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Daniel Melingo

Daniel Melingo (b. Buenos Aires, 1957) is an Argentine multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer. A ubiquitous presence in the Argentine rock scene of the 1980s, by the turn of the century he had managed to reinvent himself as a tango artist and launch a successful new career in the European world music circuit. Melingo studied music and composition -- his main instrument was the clarinet -- in Argentina, but left the country at 21, fleeing the repressive political atmosphere of the times (Argentina was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship between 1976-1983). He relocated to Brazil and eventually joined Milton Nascimento's group. Melingo returned to Argentina in the early '80s to take part in Los Abuelos de la Nada, a seminal band that would play a key role in renovating Argentine rock.

Led by another returning expatriate, Miguel Abuelo, and featuring a then-teenaged pop wizard by the name of Andrés Calamaro, Los Abuelos' infectious mix of rock, pop, reggae, and Latin rhythms introduced a much needed dose of careless (but never silly) dancing fun, in stark contrast to the gloom and doom of dictatorship-era Argentine rock. As democracy returned to Argentina, Los Abuelos perfectly encapsulated the renewed enthusiasm of the country as well as the burgeoning hedonism of the 1980s. Melingo played saxophone in Los Abuelos, and he also penned a few songs, most notably the perfect reggae "Chalaman." It was included in Los Abuelos de la Nada's 1982 debut album and became one of the band's best-loved songs. It remains one of the two or three Melingo originals that everybody in Argentina knows.

Bohemian and restless by nature, Melingo preferred to become a sort of permanent guest in Los Abuelos rather than a bandmember, and thus had more time for a variety of other projects. One of the several he founded together with the uproarious Hugo "Pipo" Cipolatti was the satirical combo Los Twist, with Melingo on guitar and vocals. The band's first album, La Dicha en Movimiento, produced by Charly García, became an overnight sensation in 1983, and made Melingo and Cipollati into true rock stars. It is widely considered one of the key Argentine rock albums of all time, and it contains Melingo's classics "Cleopatra, la Reina del Twist" and "Jugando Hulla Hulla." However, Los Twist never managed to sustain the momentum, and by 1985 they had virtually disbanded. At any rate, Melingo was immensely busy throughout the decade. For a while it almost seemed as if he was (together with Gonzalo "El Gonzo" Palacios) the only rock sax player in the country, as he was invited to participate in countless albums and concerts. Among these, the unquestionable highlight was being part -- together with a very young Fito Páez and the future members of GIT -- of the stellar supporting group for Charly García that cut the 1984 masterpiece Piano Bar.

As the decade came to a close and hyperinflation was tearing Argentina's economy to shreds, Melingo decided to try his luck in Spain -- a move soon imitated by several Argentine musicians, most notably Andrés Calamaro. In Spain, Melingo became involved with the local underground scene. He formed the reggae/funk/rave band Lions in Love and recorded two albums in 1992 and 1994. Lions in Love called it quits the following year, and Melingo released his first solo album, H2O. It went largely unnoticed, even if it was produced by former Los Abuelos de la Nada bassist Cachorro López and featured Melingo's best buddies Calamaro and Cipollati as guests. Melingo and Cipollati also briefly attempted (twice) to resurrect Los Twist in the early '90s, but the results were musically and commercially disappointing.

Back in Buenos Aires, Melingo developed, from scratch and almost by chance, an entirely new career when he metamorphosed into a sort of born-again tango singer. The relationship between Argentine rock and tango had always been strained due to the extremely conservative nature of the tango community, which feared and despised young people with long hair and electric instruments. To add insult to injury, by the 1980s it was plain that Argentine rock had long replaced tango as the country's most popular urban music. The biggest rock musicians, on the other hand, such as Charly García, León Gieco, Fito Páez, and Luis Alberto Spinetta, had typically been much more receptive to tango music and lyrics, and had no problem in introducing tango elements into their own compositions. By the late '90s, a new generation brought up on Argentine rock started to become interested in tango (at this point, their grandparents' music). Even if it never remotely regained the level of popularity of the 1920s-1950s, the genre experienced a revival of sorts -- and a much needed renewal of the ranks -- continuing into the early 21st century.

Much to everybody's surprise, Melingo turned out to be an important figure in the process of updating and rejuvenating the musical and lyrical codes of such a traditional genre. In 1997 he hosted a cable TV show, Mala Yunta, in which he invited rock musicians to perform classic tangos with him. Melingo's peculiar style of approaching the standards, as well as his idiosyncratic new compositions, attracted enough interest to lead to the release of a first all-tango album, Tangos Bajos, in 1998. The record was warmly greeted, and it included a quasi hit in "Narigón," a very funny portrait of an unsympathetic cocaine addict, that would become the trademark song of Melingo's new musical identity. "Narigón"'s lyrics, as most of Tangos Bajos, were written in strict lunfardo, the Buenos Aires slum dialect that became tango's official language.

For all of this renewed interest in tango in Argentina commercially, innovators like Melingo never rose from an underground or cult status. It took him five years to release a second tango album, the equally remarkable Ufa. It was also becoming apparent that the international audience was a much smarter bet than the domestic one -- in fact, most of the people attending tango shows in Buenos Aires are tourists -- so Melingo once again chose to concentrate his efforts in Europe rather than in South America. In 2006 he paired with Eduardo Makaroff, the Argentine member of Gotan Project who runs the label Mañana, which is aimed at the world music circuit. For Mañana, Melingo and Makaroff first put together Santa Milonga, a compilation of tracks culled from Melingo's two tango albums. Melingo also began to tour regularly in Europe with his crack backup band, Los Ramones del Tango. His bewitching take on the tango coupled with a histrionic live persona have earned Melingo a rising reputation as a world-class entertainer, as well as comparisons to Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Paolo Conte. Maldito Tango, comprised entirely of new material, appeared in late 2007 to worldwide rave reviews. ~ Mariano Prunes
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