Federico Monjeau
| Gaspar Zimerman

Federico - Two interviews with Leopoldo Federico

oday we have the impression that tango is in vogue everywhere.

Leopoldo Federico: Ninety per cent of the shows at the Buenos Aires night venues are for tourists. Certainly, thanks to that musicians are at work. But anyhow it’s not the same. Look, I used to appear at Michelángelo, El Viejo Almacén, Casablanca. I was onstage with my orchestra for 20 minutes because there were six or seven different featured artists: Alberto Marino, Alberto Podestá, the Sexteto Mayor, all together in one evening. Now the show ends with a trio or quartet that is onstage to back up the whole show, with some dancers and some singer.

I’m not mad at that, we have some airing, otherwise we would have disappeared of all maps. I accept things even though they are not well done. Just because somebody happens to mention tango then we think that we are at the best time of history but in terms of money it’s not that way.

—But in case you want to, you may play several evenings a week.

L.F.: But not with an orchestra, twelve players onstage, no way. Today no one pays for an orchestra at all. With twelve musicians you can form three groups. You can’t keep it in activity because there is no continuity. Art depends on finance. Today if a musician signs for an engagement and, a week later, he gets a tour for a few bucks more, he quits and you have to look for a substitute. Then the orchestra is no longer the same, it sounds different. A second violin or a second bandoneon does not make a great change but if the pianist quits and a substitute comes then I have to hide myself somewhere because the audience notices something different about the sound. One of my players, Fernando Cabarcos, is the one in charge of everything. He deals with the boys, about the changes, later he tells me about it and I decide if I agree or not. I don’t want to cheat people. In earlier times, with Aníbal Troilo or Juan D'Arienzo, that sort of thing was very unlikely to happen because it was like working in an enterprise. I put together trios, quartets, I’m satisfied of what I did when I teamed up with Roberto Grela, but I want to die with my orchestra. The sound of the orchestra protects me, makes me feel as if I were in a shelter. It’s like a family behind me and we are thinking the same.

—Is there any relationship between the decline of the orchestra and the decline of tango with vocals?

L.F.: Surely. There are singers that get along well, but they are very few. There are a great number of women that do not help either. When Julio Sosa split with Armando Pontier to start his career as soloist he had already made a series of hits with Pontier, with Francisco Rotundo. Had he wished to make the best of his success he would have picked three players to back him and that would have been a smash hit. But for how long? Sosa with guitars is not the same thing as the same singer backed by an orchestra. Singers always started their hits with an orchestra pushing from behind. Remember Alberto Morán with Osvaldo Pugliese, or Roberto Chanel, or Jorge Durán with Carlos Di Sarli.

—Did they sing along as if they were another instrument?

L.F.: Yes, it was like one more instrument but with the additional attraction that the vocalists had at that time, especially among women. By that time there was a tendency to make use of lyrics that fortunately now are out of fashion.

—And you, you didn’t compose many tangos with lyrics, did you?

L.F.: Only two or three numbers, I don’t regard myself as a composer. I co-wrote several numbers with Osvaldo Requena because there’s affinity between us.

—The historical richness of tango does not lie so much in the repertoire but in the rendering. Does it?

L.F.: In the rendering and in the arrangement. A very good tango with a bad arrangement is a disaster but an anodyne one with a good instrumentalist and an arrangement that disguises it with a sort of makeup goes all right and even you end up thinking it’s a good one.

—What do you think about electronic tango?

L.F.: Maybe is for the kids that like a noise you dance to. But I don’t like it, I don’t swallow it.

—Despite your age you keep on playing with an eye-catching strength. Did you always play with that strength?

L.F.: When I was younger I used to play with more drive. Sometimes I watch some video and I see myself as if I were faking an effort, pretending an attitude. But it’s not so, I want to control myself. But I can’t play in a relaxed way, I don’t feel it. I want to drive the whole orchestra, because of that they say I’m a «driving bandoneon». With movements, gestures, and looks I manage to unify the orchestra.

—As for the life of tango musicians, night work… people associate it with bohemia. Is it so or is a life of sacrifice?

L.F.: Both things. I knew many ones that the day after did not turn up at home. But they were not entangled with strange things; they were people who liked to spend time with friends. Musicians always were accused of being fond of drinks and drugs, but vice was always everywhere. There were also the others who went straight home after the gig at the cabaret. I was among the latter.

—How was the link with the girls at the cabaret?

L.F.: Of all kinds. There were hidden relationships and open ones. There were many guys who married those girls. It’s not a sin; people used to think that they were a source of corruption but those things happen even in an office.

—Are there any peers in the new generation that have attracted your attention?

L.F.: Horacio Romo plays in a Pedro Laurenz-like way, with that drive. I identify myself with Laurenz but I also like Astor Piazzolla and Troilo, in tango, on bandoneon, they are first with Pedro Maffia, and after them come all the others.

Interviews published to Leopoldo Federico in the Clarín newspaper, in Buenos Aires, and made by Federico Monjeau (12/29/2005) and Gaspar Zimerman (10/5/2007).