When only 3-4 couples are dancing, That is the great moment.
On August 8 and 10, 2017 I had the great honor to interview Carlos Libedinsky, founder of Narcotango. What follows are his words. I have organized our conversation thematically and made small edits for clarity.
I was dancing since 2001. ‘Narco’ is a reference to addiction. I felt this. but there was no connection between the music and our time. it was the same music the whole night. I felt the dancing which could be very energetic and present (with music composed 50 years ago.) could be danced with current music also.
The FrenchArgentine orquesta, Gotan Project, opened the space for something modern in Tango Music, but by 2008 they had not played in Buenos Aires. NarcoTango was one of the first Argentine orquestas to play modern tango, (in that moment called NeoTango ) including electronic instruments, with other groups like Bajofondo, Otros Aires, San Telmo Lounge, Tanguetto, Ultratango.
I started to play and compose because I felt the traditional tango could coexist with the sound of our times.
I was interested in Tom Waits, Massive Attack, Air. With my girlfriend we danced in our living room to this music and I felt something could happen. It could be danced with tango. I wanted to hear this music on a milonga. In that moment i didn’t think what would happen later.
I started to record and to dance with different music, more sensual. electronic but with tango feelings. i wanted to dance to something new in the night.
After dancing at La Glorieta on Sundays with my friends I would invite them back my house and play the music I was recording. A group of friends encouraged me. I felt in that moment that it was not only me who wanted new music. At La Catedral in Buenos Aires, Carlos Borquez & Silvia Ceriani, started to play my first demos
The dancing was more open in 2000. It was very energetic with experimentation, on traditional tango music. I saw the young people dancing and I felt that something different should happen. They were happy to have something to experiment with in the dance. Dancers also were told “that is not tango.” They were very happy with new music. In the same time many other musicians were playing incredible new tangos, very energetic, but not very danceable: Fernandez Fierro, Astillero, Rascasuelos.
A dancer from Amsterdam, Marijke de Vries , heard my music at the first Practica X of Federico Farfaro, Raul Masciocchi, Pablo Inza and invited me to play at the festival, Tango Magia. She said “but I have to hear you playing live.” I didn’t have an orquesta at that moment, I said “ok, next week.” And by the next week I had a band. So we were booked for New Years 2003/2004 in Amsterdam.
Before that I played two shows in Buenos Aires, first at Parakultural in Salon Canning on 15.December 2003 and second at a party, ‘Ambientango ‘ at Club Niceto on 17.December . That party was organized by Daniel Carpi (who I had met in his milonga in New York La Belle Epoque when I was touring with my guitar playing traditional tango songs in milongas) and Jose Garofalo (the organizer of the BsAs milonga, Porteño y Bailarin). There were 1000 people at this party, with multicultural performances, leftist politics, body painting, strippers, circus performers.
I invited El Pulpo to perform the first show at Salon Canning. He liked the music and encouraged me but he wouldn’t perform on it. Finally the dancers who was willing to do it were Juan Fossati & Gimena Aramburu. They were the first to perform on Narcotango.
So then we went to Europe and played the New Years milong at Tango Magia. On that show Maria Eugenia performed with Federico Farfaro (he was also involved in Practica X). On the same tour, we played in Stockholm , Malmö Sweden, and another show in Amsterdam, in Panama Club, organized by Rene Oey. And we were back in Europe in September to play in Roterdam and Bergen, Norway.
In 2003, the organizers of the milongas in Buenos Aires would not to play my music. They would say “I cannot play it here, people will attack me. Some never played it. I pushed them. I said “you have the power.” In the beginning it was hard – but i start to manage and void the places where i feel i would be attacked. Some Ppeople try to disturb the show. Some People would argue with me when i went out dancing. They wrote a lot of things in the social media, but the press was very interested in these new sounds from BsAs. especiallly outside Argentina, but also inside.
6 months later: I’m playing in the important Buenos Aires Tango festival, CITA, organized by Fabian Salas. And Chicho and Eugenia performed on our our show, at La Viruta, on 18.March 2004.
They performed with us also in the first tour in Stockholm & Malmo
In 2004 started the electronic tango orquestra Bajofondo with Gustavo Santaolalla. Then came more, and more commercial projects.
The women organizers of the practica El Motivo in Villa Malcom were very enthusiastic about Narcotango. Luciana Valle, Valencia Batiuk, and Dina Martinez founded El Motivo on 10 May, 2004. They not only played our music but for a long time they finished the milonga with our song Otra Luna instead of La Cumparsita. It was a symbol; they said something with that. Also with them Narcotango made a performance called “No Tan Tango” (Not So Tango) for the Buenos Aires Tango Festival in March 2006 with 12 dancers, some from murga companies. Murga is a rhythm for carnival and the dance is without a partner and with some jumps.
In 2005 we had a bigger tour in Europe. My first show in Berlin was 6.October 2005 in the Kulturbrauerei – we played in 10 German cities on that tour, and also in Portugal, Athens Greece, and Paris. In 2007, Michael Rühl invited us to the play in the Berlin Tango Festival on 26.May in the Ballhaus Rixdorf.
I was playing guitar in the first years. I started to play bandoneon in 2008. There are lots of technique connections between guitar and bandoneon: strong positions with the hands, and other body issues.
My first live show playing bandoneon was in Berlin on 23.July 2009, it was part of a music festival called Piranha, outdoors in the rain at a museum, the Lustgarten. Mona Isabelle was there: “I was there, with the rain.”
It was 2008, the closure. In 2008 something broke with new music and the tango scene went back to Golden Age. The modern tango dancers went to more traditional. I could feel how things start to be grey, more grey. We had some years with more colors, experimentation, practicas, with different music. It became as before to start to dance again only in an old style. I like the old style, but the spirit became lower and as a musician it was something bad.
