Saturday, February 24, 2007

I’ve just done something romantic.

To anyone who knows me, this observation will be roughly on par with, “George Bush discussed Proudhon sympathetically,” or "Madonna allowed the others to have their say.” This epically romantic gesture consisted in whisking Mrs Impostume off ( to “whisk off” has no sexual connotations as far as I’m aware. Or does it? “ He kept poking at me while I was doing the dishes and what with me gout and all that, I had to resort to one of the kitchen implements and quickly whisk him off into the sink, Trace.”) to Brighton, home of all things whole-foody and hipsterish to see one of her favourite bands (errr.. and mine) “La Chicana.” Much against expectations I managed to keep the location and the band secret until the moment they arrived on stage at the Komedia by using a series of diversionary/misdirection strategies of which Derren Brown would have been proud coupled with the kind of square-shouldered poster-blocking lunges to make a star quarterback weep with envy, stuffing my fist into the mouths of passing strangers if I suspected they were likely to utter the name, even taking my life in my hands by getting the rather feisty (ahh that Latin blood!) Mrs Impostume in a headlock and running her, convict style, past the venue itself and into a nearby café, when, due to my appalling sense of direction/timing we arrived at it an hour early.

As romantic gestures go it doesn’t seem like much but believe me, when your fate has been to leave your sun-drenched South American home and the open, warm and expressive vitality of its peoples to live with a man from Barrow-in- Furness in South London, you’re grateful for even the smallest of gestures. I am, after all, the man who, slightly disconcerted by the whole getting-married thing, made a hilarious gag at our enhitchment (“wedding” would be a term-too-far) by saying to the registrar immediately after the ceremony was completed, “Well, that was easy. I’m already looking forward to the next time!” BOOM-BOOM! only to be greeted by appalled faces and stony silence. However I console myself that it wasn’t quite as unromantic as the moment at my brother-in-law and sister’s wedding ( I was the witness, sitting at the back with the kids) when the registrar told him, “You may kiss the bride” and his rejoinder, looking at his partner of twelve or so years, was a tender, “Do I have to?” I laughed for a week! I would of course write more about the good Mrs Impostume, humbleberry gatherer/forcefeeder par excellence and expert glasses-wearer but for the fact that she’s rather more circumspect and modest than I am. I, for example have no problem revealing intimate details about myself to friends, family, acquaintances, workmates, fellow tube passengers, baffled tourists and so on. For example, the fact that I have a seventeen inch penis, an IQ of 263 and stand a magnificent six-foot four in my stockinged (yes that right, I wear stockings, gorraprollemwidatblud?) feet. (only one of the three prior assertions is true readers, can you guess which one? That’s right I DO have a seventeen-inch penis but am, in “reality” only four-foot six! (Note the Orwellian brilliance of my height-inversion strategy!) )

But I digress.

