Last week was my second time seeing La Chicana at the Buenos Aires tango spot called Torquato Tasso. This innovative band was founded by Dolores Solá, Acho Estol and Juan Valverde in 1995, but what defines them for me is the metallic resonance of Solá’s voice and the acerbic wit of her interpretations. That wit feeds into and is fed by her stage banter with the guitarist Estol, complete with mock spats, screwed-up glances, and dismissive shrugs. Estol, it must be acknowledged, is something of a musicologist and is also the band’s resident composer. The brand of tango that he contributes to in that capacity is sharp and original, along with being remarkably clever, and without the hyper-sensuality or electronica influences of nuevo-, or neo-tango.

The group’s music, as it has evolved over the years, has been more and more enriched with an awareness of genre and historical context, drawing upon what feels like a shared memory of archetype and popular tradition. In La Chicana collectively and Solá individually (she has a great solo album to her credit), tango can be heard brushing against the fairground, walking astride buskers on street corners and barkers at the side-show, indulging the decadence of cabaret, the danger of the circus, and the ingenuity of the huckster, all the while stirring up the dry soil of Iberia, filling the air with motes of flamenco, pasodoble and fado. One hears the plaints of Spanish gypsies, in whose language the charismatic Solá sang, stunningly, on Friday night.

What she does, along with the band to which she is fundamental, is to map, as though untangling the strands of a musical DNA, some of the cultural inheritances and family resemblances that both preceded the tango we know and followed it later. You should check out their recordings, and, if by some chance you happen to be in Buenos Aires, think about seeing them this Friday and Saturday, when their run at Torquato Tasso concludes.

Click here for more on La Chicana, and here for events at Torquato Tasso.

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