Written by Tom Pugh (author of The Devil’s Library)
A break-out sensation since emerging in 2016, El Muro Tango should be on tour, playing to packed venues across Europe. Instead, along with the rest of us, they are in isolation – but far from idle. Unable to perform live, the group has just released an extraordinary love letter to tango, the city of Berlin and their many fans. A gift for these dark times in the shape of a film set to their own mould-breaking interpretation of Pugliese’s Recuerdo (A memory).
Drawing inspiration from tango’s origins in the working-class barrios of Buenos Aires, the filmbuilds new connections between the unbridled desire of the milongasand the rough edges of Berlin, one of the world’s great contemporary melting pots, a city of refuge for the queer community and a mecca for performers, musicians and artists.
In every movement, Argentine dancers Juampy Ramirez and Dani Arroyo convey the desire to dance, to flourish, to experience life with an intensity which nothing delivers quite like tango. Their movements are relaxed, their pauses less attention-seeking than in classical tango, as they tell a story of the triumphant pursuit of freedom of expression.
Musically and visually, it’s the story of a quest for identity, a journey across traditional boundaries of genre and gender in pursuit of a sound that represents tango’s true nature. Here, the clichés of so many contemporary recordings are blown away by a performance which acknowledges tango as something more than just a dance. El Muro Tango play it like they’re on a mission – to dive deep into tango’s origins and establish themselves as the defining influence on its still fluid identity in alternative Berlin.
Their deep knowledge and technical virtuosity are audible in every note. Not surprising given that the pianist, Juan Pablo de Lucca, is the grandson of legendary singer and actor Alberto Castillo. The musical accomplishments of his bandmates are hardly less impressive. Together, they seek to make tango transgressive, flamboyant, and dangerous again. As their instrumental interpretation of Recuerdo accompanies the dancers – reflecting on what’s been lost and what remains, hiding in plain sight on the margins, in the beauty of empty urban spaces, in the transformation of two dancers into living emblems of defiant hope – snatches of the lyrics hover like ghosts between the notes:
Yesterday poets sang… / In those soft nights of pleasure… / Bohemian and fragile youth…
/ Dying in a bar in a southern hood… / Death of illusions… / Dying of his song…
The result is a film which moves and connects with great intensity – and one which speaks to our current moment, as it becomes clear that even if COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, the impact of the virus still corresponds to the inequalities in society. Those on the margins are once again among the most vulnerable – and courageous. Like Dani and Juampy, they still apply their make-up, put on their high heels, and dance.
If any contemporary band has the ambition and ability to reinvent tango and bring it to a wider audience, it’s surely El Muro Tango. With this film, they take a major step in that direction.
With passion and soul, Karl Espegard and El Muro Tango brought excitement at the opening of Festspillene i Nesbyen.
And it was a different musical opening at this year’s festival. In the 31 years of the festival’s existence, there has been little South American music on the program. But Tuesday night, after the official opening had taken place in Galleri Nystugu with an art exhibition by Kristian Finborud, the cultural week commenced with tango rhythms.
Band to Nes
And it was a big hit. From the first tone, the internationally acclaimed group with members from Argentina, Norway, and Estonia excited the audience in Sorenskrivargarden: The concert lasted for a bit over an hour. And as one member of the audience said right after the concert:
– There has never been so much passion in Sorenskrivargarden.
– A unique experience, says Karl Espegard.
He is the main reason why El Muro Tango played in Nesbyen. Because here he lived for one year when he was around ten-eleven. And here his mother grew up and here his grandparents spent all their lives. With family members in the audience, it was a special evening also for the violinist.
– Very nice. And I’m glad so many people came.
Around the world
El Muro Tango was formed in 2016. Since then, they have toured the world and for the Norwegian audience, the group is also known from Norwegian Television (TV2). In the program «Norwegian Talents» in 2018, they played in the finale. On Tuesday, they brought Juan Villarreal, one of the leading tango singers in Argentina. Espegard started playing music when he was eight years old. Now he is a professional musician, who in addition to El Muro Tango has played in the musical «The Book of Mormon» at The Norwegian Theater for the last two years. The group came to Nesbyen from concerts in Berlin, Innsbruck, and Oslo earlier in May. Saturday they go on the stage in Naples before continuing to Turin and Milan. On June 1st they play in Zurich.
– In 2018, we played 60 concerts. This year we play a little less, says Espegard, who was happy to introduce a new musical genre to the festival.
– Tango is not so common in Norway, but it has gained more and more popularity.
Sjeldan dose av lidenskap
Festspillene opna i Sorenskrivargarden
Med lidenskap og sjel begeistra Karl Espegard og El Muro Tango då Festspillene i Nesbyen vart opna.
