From the Port to the Terraza: An Interview with Vocalist Karina Beorlegui

Karina Beorlegui (photo: Yael Szmulewicz)

Recorded for the Tango Stories podcast — April 16, 2021
This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for conciseness. Interview & translation by Meredith Klein. Listen in Spanish

Karina Beorlegui is a renowned singer, actress and producer. She has released three albums, building and exploring a bridge between Argentine tango and Portugese fado. She has performed with a who’s who of contemporary tango greats including Federico Mizrahi, Alejandro Dolina, and Chino Laborde, among many others, and has anchored the show “Tango Porteño” as lead vocalist. She produced the Fado-Tango Club at the CAFF in Buenos Aires, and also created and produced the Fado-Tango Festival. She performs with Federico Mizrahi in the April 23 Tango en la Terraza concert.

Karina, you were fortunate to receive professional training in three different art forms — in music, theater and dance. How wonderful to be able to study and have deep knowledge of three art forms.

The truth is that theater and music were with me from the cradle, because my parents met each other in the theater. They were professional actors, and my father also played guitar and bass. So there was always music in my house; there were always librettos and scripts lying around. My father would rehearse; my mother would hold the script and make sure that he had learned his lines right. Later on, if the piece was appropriate for kids, I would go with them to the theater. I would watch them rehearse. Many artists and musicians came to our house from the time I was still in my mom’s belly.

And as far as dance, that is a little bit in my DNA as well. My mom wanted to be a Classical ballerina. Her parents, who were conservative, wouldn’t allow her to become a professional dancer. But she went behind their backs to study, she always told me…

So I have that in my blood… the desire to be backstage, in the wings of the theater.

How did tango arrive into your life?

Tango also was in my life from the beginning. Not so much from my mother and father, because they were more into rock — The Beatles and The Rolling Stones — and Argentine National Rock. But my grandfather was a great whistler of tango. I would know that my grandfather was returning from work or from errands, because I heard him whistling from a distance. And he always whistled tango.

So you lived the situation that we hear about so often: your grandfather was passionate about tango; the next generation, your mother and father, were more interested in rock; and then you took up the tradition of tango that had skipped a generation…

Absolutely. For me, tango was something that existed on the weekends, something I would listen to in my grandparents’ house. But with my parents during the week, we listened to rock. Deep in my soul, tango always makes me remember my grandparents.

My grandmother also… she would sing tango while cooking, “Cuartito azul, dulce morada de mi vida / Fiel destino de mi vieja juventud…” These lines that my grandmother sang while cooking, they have always stayed with me.

I can’t imagine being that deeply inside tango, and having tango that deeply inside me from such a young age, from forever. And then being on stage singing the same lines… it must be an incredibly rich, an incredibly powerful experience.

Yes, exactly. It’s a very powerful energy, very ancestral, because it touches these fibers that connect directly to the emotions. For example, when I began to sing tango… well, my grandfather never heard me sing tango. I started to sing tango 11 years after my grandfather’s passing.

But my grandmother, yes, she saw me perform tango. And in fact, when she was in the hospital for a very serious illness, I had just started to sing with the show, Tango Porteño. And in the show, I sang “Pregonera”… “Princesita rubia de marfil.” That was one of the songs that my grandmother sang when I was a child. And so when she was in the hospital, I was able to tell her, “Grandma, I’ve been chosen for this show. I will be paid a salary, and I’ll sing ‘Pregonera’ every night.” And there, in the hospital bed, my grandmother was amazed and moved.

Since 1999, you’ve also been pursuing another passion, Portugese fado. I was fascinated by your description of how the two art forms — tango and fado — are linked by the fact that they emerged in cities which are defined by their ports.

When I started listening to fado, in 1999, I encountered something that moved me deeply. I began to sing fado in my shows, and to investigate how to sing in Portugese, the Portugese of Portugal, which is different than the Portugese of our neighbor, Brazil…. In 2003, I found out that Carlos Gardel had actually recorded some fados. Not in Portugese, but songs with an “air of fado.” One of them is called “Caprichosa,” which you will hear — because we have a very special guest in the Tango en la Terraza concert — you will hear “Caprichosa” sung as a duet by Walter “Chino” Laborde and myself, with Federico Mizrahi on piano. This is one of the fados that Gardel sang, in Spanish.

