What Two Songs Say About Argentine History

Oct 14, 2012
Originally published on October 15, 2012 2:19 pm

A country's music can reveal a lot about its history. This week, Alt.Latino hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras stop by Weekend Edition Sunday to offer two examples from Argentina.

Klezmer music was brought to the South American country by Eastern European immigrants fleeing the pogroms; it's one of a handful of imported styles that would give rise to tango. The Argentine band La Cosa Mostra nods to that history with a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic," revamped with a swinging klezmer beat.

The electronic act Tremor reaches back even further with its song "Malambo." The title is a reference to an Argentine dance form with African roots, which originated in the 1600s. Its characteristic rhythms can be heard in Tremor's twitchy, syncopated track.

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It's time for another trip into the world of Latin Alternative music with our guides Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They're the hosts of NPR's online music show, AltLatino. Felix and Jasmine, welcome to the program.



MARTIN: Nice to see you both. So, normally you bring us new tracks from all over Latin America. This time I understand we're going to get a little bit of a musical history lesson, something you call Musical DNA.

CONTRERAS: We do this on the show occasionally. As a musician, I'm always drawn to how the music breaks down, how it's constructed. So that's what we do. We go through the building blocks and try to explain what we're hearing.

GARSD: You know, something that is interesting that's happening all across Latin America that Latin alternative has come to signify so much more than Latin rock, which was initially what it was associated with. Right now, Latin alternative has come to signify a fusion between folk and electronica and rap and hip-hop and reggaeton, just really a stew, a cultural stew of everything.

MARTIN: OK. So, what about what we're hearing right now. What is this and how does this fall into this whole DNA analysis?

GARSD: This is a track called "Malambo" and it's by a group from Argentina from Tremor. When you hear that little beat, that's something that you recognize maybe from the guys playing the hand pipes on the corner with a Bolivian instrument. It's all ambient. It all comes from Jasmine's part of the world. What they're doing is - there's a part of the song where they deconstruct the song. And to me, it's like breaking down a really wonderful sentence and taking out all the verbs and just leaving the adjectives.


MARTIN: That's funky, Felix.

CONTRERAS: And now listen to the original. Listen to - this is a track from a folkloric group from Argentina. The dance is from, like, the 17th century. It's traditionally danced by men, the gauchos from the pampas, you know, with the boots and the hats and all that.

GARSD: But it's very African-inspired, the dance, and in fact it looks a lot like here what has done a lot in the African-American community, which is step dance, you know, that step with the stomping, like using your own body as a percussion and that's kind of what you're hearing.


MARTIN: That's amazing. Never would I marry those two songs together, but you can hear the connections.

CONTRERAS: Just fascinating. I love these guys.

MARTIN: Jasmine, what other artists are good illustrations of this kind of DNA?

GARSD: Well, first off, I want to start you off with a pop hit by Britney Spears. This is an older song of hers called "Toxic."


BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) With a taste of your lips, I'm on a ride. You're toxic, I'm slipping under. With a taste of a poison paradise, I'm addicted to you, don't you know that you're toxic?

MARTIN: OK. So, that was a huge hit for her but I'm very curious to see where you're going to go with this Britney Spears' "Toxic" song. How does that connect to Latin music?

GARSD: So, La Cosa Mostra is an Argentine band. They do a lot of experimentation with more classic sounds. They do a lot of reinterpretations of Italian 1950s and '60s songs, klezmer, they do swing. And they did a reinterpretation of this song in klezmer swing version.

MARTIN: Let's take a listen.


LA COSA MOSTRA: (Singing) With a taste of your lips, I'm on a ride. You're toxic, I'm slipping under. With a taste of the poison I'm paralyzed. I'm addicted to you, don't you know that you're toxic. Oh, oh, I just love what you do, don't you know that you're toxic. Oh, oh, I just love what you do...

CONTRERAS: That's a party.

GARSD: I just think this is a wonderful reinterpretation. You have klezmer, you know, the traditional music of the Ashkenazi Jewish people of Eastern Europe. You don't necessarily associate that with Latin America, but klezmer really influenced tango. You know...

MARTIN: I had no idea.

GARSD: ...all these kind of jolty beats.

CONTRERAS: It's very staccato.

GARSD: Like think of a famous tango song that (hums) - and it's jolty and it's that staccato. And it's very influenced. I mean, it's influenced by African music. It's influenced by Italian folk music. But definitely also it has its klezmer influence, which a lot of people are not aware of. So, I love that this band took klezmer and swing and remade a Britney Spears hit. Who would have thought?

MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They are the explorers looking into the music DNA of what we have been hearing. They host NPR's online music show, AltLatino. You can find the program at npr.org/AltLatino. Thanks you two.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

GARSD: Always so much fun to be here.

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.