Julieta Laso came onto the stage of the Club Atlético Fernandez Fierro as if someone had grabbed her off the subway on her way to work in the center of Buenos Aires. She wore a shiny black trench coat, jeans, and blue-tinted sunglasses, and she looked surprised to be in front of an audience, or at least apathetic. But she had five violins, four accordions, a cello, a bass, and a piano behind her. She was there to sing tango.
As she began to sing, we weren’t in an old sports club, at a tango show, we were on a street corner, we were in the center of Buenos Aires with cars flying around us, and she was cualquier porteña, any woman from Buenos Aires, singing the city so we could see it better. On the stage behind her, four screens flashed with black and white film from cameras on her microphone and the bridges of the violins. They looked like surveillance film. As she sang and the band played, accordions and violins and deep cello, with more urgency, they played us the fear that lives in this city still, from the desaparecidos, the crisis, the mystery of Nisman’s death. Julieta’s voice rolled into deep valleys and lingered before running away again, faster.
As the show progressed, Julieta took off the jacket. She became a moody teenager in a black tank top and Levis. She pulled her dark hair out of its bun, and let it cover her face as her hands played the microphone like a saxophone; she flipped it back over her head, angling her face up to the stage lights; she put it into a ponytail and swung the ponytail around to accentuate her words. The American kids in the front row looked up, rapt, realizing that maybe they could translate their emotions into tango.
Julieta disappeared off the stage between sets, sliding back on when a new melody began. For the last song, she put on a black beanie. When the show ended, and the encore ended, she threw up the shocker like a punk rocker and ran off stage.
Sarah and I waited for her after the show. We were about to leave when one of the violinists came running after us with her in tow. On stage, her voice had made her seem brooding and tall. She was short and friendly. Her eyebrows were plucked thin like an esthetician’s but her voice was still the kind I had only heard before from a record player. She grabbed the bottle of wine Sarah was holding and took a swig. We told her we had loved her voice. Encantada, she said, and thank you. She was thirty, and she had only started singing tango seven years ago. Are you from here, we asked. She laughed. Demasiado porteña, she said. Too much from Buenos Aires.
Where we were//what we saw: