When Bajofondo performed at the club in October 2009, it positioned thumping synthetic beats under tango’s traditional instruments: violin, bandoneon (button accordion) and piano (simulated by a bank of electronic keyboards). On Tuesday, electric guitar took a bigger role while other, more lyrical elements were banished.
Javier Casalla no longer plays a Stroh violin, which has an old-timey sound. And the group didn’t perform any long passages from the movie soundtracks of co-founder Gustavo Santaolalla, who won best-original-score Oscars for “Babel” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
Instead, Santaolalla concentrated on power-chorded guitar and lead vocals, singing in a light tenor that sometimes turned gravely.
“Presente” songs such as as “Pena en Mi Corazon” (“Sorrow in My Heart”) seemed designed to rock futbol stadiums and did a fine job of persuading the 9:30 audience to sway and stomp. Even bandoneon player Martin Ferres assumed a rock-star stance, often stretching his instrument to its maximum breadth as if he were performing a sideshow feat of strength.
The music also borrowed from hip-hop and never entirely abandoned the staccato rhythm and plaintive timbres of tango. Veronica Loza, the keyboardist/VJ, offered visual reminders of Bajofondo’s foundation, often throwing images of tango dancers on the screen behind the musicians.
The crowd was as enthusiastic as during Bajofondo’s 2009 performance but a bit smaller — perhaps not a reflection of declining interest in the group but rather competition for the Latin-pop audience.
Bajofondo was followed at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday by Ozomatli, an eclectic septet rooted in Chicano East L.A. And Thursday the club hosts David Wax Museum, whose songs incorporate Mexican folk styles.
Also Thursday, Los Amigos Invisibles play their brand of Venezuelan funk at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. And on Tuesday, Bomba Estereo will bring a blend of techno, rock and Colombian dance rhythms to the Howard Theatre.
All these acts sing in the same language, but their musical accents show the range — and potential — of new music from the Spanish-speaking Americas.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.