Og det vart ei annleis musikalsk opning på årets festspel. I dei 31 åra festspela har eksistert har det vore lite søramerikansk musikk på programmet. Men tysdag kveld, etter at den offisielle opninga hadde vore i Galleri Nystugu med kunstutstilling av Kristian Finborud, var det tango- rytmar som drog i gang kulturveka.
Band til Nes
Og det vart full klaff. Frå første tone begeistra den internasjonalt anerkjende gruppa med medlemmer frå Argentina, Norge og Estland publikummet i Sorenskrivargarden: Konserten vara i overkant av ein time. Og som ein av tilhøyrarane sa det rett etter konsertslutt:
– Så mykje lidenskap har det aldri vore i Sorenskrivargarden.
– Ei spesiell oppleving, seier Karl Espegard.
Det er han som er hovudgrunnen til at El Muro Tango spelte i Nesbyen. For her budde han i eitt år då han var ti-elleve år. Og her voks mor hans opp og her budde besteforeldra så lengde dei levde. Med familie på plass i salen, vart det ein spesiell kveld også for fiolinisten.
– Veldig artig. Og eg er glad for at så mange kom.
El Muro Tango vart danna i 2016. Etter det har dei turnert verda over, og for det norske publikummet er gruppa også kjend frå TV2. I programmet «Norske Talenter» i 2018 spelte dei i finalen. Tysdag hadde dei med seg Juan Villarreal som er rekna som ein dei fremste tangosongarane i Argentina. Espegard begynte med musikk då han var åtte år. No er han profesjonell musikar, som ved sida av El Muro Tango har spelt i det store oppsetjinga «The Book of Mormon» på Det Norske Teatret dei siste to åra. Til Nesbyen kom gruppa frå konsertar i Berlin, Innsbruck og Oslo tidlegare i mai. Laurdag står dei på scena i Napoli før turen går til Torino og Milano. I Zürich speler dei 1. juni.
– I 2018 spelte me 60 konsertar. Det blir noko mindre i år, seier Espegard, som var glad for å introdusere ein ny musikksjanger i festspela.
– Tangoen er ikkje så vanleg i Norge, men den har vorte meir og meir utbreidd.
Great emotions El Muro Tango & Juan Villarreal Nostálgico Galileo
TANGO: The Norwegian-Argentine tango band El Muro Tango released their debut album «Nostálgico» a few weeks ago. Since the band started in 2016 they have toured the world. They mix Argentine traditional tango with elements of jazz and modern music. It moves the tango foot you didn’t know you had, and suddenly you have buttoned up your shirt more than usual. «This is often about lost or impossible love» explains violinist Karl Espegard, who has lived in Buenos Aires for several years.
Store følelser El Muro Tango & Juan Villarreal Nostálgico Galileo
TANGO: Det norsk-argentinske tangobandet El Muro Tango slapp for noen uker siden sitt debutalbum Nostálgico. Siden bandet startet i 2016 har de turnert verden rundt. De blander argentinsk tradisjonell tango med elementer av jazz og moderne musikk. Det rykker i tangofoten du ikke visste at du hadde, og plutselig har du kneppet opp en skjorteknapp mer enn du pleier. «Dette handler ofte om tapt eller umulig kjærlighet» forklarer fiolinist Karl Espegard, som selv har bodd flere år i Buenos Aires.
Grandes emociones El Muro Tango & Juan Villarreal Nostálgico Galileo
TANGO: La banda noruega-argentina de tango El Muro Tango lanzó su álbum debut “Nostálgico” hace unas semanas. Desde que la banda comenzó en 2016, han realizado giras por todo el mundo. Mezclan el tango tradicional argentino con elementos de jazz y música moderna. Movés el pie tanguero que no sabías que tenías, y de repente te abotonaste la camisa más de lo normal. «Esto se trata a menudo de amor perdido o imposible», explica el violinista Karl Espegard, quien ha vivido en Buenos Aires durante varios años.
Two Argentinians and two Norwegians demonstrate how international tango can be today: getting to know each other through Facebook, gaining fame by appearing on a Norwegian TV talent show, and touring through every tango club in Argentina with Juan Villarreal, singer of the prestigious Orquesta El Arranque. What does Villarreal appreciate about the quartet? «They have an intense and raw energy on the stage that blows you away!» And that is also captured on «Nostálgico». Traditional tangos from the Golden Age, in a modern language, without any piazzollesque tampering. For anyone wondering how to get through the winter, I strongly recommend this album.
– Barbara Stracci
To argentinere og to nordmenn demonstrerer hvordan internasjonal tango kan være i dag: Man blir kjent med hverandre på Facebook, får oppmerksomhet ved å opptre på et norsk TV-show, turnerer rundt til samtlige argentinske tangoklubber med Juan Villarreal, sangeren til det anerkjente Orquesta El Arranque. Hva er det ved kvartetten som Villarreal verdsetter så høyt? «De har en intens og rå energi på scenen som blåser deg av banen!» Og det er også fanget opp på «Nostálgico». Tradisjonelle tangoer fra den gylne epoken, i et moderne språk, uten piazzollaesk forkludring. Alle som lurer på hvordan de kommer gjennom vinteren, anbefales dette albumet på det varmeste.
