It is best to have Javier Casalla himself explain the origins of this entire project that brings to us an era of tango - one might even say an entire period of popular music - which has been virtually forgotten, not so much by the public, since it has always been present in milongas, but due to the prejudice of some musicians from the same genre.
"I wanted to pay homage to the sound of an era. I have been playing tango since I was 16, and it always came to me easily in both traditional and modern styles. I like to listen to rock and folklore, but tango was inside me. For many years I played and toured with the Colangelo Quintet and once, when we were preparing for a trip to Japan, we came together to rehearse and among the songs was Mala Junta, which I did not know. It remained persistently in my head, so I began to research and found out that it was by Julio De Caro and Pedro Laurenz. I obtained a cassette of Osvaldo Pugliese's version, and then bought the original version by De Caro, and found out all I could about his sextet (1926-1928). I became truly passionate about tango in the same way as I had been about rock bands up till then. The sound of the sextet hypnotized me, from De Caro's horn violin, with its very special sound, to the bandoneons of Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz. They were the first to refine tango, incorporating the influence of both jazz from the '20s and French music. And that was the beginning of this story.
I began to record songs on a four-track cassette recorder, the first being Mala Junta for which I more or less took over the arrangement from the De Caro version. Then I set out to discover the whole era. I was enthusiastic about the results and played them to Gustavo Santaolalla, who too loved them, and at once we decided to make an album, recreating those demos, but in a good recording studio.
Our instrumentation used four or five violins recorded over each other, trying to reproduce the sound of the sextet, but everything made in part by my violin. I also wanted to pay homage to the role of the violin in tango, and that is why in the dedication of the album I mention a series of violinists, from historical to current artists, so as to point to tango being violin music. This is something that I shall investigate in the coming years, because when looking into this really primitive tango, I realized that it originated in the folklore of Rio de la Plata, and that it is not cultural music like everything that came after Piazzolla.
From Julio De Caro and Edgardo Donato, the first leaders of wonderful groups, their successors such as Alfredo Gobbi and Elvino Vardaro (whom I consider to be the best tango violinists), and continuing with others like Enrique Camerano (first violin in Pugliese's orchestra), up to Hernan Oliva and Jorge Pinchevsky whom I greatly respect: much like the tangueros mentioned above, who had practically nothing to build on, all these artists were creating something new. This album is really a recognition of those violinists who have departed somewhat from the usual path for their instrument and have set out on their own road. And this is something I did too, playing everywhere, every night. I would go out at 10 at night and return in the morning, having played non-stop.
We really had to dig hard to find material, because it was an era that was somewhat neglected by today's tango players. Most works I found on vinyl records which were in really bad condition, or on pirated Japanese recordings.
I met Cristóbal Repetto while I was playing with Daniel Melingo's group,"Los Ramones del Tango," and through our research we became friends and exchanged a lot of material. This was great because I ended up recording with him on his album, and he on mine where he makes a guest appearance in one song, Aquellas Farras, which Gardel once sang. In this epic homage, Cristóbal steps into Gardel's shoes. And justly, the other guest in the album is Daniel Melingo, who recites my text in homage of the Boca Juniors Athletic Club. Javier Casalla
For this album, Javier Casalla rescued an instrument that had fallen into disuse, but which once Julio De Caro had transformed into his trademark: the horn violin (Stroh violin). In fact, Casalla is probably the only musician to perform on this instrument. "It was fundamental to the making of the album. Rightly so, because the whole album was made using violins; when the horn violin entered the scene - I had been given it in Los Angeles as a gift from Gustavo Santaolalla - it was converted into the lead voice. Using a "normal" violin I constructed the basses as well as some melodies, but the horn violin "sings" the principle melodies. I had never played it before, this album is its debut, but maybe because I had listened so much to musicians like De Caro and Donato, I knew its language before I possessed the instrument, and it actually turned out quite easy to play.
There is little historical information about the origins of the instrument. It was used simultaneously in various places: in folk music in the United States, in French and European music, and in Argentinean tango. It coincides with the beginnings of recording with a microphone: in those days, musicians would direct the horn towards the microphone so not to be "blotted out" by the rest of the musicians. The horn violin has no sound box, the sound travels from the chords to the bridge, from there it resonates like a wooden stick hitting against a metal resonator much like that of a Dobro guitar, and the amplified sound comes out of the horn.
It is a very uncomfortable instrument to play, but it has an incredible sound. With whatever microphone I use, it is truly impressive. I believe there are no other musicians currently playing it."
"The whole project is born out of the arrangement of Mala Junta. I began my research in a shop on Pasaje Obelisco, near by the Carlos Pellegrini subway station, where I found an enormous box of tango sheet music. I arranged the piano music that I had bought for a group of violins and began to record it on a Portastudio. This was the birth of many of the album's tracks, such as those by Juan Maglio ("Pacho") and Rene Cospito, whose original versions I have never heard. Perhaps many of them were never recorded. I was interested in coming up with new repertoire instead of re-creating well-known songs."