The point was: La Chicana. La Chicana come from Buenos Aires and are roughly part of the Tango Nuevo. While Bajofondo and the Gotan Project have spawned a million copyists and a kind of microindustry in pedestrian lounge electronica with bits of bandoneon and snatches of vocals on top ( I have a nasty feeling that Tango is one of those signifiers of mature cool, like Jazz, that gets drafted in to provide “intelligence” to middlebrow music, this despite the fact that it started in the slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo and lyrically almost all of it deals with the lives/environments of the poor, including much overtly political work, especially by the magnificent Discepolo whose justifiably revered “Cambalache” must be one of the great comments on the twentieth century in any medium) there’s been another, quieter rebirth of Tango with bands like La Chicana ( as profiled in the documentary Tango: Un Giro Extrano) who’ve been revising the tradition, augmenting it and bringing in a wider range of influences from other traditional South American musical forms. La Chicana have several advantages as a band. One is that the singer Dolores Sola really has star quality, enormous stage presence. She’s been blessed Dolores, not only with great beauty but a magnificent voice, with just the right edge of rasp to carry the flavour of smokey milongas. The last great singer, Goyeneche, was a chronic alcoholic whose coke-shot, sozzled bark seems to have set the precedent for a long while, but there's something else in Dolore's delivery, a more knowing, impish quality that reflects the bands preference for early, rougher, more spirited and humourous Tangos. While there is of course an edge of pomo-knowingness in their original tunes ,written by the guitarist and partner of Dolores, Acho Estol, a conscious playing with the symbols of Tango, (“ Una rosa y un farol” “ a rose and a streetlamp” for example makes conscious, compressed use of two of Tango's great images) to enter into writing tangos Estol has realised, means taking on the forms and archetypes and reinvestigating their power and resonance within the wider culture, attempting to create new contexts in which their significance can be re-illumined.
There’s nothing “radical” about La Chicana in the modernist sense, but nor are they overtly po-mo. If one of the points about po-mo is that the artist is considered, by his revealing of the mechanics of the art, to stand above the artifact he produces, if the art always refers back to the artist, then La Chicana avoid this trap by their natural gifts for reverence and humilty, the tradition isn’t there to be plundered, it’s there to be contributed to. This isn’t to say they lack “character” what they lack is that brittle po-mo non-attribute “attitude”, that kind of aggressive self-assertion that is supposed to stand in for all other attributes. Dolores apologizes for her English, which she says is horrible ( I sympathize, still, it’s a bit better than my Spanish, though) but does her best to explain and introduce a context for each song. Estol, whose English is amazingly great, steps in to offer anecdotes and to help out, and he’s a fabulously witty and charming raconteur. The music ranges from a nineteen-fifteen Tango called “Fireworks” in which the violinist and percussionist reproduce the sounds of fireworks going off over the rooftops of Buenos Aires ( actually the violinist is great, reproducing a police siren, birds singing and numerous other touches throughout the gig) through to a track from the collaboration by Piazola and Borges, Cumbias, Chacareras, and a range of other forms I know almost nothing about. The common theme throughout all of them seem to be courage, invention and wit, three qualities that La Chicana have in spades. There’s a palpable sense of warmth and connection in the room and it’s one of the most enjoyable gigs on a number of levels I’ve seen for a while. Estol introduces a traditional Bolivian song about an exploited worker who tells his boss to go fuck himself even though he knows the gesture will ultimately be useless as exactly the kind of gesture that La Chicana love, and they themselves, by boldly refusing to get on the Tango circuit and make money touring Japan and by plunging into the tradition they love, trying to wrest something new from it and contribute on their own terms, embody exactly that beautiful spirit. This is the spirit of wit, play, invention and the deep engagement with culture that I admire, that in fact serves to reconcile me to humanity and by doing so reconcile me to myself. It’s one of the vital functions of art, one increasingly lost in a culture (ours) where intensities and supra-linguistic forms of "direct" experience ( frequencies, noise, colossal bass, blah, blah) all try to supervene the deep suspicion of humanist discourse and the pitfalls of language etc..but, fuck it… frankly if I have the choice between masochistically submitting myself to the like, psuedo-mystical immanence, yeah, of old-time bores like Boris and the grace, ease outwardness and inspiring tenacity of La Chicana, I’ll take La Chicana everytime, thanks.

Now if only I had a subscription to the Wire so I could cancel it for putting bloody Grinderman on the cover instead of La Chicana. And the article's done by heroic, David Thomas' suffering, ace guitarist and all round nice guy Keith Levine*!
*update. I'm a fool...i mean Moline!


dejan said...

Carl listening to La Chicana I got a blessed respite from your dreary Phallic narcissism (tm); the music was happy, frivolous and unhaunted by Victorian sexual repression. I loved this:

''Listen some songs in your computer.''

(from the Chicana website)

That said, I'm sure after listening to them in my computer for weeks on end, I would begin to feel a strange compulsion to bury meself in BURIAL's kommodified apokalyptic alienation.

Life is happy, life is sad!

Now send me a picture of your big cock.

ASHDAV said...

Do you wear suspenders with those stockings? Are you in fact prancing around in them right now, coyly playing with yourself in front of a full length mirror? Your wedding faux pas puts Ricky Gervais/Larry David etc. to shame. Get yerself out to Spleensville CZ man!

Luciano said...

Carl, La Chicana is nice, but I didn't know there was such a "Tango Nuevo"... anyway, decades ago Astor Piazzolla has been "tango nuevo" as well, I guess... but if I had a gun pointed to my head and someone telling me "CHOOSE A BUENOS AIRES BAND NOW!!!", I certainly would take Kutna Hora. Thx hermanos.
Cheers from Brazil

ASHDAV said...

Kutna Hora? That's a town in the Czech Republic. Small world

Luciano said...

Yeah... that's right... with that church decorated with thousands of human bones!!