Max Masri - keyboard, synthesizers,
producer of the albums "Emigrante" and "Hybrid Tango"
songwriter with Diego
music engineer - graduated from USA
Diego S. Velazquez - guitar
formed group in 2001 with Max Masri
songwriter and arranger
Bandoneon - student of Mederos
with tanghetto since 2006
Acoustic and Electric Piano
Graduated from IUNA, school of music in Buenos Aires
Member since 2006
Drums and percussion
Joined Tanghetto in 2007
Considered one of the best argentine drummers of his generation
Favorite piece - Alexanderplatz Tango
Violoncello & Erhu
from Guang Zhou
Member of many orchestras and was a member of Tanghetto since 2004
Scene: A 4th of July cookout at Phoebe Grant's home in Chicago prior to the opening night for Tangojoven 2007. Friday evening will be the official introduction for Tanghetto's new CD which will be released soon.
Although the interview is with the co-founders, Max Masri and Diego Velazquez. I included some basic information about the other members below.
My own personal aside....I have encountered an assortment of egos in this Tango world that I inhabit (some of whom I'm shocked that they can live with themselves) and am glad to share that these two are genuine, open, and full of life and spirit. It's always a joy when you don't have to dig deep to find the person. Their eyes are always curious, their spirits are free, their hearts are open, but most important ....their feet are grounded.
Tanghetto is an argentine band led by Max Masri and Diego Valazquez formed n 2001. The name "Tanghetto" (the combination of the words "tango" and "ghetto") was inspired by the "little argentinas", the communities of exiled argentines living overseas.
In the mid 90s, Max went back to BA from Germany after sharing interesting experiences with argentine emigrants and, because of that, arrived at the idea to create a new musical language, blending tango with modern sounds.
In late 1998, he started working with Diego and they began recording and producing their first electrotango tracks. In 2001 these ideas were revived with a modern sound, their own compositions and, finally, a name for the project: Tanghetto.
In 2003 "Emigrante" was released in Argentina. The album achieved gold status by early 2005. In 2004, "Emigrante" was nominated for a Latin Grammy award in the "Best Instrumental Album" category.
In 2004, many Tanghetto musicians, let by Max and Diego, released a side project "Hybrid Tango", where the fusion of modern tango music and electronica goes unprecedentedly beyond, adding a world music flavor with flamenco, latin rhythms and jazz elements. Some of the tracks from Hybrid Tango are part of Tanghetto's live repertoire. In 2005, this alum was nominated for a Latin Grammy award in the "Best Tango Album" category.
Between March and September 2005, the band and some DJS remixed 12 songs from previous project. This material was released with the name "Buenos Aires Remixed" in October of 2005. The song, "Blue Monday" was included in the film score of the movie "La Mujer de Mi Hermano" (my brother's wife) Thus the song became an alternative radio hit in the USA.
The band just released their first live DVD (titled "Live in BA") and they are currently recording their next studio album. This album is expected July 2007.
Q: I noticed in your first album that you have several pieces with social themes. Do you feel that you express your political feelings through your music?
Max: It depends on what song and sometimes it depends on the situation, There was a crisis in Argentina that inspired that sense of "no future" feeling. When there is an economic crisis of such magnitude it's like everyone there had visions of their future, of what they wanted to be and in one day it all disappeared.
Tanghetto was created at that time when people was trying to escape that situation. The music is instrumental so we tried to express these ideas and to expand the musical language with written words and images.
Q: What was your motivation at that time?
Max: There was a need to explore our roots. After globalization, you don't know what is yours and what is foreign. When everything collapsed it was the right time to rediscover our roots.
We have the genre "rock nacional" but it's not Argentine music. It's American music in Spanish. So we wanted to do something for us which was original to us as Argentines.
Diego: Even though we were raised where you can always hear Tango and the sounds are the core of your life, we were into different styles of music -- rock, jazz. This was the right time to go back to the music of our city.
At the time we started with this idea, it was completely crazy. Now it is more common.
Q: Was it difficult to function in an environment where it was considered, "crazy"?.
Max: It was difficult. We had to deal with all the prejudice from the old and the young. The older people want to embrace their past and they want to preserve that. To do something to their music, to change it, meant to them that their music was old and maybe they are old.
For the young, they just thought Tango was dated and weren't interested.
Diego: There was a TV show in the 80s called Grandes Valores del Tango. For us it was something bizarre ...very old fashioned...like watching a polka show. Our generation associated that show with Tango. We hated it.
Discovering Piazzolla allowed us to embrace Tango. We could listen to it. After Piazzolla, we discovered other composers like Pugliese and Troilo. He was the gate to enter the Tango.
Q: Do you feel that your position at that time, was similar to the position that Piazzolla experienced at the beginning of his career?
Max: In a way. Electronic music is not considered Tango and Piazzolla was not considered Tango.
Some people say that electronic tango will be considered a part of the tango in later years and the old tango will be considered "classic".
Diego: Piazzolla, I think it was more difficult. Nowadays , people have more information and are more open. Besides, the phenomenon also occurred in different places of the world -- I mean the combination between local, folk sounds and the electronic ones, like a dialect fusing the local language and the universal one. It happened in India, some arabic countries, Spain, etc. So it became like a musical "lingua franca" in many places. Of course we realized that we were part of something bigger a while after the release of "Emigrante".
Max: Some tango dancers started to play our music at their milongas. If you go to La Viruta they generally play traditional music but when they play electronica everyone gets up to dance.
Some people fear that electronic tango will destroy their traditional music. Some people feel that to have an option is a threat.
Q: Was Gotan Project's CD out at that time - when Emigrante was released?
