:
– For the musicians of my age, Pugliese is the one that has greater connection with the rock harmonies. And he was the one who kept tango alive, so that it would reach my generation.
The group El Muro plays modern tango and triumphs in Europe.
One day, Juan Pablo went to Europe. He arrived in Norway and together with the bandoneon player Åsbjørg Ryeng, the violinist Karl Espegard and the bassist Sebastián Noya created the group El Muro Tango. They collaborated with dancers Cyrena Drusine (New York) and Steinar Refsdal (Oslo) and recently they recorded this version of “Nostálgico”, by Julián Plaza.
If the reader clicks below, our chronicle now becomes a show:
(plays “Nostalgico” / El Muro Tango)
It is reasonable, almost inevitable, for an Argentinean pianist to have a tango swing. But it strikes me that two young Norwegians have such a porteño sound. And when I mention it, Juan Pablo answers:
-Åsbjørg has played bandoneón since she was 10 years old, she had very good teachers and has also studied with Argentine bandoneon players. As for Karl, he lived for a long time in Buenos Aires and from there he took it. Besides, he has a great interest in our culture, expression and language. Being surrounded by Argentineans, sooner or later he ends up getting a hold of it.
-How did you meet them?
– Through Facebook I met Åsbjørg, who at that time was doing tango duets with Karl, bandoneon and violin. Karl had just returned from Buenos Aires and wanted to continue playing tango. I contacted them, there was a good vibe among the three of us and we decided to continue with the project. Now we are constantly looking for different ways to play the tangos we love. We treat the melodies with a more contrapunctual style, we expand the harmonic language and we combine the tuttis and the solos in more unusual ways.
-And the arrangements?
-Before I was more interested in capturing my vision and sound. Today I aim towards a result bearing the fruits of group collaboration. When each member brings their own vision, the result is infinitely richer and more complex. I am always surprised by the unexpected things that appear in a process of collective creation and the total is always greater than the sum of the parts. I am also more open to playing traditional tangos, although I am interested in always saying something of my own, something coherent with the way we live today, our way of understanding music, which is not the same as it was 50 years ago. Before, maybe I needed to distance myself from the traditional repertoire to find my voice. Today I think how my grandfather would say: tango is tango, it does not matter if it’s from yesterday or today.
The reference to Alberto Castillo opens the way for an almost obvious question:
-The European public, the listeners of your music, your own companions, do they have any idea who Alberto Castillo was?
-The milongueros and the people who know tango of course know who Castillo was. For European musicians, the reference is more Astor Piazzolla. But even those who know him are surprised at the magnitude of his figure when I show them audiovisual and documentary material of the time. Being the grandson of Castillo for me was always a blessing and a joy. Being able to meet such an artist and receive part of his legacy fills me with pride. And some of the tangos in our album are part of my grandfather’s repertoire.
In that catalog of songs, Castillo included “Así se baila el tango”, a tango that said “What do pitucos, lamidos and sushetas know, what do they know what tango is, what they know about the beat …”. It was like a challenge, that he sang with a provocative air, pointing to those who resisted his style. He achieved his goal to such a point that more than once the last measures had the echo of a noisy fight in the audience. Meanwhile, on stage, dominating the situation, Castillo broke the molds, loosening his tie, accompanying the modulation of his voice with the profile of his hands and moving the microphone as Elvis Presley would do years later.
Here you can see and hear, at 43 seconds, after a few bars of “El choclo”:
(Alberto Castillo plays – “Así se baila el tango”)
And now let´s enjoy the recording that, 70 years later, made his grandson playing piano with El Muro Tango:
I was lucky to meet Alberto Castillo. And I did a story, which was published in Gente magazine in October 1965. I remember it was a torrent. He talked, he stopped, he gesticulated, he sat down, he hit me in the hand while I took notes, he came back to stop. And he repeated a hose:
-I do not know if you understand me … I do not know if I explain myself …
It was perfectly explained, of course:
-I am necessary. I am not indispensable, because I am neither bread nor noodles. But I am necessary, I transmit. The public is going to see me looking for something and I give it to them. Something simple, easy. Mine is not stern. Do you realize what I’m telling you? I cause euphoria. Let’s see if I’m like those who play tango for themselves! Piazzolla? He went too far. You do not have to play for later, you have to play for now. Thrill. And he makes you think.
We were talking in his apartment on Riobamba street, but it was as if he were on stage. He went, he came, he moved his arms:
– I triumphed because I sing like you and how they want to sing when they are showering. They laughed at me a lot, they said I was a clown, no sir! If I do it, it’s because of something. I associate each word with a gesture, I coordinate the inflection of the voice and the muscular movement Or the hands do not speak? And what can I tell you about those of us who have the Italian spirit? I have an uncle who, if you tie his hands, cannot talk!
Alberto Castillo was a doctor and his artistic career forced him to leave medicine. Although that experience accompanied him throughout his artistic life:
-When I sing a tango I put everything, because I feel it. You can not talk about a drama if you never had it. And that they come to talk to me about dramas, when I spent five years as a general practitioner in the hospital.
Now, his grandson plays tangos in Norway. Everything is different: the environment, the weather, the language, the stage, the musical sound, the story.
However, Juan Pablo feels the same vibration as his grandfather when tango achieves the miracle of communication:
– Sometimes we play in very small towns and we are surprised by the warmth of the audience. There are tango clubs in totally unthinkable places and it is a great joy to be received with such expectation. Last summer we played in Senja, an island that is within the Arctic circle and people ended up dancing our music, without even knowing how to dance tango!
Surely, his grandfather would be very proud. Much more, if he knew what Juan Pablo has just told me:
-They invited us to play at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. It is one of the finest concert halls in Europe and usually hosts artists like Martha Argerich or Daniel Barenboim.
The event is already on the internet. On Sunday, August 4, at 8:00 pm, the band “El Muro Tango” will play at the Kleine Zaal of the most famous theater in the Netherlands.
We do not know if Queen Máxima will attend. Although taking into account that at her wedding she heard “Adiós Nonino”, she could suddenly be among the audience. Do you know why? Because that night Juan Pablo de Lucca and his group are going to play “Milonga del Ángel” by Astor Piazzolla.
Yes, definitely, grandfather Alberto would not take it badly.
Moreover, he would not be angry with me either because I close my chronicle-show with this fantastic version.
(plays “Milonga del ángel / El Muro Tango)