JP Jofre and Band Prove It Takes More Than Two to Tango
Hollywood has a way of searing our collective memory with lasting impressions.
Take the movies’ relationship with the dance that originated in the late-19th century in dancehalls, brothels and bars along the Río de la Plata, the tango. From Mr. and Mrs. Smith to Moulin Rouge the sultry tête-à-tête is used as a kind of shorthand for seduction, sexual tension or -- in the case of Addams Family Values -- unconventional foreplay. But Argentinian composer and bandoneon player Juan Pablo (JP) Jofre says the tango is much more than what is depicted on screen, and he aims to prove it when he performs at Artpark’s Amphitheater Aug 7 on a double bill with Alarm Will Sound. While they're at it, Jofre and his Hard Tango Chamber Band might just convince you that Piazzolla mixes well with Metallica and Tool can hang with Bach.
I got a chance to chat with the 38-year old study in contrasts, currently residing in a place not necessarily known for Latin dances.
Artpark: I’m curious to know what brought you to South Korea? Do you play there often and do South Koreans have a particular love for tango or bandoneon?
JP Jofre: I lived in NYC for 13 years, but during the pandemic things got a bit complicated. So, we decided to come to South Korea for a bit. I have played in Seoul and other cities a few times in festivals and some wonderful concert halls, such as Seoul Art Center and Lotte Hall. Also, living in NYC I met so many wonderful Korean artists, so I have quite a few concerts coming up. Koreans love music, as in any other country, and I am lucky to be very in-demand here — not only as a performer, but also as a composer. I just wrote a violin concerto commissioned by Seoul Virtuosi for violin virtuoso Prof. Kyung Sun Lee, a Tchaikovsky competition prize winner. Not to mention the students: they are really interested in learning the bandoneon.
What are some of your favorite places to play?
All places are important. I have performed my music at Carnegie Hall, rural schools, churches, hospitals, and even high-security prisons. When I saw a prisoner in tears thanking us for bringing music to them I realized that the most important thing is the music and being able to connect with the audience. As a performer and composer, my obligation and my passion is to bring good music no matter where. Music brings us joy, inspiration, and so many wonderful things, and everybody deserves it.
VIDEO: Manifesto by JP Jofre Hard Tango Chamber Band
What drew you to the bandoneon and what made you stick with it?
I grew up with my grandparents. My grandma used to listen to tango all day long and my grandfather was an accordion and piano player. The music was around me all the time. I started playing heavy metal on the drums. At some point, I realized that tango music was an art form that I never really understood, but I also started to realize how big and powerful it could be. And it was the music of my country, so hey why not play it? The bandoneon is an incredibly expressive instrument, harmonically and melodically very rich. It feels like having a full symphony orchestra in my hands — like a portable, expressive organ.
Who are some of your influences?
It's impossible to mention all, but just to name a few: Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Metallica, Dvorak, Piazzolla, Bartok, Sepultura, The Beatles, Tool, Carcass, Pantera, Bach, Messiaen, Pugliese, Otero, and so on.
VIDEO: A bandoneonist’s journey from Andes to NYC
How have you spent the last year and has it changed the way you think about performing?
It's been a really challenging year in so many ways, as it has for everybody. The lesson has been as a human being more than as a performer. I learned that we were happy and we didn't realize it, and I understood that we do not need all those things that we think we need: the simpler the better.
Are there any misconceptions about your music?
Well, the word tango in America got some stereotypes, thanks to "Hollywood," that actually don't represent the music at all. Tango is much more than a mere dance in a restaurant and Por Una Cabeza (the tango made famous by Scent of a Woman). Tango is a very rich music genre, a philosophy; the music is very emotional and the orchestrations and arrangements are a very complex and powerful art form. When I moved to the US I started playing in restaurants to make a living and they thought my music was too complex and they asked me to play something more "easy" on the ears. Today I am presenting my music in major music festivals around the globe with major symphony orchestras, and they are asking me to write more and more music.
VIDEO: New Instrumental Tango Music | JP Jofre Talks at Google
Have you played at Artpark before?
Never before and I am so excited about it.
What songs will you be playing on Aug 7?
We will perform my compositions, which are a representation of my background as an orchestral music composer, tango lover, and ex-heavy metal drummer. We will also do an homage to Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine tango master.
The JP Jofre Hard Tango Band will perform at the Artpark Amphitheater Aug 7. The event starts at 7 p.m. and will also feature Alarm Will Sound. Tickets and more information available here.