Color Tango founder and director Roberto Alvarez took time during his August 2006 tour to talk with CreativeTango's Lydia Essary about Osvaldo Pugliese, electronic tango, creativity in music, personnel changes, and Color Tango's upcoming theatrical musical.
Translation by Lydia from the orginal Spanish interview
Lydia Essary (LE): Since the time the orchestra was formed in 1989, what has been the main change in the structure and style of the orchestra?
Roberto Alvarez (RA): The orchestra has a well-defined style. We are a branch of that giant tree named Osvaldo Pugliese. Inconspicuously, we start adding a little bit of us. When Pugliese started his orchestra, the first works sounded like Julio de Caro, with whom he had worked before. Later, he started finding his own style. It’s the same with us; without noticing, we are finding our own style without abandoning that beat, typical for Osvaldo Pugliese. I don’t perceive how the evolution is happening. I follow Pugliese’s model with regard to allowing his musicians to work on some of the arrangement. Logically, they had to pass “his” filter. When you played an LP ("long play" record) in those days, you could perceive an enriched arrangement as several people had contributed. For instance, in my group, Gustavo Hunt (keyboard) is a young man with vast knowledge of harmony and composition, as his background is in jazz. In his composition “Piqueteros”, he adds to and renews the style of the orchestra as he offers a different way to present tango. These are the type of contributions tango needs.
RA: I am going to create a lot of enemies with this opinion, but I am not in favor of electronic tango. If electronic tango was played in the boliches, where the youth go to dance rock, and maybe electronic tango is added to the list as “tango,” there maybe it would be OK. But so-called electronic tango is coming to the milongas. Milongas were born with traditional tango, the true tango. There is something else about electronic tango I don’t agree with. The rhythm is set by the repetitive and unchanged beat of monotonous drums. That is antagonistic to what we know as tango, where the rhythm, varies constantly, from unstoppable fast to slow, depending on the theme of the music. We notice that tango, has resurged in the entire world. There are people from other genres that are taking advantage of this resurgence of tango, to do a little bit of business. This is not what tango people have been doing through the years. There were periods where there was not work for us, but we continue working for traditional tango. We see how other groups may target the youth audience to sell their music as tango. Of course, I don’t see this in a favorable way.
Check Lydia Essary's interview with Carlos Libedinsky of Narcotango
LE: Musically, what is Color Tango’s main goal?
RA: Our music is focused on what tango is for: the dance. Tango had a bad time, when orchestras dissolved. This was a time in Buenos Aires that was called the Club Clan. In the face of the dissolution of orchestras, other alternatives were created, like Café Concert, for those who loved to “listen” to the tango. There was a need to present bandoneon or violin solos, to please these audiences. But tango had lost the “ritmica,” that inherent quality of making people dance. I think a fundamental quality of tango is to be danceable.
LE: Some of the members of the orchestra have their own compositions. Are you trying to compose within the Pugliese style or is it a more open forum?
RA: We musicians are always flying. We have imagination and take off with new things. But in an orchestra with the style of Color Tango, we can’t give absolute freedom, because we must maintain the style. Color Tango has an identity. Who watches for it? Me.
LE: Who makes the final decision to adopt a new composition to the repertoire of Color Tango?
RA: Well, I follow Pugliese’s school. He allowed his musicians to write; that was smart of him. He collected all the talent from his musicians to enrich the repertoire and style of the orchestra. But he had to let some ideas pass. He would tell us (with class), “Maybe it would not be best to use this one here, not such a great fit, etc.” I do the same. Like I tell you, sometimes musicians "fly.”
LE: Your musicians?
RA: Yes, mine! I come from a very tangueran era. I had the luck to work with Pugliese. Then, when I review my musicians’ compositions, I try to maintain their basic schemes, melody, but I must take the arrangement to fit the style of the orchestra. There must be someone …(interrupted by LE: who maintains the identity?) RA: Yes, of course….
