Scotland, more than tango

Tango was born to seduce, but in the 21st century it has come to mean much more than that. Scotland is showing the world how the symbiosis between a contemporary chamber orchestra and tango singers reformulate the genre from its essence. This is to the delight of music lovers, but also for those who want to know the history of a continent that needs to reinvent itself every day. In Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Viva Tango! has become a representative of this new tango culture.


Jordi Albacete 

In Buenos Aires, during the 1870’s, European male immigrants spent their evenings looking to indulge their nostalgia in the city’s brothels. To spice up (1) the atmosphere tango was introduced into the brothels which were frequented by Germans, Lithuanians, Poles, Italians and Spaniards.

Popular dance music in the streets of Buenos Aires, influenced by the candomblé of slave descendants, merged with the popular music of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as with Spanish music serving as a lure for customers. The bandoneón [a small German and Lithuanian concertina-like instrument] the centrepiece instrument of tango, is a very clear sign of those roots.

Polka, waltz and flamenco, produced much more than a spicy mix and soon became the popular music of the suburbs of the Argentine capital. Later in the 1920’s the tango came to Paris also seducing the upper classes and became a mass phenomenon worldwide. Since then, the tango has been growing and evolving at different times all over the planet. In Scotland, there has been a very significant growth in the last 15 years.

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Viva Tango!

From 2013 Edinburgh’s Jam House has held a themed night, Viva Tango!, which has already become a reference point for lovers of this genre in the Scottish capital. On November 26th the event was repeated by Mr. McFall’s Chamber, who accompanied vocalists Valentina Montoya Martínez and Juanjo López Vidal. In addition, the orchestra featured two guest musicians of international prestige, the French violinist, Cyril Garac and the French/Chilean bandoneonist, Lysandre Donoso. The event also featured the stellar performance of dancers Jenny and Ricardo Oria.

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Viva Tango! was a unique opportunity to experience the tango in a different way. Mr McFall’s Chamber, with 12 sensational musicians, transmitted admirable sophistication. The concert featuring two bandoneón players and two singers allowed for a wealth of registers that generated the most unexpected subtleties.

The concert began with a piece written and performed by Valentina Montoya Martínez, a song dedicated to the Chilean activist Sola Sierra, who fought for human rights after the disappearance of her husband during the Pinochet regime (1977-1990). This was a great start to the night that offered much more than tango.

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La cantante Valentina Montoya Martínez.

The talented Chilean singer, based in Scotland, is one of those great artists who is not afraid to express sorrow in her voice. A formidable mix of power and subtlety, her singing filled the entire venue with a unique quality which permeated itself into your skin and wedged itself in your soul (2). This was particularly true when she sang Piazzolla’s ‘Los Paraguas de Buenos Aires’ or ‘Versos’ (her own song depicting her memory of her father’s imprisonment at the hands of Chile’s military junta).

The singer re-emerged as a Phoenix from the ashes of those memories. The audience could not help but compare that genuine attitude with that of great women artists such as the charismatic Edith Piaf, where the spectator travels from a deep pain to an explosion of vitality and passion, which can only be truly (3) captured in a live performance.

Valentina interprets the characters in the songs in such an evocative way that she practically transports them onto the stage. In songs such as “Yo soy María” from Piazzolla’s operita “María de Buenos Aires”, the singer transformed herself into María, taking us to another epoch and making us accompany her through the streets of the Argentine capital.

The event became a solemn musical celebration. In a very special way, French violinist Cyril Garac stood out with a mastery of the instrument that stunned (4) the public. The orchestra created a unique style with precision and subtlety.

The musicians and vocalists created pockets of memorable intimacy and complicity.  During a quiet moment in ‘Tango de la espera’ Valentina, mic in hand, turned to face Lysandre Donoso, the French/Chilean young bandoneón star, and began singing, at which point his bandoneón opened up entirely and merged with Valentina’s voice in a profoundly intimate moment which prickled the hairs.


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Solo singer Juanjo Lopez Vidal

Juanjo Lopez Vidal, a London-based male tango singer, whose voice was grainy and not unlike that of Roberto Goyeneche, also gave a very convincing performance with a moving interpretation of ‘Vuelvo al Sur’, a rendition which made you nostalgic for the Latin American continent. One wished for a heartrending duet with the two singers, but sadly it never came. However, the presence of two Edinburgh-based tango dancers, Jenny and Ricardo Oria, who graced the dance floor with a couple of intricate dances, made up (5) for the missing vocal duet.

The name Viva Tango!  could not be more appropriate for the occasion. To demonstrate that tango is more alive than ever, Mr McFall’s Chamber played modern tangos that are rarely played, for example “Violetas Populares”about the Chilean singer Violeta Parra, with lyrics that are inspired by a socio-political dream of Latin American unification.

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The orchestra  McFall’s Chamber in the studio.