– Barbara Stracci
Dos argentinos y dos noruegos demuestran cómo puede ser el tango internacional hoy en día: se conocen a través de Facebook, llaman la atención actuando en un programa de televisión noruego y realizan una gira por todos los clubes de tango argentinos con Juan Villarreal, cantante de la famosa Orquesta El Arranque. Qué hay en el cuarteto que Villarreal aprecia tanto? «Tienen una energía intensa y cruda en el escenario que te deja sin aliento!» Y esto también está plasmado en «Nostálgico». Tangos tradicionales de la época de oro, en lenguaje moderno, sin piazzolleadas. Un álbum muy recomendable para cualquier persona que se pregunte cómo pasar el invierno.
– Barbara Stracci
Zwei Argentinier und zwei Norweger machen vor, wie international Tango heute sein kann: Man lernt sich auf Facebook kennen, erlangt Bekanntheit durch den Auftritt in einer norwegischen TV-Casting-show, tourt mit Juan Villarreal, Sänger des renommierten Orquesta El Arranque, durch sämtliche Tangolokale Argentiniens. Was Villarreal an dem Quartett so schätzt? «Sie haben eine intensive und rohe Energie auf der Bühne, die einen wegbläst!» Und die auch auf «Nostálgico» eingefangen ist. Traditionelle Tangos aus der Goldenen Ära, in modernem Idiom, ohne piazzollaesk zu verkopfen. Alle, die sich fragen, wie sie durch den Winter kommen, sei dieses Album wärmstens empfohlen.
After I inserted the CD, I was distracted and had to devote myself briefly to other tasks. The tango ran alongside. Why is that important? The music made me work fast and focused. Tango can be annoying. This one is quite the contrary. It is modern, melodious and yet comes with soul. For their album, the Argentinian Juan Pablo and the Norwegian Karl Espegard brought the sought-after tango singer Juan Villareal on board, with whom they have been performing very successfully live in Europe for some time. «Distinto pero igual» – different, but equal – is from him, and at the same time a wonderful motto for the tango in general. In dance, the woman submits to the man and yet she is equal to him. Further playing tips: «Recuerdo» and the dramatic «El Violin de Becho».
Etter at jeg hadde satt på CDen, ble jeg distrahert og måtte vie meg kort til andre oppgaver. Tangoen løp side om side. Hvorfor er det av betydning? Musikken fikk meg til å jobbe raskt og fokusert. Tango kan være irriterende. Denne er det slett ikke. Den er moderne, melodisk og kommer likevel med sjel. I anledning av deres album brakte den argentinske Juan Pablo og den norske Karl Espegard den ettertraktede tangosangeren Juan Villareal om bord. Sammen har de allerede en god stund gjort suksessfulle liveopptredener i Europa. «Distinto pero igual» – forskjellig, men lik – er fra ham, og samtidig et fantastisk motto for tango generelt. I dansen underlegger kvinnen seg mannen og likevel er de likestilte. Videre spilletips: «Recuerdo» og den dramatiske «El Violin de Becho».
Después de insertar el CD, me distraje y tuve que dedicarme brevemente a otras tareas. Mientras, el tango sonaba. ¿Por qué es esto importante? La música me hizo trabajar rápido y concentrado. El tango puede ser molesto. Este es todo lo contrario. Es moderno, melodioso y viene con alma. Para su álbum, el argentino Juan Pablo de Lucca y el noruego Karl Espegard sumaron al famoso cantante de tango Juan Villareal, con quien han estado presentándose en Europa con mucho éxito durante algún tiempo ya. «Distinto pero igual» es una pieza suya, y al mismo tiempo es un lema maravilloso para el tango en general. En la danza, la mujer se somete al hombre y, sin embargo, ella es igual a él. Otras recomendaciones: «Recuerdo» y el dramático «El violín de Becho».
Nachdem ich die CD eingelegt hatte, wurde ich gestört und musste mich kurz anderen Aufgaben widmen. Dabei lief der Tango nebenher. Warum ist das von Bedeutung: Die Musik ließ mich schnell und konzentriert arbeiten. Tango kann nervig sein. Dieser ist es ganz und gar nicht. Er ist modern, melodiös und kommt trotzdem mit Seele daher. Für ihr Album holten sich der Argentinier Juan Pablo und der Norweger Karl Espegard den gefragten Tangosänger Juan Villareal an Bord, mit dem sie auch schon seit einiger Zeit im europäischen Raum sehr erfolgreich live auftreten. «Distinto pero igual» — verschieden, aber gleich — ist von ihm, und gleichzeitig ein wunderbares Motto für den Tango generell. Im Tanz unterwirft sich die Frau dem Mann und trotzdem ist sie ihm auch gleichgestellt. Weitere Anspieltipps: «Recuerdo» und das dramatische «El Violin de Becho».
