The name Gustavo Santaolalla keeps popping up on this blog - if it's not as producer for Café Tacuba, Juanes or Calle 13 then it's for his ground-breaking and Oscar-winning soundtracks (Babel, Brokeback Mountain, The Motorcycle Diaries). But he also has his own band, the electronic tango collective Bajofondo Tango Club. Now shortened to Bajofondo, the mostly instrumental group gathered an impressive list of guests for their new album Mar Dulce.
Bajofondo's tango-with-a-beat has long been a success in cafés all over the Northern hemisphere, but on this album Santaolalla wanted to incorporate a more Latin American feel. A hard thing to achieve with pure instrumental tracks and lots of violins, though the melancholic alma of the tango shines through on all tracks. Most of all, Mar Dulce sounds very cosmopolitan, a little how I imagine Buenos Aires or Montevideo sound after hours in some ultra hip district.
The eight instrumental tangos on the album swerve between sensual, melancholic, extactic and gloomy. But it's the guests that make the album. On "Ya No Duele", guest rapper Santullo converts a hyperactive accordeon into the perfect accompaniment for his poetic, almost spoken-word-like performance. The contrast with "Hoy", where Juan Subira screams out his emotions raw and raunchy, couldn't be bigger. The international names however, disappoint a little. Elvis Costello is just a big old bore, and Nelly Furtado still hasn't mastered her afwul accent.
The best tracks are reserved for a handful of Latin American superstars. "El Mareo" has an inspiring Gustavo Cerati marrying his bass voice to echoing guitars and accordeons. La Mala Rodriguez makes "El Andén" entirely her own with a ceaseless rap attack on what must be the first elektrotangohop ever. And on single "Pa' Bailar", Julieta Venegas enhances the best instrumental track on the album with an incredibly catchy vocal.
As electro-tango collective, it's inevitable to be compared to Gotan Project, the band that launched the hype about eight years ago. And I must say, despite the big names and quality musicians on Mar Dulce, Bajofondo still falls short of the original. Maybe it's the dominance of Santaolalla, but it all sounds so produced in comparison to the soulful Gotan. Or is it my European ears that are used to heavier beats than Bajofondo's? Still, Mar Dulce remains a solid record that is probably well on its way to a new load of Grammys.
Bajofondo ft. Julieta Venegas - Pa' Bailar
Bajofondo ft. La Mala Rodriguez - El Andén
Album: Bajofondo - Mar Dulce (Decca)
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