A Conversation with Martín Buscaglia

Martín Buscaglia (ph: Joaquina Rijo)

The son of Horacio Buscaglia (a key musician in the development of popular music in Uruguay), Martín Buscaglia stands as one of the most peripatetic performers in Uruguay. He has played with international artists such as Arnaldo Antunes, Kiko Veneno and Julieta Venegas, and his Uruguayan peers include Rubén Rada, Jaime Roos and Jorge Drexler.

After refusing to issue a live CD for a long time, a series of events led to the release of “Somos Libres” [We Are Free] last year – a live recording that summarized his career, both with grace and finesse. It included covers from artists as diverse as Jonathan Richman and Mandrake Wolf, and texts penned by his father and compiled by Buscaglia himself and the poet Macachin, on a book titled “Mojos”.

As arises from the conversation we had in his house/studio, what held “Somos Libres” together was the fact the album was not conceived as a live recording, but as a voice/guitar concert – a format Buscaglia has rarely favoured throughout his career. And the very essence of the CD was determined by the fact it was recorded without premeditation. The decision to release the full performance was taken later.

The following exchange took place a couple of days before Martín presented “Somos Libres” at Periscopio (a new, alternative venue that seats about 120 people) and two weeks after he had presented it at the prestigious Solís Theatre in Montevideo. You can read the original post in Spanish (as published on Cooltivarte.com) here.


Your antipathy towards live albums became publicly known when you started promoting “Somos Libres”. How far does it really go?

I can count the live albums I actually like on one hand. If you asked me about studio albums, I could easily name a hundred. But when it comes to live records, they are far and few between. There’s one by Sam Cooke that I’m really fond of – he was an old school soulman, a bit of a father figure to Otis Redding and all these soul singer that were extremely moving. And the album I’m talking about is one that was recorded in Miami – a place you would never deem as very delicate. And that’s a record you can’t stop listening to once it’s spinning, you can’t listen to just one or two numbers. And you end up thinking that a lot of children were procreated that night! [Laughs]

And then, there’s this live album by Roberto Carlos that I discovered one day I was flying by plane. I found it using the flight’s thematic selector, it was a show recorded for the MTV Unplugged series. I chose “Brazilian Music”, and this very crystalline and delicate sound came through. And since it was a MTV unplugged show, it was freed from that kitsch aura that most of Roberto Carlos’ recordings have. The guitars were acoustic, and his voice sounded really divine. That was an album I listened to a lot, and which I also recommended and gave away more than often.

But I’m not very keen on live albums. When the DVD with The Bochamakers was ready, they asked me “Don’t you want to release the audio as a separate CD as well ?”. And I refused, because you might sound superb, but there’s something missing on a live CD.

There’s an image on your blog that I think says as much… it’s the one showing a sign which reads “These things we stare at, also stare back at us”. I think that’s the problem with live records – the context that permeates and (eventually) completes the event with its presence is missing.

Exactly, that’s the one element which is missing. And it’s something pivotal that in no way can be apprehended. It depends on so many factors, and not even having all of these under control means you will be able to set it down on tape. It’s something magical. That’s why there’s so many concerts that work wonderfully even though the technical aspects are not immaculate. And there are immaculate concerts in which that magic is sorely missing.

Summing up, then, what an artist experiences live with the audience is what turns a live show into an epiphany.

Yes, any religious ritual is made complete by the others. And in some cases (like music when we place it in such a plane), it becomes very specific. There are others which are more intimate by definition, like reading a book. In that case, it’s just you reading a book in the way you like best. But as far as music is concerned, there’s something more clearly defined between those who give and those who receive. We are talking about a specific night, with a specific ambience and illumination. And it all comes together into a singular thing which is lost on an audio CD.

That is a big contradiction, isn’t it? With “Somos Libres”, you try to replicate live what was a live album to begin with. How do you handle that internally, and when performing onstage?

First of all, this was not a live album. It was a concert in which I was playing alone with my guitar, and such a thing was a true novelty for me. That spurred me on – the will to play in such a primitive state. I have done it just a handful of times myself. From the very beginning, I was someone who loved to play many instruments. I was keen on meeting up with other people to play. I love that interaction, I love meeting musicians who know more than you do, and who can show you things you are yet to learn.

But in your albums you play most instruments yourself, right?

An album is different. Playing everything in such a context is nice. I love these albums in which the artist plays everything. Lenny Kravitz is a really great drummer, for instance. And many people know him only as a guitar player. And I also love how Stevie Wonder plays the drums. As a matter of fact, he is the one playing on “Superstition”.

