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Gotan Project: An International Spin On Argentina's Tango

Argentina's Gotan Project pioneered the art of merging traditional folk and pop into electronic dance music. The heart of its sound is Argentina's most beloved musical export: tango. Now, on its new album, Tango 3.0, Gotan Project reinvents Argentina's national music as a truly international sound.

The opening of Tango 3.0 would make a fine film-noir soundtrack. Its bluesy swing and Hammond organ vamp from Dr. John bring in the flavor of New Orleans, and the song's title, "Tango Square," underscores the connection by nodding to that city's historic Congo Square. But from the first notes of the distinctive button accordion -- the bandoneon -- there's no mistaking the presence of tango.

The world is full of accordions, but only one has the particular timbre and expressiveness of the bandoneon. The instrument was created in the late 19th century in Germany, but quickly became central to the sexy new dance music emerging from the bars and bordellos of Buenos Aires.

Despite its heavy club beat, "La Gloria" hews pretty close to a classic tango. The "glory" referenced in the title is that of Argentine soccer icon Maradona, and the track incorporates near-ecstatic play-by-play commentary of his legendary winning goal against England in 1986.

The cry of the word "goal" becomes "Gotan" in the song, which is itself a twist on tango. All this wordplay is of a piece with Gotan Project's approach to music. Artful dislocations and convergences are the group's stock in trade, as tango merges with reggae ("Desilusion") or cumbia ("Peligro," featuring the silky voice of Cristina Vilallonga).

Gotan Project lives in Paris, which has always been more or less tango's second home. Tango legends, including the late Astor Piazzolla, fled to Paris to escape political and artistic oppression back home -- musicians who tamper with tango's formulas have always riled the genre's purists.

But the very idea of tango orthodoxy is arguably absurd. At its core, this music is a collision of European, South American and African cultures. Gotan Project honors that tradition with reverence, humor and cinematic musicality.

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Banning Eyre