This feature originally appeared in Songlines #107 (April/May 2015) p24. Download a pdf here.
The trio are blurring the boundaries between retro tango and contemporary pop (Photo: Renaud Corlouer)
Plaza Francia might be a new name to many of our readers, but the folks behind the group are certainly no new kids on the block. The group combines the electro-tango genius of Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph Müller (Gotan Project) with the queen of French pop, Catherine Ringer (formerly part of Les Rita Mitsouko). As Plaza Francia they explore the space between tango, pop and rock, which finds the long-form, largely instrumental tango that we have come to love from Gotan Project condensed into bite-sized songs airing closer to the acoustic than electronic.
That Ringer is the only voice of Plaza Francia is a testament to how well the project came together. “I had this idea to write songs inspired by tango,” Makaroff explains, “and we wanted them to be songs interpreted by women. We started to think about singers and we had some in mind.” He admits that their original idea was to have several different singers and voices across the album. They asked Ringer, planning to record just two songs, but “it was simply so great. So we asked Catherine if she would be OK to do everything!”
Ringer is the perfect match, her sultry voice perfectly blurs those lines between tango and pop, and the traditional and contemporary. “It was more about classic songwriting without being necessarily retro,” Makaroff elaborates. “Especially with the lyrics, it’s contemporary. It’s a hybrid form because it mixes a lot of different elements but the main ingredient is Argentinian tango.”
As such, each of the songs on their debut album, A New Tango Songbook, are in Argentinian Spanish, forcing Ringer, who does not speak Spanish, to step outside of her comfort zone. “I made work of learning the songs and translating, knowing every word, to jump deeply in the songs, to know the songs.” And yet despite her extensive research, she reassures me that “you don’t have to understand the lyrics. The thing is to feel the songs.”
She tells me that while she enjoyed diving into the world of tango, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory. “In French songs we have a tango feeling. In the 1920s we were fond of tango so it’s not so strange for us. It was a pleasure to jump into tango. And they wanted someone who was a tango virgin,” she laughs. “I am no more a virgin.”
Ringer has a tango soul and when asked what that means she elaborates: “The tango soul is to be dramatic, to be intense and to give suspense in the song… and humour.” Makaroff cuts in, “and sensuality,” he pauses reflectively. “Tango is life.”