« Life itself is a work of tango, a work of art.»
I met Gustavo Garay during his European Summer Tour with Sexteto Milonguero. To my great pleasure, this passionate violinist who resembles D’Artagnan, with his Dali moustache, enthusiastically accepted to participate in the Tango Mio and Co project. I met with him a few months later so he could speak to me about his music and his tango.
“I am trying my best to explore the tango, I work alone a lot to understand and arrange and compose, just like in a laboratory. For some people, the tango exists only during the milonga. But it seems to me to be a very reductive point of view! It is much more than just dancing: it is music, theatre, literature … life itself is a work tango, a work of art. When I started learning how to listen and understand and play the tango, it was a revelation in my life.”
I ask him to tell me more, and he “plunges” me into the streets of Buenos Aires. In a split second, I am swept up and I can imagine the colors, the lights, the smells, the sounds: “I have learned a lot in bars, much more than in milongas. The first place that really inspired me was the Bar Gabriele, close to the house I was living in at the time, in Barracas (close to the neighborhood La Boca). I listened and chatted and I was told tango stories… I believe I learned how to really appreciate the tango so when I started going to milongas, it was with the excitement and impatience of listening to the tango, not just dancing. Sometimes I just enjoy going to places with friends, having a few drinks and listening to tango music without even dancing, it is precious and priceless! I was not born into a family with dancers or musicians; I started playing music by chance, especially the tango. I used to live in different houses with tango instructors who wanted me to go to their classes but all I had in mind was my violin. I didn’t want to do anything other than that! I was not yet ready for the tango.”
How did he arrive at the tango while being dedicated to classical music? “It happened like that. For a long time, I played alone, then I started playing with musicians I met in the street (guitar and bandoneon) and, little by little, I entered into the tango. In the end, after five years of playing, I thought it was time for me to start dancing as well!” I am interested by what he considers to be his contribution to this world that he never imagined he would enter: “With Sexteto Milonguero, we bring a different energy on stage, new and different from what people know. More personally, I work a lot on arranging tangos for violin solos. In fact, these don’t really exist… while there are so many partitions for piano, guitar or bandoneon. I listen, write, play and record. It is a huge amount of work that takes a lot of time, slowed down by more commercial projects. I also compose, and I like to give time for things to mature. That’s why it takes ages! I hope someday that this work will be useful for something. I discover and I explore: it is so rich! These are not always danceable themes, even for aficionados of the milonga. For example, Piazzola or Pugliese are really hard to dance to. I like to listen to simpler things, more sensitive. Some guitar-piano duos touch me a lot these days.”
I am fascinated by his commitment, by the huge amount of work he has embarked upon because “I want to be able to play the violin without depending upon anything or anyone. It is complicated; this is why I am working so hard on these arrangements.” He is creating his own creative tool! I ask him if there is something that always pulls him to the tango, something that symbolizes it: “Of course, there is the bandoneon. But for me, it is more the landscapes or atmospheres that remind me of the tango. For example, in this area of Barracas, I feel like I’m in one of those tangos from the 1940s or 1950s. If I walk in the subway, I can hear a Piazzola playing. Drinking champagne reminds me of the milonga… Sometimes I am traveling in a country where I can’t speak the language. I go to the milonga and listen to the music and I feel like I’m meeting an old friend, someone who is talking to me about my culture, my country, who gives me a bit of company. And I feel great!” I want to know more, and I don’t have to encourage him. I can see him become more animated as he speaks with passion: “The tango is much more than just dance or music. It speaks about life! Certain lyrics describe your own emotions, what you’re doing with your life. This is not simply dancing! You can interpret the tango, give it your experience, your emotional sensitivity, it can be really powerful. I love playing with this in mind, and then playing is not just a performance. That’s why I try my best to live a quiet life, to deepen my understanding of things, poetry and to embody what I play or write. Giving yourself up to artistic creation is much more interesting and productive but you need to nourish it and give time to things. I’ve had a lot of different experiences – there is powerful emotion in his eyes and in his voice as he remembers all of this — with the tango and I am really proud to be part of this art!” It’s been a while since he has me totally convinced that his heart is beating for the tango and the violin. I ask him what is his “heroism”, and he laughs before telling me: “My heroism seems to be that I can live my dreams, I can live according to my dreams. I had to abandon a lot of things from a “normal life” to live with my violin. I devote a lot of time to it and sometimes I had to play in extreme conditions. I have always dreamt about traveling with my music and going to Europe to play. You have to be ready for that so I worked like crazy until it happened. At the end of my first European tour, I sat down and thought ‘Ok, now I have accomplished my dream. What am I going to do with my life?’ and the answer was simple: keep doing it! Do my best to keep playing and traveling. Just like you when you went to Buenos Aires the first time: it was your heroism and you had to persevere, keep dancing!”
We laugh about my craziness that he really understands. What is his hope now for the tango? He tells me “It is a utopia! More seriously, I would love the prejudices to stop in the tango. That’s all.
I understand that dancers want to go to milongas to dance but it is a shame that they are not more aware or open to the music. Why should we separate everything? You can listen and appreciate the tango while being at the milonga, not only in a concert hall. I like diversity; there are many different musical atmospheres in Buenos Aires that you can’t find in Europe. I would love things to be more easily accepted by all. There are so many ways to express the tango, it would be great if people were more open-minded. I love tango theatre for instance, but some conservative people don’t accept it. Some of us are trying to propose new things, different from usual but still danceable. It is so hard to have them accepted! I try to persevere, to give my life and work to the tango. I compose, arrange, play, work with the band, we play in some places… this is my small contribution to this huge thing!” And I think it is already great!
What a nice discovery I made meeting this young and talented violinist, so charismatic and passionate and poetic. A really fascinating character!
Gustavo Garay and Pablo Montanelli, pianist of the Cachivache, met to create an exclusive and unreleased interpretation of Bahia Blanca by Di Sarli, for Tango Mio And Co. It was an amazing gift they gave to me, and a beautiful contribution to the project.
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