But the night in which “Somos Libres” was recorded, playing solo was big news for me. And the show was recorded almost by coincidence. Look, come to think of it now I remember the days of the Walkman. One of the many recordings I had –and it’s funny now to think of it– was of the first time Kiko Veneno played in South America. That was about fifteen years ago. When he came a second time we did all the things we did together. But back then, I went to Buenos Aires to see him with some friends, and we recorded the whole show using a Walkman. And we listened to that recording for ages. The sound quality was appalling, we could listen to ourselves singing over the music. But there was a kind of magic there. And I think “Somos Libres” sort of captured that as well. I was adamant to listening to it, but they insisted. And when I finally did, I found there was something special in there.

I also think that since it was the first time I had played like that, the album was more spontaneous. It was more rustic. Now it’s different , I have done it once more. The album was played live at the Solis Theatre. It’s got more of a script.

(Ph: Joaquina Rijo)

   Is that the inherent tension of “Somos Libres”? The fact of trying to conjure again what was done live in a “new” live set that can never be truly free from what happened before? A bit like a partial detachment which aims at a new whole?

You can see it in such a way. I see it like a sock you can turn inside out, and keep on wearing. But what’s really important is to keep on walking down the thoroughfares of music, which are infinite in themselves. You know you will never exhaust them, but it’s nice to try and get as away from you as you can by playing in different contexts. You will learn something new in the process. You’ll expand yourself, just like the elastic man. But you’ll always be the same.

(Ph: Joaquina Rijo)


And now, you’re going to play at Periscopio, a space which is substantially smaller and almost no historical tradition when pitted against the Solis Theatre.

I think this is a very interesting album to play live. What I try to do is to summon back the mood and the atmosphere of the day it was originally recorded. But that doesn’t mean I have to play the very same songs again every single time. No, I can always play other songs. And the simple fact of me playing with my guitar on my own means I’m in a position to do it all over again. It’s a bit like saying “come with me, I’ll lead this steamship down a different way”.

And I also like the dichotomy you’re talking about. I like going from a place as solemn and luxurious as the Solis Theatre to a venue that is as small and more limited in terms of seats. That’s where albums like this one come from, there’s a strong parallelism between Periscopio and the Café Vinilo in Buenos Aires, the venue in which “Somos Libres” was originally recorded. Both are very warm and small places, where you can get a very neat sound overall.

Do you think you will include new covers? How would they relate to the ones you had originally featured on “Somos Libres”?

Every single thing you do says something about you. The covers I chose the first time around were not picked because I wanted songs that showcased my tastes, thoughts or trajectory. But they did so anyway.

For example, there’s this song by Mateo and my dad which is like written in my blood history. There’s also a song by an American artist which is mostly unknown called Jonathan Richman, with a strong a poetic sense that I can easily relate to. And there’s a song by Mandrake Wolf, a colleague I have played with. When I was in Argentina, I made a point to play songs by someone who is alive and playing nowadays. Because artists like El Príncipe and Cabrera already have their own cults over there. And I said to myself, “I’m going to play a song by someone that I think is ace, and who is not really well-known here”. Yet, there was no plan at all. My feelings were the script. And you must also bear in mind that these things you enjoy doing are the ones you’ll always do best.

Will the poems of your father be part of the set once more?

I was thinking about omitting that bit from the set, in which I look back into my father’s work. But I was talking to Macachín [the poet who helped compile the book “Mojos”] the other day, and he told me this edition of the book has almost run out. There’s just ten left. And I took that as a sort of signal, because it’s the final show of the year. And I thought to myself, “I will include the poems once more, as a closure”. So, this this will be the final time I will include the book in the set until a new edition is out. I think it makes just perfect sense.

(Ph: Joaquina Rijo)

Going back to the question about playing multiple instruments, could that be linked to the belief that a painter’s brush consumes his dreams, and that’s why it’s necessary to have several brushes? So that a dream is always kept alive, and we have a force out there bringing us back right here?

You could say so, but at the same time this album is the only proof you need that you need nothing more. It’s like a force of nature, and it’s the way in which everything makes perfect sense. There are musicians who always play the same stuff, and that’s just fine. There are filmmakers who always shoot the same movies, and that’s alright. In this day and age, the searching in itself is always laudable. But what really matters is the place you arrive at, and what you end up sharing with others. I’ve been like that ever since I was a child. I loved compositions with a plethora of instruments. But (at the same time) I came to realize that it can all be brought under an acoustic guitar. And the next album I make will probably be done using lots of other colours, picked from a much broader palette. But not because the six strings of a guitar are not enough.