"I have known Gustavo Santaolalla for more than ten years, from the time when Divididos were recording La Era de la Boludez and Arnedo gave him a cassette of my folklore group, El Combo del Santiamén. Over the years we became friends and collaborated on a lot of music; I always tried to participate in his productions. Together we witnessed the birth of the Bajofondo Tango Club, from his experiments with other artists right up to his association with Juan Campodónico and the rest of the known story. Having worked so intensely together, in rock and in folklore, this entire search of mine coincided with his launch of Seminal, a Surco sub-label, and there we found the perfect opportunity to amalgamate our ambitions."
Track by Track
20 Locos 20: "This is one of my songs. It is an homage to the "Roaring 20s", that decade and its tango music, more folkloric and happy than what came later. Like all the tracks I composed, I tried to remain true to those lines, so that when you listen to the album you cannot tell the difference between the tracks composed back then and those composed now."
A Media Noche: "This is by Juan Maglio ("Pacho"), a pioneer composer that created the first tango trios, with a flute, guitar and violin. He is one of the main writers of tango, from the moment it went from being an almost anonymous folkloric tradition, to songs written by the first men to put names and face to tango. The score says: 'Premiered with great success at the dances at the Cerbantes Theatre Carnaval by the Juan Maglio ("Pacho") Orchestra.'"
CABJ: "Boca Juniors Athletic Club. One of my songs which pays homage to one of my loves, that also seems to me be part of the era, because, as the lyrics state: the club "was born in the year 5 and it was forged in the roaring years" - the first great team was from the 20s. Melingo participated as if he were some sort of announcer with Sucesos Argentinos."
Diga 33: "Probably the least tango-like work on the album. It is a song I recorded completely in pizzicato, a technique where the violin strings are plucked with the fingers, without the bow. It is a pericón in a 5/4 tempo. I named it Diga 33 because besides it being a very popular saying, the turn-around of the song has 33 bars."
El Negro Raúl: "This is another of the scores I found in the subway station. It attracted me musically, and it was written by milestone authors of this type of tango, like in the case of Polito and Dimas, whom I had read about. The score tells the story of Negro Raúl: "Negro Raúl is working, at last! For years he has dragged his classic and grotesque figure through the city streets. Señor Martin Cohen, owner and director of the lunch-bar "Broadway", to whom we dedicate with all our heart this humble work, has made a humanitarian and altruistic act by taking him under his care. And today Negro Raúl is happy, he deserves it!" And there is a picture of Raúl. He was a black man everybody loved, a vagabond roaming the streets, until at last he got work at the door of Bar Broadway. The lyrics are by Luis Rubinstein and Dante Linyera, who are very important lyricists."
La Cumparsita (La Cumbalsita): "I named it "La Cumbalsita" because at one point I thought about making it a waltz, I arranged it and it turned out really well."
Mala Junta: "This was the first track to capture me and inspire me to investigate this type of tango. In making the arrangement I tried to reproduce faithfully De Caro's recording."
Mi Amor: "Another song that came out of the subway. The music score states, "Great success of the typical combination of Julio De Caro in the radiotelephonic auditions and the diverse salons of the Capital." It thrilled me just because it was an unknown song by De Caro, who was the originator of all of this; I do not know if he ever got to record it. It is a waltz with an incredible melody, sort of French, and reveals the European influence on tango."
Mi Nena Es Un Rayo De Sol: "A foxtrot by Rene Cospito. Many musicians from that era played tango and jazz. It was one of those genres that was played a lot during the 20s. Gardel, especially, had recorded several of these songs with all these types of jazz-like subgenres, like the shimmy and the foxtrot. The music score says: 'Magnificent interpretation on radio by the Argentine singer Charlo.'"
Milonga Niza: "Obviously, it is mine. This is not only a play on very vulgar words; it is also directed at Europeans, to say to them "I am going to play Milonga Niza, for you all," because Niza [Nice] is a city in France; it has a bit of Criollo vividness. I liked the title and it stayed. It is a sort of tango-milonga."
Te Conozco Mascarita: "Another of the songs that came from the subway music sheets. Even though the author that appears on the album is Alberto Cima, it is believed that it also pertains to Juan Maglio ("Pacho") and might have been registered under a pseudonym."
Aquellas Farras: "I chose this because I wanted to have a song recorded by Cristóbal Repetto in the album. After doing so much research together, the strongest songs were recorded on his album, but this is a song whose melody and lyrics I love. The music is by Roberto Firpo and the lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo. I thought it was tailormade for Cristobal's voice, and besides it is one of the few songs Gardel recorded with a small band that included a violin played by Antonio Rodio, a member of the Pedro Maffia Orchestra, another ensemble that I investigated thoroughly because they were creators of the same sound."