It could only happen in Valencia; a French cellist of Algerian origin, an American double bass player from a military family and an Argentinian viola player all come to Valencia to form part of the Valencia Opera Orchestra, and end up forming a musical trio playing tangos with jazz and soul influences.
Well, I suppose it could happen in a lot of other places, but the fact is it happened and is happening here, in Valencia where the Arabs brought irrigation and the Chinese silk trade delivered rice and citrus fruits; all of which, inevitably, the Valencians have transformed into something recognisably indigenous and European..
Matt Baker was born in Maine but as his father was in the US Forces he travelled a lot, including a couple of years in New York, ending up in Iowa, a field of corny dreams.
In 1999 he moved to Manchester England, England, across the Atlantic Sea, where he met his wife to be, Alex, a percussionist and photographer from Bournemouth.
He studied and worked at both the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Academy in London before accepting an offer to join the Valencia Opera Orchestra in 2006. He is also a Professor at the Conservatorio Superior de Valencia
As well as playing classical and opera music, Matt pursued his interest in jazz, playing in clubs all over Britain when not strumming Verdi in the orchestra pit.
Although he plays viola in the orchestra, Javier Cárdenas didn’t start playing that instrument until he was 27. Before that he taught himself to play the guitar and violin in his native Buenos Aires.
He lived and played all over the American continent, including four years in Bolivia and in Pittsburg, where he did an MA. He has played for the Congress Chamber Orchestra, Salta Symphony Orchestra, Colon Theatre Youth Orchestra and Colon Theatre Opera House, as well as holding the position of principal viola of the Jeunesses Musicales World. He also spent some time in Switzerland before accepting the Valencia offer in 2006.
Javier and Matt found common interests with each other outside of orchestra hours through their passions for tango and jazz, and began fusing the two musical elements in jamming sessions which later became public performances under the name ‘Diablito Tango’.
Two years later in 2008, Nesrine Belmokh joined the orchestra, which is a veritable Tower of Babel, with musicians from Russia, Germany, Rumania, Moldavia, China and Japan among other countries.
Nesrine’s well kept secret was that she had had a lot of singing experience. Born in Douai in northern France to French-Algerian parents, at the age of seven she would sing to anyone who would listen, and later when the family moved to Marseilles she sang the solos in a gospel choir, although she also enjoyed soul. In 2004 she formed her own ensemble, ‘MAY’, in Lyon, combining soul and jazz.
One day she decided to give a friend in Valencia a very special birthday present; to sing her an accapella jazz song.
Javier was at the party and was “amazed” at the quality of her voice, and so in January 2010 at the Rivendale bar, near the Public Library (which was originally Europe’s first mental asylum in fact although that is probably coincidence), she joined the duo on stage for the song ‘Nostalgias’ and the duo became a trio, playing jazz and soul influenced traditional tangos with only a double bass and ‘bandoneon’, a kind of concertina, for accompaniment.
‘Nostalgias’ is one of 15 songs on their first CD, which they proudly acclaim to be a wholly ‘Made in Valencia’ product, with photos and art work by Matt’s wife Alex. Among the numbers is their own version of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s pop classic ‘Alone again, naturally’, and Robert Johnson‘s blues classic ‘Come on in my Kitchen’, which inevitably meant shooting the photos in Nesrine’s.
Now don’t get me wrong, Matt and Javier are good looking guys, but it is the smouldering awesomeness of Nesrine that attracts the visual attention of their audiences and make them something special from a commercial point of view. Their audiences have in fact been increasing significantly and they have been and are returning across the seas to their origins, with concert tours in the United States in 2012 and further ones planned for France in June 2013 and Scotland in the summer of 2013.
Their next concert however takes place in Valencia on Thursday June 13th in the Teatre Carmen as part of the Pànic Escènic festival, where for the first time they will share the stage with dancers.
A further cd is planned for the winter of 2013/4 and if things carry on this way, these creators of what Nesrine describes as “strange but charming” music may have to bow to popular demand and abandon the Tower of Babel, whose orchestra has already fallen in number from 92 to 54 because of the economic crisis.