Is there such a thing as artistic movements? Or are these simple ways of making different ages come alive, and cover them with a sort of cloak that when all is said and done have no real transcendence?

Yes, there are artistic movements. But they are nothing but echoes. Art itself is like a cliff, and every now and then everything comes back. You are fascinated by things that have direct links with the past. It’s something eternal. You are captivated by surrealism, with things that Yoko Ono did before, and which someone else did even earlier. It all comes back, like these prophets that surface time after time. They all come from the very same magma.

And is there any movement you feel you are part of, or that you don’t mind being associated with?

What I identify myself with is an attitude. The elements come after that, and they are of no consequence. I mean, I can relate to a musician who doesn’t use the same elements I use. The connection is grounded on the subjective idea that someone sees the world (and stand in front of it) in a way that’s similar to mine, and which makes me feel that I understand what he’s talking about. And that can be achieved by a bloke in Pakistan playing a , or an electronic musician who is eighteen years old. Or an old fellow who died long before I was born, and who played folk music, and whose sogs make me think that he saw the world in the very same terms I did. Which is not that unlikely, you know – nobody is that strange or peculiar after all.

As Oscar Wilde used to say, “There’s not such a thing as a thing that doesn’t resemble anything else”.

Exactly. And that’s why you have people who relates to the songs I write, and that’s why I relate to other people’s songs. You just have to look for such people, some will be your friends, and in other cases it will all be a sort of link with people who are long gone and dead. And who keep on talking through their music, and touching all of us.

What’s the aim and purpose of art nowadays? Should it evince an emotion, or should it perturb the audience? Or both?

An emotion is a kind of perturbation. I think both go hand in hand. An emotion is something that stirs your soul up.

And what should an artist and his audience aim at? Which feelings should the two of them build up together?

Well, I think the aim is a little more egoistic. I think the altruistic part comes afterwards, when it dawns on you that these things you are creating are of interest to others, and they are worth sharing. Which is not always the case, and that’s why there are artistic works that are not meant to be replicated live.

Something which happens a lot to me is that people afterwards come and tell me about the inspiration drive they find in what I do. It makes them do things, and not strictly music. That’s beautiful, and it happens to me as well. It happens with other artists, with painters, sculptors, dancers… and that’s just great. It’s a big pleasure to be part of such a circle, to be able to give and take like that. Because I know that feeling. As time goes by, you start going out less. Yet, every time I go out and see a quality work (inasmuch it has depth, and a sense of purpose) I am inspired. And I feel myself thinking, “I’m glad I came to see this”.

And I’m not just talking about music. I love contemporary dance, I love going to plays… And whenever I see something which is powerful and moving, I sit down and write a song. That’s divine, and I’m thankful for such a feeling.

Just the other day, Diego Drexler told me “what’s good is at odds with perfection”.

Exactly, perfection is something which offends the Gods. And as far as music goes, I’m extremely aware I’m just a beginner. With an album or a song, I’m satisfied when I feel I’ve come to a new place. An album or a song might not be perfect, but it can still reach out to a lot of people. And that’s what matters in the end.

And to get there, you must be distracted. You must create and foster a place which is error-prone. You must use your knowledge and concepts to build up a trap for errors. You must lure this thing that catches you unaware in, and trap it right there.

You sing, “If In Doubt, Do”. And once you’ve done, what’s next?

[Laughs] Do more, and more. And keep on doing things. Never be afraid of that. Doing is the way for being. You learn, and it’s not the kind of knowledge that will take you somewhere and leave you there. A live show or a recorded CD is only going to be a milestone. “The reward is in the path itself”, as they say. It’s the process which matters.

Music is what makes us different from all other species. It’s like a lockpick that man created to open the door towards something which is deeper, and higher. Music and art on the whole can do that. They can take you there. And love itself too, of course.

The next Saturday, Martín played a sold-out show at Periscopio. The set included all the highlights from the album, and the most noteworthy cover was “Siempre Son Dos” by Eduardo Mateo – a fan who won tickets for the show got the chance to request a song, and that was her choice. As Martín had pointed out on the interview, it was a matter of conjuring the same mood and atmosphere again. And seeing him do it all over again with such joy and confidence, I couldn’t help but agree with what he had told me: everything can be brought under the six strings of a guitar, no matter where.

And that when a performer puts himself in the position to let it happen, there´s always a higher power somewhere that will steer the course of the show.