Category Archives: music

Posts about music in Argentina.

Cat Power, Pizza and Faina

I’ve had a tough week. To top it off, my highlight was going to be the Cat Power concert at Teatro Gran Rex which I went to Thursday night. It may have been the highlight, but it certainly wasn’t the highlight I was expecting. For me, the fun was laughing with my friend Naty and wondering what the concert would be like if only we’d been on LSD.

My camera saw the concert as if on LSD at times.

My camera saw the concert as if on LSD at times.


At one point, Cat Power disappeared for what seemed like fifteen minutes and we listened to the band improvise the beginning of what should have been (and eventually, 15 minutes later) was the next song. Maybe she had to run to the bathroom, we thought.

Whered she go?

Where'd she go?

When she reappeared all she said was a quick, “Sorry.” But when the song got going, and the next song did, and the one after did, they all sounded exactly the same as the first five we’d heard before Cat Power disappeared leaving us with a repeating electronic opening and purple lights, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just too old to get this type of concert or if everyone else there was thinking the same thing: “WTF!”

Naty pulled her cell phone out of her bag to see if anyone had called. That can’t be a good sign for a performer. I, too, was no longer paying attention to the concert, I wondered if Cat Power is the type of singer that you can like at home because you can mix her up with other groups you like. I almost never listen to one group or album all the way through anymore. They’re grouped by genre or by my playlists which I carefully put together and have a variety of music that is similar, but by various artists. Could I ever listen to Cat Power and nothing else for over an hour?

Each time a song began I’d think, “haven’t we heard this one?” Then Cat Power’s incredibly smoky voice would remind me that I do love her music. I just don’t love it for hours on end. Finally there was a surprise, and for certain, the highlight of the evening. She sang a song in Spanish (here’s the setlist from the concert). It was the only song I felt she cared about all night. Her body language changed and she seemed to connect with the audience.

At the end, I think it was the most boring and strangest concert I’ve seen. It wasn’t just that every song sounded the same and that the songs I most wanted to hear weren’t sung. It was the fact that she made no attempt to connect with us. Besides the one “sorry,” after her disappearance, she never spoke to the audience. Was it because her Spanish is not great? Maybe, but I’d guess that the people who want to see a Cat Power concert understand some English. A simple “Hello, Buenos Aires,” and “thank you for coming,” would probably do the trick. Instead we were left thinking, “WTF?”

Back on stage.

Back on stage.

On another note. If you go to a show on Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ Broadway, the place to head to after for a quick bite is Guerrin. It’s a pizza place, but more than pizza Guerrin is sort of a right of passage for theater goers in Buenos Aires. It’s not the best pizza in town, but it’s good pizza. It’s the atmosphere that brings in the crowds.

Pizza and Faina at Guerrin

Pizza and Faina at Guerrin

There’s even a song about this right of passage by the Argentine rock band called Memphis La Blusera. The song is called Moscato, Pizza y Faina.

Here are the lyrics:

Las luces se encienden,
calle Corrientes,
se llena de gente,
que viene y que va,
salen del cine,
rien y lloran,
se aman, se pelean,
se vuelven a amar,
en la Universal,
fin de la noche,
moscato, pizza y faina,
moscato y pizza.

Translation:

The lights turn on,
Corrientes Street,
fills up with people,
that come and go,
leaving the movies,
laughing and crying,
they love, they fight,
they fall back in love,
in the universal,
to end the night out,
moscato, pizza and faina,
moscato and pizza.

Pizza y Faina

Pizza y Faina

Pizza and faina is a common combination here in Buenos Aires. Faina is made from chickpea flour and often has herbs or onions mixed in with it. It usually comes on top of the pizza slice so you can cut through both and eat them together. According to the song, and to tradition especially at Guerrin, it’s best with a glass of Moscato.

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La Peña del Colorado

Where do you take a newcomer to Buenos Aires to show him the grittier, more rustic, and way romantic side of the music I so love? La Peña del Colorado of course (we mentioned it in our list of Ten Things to Do in Buenos Aires). The live shows are great, but I also recommend staying later to see the spontaneous guitarists and drunken singers that stick around until dawn. Plan for a late night.

