Athens, Georgia has an abundance of quirky bands. The Athens Tango Project is arguably the most classically-influenced band in Athens that still plays alongside iconic Athens rock acts such as the Drive-By Truckers.
“All of [the band] are classically trained and read music and play in orchestras,” said Laura Camacho, double bass player and one of the band’s founders.
The Athens Tango Project plays traditional tango music with a modern twist. Their traditional influences come from the heart of tango: Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Camacho grew up.
“Tango is everywhere you go when you’re in Argentina,” said Camacho. “My grandmother was into it. She actually met my grandfather dancing tango. And that’s how my mom was born.”
However, traditional tango wasn’t always interesting to Camacho. “It was more like old people’s music when I was a teenager … I was not so much into the older stuff. It was more for dancing.”
When she was younger, Camacho played more modern music. It wasn’t until she discovered influential Argentine composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla that she became interested in playing tango.
“Piazzolla had mixed tango with classical and jazz, so it was something more approachable for me. It didn’t sound so old school.”
Once Camacho began learning tango, she found it was different from the music she learned to play in the music conservatory.
“I had to learn [tango] from other musicians, watch people play. And I started getting into it, I started loving it, and I wanted to be better at it.”
When she got to Athens to study at UGA on a scholarship, Camacho found that there was a desperate lack of tango here. She said, “Nobody was doing it, and it took a lot of work to teach people how to do it right.”
The band came together at local parties. They would jam around campfires playing tango and jazz. Slowly, they began coming together as a group and picking up more musicians. For some of them, learning how to play tango wasn’t easy.
“[Tango] has all these nuances that are really hard to pick up on and take a lot of practice for musicians who’ve never played it before,” said Camacho.
The band has strict criteria for which music they choose to play.
Camacho said, “It has to be excellent technique-wise, but it has to be groovy and fun, and it has to have a good beat. So we try to make sure that whatever we play is gonna be top notch in both senses and that we’re having fun with it.”
Her favorite song to play with the band is “Tanguera” by Mariano Mores, which she has liked since she was young. The song is used in Moulin Rouge, and is, as Camacho describes it, “over the top.” The Tango Project’s rendition of “Tanguera” whisks the listener away into a world of suspense and drama with sweeping violin and plucky bass.
“It’s very rhythmic, it’s strong, it has a good melody, it has virtuoistic parts. Yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful … If you don’t get a little excited listening to this, I feel like you’re not totally human,” said Camacho about the song.
The Athens Tango project isn’t currently seeking out places to perform, because they’re focusing on rehearsing new material. They rehearse once or twice a month, and are working on lots of interesting projects, including the film SICYON: Celebrating the Creative Class in the Classic City. Listen to them on soundcloud here.