The compact sound of the Argentine-Norwegian band by the Argentinian pianist Juan Pablo de Lucca and the Norwegian violinist Karl Espegard can be described as a mix of traditional tango with elements of jazz and modern music. The rhythmic pulse keeps a constant imaginary connection to the body of a dancer. The title of their album «Nostálgico» is dedicated to the core of what constitutes Argentine tango: nostalgia and yearning for the past. «It’s often about loss or an impossible love», explains Karl Espegard. The current line-up includes the vocalist of the well-known orchestra El Arranque, Juan Villareal, who also shares El Muro’s raw energy and passion for tango. Recorded in September 2017, «Nostálgico» is an album that convinces with its wonderfully elaborated arrangements, as well as its sound, committed to the tradition of the old masters, that is so rarely found in today’s tango bands.
Den kompakte lyden av det argentinsk-norske bandet til den argentinske pianisten Juan Pablo de Lucca og den norske fiolinisten Karl Espegard kan beskrives som en blanding av tradisjonell tango med elementer av jazz og moderne musikk. Den rytmiske pulsen holder en konstant imaginær forbindelse til en dansers kropp. Tittelen på deres album «Nostálgico» er dedikert til kjernen av det som utgjør den argentinske tangoen: nostalgi og lengsel etter fortiden. «Det handler ofte om tapt eller en umulig kjærlighet», forklarer Karl Espegard. I den aktuelle bandbesetningen finner man Juan Villareal, vokalist i det berømte orkesteret El Arranque, som også deler El Muros råe energi og lidenskap for tangoen. «Nostálgico», innspilt i september 2017, er et album som imponerer med sine vakkert utarbeidede arrangementer, og dens forpliktelse til tradisjonen og de gamle mesternes klangbilde hører du kun sjeldent spilt på en slik måte av dagens tangoband.
El sonido compacto de la banda argentino-noruega en torno al pianista argentino Juan Pablo de Lucca y al violinista noruego Karl Espegard puede describirse como una mezcla de tango tradicional con elementos de jazz y música moderna. El pulso rítmico mantiene una constante conexión imaginaria con el cuerpo de un bailarín. El título de su álbum «Nostálgico» está dedicado al núcleo de lo que constituye el tango argentino: la nostalgia y el anhelo por lo que fue. «A menudo se trata de la pérdida o de un amor imposible», explica Karl Espegard. La formación actual incluye al cantor de la famosa orquesta El Arranque, Juan Villareal, que comparte con El Muro Tango la misma energía y pasión por el tango. Grabado en septiembre de 2017, «Nostálgico» es un álbum que convence por sus arreglos maravillosamente elaborados, así como por un sonido, cercano a la tradición de los grandes maestros, que rara vez se encuentra en las bandas de tango actuales.
Der kompakte Sound der argentinisch-norwegischen Band um den argentinischen Pianisten Juan Pablo De Lucca und den norwegischen Geiger Karl Espegard lässt sich als Mix aus traditionellem Tango mit Elementen des Jazz und moderner Musik beschreiben. Der rhythmische Puls hält dabei eine ständige imaginäre Verbindung zum Körper eines Tänzers. Der Titel ihres Albums «Nostálgico» widmet sich dem Kern dessen, was den argentinischen Tango ausmacht: Nostalgie und die Sehnsucht nach dem Vergangenen. «Es geht oft um Verlust oder eine unmögliche Liebe», erklärt Karl Espegard. Zur aktuellen Bandbesetzung gehört der Sänger des bekannten Orchesters El Arranque, Juan Villareal, der El Muros rohe Energie und Leidenschaft für den Tango teilt. Aufgenommen im September 2017, ist «Nostálgico» ein Album, das mit seinen wunderbar ausgearbeiteten Arrangements überzeugt sowie seinem der Tradition der alten Meister verpflichteten Sound, den man so gespielt nur sehr selten von aktuellen Tango-Bands findet.
Karl Espegard from Drammen has played violin since he was eight years old. In 2012, he traveled to Buenos Aires to study Spanish and literature and it did not take long before he started missing the violin.
– When I traveled to Argentina I became immersed in tango. I bought the cheapest violin I could find and started playing.
Espegard plays in a Norwegian-Argentine tango band called El Muro Tango. Together they travel and tour in Europe and South America. Recently they released their debut album “Nostálgico”.
The violin has been with him since he was eight years old and music has always been a part of his life. Espegard says his mother was very passionate about her children getting to learn an instrument. Why he ended up with the violin is, in his own opinion, a bit random.
