New tango album
CHICAGO, IL, August 4, 2019
Bandoneon player Ben Bogart and pianist Winnie Cheung record a new tango album, live, on their Tiny Footprint Tango Tour at the Pianoforte Studios, Downtown Chicago, IL, September 27, 2019.
In one unapologetic take, the musicians absorb the sights, smells and heartbeats of Pianoforte’s attentive audience, and commit their musical stance in real time.
The duo performs pieces from tango’s formative years in Argentina in the 1920s and the later “Big Tango” sound of the Golden Age. For all that history, tango is also a contemporary world art, so the duo is just as likely to play pieces composed last year.
“When we take the stage, our job is to transport you to a different place: wherever ‘tango’ is for you.”
Leading the way barefoot
As their music takes listeners to times and places where tango rhythms rule, Ben and Winnie lead the way barefoot.
Performing shoeless is one of the many little choices that Ben and Winnie have made on the Tiny Footprint Tango Tour to spark conversations on big issues.
“As musicians, tango is our voice. It’s the tool we have to address the issues that are most important to us,” explains Ben. “And right now, those are climate change and social justice.”
From collecting for carbon emission offsets instead of putting out a tip jar, to complementing major tour dates with outreach performances in non-traditional settings like retirement homes, Ben and Winnie are committed to making tiny footprints that add up. “We’re seeding our performances with nudges and conversation starters rather than preaching,” says Winnie.
“Music, especially a global art form like tango, reaches people in a way that words can’t. We hope that noticing all the choices we make on stage will inspire audiences to think about the little choices they make that help or harm the people and the world around them.”
Two barefoot performers may leave tiny footprints, but the sound the duo creates together is powerful, and true to tango’s roots. “It’s popular music in the original sense of the word,” Winnie elaborates. “It’s the music that working people played after hours and on the weekend, any place they could and in any combination from a single musician to a large orchestra.” Ben plays melodies and chords on his bandoneon, the accordion-like instrument that gives voice to Argentine tango’s melancholy mood. Meanwhile, Winnie’s piano is the percussion section providing tango’s characteristic, insistent rhythm—there are no drums in the traditional tango sound.
Tango became a calling for Ben and Winnie after they each explored other musical genres.
Ben trained as a jazz musician, studying saxophone and touring professionally, but he found tango culture increasingly fascinating. First, tango dance was just a hobby, then he found himself running a tango studio. There a student put a bandoneon into his hands, and Ben felt the two halves of his creative life click into place. The archetypal tango instrument is capable of any kind of chord, which appealed to Ben’s experience with the complex chordal structures of jazz. As he filled the bandoneon’s accordion-like bellows with air, Ben realized that, like the saxophone, it makes expressive music by passing “breath” over reeds. Ben has been committed to tango music ever since, spending years in Argentina studying with masters of the living tradition. “In Argentina, it was so easy to find information and have conversations about the bandoneon and tango,” Ben says. “I returned to the US to keep the conversations going. I felt I had learned enough to help others not feel isolated like I had been when I started learning the bandoneon on my own.”
“My goal is to create great tango music, through my own performance and by helping others perform great tango music.”
Winnie is quick to add, “Ben won’t say this about himself, but he was instrumental in bringing the local art form of Argentine tango music to this country and turning it into a global art form. He helped tango music catch up with the dance form, which has been loved around the world for decades.”
One tango at a time
Ben’s zeal led to the foundation of the non-profit organization Tanguero Inc. that serves as an umbrella for many music-making projects: for the current duo’s tour, the ensemble project Cuarteto Tanguero, teaching tango music one-on-one, leading annual tango workshops, publishing and distributing music.
All these projects have a common mission: make the world a better place, one tango at a time. Tanguero Inc. sums it all up in one simple phrase: more tango!
It was at one of Tanguero Inc.’s summer workshops that Winnie became a convert. A classical pianist and a composer of modern music, Winnie earned a doctorate at the Eastman School of Music. The musical tradition she was trained in privileged the written score. “That tango workshop was my first exposure to a popular music tradition in which players shape the music each time it’s played, and the only rules are passed on from teacher to student. The music is alive rather than being frozen in the score.” Winnie also appreciates the different role the piano plays in tango: “In the solo and chamber classical music repertoire I had been playing, the percussive sounds that piano is capable of are rarely used. The situation is reversed in tango ensembles, where most of the piano’s role is as percussion.”
Around the world
Winnie’s tango epiphany, like Ben’s, has taken her down new roads. She joined Cuarteto Tanguero, Ben’s four-piece band that has played tango music around the world, from the Louisville Tango Festival in Kentucky to stages in Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong.
In Cuarteto Tanguero’s early years, the group focused on exploring the history of the tango music repertoire, working with older musicians and recordings to reconstruct the lost history of tango. As Ben explains, “Argentina’s military coup in the 1950s led to stagnation and isolation of tango culture in its homeland for 30 years. Now after a period of reconstruction, re-evaluation, and re-connection with tango enthusiasts inside and outside Argentina, tango music everywhere is finally able to move on from that break in continuity.”
Ben, Winnie and their Cuarteto Tanguero comrades tapped into a rich vein of music that had long been invisible to the U.S. tango community- maybe because a particular piece didn’t make the jump from analog to digital media, or it never got distributed outside of Argentina, or it was passed from musician to musician without ever being recorded.
“Now that we’ve explored that history of music-making,” Ben says, “we feel more free to focus on tango as a medium of self-expression.” And that’s where the Tiny Footprint Tango Tour takes over: with skilled musicianship and a deep respect for tango’s past, Ben and Winnie give tango music a fresh energy and a new message about the impact individual choices can make on the wellbeing of everyone.
“Tango is a heritage owned by the world,” explains Winnie, “It’s deeply Argentinean, but it can be a global art enjoyed by everyone on this planet.” Ben continues, “Originally, tango was one way that poor people in Buenos Aires, many of them young migrant workers far from home, responded to the dire conditions and social challenges they faced.
Tango music and dance let them transcend the harsh reality of their lives while building solidarity within their community. We are staying true to that original context of tango when we modernize the conversation to include today’s challenges, which include global warming and social justice.” After a Tiny Footprint Tango Tour performance, you’ll agree that what the world needs now is more tango.
About Ben & Winnie
– Ben & Winnie’s Mission –
To make the world a better place, #ONETANGOATATIME
The dynamic, prolific, world-renowned duo of Ben Bogart and Winnie Cheung invite you to share their passion for tango music.
Ben is a bandoneón player who holds a degree from Berklee College of Music and a certificate from the Orquesta Escuela de Tango Emilio Balcarce. Winnie is a pianist and composer from Hong Kong who holds a B.A. in Music from the University of Chicago and a M.M. And D.M.A. from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Each has performed all over the world, and together they have taught at workshops across the U.S. and offer online workshops to spread their knowledge and love of tango.