 La Jury

Last Friday we watched La Jury sing her heart out for over two hours. La Jury, whose real name is Luciana, is from Buenos Aires. She sings in the style called “canto criollo.” Here are the names of a few famous criollo singers from Chile, Argentina, and Mexico to help you get familiarized with the style should you want to study up on the style before getting here (Violeta Parra, Mercedes Sosa, Lhasa del Sela, Chango Rodriguez, Oscar Valles, Chavela Vargas). 

At first, La Jury was accompanied by Carlos Delgado on guitar and vocals. 

Midway through her performance, master guitarist, Carlos Moscardini, joined her. Amazing. Truly amazing. 

 Carlos Moscardini

My memory stick was full, which was a total bummer because Carlos Moscardini’s guitar playing coupled with La Jury’s amazing pipes was truly spectacular. But here is Carlos Moscardini on guitar. Wow!

La Peña del Colorado is located in Palermo/Barrio Norte on Guemes, 3657. Call for a reservation and ask for a table close to the stage. The show was scheduled to start at 10:00 but really began closer to 10:30 (as is to be expected in Argentina). It cost 25 pesos for the show, and we had some dinner, too. Now, let me say that I would not go to La Peña del Colorado for sophisticated dishes or the best of Buenos Aires (here’s the menu). But I love that it is so very typical. Typical parrilla fare. Very good empanadas salteñas. Yummy casseroles of pumpkin with quinoa and goat cheese. Traditional guisos or locro. Tablas of cheese, meats and olives. It’s not creative; it’s traditional. As it should be.

 

La Jury y Carlos Moscardini

If you really want to do things the way the locals do, order a penguino instead of a regular bottle of wine and ask for a bottle of soda to go with it. The penguino is actually the shape of the pitcher that the house wine is served in. Because it’s not the greatest quality wine, Argentines often add a bit of soda to it. It’s like a sangria without the goodies. If you’re picky about wine, you might want to get a regular bottle first to have with your food and then switch over to the penguino when your taste buds don’t care anymore.

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Tango Classes at Tango Brujo

I should begin by pointing out that I don’t know how to dance tango. I think it’s amazing though and I’d love to learn. So when my mom and niece were coming to visit, I decided it was time to take a couple of classes with people who know as little as I do and with whom I have no problem looking like a fool.

Trying to decide where to take tango classes in Buenos Aires is about is no easy task. I asked everyone I know who’s in the tango world and there was no consensus. A lot of people recommended La Viruta, the massive milonga in Palermo, but I had heard the classes at La Viruta were very crowded and I also knew that it attracts a younger group of people. Worried my mom might feel out of place and that we wouldn’t get any one-on-one attention from the instructors, I looked for something smaller. Tango Brujo was recommended in a discussion on Couchsurfing. And since I think the crowd over at Couchsurfers is pretty cool (read an earlier post about this project here), it sounded right for us, too. 

 Tango Brujo Shop

Tango Brujo is housed in a beautifully renovated building on Esmeralda in downtown Buenos Aires. There’s a gorgeous shop on the ground floor. The shoes and clothes are enough to make anyone want to become a tango aficionado. Unbelievably cool stuff! Head upstairs for the cozy dance studio. 

 Tango - Mom and Jordan

They offer classes for all levels and throughout the week, which makes planning a lot easier. We took two: Introduction to Tango, and the Beginners and Intermediate. What I liked about our classes at Tango Brujo was that there weren’t too many people and yet there were enough of us to change partners and get in a good bit of practice. 

 Tango Brujo - Instruction

The classes were in English and Spanish and the instructors were excellent. They were great at figuring out how quickly they could move on to the next step, who needed a bit of individualized attention, and making sure everyone was dancing even though there were more women than men and pairing people up was sometimes hard to do. 

Tango is as hard as I’ve always heard it was to learn. The problem for my mom, my niece and me was that in Louisiana we dance to Cajun or Zydeco music. It’s fast and loose. Hips move and bodies swing in Louisiana. By the end of the class, we’d learned to keep our hips still and wait for the guy to let us know what was coming. But sometimes it felt like I had to wait for an eternity and then I realized… that’s it. It’s that longing and resistance between the two that creates the mood.

An ex-boyfriend once told me I’d never be able to learn tango because I wouldn’t be able to let the guy lead (he was pretty mad at me when he said that). He may have been right, but now that I saw how that anticipation of the guy’s lead is how the couple manages to feel each other and know what’s coming without having to look at their feet or even at each other’s eyes and without their bodies even touching, I’m much more interested in trying to follow.