LE: Since the time the group was formed, there have been some changes in the membership of the orchestra. What do you look for in a musician who auditions for Color Tango, aside from skill?
RA: Unfortunately, I’d hope they’d never leave. It takes time and work to prepare a musician and to lead him to learn our style. But musicians leave. Musicians left Pugliese. I did, too. A musician has his own aspiration, the desire to grow, to have his own orchestra, his own music. It seems as if the cycle completes at a certain time, and the musicians leave. For others, I had to tell them to step aside or seek another path, because they were not coming to rehearsals, or had other commitments that interfered with our work schedule. It comes time when those need to step aside and choose what they want to do. It is painful for me too, because I lose a musician, which means to start again.
LE: What happened with the prior violinist?
RA: Schaikis, was a good violinist, and stayed two years with the orchestra. He started with great enthusiasm, but at the end of last year he told us that he was leaving.
LE: Did he go to another group?
RA: I don’t know if he left for another group. His aspiration was to be a great classical violinist, he was preparing for that. Possibly there was an interest to do work on other structure. Sometimes a musician comes with aspirations to do new things, thinking that the orchestra is cooperative, but there is a structure that must be respected. Then, if we are within the structure, all ideas are welcome; I would not allow less than this: when people mention Color Tango, they’d know how it sounds, they’d know what we do. Or, we would be playing D’Arienzo, Troilo, etc.
LE: And on the same subject, the return of Fernando…
RA: Fernando's return is a great step for us because Fernando left at a time...he didn't leave because something went wrong. What happened is that he had just gotten married and had a little baby girl so he didn't want to miss raising his daughter because of traveling. So, one day he told me, "Unfortunately I no longer want to travel. I want to spend time with my daughter and see her growing." I thought that was fine. Now, with Schaikis' departure, I asked him if he would consider joining us again not knowing that he was going to accept. I thought he would not. However, he got excited and is now happy to have returned.
LE: Fernando was telling me about the “oldies.” He said he was one of the “oldies.”
RA: Yes, he is a founder. The Color Tango founders were Fernando, first violin, Tolosa on the bass, and me as first bandoneon.
LE: Fernando added that he is not in the recent DVD or in any of the last CDs, only in the “old” ones.
RA: Yes, but he will of couse be in the next CD.
LE: What are the immediate plans for Color Tango, aside from the tours?
RA: We are working on a demo which is a musical featuring Color Tango. The demo is really attractive with respect to presentation as it uses lots of technical stuff to highlight the musicians and dancers. I was really impressed when I saw it. There are play of lights, rapid scene changes. You can see the dancers in the center, and the musicians around in different stages. It is about the rich and the poor, kind of describes what happens in our country. There is also a film in the background that goes along with what we are playing. So..
LE: Who is the producer?
RA: Well, we have an artistic director. Analia also participated in contacting people. We hope to premiere the show sometime between January and March in Buenos Aires. It will be good for the orchestra because we will not only be in milongas, but also in theaters.
LE: And the show will be about 2 hours long?
RA: Yes, more or less 2 hours. The name is “A Raja Tabla”
LE: It would be interesting to announce it through the US websites to target those who love to travel.
RA: Yes, yes, we are going to work with the tourism groups too. That is the only way to promote it. There is a somebody already financing the project, he has the contract for theater already and plans to work with a the tourism market. That is the only way to maintain a show like this in Buenos Aires.
LE: Who is directing the show?
RA: I don’t remember his name right now, but he’s worked with Julio Bocca, doing choreography for him. He is one of the best show directors in Buenos Aires at this time. He is a young man.
This is a musical that is mainly about Color Tango, where the dancers are only to supplement the show. I don’t know if Analia has another copy for you, because I believe she left one in NYC and in Washington DC. The name of the video is “The Musical of Color Tango, A Raja Tabla”. It will be ready for the public in January 2007.
Copyright 2006 Lydia Essary