Libertango is one of the most famous and influential tango compositions of the 20th century. It was written by the Argentine composer and bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla, who revolutionized the genre by creating the tango nuevo, a fusion of traditional tango with elements of jazz, classical music, and rock. In this article, we will explore the history of Libertango, from its original version to its various adaptations by different artists, such as Grace Jones, Roberto Pugliese Trio, and Roberto Pugliese as a solo guitar player.
The Original Version: Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, but moved to New York with his family when he was four years old. There, he learned to play the bandoneon, a type of concertina that is essential for tango music. He also developed a passion for jazz and classical music, especially Bach. He returned to Argentina in 1937 and joined several tango orchestras, but he also studied composition with Alberto Ginastera, one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the time.
Piazzolla’s musical style was influenced by his diverse musical background, and he started to experiment with new forms and harmonies in tango. He formed his own groups, such as the Octeto Buenos Aires and the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, and composed works that broke the conventions of the traditional tango, such as Adiós Nonino, Balada para un loco, and Fuga y misterio. He faced criticism and rejection from the purists of the tango, who accused him of betraying the essence of the genre. However, he also gained recognition and admiration from many fans and musicians, both in Argentina and abroad.
Libertango was composed by Piazzolla in 1974, during his stay in Italy. The title is a portmanteau of the words “libertad” (freedom) and “tango”, and it expresses Piazzolla’s desire to liberate himself from the constraints of the traditional tango and explore new possibilities. The piece is based on a simple and catchy melody, played by the bandoneon, that alternates with a contrasting section, played by the strings. The rhythm is syncopated and energetic, and the harmony is chromatic and dissonant. The piece has a duration of about two and a half minutes, and it was recorded by Piazzolla and his ensemble in Milan, Italy. It was released as part of an album with the same name, which also included other compositions by Piazzolla, such as Meditango, Undertango, and Violentango.
Libertango became an instant hit and a symbol of Piazzolla’s musical innovation. It was also covered and arranged by many other artists, from different genres and countries, who added their own interpretations and variations to the original piece. Some of the most notable versions are:
The Reggae Version: Grace Jones
Grace Jones is a Jamaican singer, songwriter, model, and actress, who rose to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s with her eclectic and avant-garde style. She was known for her fusion of reggae, disco, new wave, and pop music, as well as for her androgynous and flamboyant image. She collaborated with producers such as Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin, and Trevor Horn, and released albums such as Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing, and Slave to the Rhythm.
In 1981, Jones recorded a version of Libertango, with new lyrics in English and French, and titled it I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango). The song was produced by Blackwell and Sadkin, and it featured the musicians of the Compass Point All Stars, a studio band based in Nassau, Bahamas, that included Sly and Robbie, Wally Badarou, Barry Reynolds, Mikey Chung, and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson. The song combined the tango melody of Libertango with a reggae groove and a chanson mood, creating a unique and captivating sound. The lyrics, written by Jones and Reynolds, described the dark and mysterious side of the Parisian nightlife, and included a spoken part in French: “Tu cherches quoi? À rencontrer la mort? Tu te prends pour qui? Toi aussi tu détestes la vie…” (“What are you looking for? For death? Who do you think you are? You hate life, you too…”).
The song was released as the second single from Jones’ album Nightclubbing, and it became a commercial success, reaching the top 20 in several European countries, including number one in Belgium. It also became one of Jones’ signature songs, and it was featured in movies such as Frantic, Raw Deal, and Pose. Jones also recorded a Spanish version of the song, titled Esta cara me es conocida, and an English version with the French part recited in Portuguese.
The Power Trio Version: Roberto Pugliese Trio
In 2000, the trio recorded a version of Libertango, with an introduction of an original piece by Pugliese, titled Introne. The version was included in the album Tangos sin versos 7 and record in Italy by Mizapie Records Italy, which also featured other tango compositions by Piazzolla, Gardel, Troilo, and Pugliese himself. The version of Libertango started with a slow and atmospheric introduction, played by the piano and the keyboards, that created a contrast with the fast and energetic main theme, played by the guitar and the bass. The trio followed the structure of the original piece, but added their own variations and improvisations, creating a lively and expressive performance. The version ended with a pop-like finale, with a catchy and upbeat rhythm.
The Solo Guitar Version: Roberto Pugliese
Roberto Pugliese is also a renowned solo guitar player, who has performed in many prestigious venues and festivals around the world. He has recorded several albums of solo guitar music, featuring his own compositions and arrangements of tango, folk, and classical pieces. He has also published books and scores of his guitar works, and he has taught guitar and tango music in various conservatories and schools.
In 2019, Pugliese recorded a solo guitar version of Libertango, which was released as a single on Spotify and other digital platforms. The version was based on his own arrangement of the piece, which he had previously performed live in several occasions. The version was played on a classical guitar, with nylon strings, and it followed the melody and the harmony of the original piece, but with some modifications and embellishments. Pugliese used various techniques, such as fingerstyle, arpeggios, chords, and percussions, to create a full and rich sound on the guitar. He also added some ornaments and glissandos, to enhance the expressiveness and the flair of the piece. The version had a duration of about three minutes, and it showcased Pugliese’s virtuosity and sensitivity as a solo guitar player.
Libertango is a tango masterpiece that has transcended its original genre and context, and has inspired many artists to reinterpret it in their own way. From Piazzolla’s bandoneon to Jones’ reggae, from Pugliese Trio’s power trio to Pugliese’s solo guitar, Libertango has proven to be a versatile and timeless piece, that can adapt to different styles and instruments, and that can convey different emotions and atmospheres. Libertango is a testament to the creativity and the freedom of Piazzolla, and to the universal appeal of tango music.