During the '90s economic crisis in Argentina, the tango began to be rediscovered, and in some ways reinvented. The tango, it turned out, was like the nation -- remarkably adaptable: It could be Parisian, it could rap, it could glide on a bed of electronica, it could coexist with rock.
No group out of this resurgent scene may be more interesting than Bajofondo (originally Bajofondo Tango Club), an artists' collective founded by the current Renaissance man of Latin American music, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Uruguayan Juan Campodnico, better known as Campo to his fans. As such, Bajofondo encompasses not just Argentine styles but also Uruguayan, which are often sweeter.
The group functions with members coming and going, and is more regionally committed than specifically tango-oriented (thus the need to kill the "tango" in the name), so that such genres as murga, milonga and candombe are integral to the repertoire. And though "Mar Dulce" is very much the consequence of the group's first album, it's also very different. Recorded in the studio with a live string section, the music here is more urgent, more gutsy and more acoustic than before.
The guest list is impressive, but it's not celebrity that matters. For example, Juan Subir, better known as a rock keyboardist, appears here as a singer, and you'd think he'd been singing in underground milongas for at least 30 years. Mala Rodriguez makes "El Andn" easily the most fun song on the album. And Julieta Venegas brings her spice.
But the surprises are Gustavo Cerati, the voice of '90s Argentine popsters Soda Stereo, and, of all people, Elvis Costello, who take the challenge beyond expectations. The album is mature, resonant . . . simply superb.
-- Achy Obejas (July 2008)