March 8, 2014
Electrobeats meet ancestral lyrics
Singing in Toba and Guaraní, Tonolec end year with hypnotic acoustic show
Like a travelling musical family from the forests of the impenetrable, as Chaco province is otherwise known, the Tonolec duo comprised of Charo Bogarín and Diego Pérez, along with six of their closest musician friends, snuck onto the stage at Sala Siranush in Palermo on Friday night, hypnotizing crowds with their characteristic fusion of contemporary beats with ancestral lyrics in the native languages Toba and Guaraní, and ending what has been a successful year of live performances for the pair from the country’s north.
Cautious and humble as the first moments of the show might have seemed with each member of the band tip-toeing across a stage laced with instruments that ranged from the accordion to the charango it was to the delight of both repeat concertgoers and first-timers that Charo and Diego took no time to blow socks off.
In very high heels and eyeing off the audience as if she had a secret to share, lead vocalist Charo kicked things off by circling the stage in a moment of tactful silence, before taking to her microphone and bombo legüero drum to belt out a powerful version of Qué he sacado con quererte (What Have I Got from Loving You) by the late Chilean poet and musician Violeta Parra.
With the superb instrumental backing of her partner Diego, Charo then drew the audience in closer with a cover of Samba para olvidar (Samba to Forget), setting the scene for a night that was surely a breath of fresh air for many in attendance, for this band has the essence of something totally Argentine, both in terms of sound, repertoire, and, the key element behind Tonolec’s potency: some truly organic, soulful lyrics in native Toba and Guaraní.
Friday’s acoustic delivery the duo’s repertoire, which is otherwise electronic, included performances of Indio Toba (Toba Indian) a cover of the Félix Luna and Ariel Ramírez song made famous by the late Mercedes Sosa — and Canción de cuna (Lullaby), one of a collection of tracks sung in the Toba language that are the product of over a decade’s worth of artistic partnership between Tonolec and the Qom communities of Resistencia, Chaco.
Accompanying them in this tightly strung together show were six talented musicians who, on a side note, clearly understood stage harmony.
Vocalist Lorena Rojas was particularly stunning, chilling even, with her backing of Mujer, cántaro, niño (Woman, Pitcher, Child) and El rito (The Ritual), the latter set to the masterful Diego Pérez on piano.
Alongside her was Nuria Martínez, whose talent on a range of woodwind instruments injected a hint of the Andes to what was otherwise a collection of northern native song and regional criolla.
Meanwhile, Lucas Helguero enjoyed himself with ease on the drums, and Emiliano Khayat on the accordion and piano and Pablo Belmes on accessories moved freely about the stage from instrument to instrument, with Claudio Solino consistent and relaxed on double bass.
For those first hearing of Tonolec, it may come as a surprise that the group now have over 13 years experience under their belt. Their achievements in that period have been nothing short of impressive: three independently released albums; collaborations with popular local artists like León Gieco and Diego Frenkel; the introduction of their Toba children’s songs to primary schools across the country; and, perhaps, more importantly, their contribution to a changing Argentine national identity, which is more plural and inclusive than ever before, and which for the first time seems open to the prospect of including the country’s long-ignored indigenous communities.
This year will go down as another successful period for the band. Every second weekend during most of 2013 Charo and Diego, alongside their six musician friends, performed to sellout crowds at the CAFF in the Palermo neighbourhood, drawing in a diverse audience that ranged from primary schoolchildren to grandparents.
But while it may have been a different venue this time one that was perhaps not quite as favourable for Tonolec as the CAFF it was nothing short of the high quality showmanship and unique musical genius consistently exhibited by this band that characterized their final performance of the year.
Tonolec is working on its fourth studio album, due for release in late May 2014, which will include tracks in the Guaraní indigenous language, a first for the band, plus more music in Qom and new covers of well-known folk classics.
The duo is already aiming big, with a release concert planned at the Opera in Buenos Aires, where Diego and Charo could expect one of their biggest crowds to date quite a feat for an independent band that sings in Argentine native tongues. But, then again, perhaps times are changing in Argentina.