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The Pulse of Yiddish Tango

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Album Review

Tangele is a musical trio comprised of the brilliant and beguiling vocalist Lloica Czackis, violist Juan Lucas Aisemberg, and pianist Ivo De Greef (who succeeds founding pianist and maestro Gustavo Beytelmann, the latter continues to serve as the groups' arranger). This trio's debut album, Tangele: The Pulse of Yiddish Tango begins to explain what they do, but does not contain it. The exploration that takes place on this stellar, deeply moving album is the overlap, the murky cultural, social, and political terrain where Yiddish songs meet the musical form of the tango. The songs here come from various sources: from the Yiddish theaters of Buenos Aires and New York, and from the ghettos of the Shoah. Czackis (born in 1973) — who founded this group with maestro Beytelmann (born in 1945) — and her cousin Aisemberg (born in 1967) were both born of Argentinean parents and raised in separate parts of the world: she in Venezuela, he in Budapest, their studies and performances all over the globe eventually brought them to the tango. Maestro Beytelmann is a native Argentinean and studied there as well before going on to fame and fortune as a pianist, arranger, and composer. De Greef was born in 1976 in Belgium. He is the newest member of the group, recruited when Beytelmann was too busy to continue to perform and travel with the group — though he does appear on this nine of this recording's 17 tracks. Each member of this ensemble has deep ties to tango music including De Greef, who studied with Astor Piazzolla's musicians. Tangele is a way of telling a story, according to the liner notes, it's a manner of offering a diasporic narrative of the Yiddish-speaking communities who live in urban centers all over the world. It also reflects the diversity of cultural influences that created the tango in the first place. Tango was born at the end of the 19th century, and there were many cultures in Buenos Aires: Spanish, French, Jewish immigrants from all over Eastern Europe, and of course these communities brought with them their own folk musics. When combined with the inherent Afro-Argentine rhythmic inventions, these became a new style of music that took the world by storm from the early 1910s beginning in Western Europe. Even during the Shoah, the tango was allowed, and even required by the Nazis in concentration camps. This music evolved further as Jews immigrated to urban centers like New York and back in Buenos Aires, where tango songs were used in Yiddish Theater. With this entire pre-ramble, the only description this music needs is in its title: Tangele: The Pulse of Yiddish Tango. This album, despite the deep research that went into it, is far from academic in execution. It expresses each conflicting emotion inherent in the human condition, not the least of which are bittersweet memories that are shared in exile, deep suffering, longing, and yes, joy. There is a smoldering sensuality in it that is not necessary sexual, but rather a depth of feeling in the body as well as the heart and mind.

Perhaps the true soul of this project is summed up in a song simply called "Yidish Tango" (sic), a song from the Kovno Ghetto with lyrics by Ruven Starfat to accompany a pre-WWII song by Henekh Kon: "Play for me a tango in Yiddish/Let it be Misnagdish or Chassidic/So that grandmother herself will be able to understand/And indeed, will dance to its tune/Play for me a tango about refugees/About a people scattered, banished, and cast out/Si that big and even small children will understand/And indeed, will dance to its tune/Play Jewish musicians, play/The way a Jewish heart feels...Play For me a tango, but not an Aryan one/Let it not be Aryan or barbarian/So that our enemies will see that I can still dance...Play for me a tango of peace/Let there be peace and not delusion..." As each of these songs come to the listener sung in Yiddish (the booklet provides wonderful translations into English) the listener is moved to dance, even when the lyrics are horrifying, as they are in "Derr Tango Fun Oshvientshim" ("The Tango from Auschwitz") which come from a Polish tango called "Slave Tango." Here it is translated into Yiddish, with music from a pre-WWII tango, and it is the most passionate and moving piece on the entire album, whether you know what you are listening to or not because as the musicians play, the grain of Czackis voice digs so deeply into the emotion in the lyric, that what comes out is the sound of grief, memory, desolation and the will to survive and live to tell this very story. It is a triumph of spirit in the most horrifying circumstances. Even the theater songs have their deepest emotion despite the celebratory nature of their presentation. In these songs, the notion of the dance is combined with the poetry of the senses: tango has always demanded that all circumstances, all feeling, light and joyful, dark, sorrowful, or angry, be entered into the dance itself, and it is the tango that translates these profound notions into something defiant, sensual, alive and ever-evolving; it is the dance that offers the movement of human bodies to express in movement by dancers, musicians, and the representative voice for it all in the character of the singer, what is evidentially and experientially contained in the words of these songs. This is as fine as music gets. If you buy one record outside of your genre preference this year, let it be this one.

The Pulse of Yiddish Tango, Tangele
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