Interview with Carlos Libedinsky

Fonte: | Lydia Essary

Narcotango’s director & composer speaks to Tango Noticias. The interview took place at the studio of Tademus school of music at Jose Hernández 2535, barrio de Belgrano, Buenos Aires on October 3, 2007 at 2 pm. The interview was conducted by Lydia Essary. Editing and translation by Lydia Essary.


Lydia Essary: How and when did you become interested in tango?

Carlos Libedinsky: My interest in tango started about 15 years ago, while playing around with musician friends in one of those “guitarreadas” (guitar ensembles). We played, improvised tango tunes, and some of those tunes were coming from somewhere, probably from our infancy. I had never played tangos before, even though tangos were played at home all the time. My dad was a tango fan and a good dancer according to some: just amateur, not professional. He was a dentist. My dad always tried to teach me to dance. I was interested in the rock &roll, blues then, but not tango.

LE: So, it was an accident. What propitiated this accident?

CL: Well, someone starts playing something, and the others follow. Nobody in that group was precisely a tanguero, and I can’t remember how the tangos popped up. Then, we started singing, ramdomly, one or other tango: “Cambalache,” describing how things go in our country, right?

LE: It was indeed an accident!

CL: Exactly. And 10 years after this event I had a similar situation. I was on tour with a tango group. At a milonga, there was a couple teaching on one of the sides of the dance floor. I was sitting at a table with the group not doing much, so we went there to take the class just to have fun. Well, this experience was a revelation, just like happened ten years prior. I became interested in dancing, and my tango as a musician made a 360 degree turn. Dancing tango gave me the impression that there was not a connection with the present time. The music played at the milongas had been composed many years ago. Even though I loved the music, I felt that there was a need for the presence of the 21st century.

LE: Were there any other electronic tango groups?

CL: There were not: there was nothing new in the music that people danced. On the other hand, there was a lot of new stuff in the tango dance.

LE: Were there any other groups playing electronic tango?

CL: No, well, later we heard that several were concurrently developing the concept of electronic tango.

LE: Was Gotan playing at that time?

CL: I am talking around 1999-2000, about 3 years before the first Narcotango CD was released. In the year 2001 I recorded a CD named Aldea Global.

LE: I recall seeing you promoting your CD at one of the milongas, maybe Torquato Tasso? You performed by yourself, with your guitar.

CL: Maybe Salon Canning or at El Beso. The CD was released in August 2001. That CD had 2 electronic themes, because it happened that I got interested in the concept of electronic music when I was recording the CD. Aside from those two themes, it contains vocal recordings of my compositions with contemporary themes with a more traditional style.

LE: And what is the theme of the other songs?

CL: They were themes with a humorous tone, a bit unusual for tango, that had to do with romantic relationships.


LE: Could you tell us briefly about your musical education?

CL: I started playing the guitar at age 6 and studied with several teachers. I finished high school and continued my academic training in a private school here in Argentina. I studied classical music and related studies such as composition, counterpoint, morphology and analysis. Concurrently, I played in several groups, different styles including jazz, rap and blues. Prior to that, I worked with theatrical groups as a musician.

LE: Doing what type of music?

CL: Well, that depended on the subject of the script. The idea was to write original music in a style that was consonant with the theatrical piece. This experience in theater has influenced somehow my approach as a musician. When I started working on electronic tango, I had a scenic image of the milonga; I wanted to represent what was happening there. I was inspired in the scenic context of life, but with the codes that are involved in bringing something to the stage. Then, in some way, Narcotango was a way to musicalize the milonga, to do the sound of a piece on stage named “The Milonga.”

LE: On the personal side, are you from Buenos Aires?

CL: I was born in Buenos Aires, in Villa Crespo.

LE: What instructors had more influence in your musical education?

CL: I had a piano instructor named Celina Suez, with whom I started studyng at age 16. She put order to all my prior musical training. I had learned with different teachers in a random, unorganized way.

LE: How did she organize it? What did she do?

CL: She first saw what I brought, then she started filling the gaps.

LE: Did you say she was a piano teacher?

CL: Yes, I studied piano and musical pedagogy with her. When I was 15, I started teaching the guitar. I had students; however, I did not have any training for teaching. I was teaching the way my teachers had taught me, and to learn that way, without any method or program, required a lot of passion from the student to offset the lack of methodology. It was good to have Celina, she had the expertise I needed. She started filling the gaps in my musical training. For instance, I had some knowledge of jazz harmony but had no information on progression of voices in jazz harmony. I had an empirical knowledge of harmony from working and playing in popular music, but there were concepts in classical music that I needed to have in order to compose properly and to understand what distinguishes Baroque from Romantic music. Celina taught my harmony basics.