As a whole Mr McFall’s Chamber was a mesmerizing (6) group to watch and to listen to. It was difficult to decide who to watch at any given time, as they are all so highly skilled and magnetic in different ways. It rarely gets said, but the most unassuming person on that stage is the one who makes the group’s musical arrangements – that is Robert McFall. It is a colossal task and it takes a great measure of talent to do it and to do it this well. There is something so profoundly authentic about his arrangements that one wonders if he is actually part Argentinean – that is until he pronounces the word ‘Piazzolla’ (Argentines pronounce it ‘pee-ah-saw-lah’). 

Scottish and Latin music: Mr. McFall’s Chamber orchestra and Valentina Montoya Martínez


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The history of tango in Scotland is linked to Mr McFall’s Chamber who began to interpret tango music in the mid-1990s. They would soon be joined by Chilean singer/songwriter Valentina Montoya Martínez who first met them at a concert at the first Bongo Club in Edinburgh. Interestingly the tango music had already reached the Scottish capital before the dancing did.

The singer remembers this meeting perfectly well. “I saw them play at the Bongo Club when I had just arrived in Edinburgh, someone invited me and David to see them. The place was packed. When I walked in they were playing a Piazzolla piece called ‘Soledad’. I thought I had gone to heaven because I had wanted to sing tango for several years… and I thought that it was an omen because my middle name is Soledad. I introduced myself to them and the rest is history”.[cml_media_alt id='445']MI0003542838[/cml_media_alt]

The fruit of this relationship was the recording of an album, La Pasionaria, a disc where Valentina sings about the life of Chilean exiles and which includes music of the Tango Nuevo, including songs and instrumental interludes of Astor Piazzolla’s operita María de Buenos Aires. Valentina is currently preparing a new album with her band Valentina and Voces del Sur, after two years of research about the Chilean concentration camp Chacabuco in the north of Chile.


Tango dance in Scotland

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Dancers Ricardo and Jenny Oria



Tango dance was reintroduced in Edinburgh in 1997 by two London teachers David and Biljana (Tangomania). From a practically non-existent scene, there are now more than 150 people dancing tango, classes, practices sessions and classrooms. In May 1998, Dancebase, a local dance school brought Marcelo Mazia of Buenos Aires to teach tango full time, and was replaced by Ricardo Oria and Jenny Oria in 2001.




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In 2002 dancing couple Jenny and Ricardo Oria created a dance school in Edinburgh strengthening the culture of tango in Edinburgh and Scotland. Ricardo now teaches in different locations in the UK and worldwide. Other teachers visit Scotland often, from Europe and America. Since then tango has gone from strength to strength, with two ETS milonga’s a week, classes in two different schools, a festival organised by Jenny and Ricardo, a University tango society, and many other events. Local tangeras come from all backgrounds and ages – from 13 to 70.

Source: The Edinburgh Tango Society (Click here for further information about tango dance in Scotland).


Use of English for Spanish speakers

(1) To spice up . En este contexto “to spice up” es para calentar en sentido sensual. Si se tradujesemos literalmente el castellano “calentar o caldear el ambiente” “to warm up” cambiaria el sentido, “to warm up” al igual que en castellano tiene un significado preparatorio, aunque se pudiese perfectamente deducir por contexto, perderia el matiz sensual. “We will have some food and few drinks, before we play the music to warm up the party”, pero no “to spice  up”. 

(2) Which permeated itself into your skin and wedged itself in your soul. “Permeated itself into your skin” es una expresion bastante parecida y penetraba por todos los poros de la piel. “Wedged itself in your soul” se utiliza en este caso para indicar como se adapta de una manera precisa al alma, como “calzar en el alma”, “wedge in” de hecho es una locución verbal con ese significado “calzar”.  “Wedge” es un término muy común que tiene normalmente sentido de porción o división, pero también como hemos visto puede utilizarse como verbo “calzar” o “abrir haciendo palanca”wedge open” y puede tener diferentes significados desde una rodaja “lemon wedge” una rodaja de limón, o un asunto controvertido de naturaleza política “a wedge issue”.

(3) Truly. Adverbio que se utiliza frecuentemente en inglés como en castellano se utiliza “verdaderamente”.

(4) Stunned. Para muchos castellanohablantes que hablan inglés el adjectivo “stunning” (impresionante) es muy conocido. Sin embargo, lo tendemos a utilizar poco como verbo. En muchos contextos como se describe en el artículo por la actuación del violinista, el público estaba “stunned”, también es muy común utilizar “to be blown away”. 

(5)Made up. En este contexto tiene un sentido parecido a sustituir. Normalmente siempre se utiliza en sentido positivo, complacer o compensar. 

(6) Mesmerize. Cautivar. De la misma manera que en castellano “mesmerize” se utiliza en contextos de performance donde el artista intenta cautivar a su audiencia pero también en relaciones íntimas. ” He tried very hard to mesmerize his girlfriend”.




Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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