– The man who was to become my first violin teacher came to my school with two of his students. We were allowed to try the violin. My sister and I wanted to start taking lessons. We started together, but she eventually dropped out. I come from a musical family but no one plays professionally.
At the age of 13, Espegard entered the Barratt Due Institute of Music, and for many years he was a member of the Buskerud Youth String Orchestra under the leadership of Thode Fagelund. In 2007 he worked as a teacher at Drammen School of Music and Culture.
– At that time I was also conducting the school string orchestra, and I had a few violin students. I quit my job because I moved to Northern Norway to work as a county musician. I taught and played concerts for the counties that lie a little further out in the countryside, he says.
Found a new genre
In 2012 he traveled to Buenos Aires and got acquainted with the tango. He got in touch with people in the community and decided to start playing.
– I had listened to tango before, but it was first when I traveled to Argentina that I was absorbed by it, he says. In 2016 he met the guys he now plays in a band with.
Don´t live in the same country
El Muro Tango was founded in Oslo, but the musicians now live in different countries.
– The singer of the band lives in Buenos Aires, the pianist lives in Berlin and the bassist lives in Switzerland. There are two of us who live in Norway.
Espegard says that there are, of course, a few challenges involved in playing with people who live in different countries, but rarely does it pass more than a month between meeting to play concerts.
– We plan things together, but it can, of course, be a challenge not to be in the same room or in the same country all the time. We travel a lot, however, and meet whenever we tour. We keep a lot of contact through social media, he explains.
Playing in Book of Mormon
Besides playing in a tango band, Espegard is also involved in the acclaimed musical Book of Mormon at The Norwegian Theater.
– I’m a part of the band so I don’t have a theatrical role, but I have previously worked in several theater productions at The Norwegian Theater, including Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon in 2016, he says.
On November 18, El Muro Tango gave a concert at Gummibaren in Drammen, and on November 23 they released their debut album. Espegard says that the band has traveled around the world and has received great recognition in both the European and South American tango communities.
– We have traveled in Argentina and performed in the well-known tango clubs. It has been a great experience to be able to travel around the country and play for people who not only like our music but also know the lyrics, says the musician.
– We work with some of the leading Argentine tango singers, including Martin Alvarado, Negro Falótico and Chino Laborde. Our music is a mix of Argentine traditional tango with elements of jazz and modern music, he adds.
Eager about Japan
Espegard tells Drammens Tidende that they have accomplished several goals recently, with tours and debut album to show for. Their next big goal is to travel to Japan, where there is a great interest in tango, both for dancers and tango orchestras, says Espegard.
– We already have some contacts who have traveled to Japan and introduced us to the music industry, but we are thinking of going there in 2020. Tango has been popular in Japan since the ’30s, and there are a lot of Japanese people who have emigrated to Argentina and live in Buenos Aires, says Espegard.
Playing with Norwegian-Argentine El Muro Tango, who is about to release their new album and gives a concert at Gummibaren on Sunday 18 November.
What will we hear?
– There will be Argentine tango, and we play a lot from our debut album, which will be released on November 23. By the way, we are bringing the physical record, which also has been launched in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and now with a tour from the north to the south of Norway.
El Muro Tango has held a concert in Drammen earlier, among others at Union Scene during the Cultural Night (Kulturnatt) in 2017, how is it to play in your hometown?
– It’s great, the audience is very receptive. Our first concert in Drammen was also at Gummibaren, furthermore we played at a Tango Weekend in January, where there were instructors from Argentina and Finland, and where we gave a concert in the evening.
Tell me about El Muro, when did you start?
– We started El Muro Tango in 2016 as a trio, so we celebrate two years this year. Juan Pablo de Lucca plays piano, Åsbjørg Ryeng plays bandoneon, Sebastian Noya plays double bass and Juan Villarreal is the lead singer. Bandoneon is a kind of transportable church organ, made in Germany in the late 1800s, arriving to Argentina when people emigrated there. There the instrument was captured by the tango – we can say it went from the church in Europe to the brothels in Buenos Aires.
You are originally from Drammen, share a little about your background?
– I started playing violin when I was eight, and went to the local music school in Drammen with Thode Fagelund as a teacher. Later I moved to Oslo and entered the Barratt Due Institute of Music, before continuing my studies at Hochschule der Künste Bern and the Norwegian Academy of Music.
How did you get passionate about tango?
– It was a coincidence that I went to Argentina, I knew about Astor Piazzolla, he took the music out of the clubs and into the concert halls, but I only knew it superficially, tango is a world in itself. In Argentina, I learned about the styles and the different eras and everything that the tango music contains. I returned later and made friends and learned Spanish, I felt very at home there.
What is it about this music?