LE: As part of the music pedagogy course?

CL: Yes, in addition she reviewed everything I needed, joining the scattered pieces of my prior training.

LE: Was this learning, private?

CL: Yes

LE: So you had an individualized course, not geared towards a degree?

CL: At that time no. Following Celina’s training, I attended a school named Musodomus, where I had a more structured, academic curriculum, oriented to form musicians.

LE: Did you get a degree in music?

CL: No, not in music. I tried, but the education at conservatories was too traditional and old fashion for my taste. I was not happy with some of the trends and concepts, so I decided to use my time elsewhere.


LE: Did you follow any electronic tango model? Was Gotan around?

CL: No. Gotan was not around when I started working. I was telling you about Aldea Global because that CD was released a little bit before the first Gotan Tango CD went out (in 2001).

LE: How do you define your music? From the musical standpoint what do you try to emphasize?

CL: In Narcotango, we try to include the electronic component as one more instrument, not as the principal instrument. I see, in lots of cases of electronic tango, that there is an electronic foundation with some touches by bandoneons or samplers. With this, I am not saying that our style is better or not, but the emphasis is in a different place. The idea of producing this style is also a mode of expression. I think Narcotango has a strong tango sensibility.

LE: So, are you giving all instruments an opportunity to play the main theme?

CL: Narcotango is a very melodic music, easy to recognize, follow and sing. The melody takes an important place in the composition. It is common to see the beat taking command in electronic music. It seems like rhythm is more important, the samplers, a repetitive beat. In Narcotango there is a main melody or theme building up and that progression is usually taken by the bandoneon, the violin or voice.

LE: What is a sampler?

CL: Samplers are, as the word says, small electronic ‘samples’ of sound that have been altered with filters, under certain sound parameters that generate a determinate effect. (They are be played back using a keyboard or other electronic musical interface device. )

LE: I had the impression that a few of your songs have some Piazzolla taste. Do they?

CL: Maybe it is your impression. Maybe the song that is written more in the style of Piazzolla is one from the Narcotango 2 CD named “Tres son Multitud,” because it is a song with lots of counterpoint, almost fugue style, pretty much in the style Piazzolla composed.

LE: When you compose, do you come up first with a melody? Or, do you work on arrangements you might eventually put together?

CL: I don’t have a single format to direct a composition, and in general I don’t make plans to sit to compose. It can happen any time during the day, or playing the guitar; now playing the bandoneon, because I started to play it a month ago. I am taking lessons with Fernando Taborda. There are different ways I begin to compose. As an example, in the last CD, we have the theme “Esa.” I was at a café with Rosana, our vocalist and my woman, and she happened to draw a staff and a few notes in my hand. Rosana is a singer but she does not read music. She wrote the notes randomly. I read what she wrote, and it was a line that the bass plays in “Esa” (starts humming….). (****Note: There is an MP3 with a recording of this segment of the interview if you want it –See attachments)

LE: She wrote it? I love that song!

CL: Well, the main theme is the bass line. It is a very strong line.

LE: How did you select the members of the group? How was the first time?

CL: The first time was after the release or our first CD. Narcotango 1 was entirely produced in this studio. So, as I was making progress in my compositions, I called the musicians, some of them my friends, to record. There was not an established group. I didn’t know whether we were going to need a group to play live, or if this project was going to be just a studio project. As I recorded the songs, I started passing out some demos to my dancer friends, to play them around. Well, they were well accepted. Some of these friends took the demos abroad and were also successful when they played them.

LE: What song were in the demo?

CL: "Vi Luz y Subi", "Plano Sequencia", "Otra Luna", all these were the first themes of Narcotango. Also "Transtango" and "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" from the Aldea Global CD. These songs attracted many dancers. We started to receive requests from abroad and from here. There were local dancers calling me to request the "demo". We saw that something that started almost like a game or an experiment in the studio had attracted many people in the world of music. That happened probably the year before the Narcotango 1 CD release. Marijke de Vries, the organizer of Tango Magia in Amsterdam happened to be here and heard the demo at a milonga, former Practica X of Pablo Inza y Federico Farfaro, and she liked it a lot. She hired us to go to the next Tango Magia even though there was not an organized group. That invitation was a real incentive for us.

LE: What year was it?