Finding out that Gardel had sung the fado “Caprichosa,” gave me a kind of pretext or justification [for including fado in my tango concerts]. “Caprichosa” was composed by Froilan Aguilar, the brother of one of Gardel’s guitarists, who was one of the only survivors of the plane crash that killed Gardel. Gardel left us in his full splendor, at the height of his maturity as an artist. For me, his career had just started; he had so much more to contribute.

From 1999, I started to explore this intersection, this bridge between two cultures that were born around the same time — one grew up around the Rio de la Plata River [in Buenos Aires] and the other, around the Rio Tejo [in Lisbon]. Both art forms have to do with cities which were prosperous due to their ports. But they also have to do with cities that turned their backs on the culture that grew up in the port area. Both cities had these outlying port areas, with their poets, their sailors, their prostitutes, their street artists and other marginals, but all of this mixing too with the upper class, because men from other classes would spend a night in these areas to enjoy the entertainment. In these areas, cultures mixed, and social classes mixed, and that is what gave rise to fado. Of course, the origin story of tango is very similar. Both art forms also had crucial African influences, and both art forms are imbued with similar emotions: nostalgia, in the case of tango, and “saudade” (longing) in the case of fado. They truly have common DNA.

Moving to the present day, I am so excited to see your concert this Friday, April 23, with pianist Federico Mizrahi, the second concert in our Tango en la Terraza series. Can you tell us a little bit about how it was to film this concert after 13 months of pandemic?

Really, Meredith, I want to thank you and Philadelphia Argentine Tango School, and of course, Yael, Juan and Tan… it was really beautiful. I was nervous like I was about to sing in Madison Square Garden. Really, because we’ve been so isolated in our homes. And even though I’m working there — practicing and recording videos in quarantine (and I’m getting close to having enough material for a whole album) — it’s still nothing at all like real life. Especially because I’m an actress, I long for contact with the public. I love having the public there; it energizes me. I want to hear them applauding, and if they’re not, I’m thinking, “Why aren’t they applauding?” All of that adrenaline, the dressing rooms, the musicians, the rehearsals. I’ve always been someone who loves to travel. And when I’m in Buenos Aires, I’ve always gone everywhere and done everything. I would go to sing as a guest with Cucuza Castiello, or Chino Laborde, or invite Chino to be my guest. I have traversed the one hundred porteño neighborhoods, though a little bit less since becoming a mom.

The reality is that the last year has been very challenging for someone with my personality. And so, it was amazing for me to return to the stage on this terraza. After all that time being sheltered in place, to go to the terraza and be reunited with my colleagues… even just to get to rehearse with Federico Mizrahi, masked and on his terrace, so we wouldn’t be indoors together, just rehearsing with another live person, it was absolutely amazing.

The terraza was magical. You are going to see a concert that is pure magic. I really hope that you’ll feel the same as I felt as I sang each song, as I interpreted each stanza. I was moved by the fluidity of the dancers, Cecilia & Serkan. It’s incredible the way they connect with the musicians. That was something that really stood out for me. There was so much chemistry, so much power that night on the terraza. I am so excited for Friday when we can see the premiere of this concert, and so happy that it can arrive into the homes of everyone everywhere who wants to see it, not just in Argentina, and Philadelphia, but in the whole world.

Trailer for the April 23, 2021 Tango en la Terraza concert

Karina Beorlegui will appear with pianist Federico Mizrahi on Friday, April 23 at 8 pm EDT in the Tango en la Terraza series. The concert also features dancers Cecilia Garcia & Serkan Gokcesu, and special guests Analia Goldberg and Walter “Chino” Laborde. The series is produced by Yael Szmulewicz, Juan Villarreal, and Tan Kurttekin in Buenos Aires, and Meredith Klein in Philadelphia.

Tickets and more information: www.tangoenlaterraza.com. The concert will remain available on demand through April 30.

You can download the full interview in Spanish anywhere you download your podcasts. Or listen through the Tango Stories web player.

Meredith directs the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School and the Philly Tango Festival. She is co-producer of the Tango en la Terraza series.