'Tango Varón takes its inspiration from the intimate world of cabaret and cafe...
Chris Moss 2003
Gradually, tango is being revamped from just about every angle. There's no artist with quite the iconoclastic verve of Astor Piazzolla around, but from electronica experiments through to modern ballet, Argentina's urban folk music is strong and strident again.
The best contemporary female vox title has been held for some time by Adriana Varela, a gutsy, tobacco-voiced singer from Palermo in central Buenos Aires.She sprang to fame in the early 90s after learning her trade fast-track with composer and lyricist Enrique Cadícamo and singer Roberto Goyeneche. Now, entering as challenger, comes Sandra Luna, from the same city, but with her roots on the city's margins and with a background of many years performing live - often with giants of the genre such as Edmundo Rivero and Héctor Varela - before making Tango Varon, her international debut.
Luna's got a voice that recalls the classic female singers of the 40s - a crisp, nearly flute-like timbre at times, rather like Nelly Omar (who Luna admires) - though with occasionally raunchier, rougher edges and the range to push the songs into darker corners. Perhaps her liking for French chanson - and especially Edith Piaf - figures here, but whatever the source, Luna's versions of famous tango songs like "Ché Bandoneón", "Lejana Tierra Mía" and "Canción Desesperada", feel modern, felt rather than studied, and very much her own. Her goal is clearly to use tangos as they were born to be used - to tell stories, with a melancholy lilt and bags of passion.
As well as classics that reappear on compilations by scores of famous, dead artists, there are lesser-known and totally new songs here. The title track, by Edgardo Acuna, tells in mythic fashion the story of tango's birth as a 'tango varón' or proud, strutting 'male tango' - though given a strong injection of female passion by Luna. At the other end of the emotional spectrum is "Carritos Cartoneros", a song about the cardboard-gatherers of modern-day, crisis-struck Buenos Aires, who come out at dusk to gather up recyclable rubbish for a few pesos.
Playing live in London as part of the annual jazz festival, Sandra Luna is one of a small number of Argentine artists eager, and evidently able, to lift tango canción (tango song) out of the show-and-spectacle context and show its force as a poetry of longing and lamentation. With its varied moods and Luna's consistently powerful voice, Tango Varóntakes its inspiration from the intimate world of cabaret and cafe concert culture and brings another formidable talent onto the global tango stage.