A chat with Gabriela Elena

he singer and composer Gabriela Elena told us: «I was born in Barracas, I’ve always sung, I write lyrics and I’ve been composing music since age 10. For my album Buenos Aires, tango y diván I composed the music and the lyrics of twelve pieces: tangos, waltzes, milongas, habaneras, murgas, candombes.

«Picking up tango was something natural. When I finished grade school, I had already surveyed the big record collection of my old man. I already had my preferred artists: I listened to them, transcribed them and wrote the lyrics in a copybook. Despite my young age, tango poetry seemed attractive to me. And then I chose tango as my natural beat.

«The decline of tango venues was beginning. In the 70’s, a long journey into night, either for the genre or for our country, began, but my process was in its inception. Of all the things I was aware of, tango impressed me as the most striking poetry. By that time, the famous ones were Sandro, Palito Ortega or guys like Los Gatos. But as a way of expression, even in childhood, I was attracted to tango. I used to do my own research about my poetry... it was like something parallel.

«I made my professional debut at the Bar Latino, sharing the bill with the Cuarteto Zupay, Rubén Rada and many artists that appeared when democracy was back. At that venue on Bartolomé Mitre and Medrano, Lino Patalano saw me and took me to the Teatro Liceo to sing in an outrageous music-hall show which was called Botas y votos (Boots and Votes). With Lino, I also opened the season of novice artists at the La Capilla, Concert & Gallery.

«By those years I graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Arte Dramático as Actriz Nacional (National Actress). I studied acting with the idea of assimilating a series of stage and intellectual resources. An actor’s studies widely train you in theory but then you have to study playwrights, painters, musicians and art in general. It is a way of adding things to the central issue: jump onto stage and sing».

In Houston (United States) she appeared in Tango Nights, a short movie with tangos and poems by Kenneth Bailey, which was awarded at The Houston International Film Festival. Its music was arranged by Walter Ríos who was also featured in bandoneon, as well as Juan Alberto Pugliano on piano.

She appeared at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Jorge Luis Borges’s birth, with a repertoire of his complete milongas. She appeared in a large number of venues like the Torquato Tasso, Casa del Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Primer Festival de Tango Queer en Buenos Aires (Confitería La Ideal), La Trastienda, Auditorio de Radio Nacional, Centro Cultural San Martín, Hotel Castelar, Bar Iberia, Gato Negro, Malevaje Arte Club, Sanata Bar and many others more.

Also she appeared on television on the Solo Tango TV’s channel and, accompanied by Horacio Avilano, she presented Para las seis cuerdas (For the six strings). On that medium, as script writer, she took advantage of another of her facets. She herself recalls: «For three years I wrote the program Afectos Especiales, emceed by Víctor Laplace, on Channel 7 of Buenos Aires; in which we paid homage to our national artists of all time».

«I wrote many programs more, but I choose a hit awarded with Martín Fierro, Argentores, Clarín, etc.: Resistiré (2004), on Telefé channel of Buenos Aires».

In fact, in her role as script writer, she was awarded the prizes Martín Fierro as Best Script for Resistiré (2004), Argentores award as Best Author for Resistiré (2004) and Argentores award as Best Author for Caja Rodante (2011).

Her debut on record with the album Buenos Aires, tango y diván, released in 2008, includes pieces written by her (music and lyrics), about that she says: «The subject matter of the genre was changing with the dynamics of history, but also, at the same time, it keeps timeless topics. Tango has many things to say to a friend, a father, a mother, the neighborhood, the city, the existential pain. These are the subjects I picked up, which are tango topics, but told with the imprint of someone who lives in the present Buenos Aires. Only because of that, they essentially have a contemporary varnish. There is a kind of melancholy and, also, there are quite intense times of irony, like in some tangos by our poets, such as Discépolo, when they were in a scathing mood. This makes that the album is classic and also modern.

«Today, what it is all right is to keep the classic beauty and, about it, we have to describe what happens with music and lyrics. I mean, we do not have to introduce words of today’s jargon to tango but, from an authentic point of view, write lyrics that talk about things that match with yesterday’s neighborhood. It’s no use striving to be modern, it suffices being authentic and with our feet rooted in this Buenos Aires».

Based on an interview by Cristian Vitale published in the newspaper Pagina/12 (4/1/2009) and in other statements published on the web.