Here’s a short video of our first instructors, Pablo and Anita, at the end of the class showing us the steps we learned.

The classes cost 15 pesos per person. There’s a complete schedule on the beautiful Tango Brujo website.

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The 34th Annual International Book Fair of Buenos Aires

Today is the first day of the acclaimed book fair in Buenos Aires. I’ve been to book fairs all over the world and this is by far the best. Held in the massive La Rural, the fair goes from April 24 to May 12.  The Argentine author Ricardo Piglia will speak at the innauguration today. 

Book Fair

The book fair is not just a place to blow a stack of cash on hard-to-find books in various languages. It’s the speakers, the lectures and discussions, the cultural events, and the sheer magnitude of the 20 days that draw in the crowds.

Among the international literary figures scheduled to appear this year are: Naomi Klein (Canada; speaking today at 20:00 hs in Sala J.L. Borges), Tom Wolfe (U.S.), Almudena Grandes (Spanish), Juan Villoro (Mexican), Gioconda Belli (Nicaraguan), Luis Baez (Cuban), Jorge Fornet (Cuban), Eduardo Mendicutti (Spanish), Barbara Cassin (French), Alberto Guerra Naranjo (Cuban) and Nelida Piñon (Brazil). For a complete listing, go here

New to the fair this year is a gourmet section called “Placeres y Sabores” which I plan to spend a lot of time at. Invited authors and chefs will prepare dishes and cocktails for the public. The schedule is here.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the folklorist Atahualpa Yupanqui‘s birth, the fair will pay tribute to this Argentine legend on Sunday, May 4. It will be a day filled with music and dance and one not to miss!

Atahualpa Yupanqui

You can check out the full program here

Entry fees are $8 from Monday-Thursday and $10 Friday-Sunday. The fair goes from 14:00 to 22:00 Sunday – Thursday and from 14:00 – 23:00 Fridays and Saturdays. On Wednesday, April 30, from 14:00-2:00 for the “Noche de la Ciudad en la Feria del Libro” which will showcase performances, cultural activities, book signings, and many surprises (according to the Feria’s website). 

Images courtesy of 34th Annual International Book Fair in Buenos Aires website. 

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Tango Show at Ideal

Occasionally before the orchestra begins in the upstairs ballroom of Ideal, there is a performance downstairs. Here’s a short video from one of those performances.  

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Tango Orchestra at Ideal

 Suipacha, 380. Microcentro (downtown). Check their listing of shows

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Ten Things to Do in Buenos Aires

I’ve been living here for just over a year and have had lots of visitors of all sorts–those who love museums, those who love wine, those who just want to know what it’s like to live in Buenos Aires, those who want to shop, and those who love music. Here are ten things I would do with any of these visitors. There are, of course, hundreds of things to do in Buenos Aires, but these ten would give you a pretty good idea of the diversity of this amazing city.  

