Few bands need a lyric sheet more than 34 Puñaladas, because there’s a definite disconnect between this Buenos Aires–based quintet’s sound and what its songs are about. Acoustic guitarists Augusto Macri, Edgardo González, Juan Lorenzo, and Lucas Ferrara, along with singer Alejandro Guyot, have crafted a shimmering, intricate approach that seems to draw as much on contemporary classical music as on their home city’s tango past. In sharp contrast, the words that Guyot intones, whether they’re the band’s own or taken from Argentine folklore, are all about sex, death, drugs, and depravity. Even the band’s name, which translates as “34 Stabbings”, has criminal underpinnings.
“The name is the last part of a classical poem of the tango,” says González, speaking in halting English from his home near the Río de la Plata. “It’s a poem that tells a tragic love story, and the end is a tragic murder, with 34 stabbings. In the beginning of the band, we made a lyric from this poem, which tells a very dark story about murder, about drugs, and about marginal life at the beginning of the last century.”
Bands bent on updating the tango are not exactly unusual; once Astor Piazzolla won international renown with his nuanced blend of traditional music, jazz improvisation, and chamber music, many of his countrymen realized that they had a rich vein of ore to mine. But most of those artists relied on some variant of the late bandoneon master’s instrumentation, whereas 34 Puñaladas have reverted to the original tango instrument, the guitar.
“In the ’30s and ’40s of the last century there was a great immigration from Italy of classical musicians, and they incorporated into the tango the violin, the piano, the bandoneon, the double bass, and the small winds,” González explains. “They made the typical sort of orchestra that made the tango famous around the world, the form that the dancers chose to dance to. But the guitar was more for local music.
“We are the first of our generation to make this kind of [guitar-based] group,” he adds, “and it’s a very nice kind of ensemble. There are many elements to explore, and it’s a very experimental group. In one sense, there was too much development, and I think this kind of tango that we chose was a very good decision, because it was a part of the tango that wasn’t very developed. So we have a lot of possibilities to work on.”
One thing that won’t change is 34 Puñaladas’ emphasis on the steamier side of life—as reflected in the band’s 2009 triumph, Bombay Bs.As.
“Bombay Bs.As is a kind of conceptual disc, like the old albums of Pink Floyd or bands in the ’70s,” González notes. “In very, very poetic form, with sometimes cryptic lyrics, it tells about urban problems. We tried to think about all the great cities in the world, and the difficulties of the masses and the curious kind of lives in the downtowns of these great cities.…Like a movie, we put our focus on the urban city. And the next CD will tell some particular stories from this life. The lyrics of the new songs talk about different persons and their particular histories in the city—and this time that city is mostly Buenos Aires.”