Montréal's Quartango is not just any Tango group. Some of its members actually had the the opportunity to work with the primary innovator of La Guardia Tercera (The Third Guard) Tango, Argentina's Astor Piazzolla. The parties first collided in 1986 to discuss musical and licensing arrangements, as a good portion of Quartango's repertoire roots from the music of the master. The group also plays classic tangos (The First Guard), Tango Nuevo (New Tango) and original material.
The current members of Quartango: Stéphane Aubin
(piano), Antoine Bareil (violin), René Gosselin (double bass) and Denis Plante (bandoneón) consider themselves performance musicians of music that already sparkles on the page. Quartango's composer-in-residence Richard Hunt is the main person to thank for this.
Retired, but never to be forgotten, founding member Adolfo Bornstein initiated the group since he had been in love with tango music for most of his life. After playing violin in the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, Adolfo
had the amazing opportunity to study the genre in the birthplace of tango, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Although the origin of tango is well-known, the origin of the world 'tango' is questionable. Some claim the word originated in Africa, meaning "African dance". Others believe it came from Castile, Spain, derived from the old Spanish word "taner" which means "to play an instrument". Another theory is that colonial black slaves in the La Plata area (Argentina and Uruguay) called their drums, the dance and the setting, "tango". Tango became popular in a time when six million immigrants including Italians, Spaniards, East Europeans, Blacks and Jews colonized the port and slums of Buenos Aires, especially the La Plata area, between 1870 and 1930. Among the recent immigrants, Criollos and natives, pimps and prostitutes of Buenos Aires' bordellos and bars formed the customs and created the environment in which tango was born. Tango's musical roots came from Andalucian Flamenco, southern Italian melodies and African Candomble percussion, but the two main genres that can be traced as tango's direct predecessors are the Habanera and the Milonga.
According to Quartango's current double bassist, René Gosselin, working in the group is a tonne of fun: "Each member is a star on their own, not only as virtuosos but also as human beings. Sometimes playing music can feel like a job, but not with them." Over the past few years, there have been a few retirees, and now Gosselin is the oldest member of Quartango
Gosselin has a very custom-made double bass with a carving of a dragon on the head stock.
Tango may have been outdated at one point, but it is going through a huge revival. Like a spiralling boomerang thrown around the world, modern tango music and dance has reached Europe, North America, Australia and even Asia! In Shanghai, China, the Milonga (the name for a venue where tango is danced) is open every weekend. Of course, the energy of the boomerang is coming back to Argentina.
Quartango has a tendency to incorporate light humour into their concerts, so "people don't get to use their kleenex," apologizes Gosselin. The popular image of tango is melancholic, so when the performance gets very physical, a few people don't know what to think. But Gosselin assures, "...during some pieces, they will listen and cry; other times there will be a nice laughing moment." Quartango is full of vigour and passion, so it is easy for them to keep the show exciting, including a little bit of humour to make for a really nice evening.
After the performance, Quartango always meets their listeners at the door to explain the music and laugh with the people.
In Montréal, there are many tango festivals and a great number of tango dance schools. In some places, people will actually dance the tango outdoors in grassy parks. Not just limited to Montréal, Tango is hopping all across Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Québec City, Ottawa and Toronto. You may be surprised to learn that tango is massively popular in Finland!
Gosselin says "it is hard to say what the music of the future will be, not only in terms of electronic influences, but also in the acoustic contemporary field. All the possibilities are there; there is a listener for everything. However, one thing is for sure: the music will not stop."
Quartango is performing at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday October 20th, 2010 as part of Coastal Jazz and Blues Society's Fall for Jazz Series.
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