CL: It was in 2003. She visited Buenos Aires in March and the festival was on December 31. So, we played on December 31, had a little break, and concluded on January 1, 2004. It was a golden closure.

LE: So, you had to rush assembling a group?

CL: Right. I had to call the musicians that were already recording with me. Maraijke wanted to listen to us live. But the group did not exist yet. I told her, “Give me a week. We’ll be rehearsing as a group, you can come to listen, see if you like it.”

LE: Where did you rehearse, right here?

CL: We rehearsed right here. The studio was much smaller at that time.

LE: How many musicians in the group?

CL: We had Fernando del Castillo (drums), Sebastián Monk (piano), Patricio Bonfiglio (bandoneon) and Federico Terranova (violin).

LE: Was Rosana there?

CL: Yes, but she had only 2 themes.

LE: Is the group still the same?

CL: Pretty much with exception of the bandoneon and violin.

LE: Do you select the musicians on audition?

CL: There are people recommended by somebody or found through word of mouth. It was difficult at the beginning because many tango musicians, bandoneonists and others, are not used to playing any other music but tango. That was a drawback because Narcotango requires a lot of improvisation, skills from other types of music. It requires a good tango foundation with an open mind. Then, the selection of musicians was not easy. Right now we have Federico Biraben on the bandoneón, Marcelo Vaccaro on bass, and Rosana (voice) who is doing more of the violin parts.

LE: Have you thought of doing lyrics? Do lyrics fit with electronic tango?

CL: We haven’t thought of it. If it happens, it’ll be very welcome. I think it fits.

LE: It must be difficult to write lyrics, does Rosana write?

CL: No, she doesn’t, but she likes lyrics. She always asks me to sing lyrics.

LE: Where are the names of the songs coming from?

CL: They are images, just like the music, like the covers of the CDs, or the plays put on stage.


LE: Do you think your prior experience playing other types of music influences your music at present?

CL: All the experience gained as musician is now placed in my tangos. My compositions have condiments of the other musics. They have traces of jazz, rock, electronica. But the strongest feel is that of tango. The electronica is just one more instrument in the group.

LE: Do you write for a particular audience, or, do you write what you like..

CL: No, fortunately I don’t have any contract with a recording studio. The Narcotango CDs are independent. We record them and edit them right here, and they are released with our own seal. This is good for us, so we don’t have deadline pressures.

LE: So, your compositions are not commecial or commisioned..

CL: No, I think that is for people with a strong interest in marketing or those who believe they perceive a need in a particular market. Our music is genuine, a true product of inspiration. I don’t believe it is about writing for a particular group, when what you have is your universe and soul to express. I think an artist is like an antenna at a particular time in history, and what happens is that he is either going to sync or not with the audience. I think this is an interesting phenomenom. But not the reverse, where an artist is writing what the audience wants; I don’t consider the latter art. In a way, we explain Narcotango’s success with its rapid spread in the tango circuit and from there its jump to other circuits. When we go on tours, we play not only in tango related events; we go to other music festivals where people are interested in emerging styles, music from different countries with more cosmopolitan elements like the electronica.

LE: Do you think the tours to other countries are good for you, as an artist?

CL: I think we feed our minds from our interactions with the world and our music is full of those experiences depending on how much we lived. After editing a CD, I find it hard to start composing again, because it is like if I used up all I had with me. We need to recycle in life, to fill the chip again.

LE: To recharge?

CL: Yes. To start experiencing again, to have something to tell. We don’t have lyrics, but we are telling things, feelings, emotions, and all these require empathy with what we live. The way we express is influenced by our encounters, the places we visit, the feedback we get.

LE: How do people learn about you and your music?

CL: Internet. Nowadays we can listen and download music, samplers, CDs. Many CDs arrive through friends. It is like the so-called viral marketing; it is not a paid marketing, it is more word of mouth. It is our pride that we have a project, see how it develops, and if there is empathy between our music and the sensibility of these people avid or sensible for something new. When we first started taking music to the local milongas, it was like bouncing on the wall. Because the DJs and organizers had minds closed to the idea that they had to play what people asked them to play. The few that dare to play my music felt bad, they thought people would consider it an insult, or they would be called the heretics of tango. Fortunately we had the Cathedral milonga, where Carlos Borquez, Gustavo and Silvia Ceriani played our music. People went there to see what was new in tango. The floor was horrible but the place had charisma. It closed for a couple of years but it is open again. Success happens randomly, we happened to be in the right place at the right time. I think this is what is happening now. Every time we get an invitation, we think it is in a way a miracle, since we are not being promoted by any recording company.

