Global Rhythm magazine – October 2008
The cover of the October issue of Global Rhythm magazine called Maria Volonte “tango’s shimmering star.” Editor Tad Hendrickson, who caught Maria’s New York show recently, said “About two minutes into her new CD Sudestada, I knew that she’d be perfect for the magazine. Seeing her live at a recent show here in New York only reaffirmed my initial reaction to the music. She’s got style, class and sass — and any tango singer worth his or her weight needs all three to make it work.”
In a lengthy profile of Maria inside the magazine, titled “Perfect Storm: Maria Volonte channels the tempestuous power of tango,” journalist Jim Bessman wrote, “The Latin Grammy-nominated and Gardel Prize-winning Argentine vocalist is known for her powerful, gut-wrenching performances, and after a brief discussion of her latest studio foray into tango, folclore and candombe styles, she picked up an acoustic guitar and floored the audience with her soul-stirring voice.”
Global Rhythm chose Maria’s song “Parte del Juego” to include as the second track on the sampler CD that comes with this special Argentine music issue of the magazine. Also featured are Gustavo Santaolalla’s “Bajofondo,” alt-folk icon Juana Molina and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
María Volonté channels the tempestuous power of tango
by Jim Bessman – Global Rhythm (October 2008)
It’s no surprise that María Volonté peppers her speech with words like “passion” and “intense” as she did at a recent appearance -appropriately titled “Songs of Argentine Passion”- at the Americas Society in New York The Latin Grammy-nominated and Gardel Prize-winning Argentine vocalist is known for her powerful, gut-wrenching performances, and after a brief discussion of her latest studio foray into tango, folclore and candombe styles, she picked up an acoustic guitar an floored the audience with her soul-stirring voice.
“Singing is to let yourself be overtaken by passion!” she declared at the gathering. “But you have to know where I come from- a magic place full of intense passion called Buenos Aires.” She went on to essentially define tango with a verbal salute to “all the wild hearts” in the audience, and confirmed her “commitment to living passionately from now till the end.” She continued the theme two nights later with a lively performance downtown at Joe’s Pub, where she was backed by an ensemble of Argentine players based in New York City.
Sudestada, which translates as “south-easterly gale,” is the title of Volonté’s new album; fittingly enough, it is also the name given to the intense storms that batter Buenos Aires from the adjoining Rio de la Plata, a massive estuary that separates Argentina and Uruguay. “I learned to live with storms,” Volonté writes in the liner notes, “those that came from outside my window and those that seethed within me.” In appearance, at least, she shows nothing of the gloom and fury implied by the album’s title, but the striking brunette with the Anna Wintour bob certainly churns with a stormy energy.
The music it self is “close to the blues, maybe” she explains, her tone dreamy yet packed with emotion, much in the manner of her singing style (if not as fluid, since she must often pause to find the right words in English — which she always does, even when her meaning is subtle). “But it’s more heavy and intense never just fun. The idea is a matter of accepting the end of love as a real jewel — that it’s definitely not bad, just the sense of the terrible knowledge of the reality of loss. At the same time, there is beauty and poetry that reveals another side of the human condition that is very important. In many ways, it celebrates the ability to live life in a more open, intense way — the time of happiness and pleasure and the enjoyment of a relationship or any aspect of life — but you’re also ready to experience the dark side of it with equal intensity. It’s not an easy thing!”
Volonté’s focus on tango hasn’t come easily, either. She was born in Ituzaingó, in the province of Buenos Aires at a time when urban sprawl had not yet taken over the outskirts of the city. With Argentina’s vast countryside as the backdrop, she was as much influenced by the rural folclore rhythms as she was by the urban tango forms. Her father was a frustrated showman, so she and her five sisters were exposed to all kinds of music, including bolero, flamenco, jazz, opera, musical comedies. French and Italian songs, as well as Portuguese fados. Among her favorite singers, there was Edith Piaf (“of course!), Ella Fitzgerald, the beloved peruvian songstress Chabuca Granda (Volonté covers her famous “La Flor de la Canela” on Sudestada), fado queen Amalia Rodrigues and Brazilian pop star Elis Regina. “But tango was like the air around it all,” Volonté interjects. “It was always present in different ways”.
She recalls singing an old Neapolitan song “Catari (Cuore ingrato)” when she was five, realizing then that “singing is only a matter of allowing one’s self to be pierced by passion.” She was given her first guitar by her father when she was 10, an event that changed her life forever. She would sing traditional folclore and Argentine rock songs in school, later adding songs by the likes of Chile’s Violeta Parra, Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén and Spain’s Paco Ibañez and Joan Manuel Serrat.
Volonté started singing folk and Latin rock songs professionally in the 1980s in bohemian cafes and abandoned warehouses in Buenos Aires, eventually earning the sobriquet “La Musa del Underground.”
“But I realized that I wanted to explore tango more deeply,” she recalls, “because there was no better music for expressing living life intensely.”
The pivotal moment come one night in 1985 when Volonté and some friends wound up at a Greek cabaret in downtown Buenos Aires. She was overcome by the melancholy of the music and especially by the female workers there. “Suddenly I felt the need to sing something meaningful for them,” and I began to sing a capella (the tango classic) “La Última Curda” (The Last Drunken Binge) and some of the women came to me with tears in their eyes and put bills in my cleavage. I broke into tears too, and saw how I could connect with different people through tango. I wanted to find my own voice in learning about life and about myself.”
She has released six albums to date, starting in 1996 with Tango y Otras Pasiones, which the Argentine newspaper La Nación hailed as one of the top 100 tango recordings ever made. She won the Gardel Prize for her 2003 album Fuimos, which broke ground by featuring classic tangos recorded with famed jazz pianist Horacio Larumbe.
By contrast, her 2006 release Yo Soy Maria was a quintet recording that fused classic tango songs with jazz and bossanova. Sudestada changes direction yet again by showcasing four Volonté originals, and featuring an all-star lineup of pianist/arranger Popi Spatocco, bandoneonista Walter Ríos, bassist Daniel Maza, harmonica virtuoso Franco Luciani and celebrated composer/guitarist Raúl Carnota (who also produced the album). Volonté singles out “No Sé Cómo Olvidar” ( I don´t know how to forget) which she co-wrote and sings with fellow tanguero Roberto “Caracol” Paviotti, as one of the album’s highlights.
“He passed me the melody,” she says, “and when I came back with the song he silently broke into tears and said, ‘You described situations as if you were taking pictures of different moments of the relationship.’ And he´s a big, tough guy!”
It’s no easy task to grapple with the dark romanticism and introspection of tango music and not to be fundamentally changed by the process; and yet for Volonté, her long odyssey as a tanguera has been one primarily of self-discovery in the end. In the wake of her recent move to the Bay Area in 2007, she looks forward to spreading the gospel of tango here in the U.S.
“It’s a lonely path,” she admits, “but at certain points it’s wonderful to realize how much you can affect other people. It’s in their eyes and words and hugs — he mysterious, infinite ways that all you have been exploring is suddenly meaningful, [both] to the people who listen to you and to yourself.”