Then the normal people who called us to play didn’t call us anymore. The last years on our tours we made less shows for tango places. Instead we are in music festivals. The people who were interested cannot afford a band now, we stopped Narcotango in the end of 2015.
In 2010 we released a new album, Limanueva, our fourth album. This album got the 2nd Latin Grammy nomination (the first one was Narcotango en Vivo). When the album first appeared, I had the CD boxes and I went to Practica X (in the location in Palermo Hollywood, on Humboldt) to see my old friend Raul Masciocchi, who had been in my house hearing my music the first time in 2003, and had been part of the impulse for our music. I was so excited to share my new music with him. At least half the songs on that album are very danceable. That night he was there alone without the other organizers. I gave him my new album and told him that Practica X could be the first place where it was played and danced. I was very excited. He was cold. “Great, congratulations, we will play it later.” But he never played it, and he showed me that he didn’t play it. And I thought something bad is happening here. It felt bad, it was very sad that moment .
Why did the closing happen? Some dancers show the way, the gurus. Chicho, Sebastian Arce, the things they say are the way. In December 2009 in an interview for the bilingual Buenos Aires magazine, El Tangauta, Chicho recanted. He said it was not so good to teach neotango without the roots. He made self-criticism how he was teaching new stuff without the roots. People repeat his movements. He talked bad about the new music, he said that electrotango didn’t develop. (Read the interview here: http://tangoforge.com/the-chicho-interview/)
I don’t know if he was the guy who was responsible for the retrenchment. But he has a key. When he started to dance on Narcotango, Narcotango became very popular.
But there were other dancers who never performed on our music: Gustavo Naveira, Pablo Veron, Fabian Salas although he invited us to his festival and we met many times.
I am not a dancer. I like to dance, but i am a musician. But I enjoy dancing. And the music develops, not necessarily with the taste of the tango dancers. In the scene people know the first 2 albums of narcotango, but we have 5. The new Narcotango music hasn’t been found by DJs – so the people have the perception that ther’es nothing new.
When I started Narcotango i was very involved in the spirit of the milonga. I was in the right time. But as a musician i continue my experience. I start to play with other musicians and musics. Narcotango had 13 years. it was great. Now I make a new tour playing a version of Narcotango music, with Mariano Castro ( Narcotango Piano Player )but my exploration will continue. Now the tango scene in Buenos Aires and Europe is very traditional, but these spots I am finding with Volker Malik Tanguerilla, Elio Astor, Mona Isabelle, Andreas Lange, Tom, Peggy Schorn, and others we met last week in #NTR, in Europe, and in Buenos Aires Fer Bietti, Julieta Falivene, Natalia Fures are very interested.
Our music continued playing in underground milongas. In Europe there’s more. In 2008 it closed and now it opens again.
Also in Buenos Aires there are some new spots : ZonaTango, ChantaCuatro, Miercoles Santos, Archibrazo, MilongaMataGalan. There is a new idea called a “milonga eclectica”. It means that after two or three tandas of traditional tanda they play another music for any kind of dancing, folkloric, Balkan, Prince, some Cumbia, some new music like, Chancha Via Circuito, Nicola Cruz. It changes the mood and energy of the floor. People can go and dance, not only in couples. People feel more included, even if they are not dancing tango well enough, or they don’t receive enough invitations. This way people have another way to get to know each other. During these tandas, the tango dancers who stay on the floor dance on place, they don’t circulate. When the tango music comes back, the ronda comes back.
We made a few shows whith a new project called N.T.O ( NonTangoOrquesta) in Miercoles Santos, a couple of weeks before coming to this tour, and that was the way.
I have now two musical projects. One is “Non Tango Orquesta”, we play acoustic versions of some Narcotango songs ( Bandoneon, Piano,Acoustic Bass and drums ), and we also play new music, the first album is coming, called “Entropía “. Our first album is not thinking about dancing tango but the milonga Zona Tango invited us and they have an acoustic piano and we played without amplification: double bass, drums, piano, bandoneon. People became very close to the experience, because they already know the songs. Usually at that milonga when there is live music, people just sit and listen to the music, or maybe dance in the other room. We were surprised that people danced our music. it became danceable. In this place it’s danceable.
My other new project is #FUEYE SoloSet with Bandoneon, Vocals & electronics, new music, mix of south american rihythms from Rio de la Plata region,murga, candombé, milonga, Marcha Camion, Cumbia, also some Brasilian rythms and Argentine folkloric music.
The first time i played this project was last Sunday in #NTR in Bremen , and the feedback was great.
What do you respond when people say “it’s not tango?” or “It’s not danceable” I say “ok”, I agree. My music is related with tango in the atmosphere and the mood. For me it was an experience of music in relation to tango. I feel it’s danceable, it is. I trust in my feelings about that. I know where i am from – Buenos Aires, with an atmosphre and mixed with all the music I like. I’m involved in other music, I play with many nontango musicians. There are many tangos, of different times. People also said in their times to D’Arienzo, and Pugliese, “This is not tango”.
My career was not built with famous dancers, but dancers who liked my music and gave the demos to others in other places. We didn’t have a record company. We have now sold 1 million copies of the 5 albums with no advertisement, only mouth to mouth.
Do you like to dance on your own music? Yes.
Photos by Mona Isabelle and Carlos…
After our long interview, Carlos said “Vio I have to tell you something.” I reached again for my papers.
He said “the keys of the bandoneon are chaos, there’s no order and I can’t see.” In order to keep track of them and know where my hands are, I put a few crystals, just like the ones you wear…