– Many things, tango is a bit like classical music, but it is still popular music. You think it’s improvised, but it’s not. Tango gives you a feeling of being alive, both from playing and listening. And it lives in the sense that in all over the world you can dance to tango. Tango is a separate language, a culture of its own. The music deals with universal themes, often about lost love. The tango culture had its peak in the 1930s and 40s. But then it went down, and the 1980s and 90s were dark times for the tango, after all the political difficulties in Latin America. Now, fortunately, it is in bloom again. In Argentina, there is a growing interest in preserving old recordings and manuscripts, and a few years ago, tango was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
What are the feedbacks you get?
– We get very positive feedback, people are taken on a journey, the music stirs emotions. We have received very good response during the whole tour, and good attendance. Several of the concerts have been sold out, I am a little surprised that people who have never heard of us actually show up.
What do you listen to yourself?
– I listen to a lot of different music, often within jazz and latin, and I am particularly fond of the Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade. Also I listen to music released by friends and colleagues.
Which book has meant the most to you?
– Don’t know which one has meant the most, but one that I recently read, and which was very interesting is “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. He grew up during the apartheid regime in South Africa. The mother was African and the father Swiss – his mere existence was a crime during apartheid.
What makes you happy?
– Good food! Asado, Argentinian barbecue – there is no better. In addition, it is a very social thing.
Who is your childhood hero?
– Arve Tellefsen.
What do you dislike most about yourself?
– That I’m a little intense sometimes, I can’t let go of things. It has its good and bad sides.
What are you willing to go in demonstration for or against?
– Certainly for equal rights for everyone.
Is there anything you regret?
– Yes, but I rather think you can learn from your mistakes instead of regretting – you should not be afraid to make mistakes.
With whom would you get stuck in the elevator?
– Would be been fun to meet Diego El Cigala – a Spanish flamenco singer.
El Muro Tango released its debut album this autumn: Nostàlgico. In the recording we hear the Norwegian violinist Karl Espegard and Åsbjørg Ryeng on bandoneon, pianist and composer Juan Pablo de Lucca from Buenos Aires, and bassist Sebastian Noya, who lives in Switzerland. With them, they have the singer Juan Villarreal from Buenos Aires. The band has already been on tour in many countries for the past two years.
A bitter cold afternoon in December I meet Karl Espegard in Oslo. We seek refuge in the apartment he borrows from a friend (the globetrotter has not yet a place to call home) and start a Skype conversation with Juan Pablo de Lucca from Berlin and Juan Villarreal, who is having breakfast in Buenos Aires.
I’m looking at the small screen and thinking about all the amazing technological opportunities we have at the moment. But these guys create music and that is quite something else, isn´t it?
Fierce dance Recently, everyone was gathered in Norway for a small release tour, during which they were warming up Oslo and other smaller cities with their hefty tango rhythms. They are also known from the television show “Norway´s Got Talent” on TV2, where they accompanied the dancers Cyrena and Steinar. Lived life and longing for even more adventures vibrates in the air.
– It’s not easy to be a group when we live so far apart, says de Lucca.
– While it’s useful to be able to talk over the web, it’s something quite different to be in the same room and share and develop ideas. When we still are able to pull it off, it’s because we really want it. We are proud of what we have achieved so far. And when we get together, have concerts and notice how the audience gets carried along, it gives us a real kick, he continues.
Espegard nods and adds that it is the desire to live a life filled with music that keeps them going, despite the fact that the distances are cumbersome. For his part, he is also genuinely interested in tango after several long stays in Argentina.
– You Argentinians probably have tango in the blood, and have also played and sung together with many other groups, but how is it for you to work with two Norwegian musicians?
Villarreal takes the word:
– To me it is very nice to work with these Norwegians. They are good musicians. Nationality does not matter, but in the case of tango, it is an additional challenge because it is so closely linked to the culture.
– For us, having grown up with it, tango has been transmitted unnoticed into our life through our parents. But Karl has lived here in Argentina and has learned the language and ways of tango. It’s not about being able to play the right notes, but about the actual basic emotion. I feel he has grabbed it.
Straight from the spleen – Yes, what is tango really? On the record there are several different rythms, including waltz and something similar to samba … Can anything be tango if you just perform it in a certain way?
– To me, there is one word that defines tango: esplin, says Villarreal.
He speaks Spanish now, and both Espegard and I find that our language skills come a little short. But Villarreal explains:
– The songs can be about anything. It can be a love story, something about friendship, a story from the past – anything. Sometimes a happy song, but at the bottom you will always find stripes of melancholy and nostalgia. It’s the “party where sadness is danced,” as a friend of mine says. That’s how it is.
– Of course there are certain elements that belong: Syncopes, fermatas, rhythms – many elements – but ultimately, it is a state of mind. To me it is esplin. This is what carries it all, which speaks about everything you’ve lost or almost lost, and about death. Remember that tango is created by poor immigrants, slaves, indigenous people and gauchos – people who have lost their roots.
When I check the term, it appears that the word Villarreal uses to describe tango is a term for the organ “spleen”, and it is linked to an old idea that spleen is the organ in the body that produces “black bile” . People who were sad, melancholic or depressed had an excess of this fluid.