LE: Do you receive these invitations ahead of time?

CL: Our next European tour is scheduled for October-November 2008.

LE: How about US tours?

CL: We had a US tour almost ready last year that included 18 concerts. But the US regulations for visas are a little complex. At least, that is the way it looked to us. So, we decided to leave the visa issues in the hands of the organizers. We didn’t go to the US. We went to Canada though. TADEMUS music school

LE: Can you tell us a little about TADEMUS, the school that houses this studio?

CL: TADEMUS music workshop opened 22 years ago. This is an informal school of music. It is for those willing to learn to play an instrument and have some group experiences. The group practices are a real incentive for the student, because they must practice and master their parts, or otherwise everybody will have a bad time. Those who are willing to do more have some harmony and music appreciation training or otherwise get advice where to go.

LE: Are the classes for all ages?

CL: We have students from age 6. Our oldest student is 73. They are people who played in their youth and are willing to retake their instruments and play in groups. We organize recitals, and they bring their people.

LE: Were you more interested in teaching when you opened the studio?

CL: My interests in performing and teaching have always been parallel.


LE: About your new passion, the dance, who were your most influential instructors?

CL: My first teacher was Renee Amaya, who teaches around the corner on Mondays and Thursdays. When I returned form Lisbon, I decided to take classes. I studied with Renee for 5-6 months. I continued with others, Nancy and Damian Ezell, Chicho and Eugenia.

LE: Do you think being a musician has helped your progress as a dancer?

CL: Absolutely, one quality of my dance is its bond to music. I enjoy watching a dancer dance to the music, not by himself.

LE: Do you prefer a particular style?

CL: It depends on the music that is being played. We review more Nuevo tango in the classes but I also enjoy the milonguero style. I like to be closely embraced, “boobie to boobie” I love it!…well, the type of the music leads me to one style or other. I see people dancing milonga with Nuevo steps: I don’t put those together, they don’t match. I think it is something transcultural, I don’t put those together.

LE: Do you think that your understanding ot the tango dance has influence your compositions?

CL: Yes, I think that dancing tango moved me to compose this music, being in that world, in that ghetto that is the milonga. I liked the idea of doing a contemporary sounding band. I enjoy writing this music and testing it to feel that it is actually danceable. It is that way now; I don’t know how it will be later.

LE: Where do we need to go if we want to see you dancing? What milongas do you go to?

CL: First of all, I’d like to clarify that I am not a professional dancer. I am an enthusiastic amateur, very willing to get better every time. I go mainly to practices for two reasons: they start earlier so we can go to bed at a decent time, and they are closer to home. The places I like to go are Club Villa Malcolm, el Motivo, Practica X, La Viruta on Wednesdays that is the more alternative day. Sometimes I go to Villa Malcolm TangoCool on Fridays, La Vikinga, well when it was running.

LE: How about the other musicians, do they dance?

CL: No they don’t: this is typical for musicians.


LE: Is the group working on something new at this time?

CL: What is happening is the mixing of live recording that I think will be ready by the end of the year. I think it is a very interesting work because the “live” context is different than that of a studio.

LE: Is it a DVD?

CL: It is going to be a DVD and a CD live.

LE: Where was it recorded?

CL: In Quito, Ecuador 2 weeks ago. The recording was done with a mobile studio and we made our own recording as a backup, just in case. This CD is going to have also two new songs recorded in a studio included as bonus tracks. This is our initiative, we were waiting for the right time and place to do it. We played at the Teatro Bolivar in Quito, which we had visited previously. At this time, I am writing one of the themes for the live CD. This song has electronica without electronic percussion. The difference is that the acoustic instrument and sampler will take the beat. We will not use electronic percussion to mark the rhythm as it is usual in electronic tango.

LE: Is it a tango?

CL: It is a vals: it’ll be cool.

LE: A vals has a softer beat.

CL: Yes, yes, it is more airy.

LE: Did you say the DVD will be ready in a month? What is going to be the name?

CL: It’ll be ready in 2 months, before the end of the year. The name is Narcotango en Vivo. It is a our first recording of a live presentation.

LE: Does everyone takes a part in the composition, or is it just you?

CL: No, I am the composer.

LE: Where do you see Carlos in 10 years?

CL: If I knew, I’d bored to death. Fortunately, life is full of surprises. A few years ago, I had no idea I was going to be where we are now. It is a dear surprise that still surprises me. And I hope that the adventure does not end.

For information on Carlos Libedinsky and Narcotango: