When Australian classical mandolinist Ruth Roshan was introduced to live Argentinian tango in Paris at the age of 23, she was hooked.
Now, with her quintet Tango Noir, she has recorded three albums of melodic tango-inspired pieces and songs, and gathered an exceptional group of musicians around her in the process.
I’d love you to tell me more about your trip to Paris and your introduction to Argentinian tango.
Well my husband and I decided to stop at a hotel in Malakoff because we didn’t want to drive for another second. By reputation, Malakoff is a dodgy suburb of Paris but we were really lucky with the hotel. It was run by these lovely Algerians and we soon became friends with the proprietors and other guests. So when we asked for a recommendation of a jazz club one night there was a lively discussion about the best place for us to go. Finally a place was decided upon and we were packed off into a taxi. We got to the jazz club and they said they didn’t have jazz that night, they had tango. That night was amazing. It was Juan Jose Mosalini and his Orquestra.
They played tango like I’d never heard it before – the music was stirring and there was such an atmosphere of love between the players. One young violinist was clearly new to the band and how they were smiling at her and encouraging her was beautiful. Afterwards, we got back to the hotel on such a high.
How was it different for you to play what you had been playing previously?
Well I learned classical (and still play in orchestras from time to time) but I always listened to a wide range of music, including tango, when I was growing up (thanks to my parents’ record collection). So I think tango is a kind of music that’s been with me always and although it has its own unique feel and emphases, it isn’t terribly different from music I’d played in the past on the mandolin. The hardest thing has been singing, which I started taking seriously with this group, and has been a steep learning curve for me. Although I think tango is a genre I always understood to some extent, mastery of the traditional form is not my aim. It’s more a starting point to try to find my own artistic voice.
Tango seems so evocative of another era – nostalgic for a different time. Why do you think we are drawn to the romance of the past?
I think that, regardless of its era, there is something about good music that takes you away from time, place and circumstance. Mozart and Vivaldi wrote music according to their era but that music is still beautiful today and will always be; it just stacks up.
I put good tango in this timeless category but for many tango also evokes the glamour and romance of dressing up and going to a dance halls with a live orchestra playing.
In this day of smart phones and internet dating, where so much is instant but so little is present, this has to is appealing.
Tell me about the players in Tango Noir.
They are all superb players and have forged musical careers and accolades in their own right. They take my music and ‘make it more’, which is the best thing a writer could hope for. They are Phil Carroll on accordion, David Paterson on piano, Atilla Kuti on violin and Caerwen Martin on cello (I’m on vocals and mandolin).
What should we expect for your show at the Byron Theatre?
Songs and instrumentals, some arrangements of well-known traditional and Piazzolla tangos, some composed. Music will range from sassy cabaret to beautiful and melancholic songs and pieces with lots in between. We will chat between songs and there will be space set aside for dancing. As I mentioned, all the players are amazing and I understand the piano in the Byron Theatre is really good and so all the elements are in place for a great night.
Byron Community Centre on Friday at 8pm. Tix at the venue.