Lentil stew – It may be symptomatic that while I asked about counting bars in the music, you are more concerned with the inner life of music?
– Yes, you can make tango of many different kinds of rhythms, but if you do not understand the esplin, you do not play tango, confirms Villarreal.
From Berlin, de Lucca jumps in with a bit more music technological explanation:
– Tango is divided into three subcategories: Tango, Milonga and Waltz. Tango is at 4/4 pace, but it must be played with the right feeling. If not, it becomes carousel music.
– There are clearly defined rules, continues Espegard.
– These have been developed over the years. For example, you do not have percussion in the orchestra, but you use the instruments percussively. It’s typical for tango. You have the obvious difference between a legato, marcato and syncope, which are basic structural elements.
De Lucca illustrates: – Yes, this is the skeleton, but the most important reason to know it is to be able to free yourself from it. You can compare it with a mass-produced suit. You do not want it. Why would you like to have a suit that is identical to what everyone else has? You also don´t want to play tango like everyone else plays it. You want to create your own.
Espegard concludes that making your own version of a tango song is typical.
– The scores you get from the composer usually contain only the melody and the harmony, therefore the same song can sound very different, depending on which artist is performing it.
De Lucca rounds off by testifying to the relationship between jazz and tango, and continues enthusiastically into an explanation of food recipes. Although some dishes have certain elements that must be there, like lentils in a lentil soup, you can add a lot of different ingredients to your own liking.
Dense sound – What is the core of El Muro Tango?
– You ask about our recipe? Parallel fourths!
The boys are grinning, but de Lucca still reveals a few secrets from their cookbook:
– The sound is for a large part built by mine and Karls interaction. The sound of tango orchestras is almost always directed from the piano. Because of the fact that tango groups do not have any rhythm section, the piano leads through its bass lines and harmonizations. When there is an accelerando or ritardando, it’s always the piano that directs it. The piano also has a lot of volume, so the others must follow. You can say I control what’s going on, hehe.
Espegard says tango today has two distinct directions.
– On the one hand you have the traditional clubs where people go to dance, and it is quite common for the orchestras to faithfully copy the old, well-known artists and styles.
– On the other hand, you have concert tango, which largely flourishes in Europe. Here the main emphasis is on the legend Astor Piazzolla and other classically trained musicians. El Muro Tango finds itself in the middle of these. We want to keep it danceable, but also add some new subtleties, some harmonic explorations and create our own expression. It’s a demanding task, because if you get too experimental, it’s easy to get away from the danceable. It seems like we’ve managed to find our balance.
Woman with bandoneon Noticeable for the group is the fact that they have a female bandoneon player. Åsbjørg Ryeng is not present while I talk to the rest of the group, but afterwards she tells me about her random way into this particular choice of instrument:
– I was ten years old when I entered the local music school in Trondheim. Just then, Kåre Jostein Simonsen had been in Paris and learned to play bandoneon, and started teaching the instrument. It seemed like fun, so I signed up for the class.
Since then, Ryeng has continued to play the instrument, and several years later graduated with a masters degree from the Norwegian Academy of Music and has become a member of several tango bands. Even in the traditionally male chauvinist Argentina, she has only met positive response to the fact that, as a woman, she plays the instrument which until recently has only been played by men.
– Here we have, once again, the fact that tango relates to the culture, says de Lucca.
– In the typical local milongas (clubs, ed’s note), the women only went out with their family. If you wanted to dance with a women, you had to ask the father for permission. The women never went out alone. My mother, who is around 70 years old, always had to bring her aunt if she wanted to go out to dance while she was young. In the last ten years it is no longer the case, and there are also more women playing the bandoneon. Some of them are really good.
Controls the dance – Does the dance change as well? When you see people dancing tango, you see that there is a clear hierarchy – the man is the boss and the woman is being led?
– When I started dancing ten years ago I was not taught that the man is the boss, but someone has to lead the dance, and according to tradition it’s the man, says de Lucca.
– But first and foremost it has to do with the fact that he is looking in a forward direction. You cannot lead the dance while walking backwards. But the dance is something we do together. Today, if you dance with young women and try to lead them in a bossy way, they will quickly say thanks and leave the dance floor, he says.
Espegard has observed that in milongas, many couples are switching to take the leading role.
– It can happen both between man and woman, and between two of the same sex. But you can´t ignore the fact that in the dance there are two very distinct roles.
Controlling the fermatas – In the group, how do you manage to coordinate all the rhythmical and emotional changes that are used in tango? Long fermatas, syncopes or accelerandi – all this passion, how do you agree to when it should happen?