  1. San Telmo Antique Fair – On Sundays, San Telmo fills up with tourists and locals and vendors galore. The fair has grown in recent years so you’ll find much more than antiques, but in Plaza Dorrego it’s antiques only. The collections are fascinating. If the crowd starts to get to you, head off of Defensa (the main street through San Telmo) to Peru or Balcarce. Balcarce is a small street with some of the best preserved San Telmo architecture. Peru is more busy but there are several good cafes and bars where you can hide out until you’re ready to fight the crowds again. Whatever you do, don’t miss the old-fashioned market in San Telmo. it’s between Carlos Calvo and Estados Unidos just off of Defensa. Sifones 
  2. Tango at Confiteria Ideal (on Thursday for the orchestra) – My favorite tango experience because I don’t dance. If you’re a tango dancer, you’ll want to go elsewhere. But if you want to watch others dance and hear a live orchestra all set in a ballroom of faded decadence, Ideal is the place to go on a Thursday night when the live orchestra plays. Get there early enough to get a good seat (say 10:00 pm) or call to make a reservation. They’ll go all night. Tango Show 
  3. Cafe Tortoni (but not to eat) – Ok, so the food leaves a lot to be desired and in a city like Buenos Aires, there’s no sense eating mediocre food. But do go there for a coffee or a refreshing drink while you’re out and about in the downtown area. Cafe Tortoni takes you back in time. You’ll see tons of tourists taking pictures (inside and out), you may have to wait outside for table to free up (but not usually a long wait), and the wait staff is, well, rude. But once you get past that part, linger at your table as long as you like to watch the comings and goings and imagine you’re visiting Buenos Aires 100 years ago. Tortoni 
  4. Recoleta Cemetery and Avenida Alvear (visit the fancy hotels) – Obviously you have to visit the cemetery. It reminds me of cemeteries in New Orleans. Little cities of elegance and history. But you should also stroll down the street Alvear to see the mega-fashion houses (Gucci, Armani, the like), and to visit two hotels: Alvear Palace Hotel and the Park Hyatt. Alvear Palace Hotel is old-fashioned elegance while Park Hyatt is modern perfection.  Hyatt Entrance
  5. Milion (cocktails and appetizers with the hip crowd) – On Parana (1048 just off of Avenida Santa Fe), this is the place to go for cocktails. The attraction isn’t the cocktails themselves,  it’s the restored mansion that houses Milion. Sit down and imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place. Such elegance. The garden is stunning. The staircase to the garden is also, and it’s a good place to sit to have a drink if you happen to go when there are no tables available. Divine experience all around.
  6. Palermo Soho (shopping and eating) – On Saturdays and Sundays, there’s a fair in Plaza Serrano. It’s not a great fair, but it brings a lot of people to the area. Most of the restaurants here are exceptional so you’ll want to have lunch or dinner. This is the part of town that has the most interesting shops. Local clothes designers, fantastic paper stores, interesting home decor designs, unique and affordable jewelry and shoes. Any day of the week it’s interesting, but it’s most lively on weekends. Palermo Soho
  7. La Peña del Colorado (folclore and food) – I love Argentine folclore (a type of music more popular in the Interior than in Buenos Aires). It’s boisterous, rhythmic, and reminds me of bluegrass and country music from back home. Located in Barrio Norte on Guemes (3657), this place makes me feel like I’m in Cordoba or Santiago del Estero, eating meat and french fries on wooden tables surrounded by people I don’t know and listening to a live show of chacarera or zamba. The show at La Peña del Colorado starts early for Buenos Aires (9:30), so get there even earlier to be sure you get a seat. But stay later. Once the show is over, groups sitting at tables throughout the restaurant will start up their own juntadas (a gathering of people to drink and sing). While you’re there, you might want to try some mate (the haylike infusion Argentines drink out of a gourd). Add sugar if it’s too bitter for your taste. Folklore in the Capital 
  8. El Ateneo (most beautiful bookstore ever) –  On Avenida Santa Fe near Callao and Riobamba, this is the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen. El Ateneo is housed inside an old theater. There’s a cafe on what was the stage, you can sit in the balconies to read for a spell, or you can just wander around and look at the amazing lighting and architecture. 
  9. Tigre (a bit of nature and more shopping) – Go on a Saturday so that you can head to Mataderos, Soho or San Telmo on Sunday. Why I like this trip? The train ride is great. It takes you along the coast (although you don’t see the river) up through the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires. You might even want to get off the train and see San Isidro if you have time. It’s a gorgeous suburb, hilly, green and with spectacular views of the kite surfers down on the river. Tigre itself can take the full day, so head out early. Stop by the tourist information office near the McDonalds. They’ll give you information about boat rides you can take through the river and to visit the islands if you want to get off the boat and walk around. You can also rent bicycles or canoes. Then save enough time to head over to the port and the Fruit Market. There’s much more than fruit. See Gift-Buying in Tigre for more information. And if you do go on a Sunday, buy a roundtrip so you don’t have to wait in the lines to get your return ticket. Tigre  
  10. Mataderos (folclore, meat, gauchos, and shopping) – Mataderos is a barrio in the west of Buenos Aires. It’s a hike, but it’s worth it. In summer, they move the fair to Saturday evenings, but during the rest of the year it’s my favorite activity on a Sunday. The fair itself is interesting and prices are about 1/3 cheaper than in the center. But it’s the live music and dancing that I like. There’s a huge stage in the main square with one performance after another of Argentine folclore. Couples dressed in traditional clothes dance in front of the stage. Grills serving up choripan (Argentinean hotdogs that are way better than hotdogs) or grilled meat of just about any kind encircle the dancers and musicians.  And in the afternoon (usually at about 2:00 pm) there’s a gaucho show on the same street as the stage just after the last stands. Young and old gauchos ride their horses under an arch trying to pull off a ring with a small stick. Talk about horsemanship. Gaucho on the Run 

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