Max: In Argentina, the whole electronic scene was underground. Gotan was not popular at that time and no one knew what the others were doing. At the same time narco tango, ultratango, bajofondo released their albums.
Diego: We didn't listen to Gotan Project until after our CD came out. Some Europeans mentioned that they listened to it and that it was considered lounge music in Europe. Gotan was the first group to reach international recognition.
Q: What changes have you made since you started...musically..?
Max: 6 months after our album was released we were nominated for a Latin Grammy. As a result, we got to meet all these major stars - Carlos Santana
We feel that our music is tango influenced by modern sounds. We are trying to bring something new to this musical expression and when you travel you absorb information from other sources that you can express artistically.
Diego: In the new record, we are still in the track of fusing Tango and Electronica. We also expanded it. Remember, our motto is "do what you want" musically and artistically. For instance, one of the new songs has a bossa nova rhythm. Also we use a Chinese 2 -string instrument, the erhu. Even though it has a typical Chinese sound, it is compatible with the bandoneon because they both have a nostalgic feeling... a sadness.
Q: What effect did being nominated for the Grammy have on your careers? Has it opened doors for you?
Max: Actually I was very happy with the nominations but what I think is that it shouldn't make a real difference if you are really good on what you do. Anyway it put Tanghetto on the map for many people in the music industry (especially in the US). This kind of recognition is like feeling "We must be doing things right. We should continue our work".
Q: Are you thinking about adding other instruments in the future?
Diego: We would like to add a violin...
Max: Someday vocals. Perhaps guest vocalists and/or musicians.
Diego: The idea is to have talented and prestigious vocalists and musicians performing with us.
Max: A question for you . Which album did you like best?
Jackie: Emigrante. To be honest, I didn't know that Hybrid Tango was a Tanghetto production.
Max: It was an attempt to go to extremes - to push the envelope.
Q: How do you feel you're different from Narcotango... Bajofondo...?
Max: We are instrumental. They have singers. Also the song structure.
Diego: We always try to approach the instrumental music from a "song" mentality with the bandoneon as the vocalist. We have jazz elements in the harmony. Also we are very fond of arrangements... duets between instruments... melodies shared by instruments... and we write all the parts of the instruments. But we still have a pop approach.
Q: What's a pop approach?
Diego: In the musical influences. We have listened to all types of music..rock, jazz...etc.. all of that is part of the Tanghetto sound.
Max: We want our music to be sincere (true and honest to the way we want) but still be able to communicate. We want the message to get through so that anyone can understand it.
Diego: For instance, we don't have songs that last 9 minutes. And we try to use material that is familiar to people. Both material and structure. Also all of our compositions, except for those Depeche Mode and New Order covers, are Tanghetto originals.
Max: I was reading a book about Tango and it was amazing all the influences from other cultures. I take that approach to our music. With new influences you can make something different.
Q: Isn't it interesting that when you read about the history of Tango you hear about the influence of ragtime, jazz, and african beats on Tango and now it's come full circle in that the two of you are adding jazz and other elements back.
Max: Milonga was originally a gaucho playing a guitar and another would start to improvise words about his personal experience, the things he was suffering, the miseries of his life.
Diego: Some guys had an impressive ability to improvise long verses.
Max: And the music that was popular at that time.. habaneras...in Cuba...
Diego: In 19th century some Cubans brought that music to Argentina.
Max: When you find out where the tango originates like the bandoneon, a german instrument. At the beginning Tango music included a flute and guitar. Later, from what I have read, the Italians brought the bandoneon. Remember they were basically "jamming" - both the musicians with their various instruments and dancers. It was a social event.
Q: Do your politics still influence your music?
Max: I really liked the attitude of the people when things were bad. Now, they don't care about what is right and wrong.
Q: Will your music reflect that feeling or are you in a different place?
Max: Compared to that special time. yes it is different.
Q: You want the music to be true to who you are... so who are you at this moment? maybe compared to before?
Max: More experienced in life. For instance, I don't believe what is in the newspaper.
Also when you get to travel this much, every place becomes the place. The whole world is a place. Especially with Tango.
Q: Do you feel more like a world person as opposed to an Argentine?
Diego: There is an expression in spanish, "Ciudadano del Mundo"... citizen of the world... I feel this a little more each time I travel.
Q: In your travels, have you noticed differences between countries in their acceptance of your music?
Diego: There are countries, like Italy, (which is a lot like Argentina) where they embrace the traditional style. Countries like Sweden and the US are more relaxed in terms of the milonga codes.
Q: Does anyone dance tango in the group?
Max: I took one session in London because there was a guy missing so I couldn't escape. (laughter)
Q: The future for you? and the future of electronic tango?
Max: Is bright..that's why I wear shades...(laughter)
Diego: We want to keep playing and recording music...touring... experimenting...
Max: I guess it's growing, it's still growing. We don't know when it will reach it's peak. Most people in the world still don't know it.
Diego: I think that electronic Tango is an attitude, not a style. The attitude of pushing the limits of the music - not having prejudices. I mean, it's just music. It resembles alot to Tango and alot to some -now- universal sounds. Saying this may be a common place, but why assign labels or even be forced to create new ones? Time will tell in any case.
Q: Who has the most influencel on your path to the future? For instant, I love Yo Yo Ma's attitude towards music.
Max: I love Marvin Gaye... Motown Detroit music. The thing about Tanghetto is that I'm not looking up to someone special.
Diego: I think one artist for me is Astor Piazzolla.
Max: That's Diego. I am free.
Diego: Hey, I'm free too. (smiles all around)