De Lucca explains:
– We make some kind of choreography when we practice. But how we do it is not as important as why we do it. If you only know how to do it, you can only do what the choreography directs. We also improvise. We can do that because we understand each other. It has something to do with the way we speak. There is a lot of singing in the language. We shout, whisper and gesticulate, and much is said with just the eyes.
– A couple of years ago when I arrived to Europe, I first lived in Hamburg, Oslo and Berlin. Then I arrived to Italy, and it struck me that as soon as I got out in the street, I felt that I understood everything that happened. The way people used their eyes, body posture, how they talked to each other … all the insignificant things in communication. It was almost like back home. We do not have a ‘clean’ and tidy communication as you guys in Northern Europe. It is much more dirty, messy and expressive with us.
De Lucca talks warmly about the way to express, and recites a few lines from one of their songs:
Cerrame el ventanal que arrastra el sol su lento caracol de sueño
He recites first softly and confidently, then hard and imperiously to illustrate how the musicians must follow carefully the expression of the soloist and adjust their playing accordingly. The poetic verses are so delicate that I will not try to translate, but we understand that it is a good idea to pay close attention.
– You simply just have to listen very carefully to each other?
– Yes, you should have a choreography at the core, but most interesting things happen when someone in the group strays off from the choreography. As if Juan suddenly discovers something in the text that he has not thought of before and sings it differently than usual, then we have to change the plan, says de Lucca, and emphasizes that they must respond to what the singer is trying to convey.
– When five people go together to tell a story, it’s so powerful that you can hardly stay untouched. You sometimes notice in concerts: Something is happening, you cannot describe it, and you cannot recreate it even if you tried, but it is a strong experience.
– This is not unique to tango, continues Espegard.
– It concerns art in general. The musicians respond to the circumstances and it affects what is happening on stage. However, it is noticable to what extent tango is related to the Argentinian style of life. Therefore, there is also a difference between tango played at club in Buenos Aires and in some German city.
Percussive game – You are a classically trained violinist. What is the biggest challenge for you as an instrumentalist when playing tango?
– I would rather answer to what’s the biggest benefit! What I like about playing tango is that although the music has certain rules, one is free. Free to experiment. Create your own versions. It is an essential reason to why I play tango.
– As for the technique, there are certain things to learn, such as the percussive way to play such squeaky sounds as one gets when playing with the bow placed behind the bridge. There are other percussive effects as well. I do not feel like I have mastered everything yet, but I have not focused strongly on it either. I’m not looking for cheap effects. The music consists of other things, says Espegard.
A new tango record without electronic beats! The Argentine-Norwegian band EL MURO TANGO strictly adheres to the specification of the title “Nostalgico”. They play tango according to tradition, with heart and soul aimed at the present time. Exquisite emotional roller coaster rides from the past 80 years, supplemented with the singer and guitarist JUAN VILLARREAL, revive the past and show once again that there is music that never grows old. Eric did it, Bob Dylan did it, even Dr. Ring Ding did it, so let’s do it, let’s fall in love! Absolutely. In addition to Richie’s (Dr. Ring Ding) Christmas album from 2015 (‘Once a year’), there is finally another festive menu for the ears and the flying repetitions during the Christmas holidays.
En ny tangoplate uten elektroniske beats! Det argentinsk-norske bandet EL MURO TANGO holder seg strengt til spesifikasjonen av tittelen “Nostalgico”. De spiller tango etter tradisjonen, med hjerte og sjel rettet mot nåtiden. Utsøkte emosjonelle berg- og dalbansturer fra de siste 80 årene, supplert med sanger og gitarist JUAN VILLARREAL, gjenoppliver fortiden og viser igjen at det finnes musikk som aldri blir gammel. Eric gjorde det, Bob Dylan gjorde det, selv Dr. Ring Ding gjorde det, so let’s do it, let’s fall in love! Uten tvil. I tillegg til Richies (Dr. Ring Ding) juleplate fra 2015 (“Once a year”) finnes det endelig enda en festmeny for ørene og de flygende repetisjonene under juleferien.
Eine neue Tango-Platte ohne elektronische Beats! Die argentinisch-norwegische Band EL MURO TANGO hält sich strikt an die Vorgabe des Titels «Nostalgico». Sie spielen Tango, aus der Tradition, mit Herz und Seele in die heutige Zeit gerettet. Ausgesuchte emotionale Achterbahn-Fahrten aus den letzten 80 Jahren, ergänzt mit dem Sänger und Gitarristen JUAN VILLARREAL lassen die Vergangenheit aufleben und zeigen einmal mehr, dass es Musik gibt, die niemals alt wird Eric tat es, Bob Dylan tat es, sogar Dr. Ring Ding tat es, so let’s do it, let’s fall in Love! Unbedingt. Neben Richie’s (Dr. Ring Ding) Weihnachts-platte aus 2015 (,Once a year’) gibt es endlich ein weiteres Festtags-Menu für die Ohren und die fliegende Wiederholung an den Feiertagen.