By Diego Graglia – NY Daily News
Tuesday, July 1st 2008, 4:00 AM

It was late one 1985 night at a cabaret in her hometown of Buenos Aires that María Volonté discovered she wanted to sing tangos.

Looking at the women who worked there, she says, she felt overcome with tenderness and the need to connect with them. She mounted a chair, alone in the middle of the floor, and started to sing an a cappella rendition of “La última curda” (The last bout of drunkenness).

The Argentine singer — by then already a music pro who dabbled in different styles — swears that while she sang, the women started approaching her and delicately placing bills in her cleavage.

When she was done, while a long applause enveloped her, she was convinced tango was her thing.

“People always ask me what music of Buenos Aires is like,” Volonté says on the phone from California. “It’s the music that expresses a life lived with intensity. That is the music that I bring them.”

That intensity and the intimacy Volonté infuses into her live shows will be on display when she makes her city debut at Joe’s Pub next Wednesday — coincidentally, July 9 is Argentina’s Independence Day.

Volonté will also give a free acoustic preview and a Q&A session at the Americas Society on July 7.

Although the artist has been taking the stage for three decades, she became better known internationally after her 2003 album “Fuimos” was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

The production also earned her a Gardel Prize, Argentina’s top musical award.

In “Fuimos,” a collaboration with renowned jazz pianist Horacio Larumbe, Volonté sang a selection of 1940s tangos.

“That was the reason I started travelling,” Volonté says, “and doing more stuff in the U.S.”

Volonté now splits her time between the Bay Area and Buenos Aires and doesn’t mind having to start over in a new country.

“I love the challenge, the new experiences,” she says. “I’m a natural-born adventurer. Volonté, which is my mother’s last name and I chose to work under, in a sense means ‘volunteer of adventure.’ I can’t think of a better definition for myself.”

Volonté brings to New York songs from her latest CD, “Sudestada,” named after a strong south-easterly wind that blows in the pampas.

It includes some of her own compositions and new versions of Argentine standards, in tango and other genres.

“What I celebrate is the silence,” she says, “the beauty that comes when you dare turn down the decibels and venture a little bit into quietness, into intimacy.”