Live Review: First Tango in London


Tangopolis: Bajofondo Tango Club and Melingo
Royal Festival Hall, London

My first brush with tango was a night to remember, metaphorically thrusting me into the depths of a Buenos Aires tango neighborhood. However, I was in London, and you cannot get much more in London than the Royal Festival Hall, which the river Thames laps against. Unfortunately, despite recently spending over a month in Buenos Aires, it had taken me until tonight to actually watch tango.

The show Tangopolis was billed as a fusion of new and old, of classic tango and a postmodern take on the music form. Bajofondo, a band that sounds like Gotan Project, were scheduled to play alongside Daniel Melingo, who is the epitome of cool, although you may question this statement upon first site. Melingo is old enough to be my father. At 51, he looks a little like a mad artist and the uncle that you wished that you had, but your parents are glad you didn’t. Hailing from Buenos Aires, Melingo has had various focuses during his fascinating career. First a rock musician, then a writer of film music and now purveyor of tango around the world.

Considering I am not able speak a word of Spanish apart from being able to order a few beers with tacos, I was surprised at how Melingo’s lyrics and music affected me. In particular “Cha Digo” was heart-wrenching. But it was Melingo’s more comical songs that had the crowd lapping it up, especially the song based on the life of a drunk, “Muleta,” which begins with Melingo wandering around the stage—like a child looking for his mother—with shoes and socks in his hands, singing about trying to find a stone in his shoe.

Interestingly, Malingo’s producer is Eduardo Makaroff, who is also the guitarist for Gotan Project, and strangely connected (in sound at least) to the act to follow Malingo, Bajofondo. Bajofondo is in many respects about as tango as The Chemical Brothers. However, it is the little glimpses of tango influences on the electronic band Bajofondo which soon had the crowd jumping up and down like Jack-in-the-boxes. This change in vibe after Malingo quickly dissipated my belief that I was experiencing a refined night out in the Royal Festival Hall. And the night was better for it. Bajofondo combines tango with electronics, with club-beats as well as even rap-style lyrics (sung in Spanish), and is led by Gustavo Santaolalla, who is the double Oscar-winning composer of the soundtracks to Babel and Brokeback Mountain. (He is also the director behind the forthcoming Cafe de los Maestros tango film.)

With an assortment of instruments featured in the band, Bajofondo are as unique as Camden. ith its free-tyle rap “Miles Pasajeros” is as catchy as a Christmas song, and “Perfume” is just pure tango funk. Unfortunately, too often tunes sounded overly-similar, but the band is definitely at its best when out-on-a-limb (such as Gustavo’s beautiful solo song).

I left the Royal Festival Hall as exhausted as if I had performed tango myself, and began dreaming my return to Buenos Aires.

Words & Image: Tim Kernutt

Darren Ressler