The Government Center
ue Jan 23. 7:30 pm all ages $12 adv/$15 door
tickets on sale starting Dec 22 at: Government Center, Jerry's Records (Squirrel Hill), Long Play Cafe (Lawrenceville), Vinyl Remains (Mt Lebanon), Caliban Books (Oakland), and from members of Weird Era and Bat Radar.
Drawing on the music of his youth, Buenos Aires-born songwriter Juan Zaballa’s second album cleverly illuminates Latin America’s rich musical heritage.
Tall Juan is as tall (about 6 feet 3 inches) as he is named Juan, and in his brief career, he has lovingly commanded the art of pastiche. On his 2017 debut Olden Goldies, Juan Zaballa introduced himself in 15 short songs as a rockabilly crooner raised on the Ramones—Iggy Pop doing an Elvis bit, maybe vice versa. The Buenos Aires-born singer made his way to Far Rockaway, Queens, where he honed his goofy brand of punk alongside former roommate Mac DeMarco and songwriter Juan Wauters (from whom “tall” distinguishes Zaballa).
When Zaballa released a modest two-song EP called Tall Juan Plays Cumbia in December, the usual adjectives no longer applied. Here, he reached for a recent past: Buenos Aires in the 1990s and its working-class neighborhoods that cultivated cumbia villera, a synth-washed genre of social protest. It was the first glimpse at his new album Atlantico, a paean to Latin America, the continent’s musical roots in Africa, and the fraught body of water in between.
If that sounds like a lengthy project, it is. “It all started when I realized that tango music was created by Africans,” Zaballa said in a recent interview. He names the music of Soweto in Johannesburg as a vector through which he came to better understand that of Latin America, and cites French no wave artist Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s 1984 anti-apartheid album Zulu Rock as his introduction to African musical traditions.
Yet at a brisk 22 minutes, Atlantico is a compact exploration of the sounds that form the cultural fabric of Zaballa’s youth in Argentina...On Atlantico’s cover songs, Zaballa uses simple tricks to illuminate the richness of Latin America’s genre dialogues.
Throughout the record, Zaballa asks that the music be allowed to speak for itself, just as he has sought to listen more closely...The album might feel more incomplete in these respects had Zaballa framed Atlantico as an outward ethnomusicological study rather than a personal one. Instead, it is an ongoing lesson in better understanding one’s own geography.