Tango and blues to meld at Miller Symphony Hall
Miller Symphony Hall presents a blend of passionate Argentine tango and folk music, featuring María Volonté and Kevin Carrel Footer of Blue Tango Project, and Mavi Díaz and Las Folkies, 7:30 p.m. July 28, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
It promises to be a night of powerful and diverse music.
María Volonté, who hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Blue Tango Project explore the musical crossroads where tango and the blues meet.
Musical powerhouse, Mavi Díaz, and her band will present the rich folk tradition of Argentina with original compositions, a feminine point of view and an electrifying performance.
In a phone interview from Oakland, Calif., a recent stop on the tour, Volonte says that she and Footer prefer to stay at the homes of friends, fans and fellow musicians, instead of hotels. They absorb the culture and share in the rich family lives of their hosts.
“It’s our approach of embracing the road as a way of life,” says Volonte.
“It’s the experience of traveling and getting to know new countries and new people. We spend a lot of time with people in different places. Many times, it’s a hotel. But many other times, it is people opening their houses, not only that, opening their lives, to us.
“For a few days, we share a very intimate contact. It’s interesting because through the years, you see their kids growing and their dreams coming true. We share a lot with them.
“And we exchange with other artists we find on the way. It’s such an enriching experience in general.”
Volonte and Footer launched Blue Tango Project in 2008 at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
For the Miller Symphony Hall concert, Volonte and Footer will perform original compositions from recent albums, “Blue Tango” (2014) and “9 Vidas” (2010).
“We mix the perfume and essence of both tango and blues. That’s the main idea and origin of the name.”
Footer was born and raised in Oakland, Calif., and taught himself to play the harmonica while traveling to the southern United States, the cradle of the blues. Footer initially started playing harmonica to keep himself company on the road.
“And it became his instrument,” says Volonte. “The sound of the harmonica is very close to the bandoneon, which is an essential instrument of Argentina. [The bandoneon] originated in Germany for walking processions and funerals, and it came to Argentina. Through the years, it became the trademark of tango.”
As for common ground between the two music genres, Volonte finds many similarities:
“Both blues and tango music come from immigration, the incarnation of a marginal part of society. It represents the shameful side of the street. It’s all about passion, celebrating loss and defeat, standing out from a bad place and still finding your own voice, and putting music and poetry to human desperation. I think both genres share that especially.”
“We’ll be interacting with an all-female group, Mavi Diaz and Las Folkies,” says Volonte. “It’s their first time in the U.S. We are very thrilled about this combination, because tango and folklore are both connected to dance.”
Mavi Diaz and Las Folkies includes bandleader, Diaz, vocals, guitar; Silvana Albano, piano; Pampi Torre, guitar, and Martina Ulrich, percussion. The band is steeped in Argentine folk tradition. Diaz, a daughter of harmonica virtuoso Hugo Diaz, founded the band in 2010 to explore new possibilities in Argentina’s rich folklore.
“Sonqoy,” Las Folkies’ debut album, was nominated for a 2011 Gardel Award (Argentina’s equivalent to the Grammy Awards) as Best New Folk Album. The band’s second album, “Todo Si!,” received a 2016 Gardel as Best Alternative Folk Album.
Diaz will perform mostly originals “played in the rhythms and structures of traditional folk songs from Argentina,” says Volonte. “They are really first-class musicians, excellent artists.”
Volonte revers women of the past who told stories with guitars or pianos, using their courage and creativity.
“We were inspired by the women who composed in Latin America. It’s a long tradition of women speaking with their own voice. All that spirit is in the music we do.
The truth is, composing is daring to tell the same eternal story in your own way.”
Prior to the Miller Symphony Hall concert, the audience will be given an introductory class, “not formal teachers but artists who are very, very connected to the tango community,” explains Volonte. “It’s going to be fun.
“People are more than welcome to dance [during the show.] We love that because it’s very inspiring for us. All of that goes into the interpretation of the song. Performing when people are dancing to your music is so exciting.”
Tour dates include Saratoga Springs, Woodstock, both N.Y., and Washington D.C.
After Diaz and Las Folkies return to Argentina, Volonte and Footer will continue as a duo and head to the West Coast and Canada, touring through November.
“It’s a lot of work to make this happen, but it’s such a pleasure to be in touch with nature, and with people in their own environment.”
Footer is also a writer and photographer who creates podcasts and videos, chronicling Blue Tango Project’s time on the road. This includes interviews with the people they meet. “It’s a renaissance way of approaching this,” says Volonte.
“It’s like devouring everything that happens in front of us and making it all part of our experience.”
Guest performers for the Rodale Community Room concert are to include music students from the Bethlehem and Allentown area.
The pre-concert tango lesson is at 6 p.m. The dance floor will be available for dancers during the concert, and afterwards for a Milonga (social dance).
“I hope to blur the idea of ‘strangers.’ There are no strangers,” says Volonte.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715