S.F. tango nuevo band melds modern, classic sounds

Pandemic spurs virtual collaboration on ‘Alma Vieja’

By Iris Kwok

Special to The Examiner

When San Francisco bassist-composer Sascha Jacobsen walked into Cafe Buenos Aires in Berkeley with his son in November 2019, he was there to try the eatery’s signature Argentinian empanadas. What he wasn’t expecting was an encounter with a tango singer that would blossom into a vibrant musical partnership.

Manuel Berterreix, living in Argentina at the time, was in town visiting a friend. Upon learning Berterreix was a singer, Jacobsen, hoping to “give him a little taste of San Francisco,” invited him to appear with his tango nuevo band Los Tangueros del Oeste at an upcoming show in The City, even though he hadn’t actually heard Berterreix sing.

To the relief of his fellow bandmates, Jacobsen’s spur-of-the-moment decision to invite a new vocalist worked out well — so well, they ended up performing together again the following week, solidifying their newfound musical relationship.

When Jacobsen, who has played with The Musical Art Quintet and Trio Garufa, began composing Los Tangueros del Oeste’s debut album in early 2020, it was an easy decision to invite Berterreix to collaborate as the main lyricist and singer.

The recording, “Alma Vieja” — being released July 30 and celebrated live in Oakland with two milongas, or Argentine tango dance parties — also features pianist Pablo Estigarribia, bandoneonist Charles Gorczynski, guitarist Carlos Caminos, violinist Ishtar Hernandez and hip-hop producer and flutist Daniel Riera.

Dancers Maxi Copello and Raquel Makow join the Los Tangueros del Oeste in performance this weekend to celebrate the release of “Alma Vieja.” (Courtesy photo)

Dancers Maxi Copello and Raquel Makow join the Los Tangueros del Oeste in performance this weekend to celebrate the release of “Alma Vieja.” (Courtesy photo)

Jacobsen said his concept for the album was to look backward to tango’s roots — legends Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel, as well as Argentine folk musician Atahualpa Yupanqui — to find inspiration for modern music.

Though the title translates to “old-soul,” the album’s sound, which incorporates hip-hop and electronica elements into traditional tango, is anything but dated.

Due to the pandemic, the tracks were recorded individually, with Jacobsen in his studio in Berkeley and Berterreix at his new home in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where he moved in January.

While the process of composing, recording and assembling each track virtually was “not easy at all,” Berterreix said it was exciting. Some of the lyrics reflect his experience of relocating to another country amid the pandemic (the title track is a tribute to Buenos Aires, and describes the pain and nostalgia he felt when leaving his home city), while he imagined others, including one song about what the life of an 18th century gaucho, or Argentinian cowboy, would be like today.

In more ways than one, “Alma Vieja” is borne out of the pandemic. In a not-so-subtle reference to an item that’s been etched into our daily routines, the track “La Mascara” translates to “The Mask.”

“This album has led me to reconnect with [my] experiences and memories of my childhood and my first steps in music,” Berterreix said, adding that the album is special to him because it was created by musicians from all over the world who are of the “highest human and musical level.”


Los Tangueros del Oeste

Where: The Dome, 951 62nd St., Oakland

When: 8 p.m. July 30-31

Tickets: $25 suggested donation

Contact: tangodome@gmail.com

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