Ábalos, A Five Brothers Tale is a documentary by Josefina Zavalía Ábalos and Pablo Noé that draws us closer to this band, the Ábalos Brothers, essential in the Argentine musicsphere. Centered in “Vitillo” Ábalos, the film is a sentimental manifesto and an emotional homage paid to this very particular figure.
How did Ábalos, A Five Brothers Tale start developing?
It started developing after a long trip in which memories from my childhood associated to this story started coming to my mind. I was born in the house that became “El Estudio de Arte Nativo de Los Hermanos Abalos” (The Ábalos Brothers’ Native Art Studio). It was called “El Club de la Llave” (The Key Club), then. It came before Achalay. They would leave the key at the corner café and you could go and have some vermouth over there, play chacareras on the piano with Adolfo, learn about Santiago's legends with my grandfather, Roberto, or about the bombo with Vitillo, about dancing with Michingo and guitar chords with Machaco. The Ábalos taught a whole generation how to dance and they would promote folklore music as they knew it, in a city like the Buenos Aires of the 40’s, where that genre was virtually unknown. In 2005 we went to see Vitillo play when he was barely starting his solo career. When I saw his energy and vitality I understood we had to tell his story.
The history of the band is closely associated to cinema. In fact, they became popular in 1942, after making an appearance in The Gaucho War by Lucas Demare, interpreting their Carnavalito quebradeño. What do you think the audience is going to see this time in this cinematographic registry?
The history of Los Ábalos is closely associated to cinema and to this Festival as well, because they were invited to play live in its first edition in the 50's. For us, presenting this film in that context is still a very curious experience, specially now that we rely on Vitillo's presence. He takes us from one place to the other with his bombo legüero. Let's hope the name of the band is still heard, it's music is resignifed, their songs are still played, that the new generations listen to them. We are keen on transmitting the sound texture Los Ábalos got in contact with in Santiago's mount, previous to the 60's boom, when folklore was almost countercultural in Buenos Aires. They promoted it as a mantra at everywhere in the world.
How was the experience of approaching the figure of Vitillo from a familiar and documentary look like?
It's hard to draw a line between one and the other. I tried to walk that blurred line. Between the love that fed this project through the years and the necessary distance to transcend the familiar circle, trying to constantly come back to Vitillo and his perspective, because, actually I met him through his project. It's easy to be on his side. He’s a generous, dynamic man with a prodigious memory who dares it all, who is opened to new experiences. In the film, we try to show his most human side, his vitality, his joy of living. Vitillo is like a kid and he moves as such. For him, recording his radio audition is as important as being the star of Roger Waters’ music video. He shows the same passion and the same dedication. Our idea was not to tell a biography or to make a documentary full of interviews. We saw in him great potential for action. That was how we draw his portrait. Starting today and going backwards. And his four brothers, Machingo, Adolfo, Roberto y Machaco, are constantly there.
On the film, we see some encounters with figures you wouldn't instantly associate to the folklore world. We see Vitillo playing the bombo with Roger Waters or improvising next to Jimmy Rip, a blues guitar player. What can you tell us about those musical crosses?
Although Los Avalos are labeled as belonging to a traditional style, we were excited about the idea of exploring a more playful, experimental musical proposal. Vitillo told us that, while playing in Karachi, Pakistan, the Harlem or Japan, he felt at home. That everything is part of the same entity. That music is a single entity. In the record, as well as in the film, we tried to experiment with this idea. The trigger was wondering what is happening to music as a language, beyond genres. These musical encounters, somehow, do nothing but show us there actually is a single entity. What happened with Jimmy Rip was lovely. They started playing as if they knew each other. Vidala and blues are in complete synchrony. It's the same landscape, the same spirit.
The film is accompanied by a multimedia project that includes a television series and an album recording. How was the experience of working in the material selection for these different formats?
Our initial motivation was promoting Los Abalos music. We started seeing different facets of the history of the band that could be reflected in every format. That is why we always saw it as a comprehensive multimedia project that is not confined to the film, although a long, hard era finishes here. The music made up “El Disco de Oro-Folclore de 1940”. The record was the most obvious thing as regards format, but it was innovative for the history of the band, given that Los Abalos, as a band, never played with artists of other genres. Both the version of Los Abalos’ repertoire and original phonograms make up this double album produced by my cousin, Juan Gigena Abalos, which had wonderful repercussions. All of this recording sessions and the new doors that begun opening were registered and that was how micro-documentaries were born, where we addressed the origin of ten iconic songs by Los Abalos. We slowly found the plot, the sketch, the shape, very close to the original idea.
ScreeningsToday, Wed 22, 12.10 pm AMB3Thu 23, 8.00 pm AMB3