There Is No Audience

MAY 12, 2017

An Interview with Orquesta Bajofonderos

Orquesta Bajofonderos playing at Milonga Night.

Music is at the heart of Arrabal. The show’s propulsive, electro-tango score (drawn from the music of Gustavo Santaolalla and his band Bajofondo) is played live by a five-piece ensemble. “Orquesta Bajofonderos,” as the band is called, is at the center of the action, playing for virtually all of Arrabal’s 90 minutes. Patricio “Tripa” Bonfiglio (Bandoneon) and Pablo Martín (Double Bass/Ronroco)—both professional musicians active at the center of Buenos Aires’ tango scene—took a few minutes out of rehearsal to talk with A.R.T. Publications & Artistic Programs Fellow Robert Duffley about tango’s rich history and experimental, evolving present.

Audiences of Arrabal enter the theater to find themselves in a milonga, with dancers and musicians all around them. For audiences who might not have visited a tango club before, what is a “milonga”?

TRIPA: Milonga is a lot of things. It’s a subgenre of tango, and it’s also a place where people go to dance tango. The word comes from African languages—along with other words like candombe, and tango, because the tango has roots, partly, in Africa, and also parts in Europe, the south of Italy, Spain, Poland. In Buenos Aires, at the end of the 19th century, there were a lot of immigrants—French, Italian, Russian, and Jewish people all living together. And tango comes out of that mixture, of all those peoples and cultures in one place, in Buenos Aires.

PABLO: The tango is a particular mix of all those pieces of things that people brought from their countries to Buenos Aires. The Bandoneon is a German instrument…

TRIPA: The strings come from Jewish and Eastern European music, the melancholy and lyric mood from Italy; there are elements of Spanish and African music. But it’s not a fusion. It’s a totally new thing, made by the people, not for the market.

PABLO: Tango comes from the music all those immigrant communities played in the big tenement houses. All those poor people, living together, invented it from scratch, and it’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Bajofondo, which created the music in Arrabal, is beloved in part for incorporating electronic elements into tango music. How does the addition of electronic music interact with tango’s history?

TRIPA: It’s similar to what we were talking about earlier—the mixture between different styles of music that formed tango in the first place. And Orquesta Bajofonderos is a mixture, too. Each of us has his past. I play traditional tango, and with my group, Rascasuelos, I also play new music. We have a milonga of our own.

In a milonga, what is the relationship between the band, the dancers, and the audience?

PABLO: There is no audience. In a milonga, everyone dances. You can go to watch, but that’s rare—it’s a place to dance. Music, theater—I don’t know, thousands of years ago, there was no separation between audience and artists. When it was your turn, you danced; when it was your turn, you played; when it was your turn, you sang. And when it was your turn, you listened. Milonga is that. Something like 400, 500 years ago, theaters separated the stage and the people, but it wasn’t always that way.

TRIPA: The whole place is a show, which everybody together is part of. Some of them can be a little more orthodox, less open to change. But as a musician, for me, a milonga is place that I can try out new arrangements, new aesthetics, new music—I can see whether they work with the dancers. It feels like a laboratory—like you’re trying things all the time. It’s an investigation.

How does this concept of mixture—between peoples, cultures, and histories—influence the structure of Arrabal?

PABLO: Arrabal is a new thing. Again, created from scratch. The show starts with a tango lesson, and the dancers come offstage and interact with people. The idea is that you experience everything—I remember when they called me to ask me to be a part of the show, they said, “You go through every state of emotion—through sexual arousal, through fear, crying, everything.”  It’s really sensitive for us. Especially, in one sense, because we’re living our recent history onstage. We all have someone we knew who suffered torture, who’s still missing. And we are professionals—we come here and do our job, but as soon as you pinch the nerve, we can start crying in a second. So it’s challenging, and also thrilling.

TRIPA: It’s a bit of a catharsis for us. And on the other side, it’s also interesting to present this in the US—it’s important that people here know this history.

It’s a history that isn’t over, for you and so many others.

PABLO: It’s interesting for us, because we are the generation that is carrying the flag. We say, “Ni olvido, ni pardon,” like, “We don’t forget, and we don’t forgive,” and that’s the theme; never again. We don’t want this anywhere. Anywhere in the world.

Related Productions