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Playlist: Argentina

Compiled By: Olivia Weitz

Caption: PRX default Playlist image
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Joe Powers - Master of the Tango Harmonica

From Anny Celsi | 07:16

Most people think of the harmonica as a pastime for cowboys, or the go-to instrument for blues aficianados. But in Joe Powers' hands, the humble harmonica perfectly expresses the passion of Argentine tango.


At age two, Joe Powers received a Christmas gift that set him on a lifelong journey: his first harmonica. “Most of the time, when you give a kid a harmonica, you don't really expect them to dedicate their life to it,” says Powers.  “You kinda expect them to slobber on it, huff and puff a little bit, and then lose it somewhere. But actually, I just kept playing it.” 

While other teens were practicing guitar licks or piano scales, Powers continued to develop his harmonica chops, playing in blues and rock bands and exploring classical music as well.  Then, as a music student at the University of Oregon, he discovered another passion.  “My junior year, I got into dancing. And eventually that led to Argentine tango, and I got hooked on the music.” 

Upon graduating, Powers promptly moved to Buenos Aires to pursue tango dancing.   His two passions came together when a friend introduced him to the music of tango master Hugo Díaz.  Díaz’ records, mostly recorded in the  1960’s and 70’s, weren’t easy to find.  “I went to five different music stores trying to find a CD,” remembers Powers.  “And the only thing I could come up with was a cassette tape - and I didn't have a cassette player, so I had to borrow one.”  

Powers was so inspired by what he heard that he started a tango band of his own, one that featured his harmonica playing.  As he found, the harmonica is uniquely suited to express the musical passion of tango.  “The harmonica can bend pitches,” much like a voice, as Powers demonstrates.  “You can take a pitch on the harmonica and you can make it wail, you can make it cry.

Powers eventually returned to Buenos Aires to record an album of tango music, Amor de Tango, with members of the Leopodo Federico Tango Orchestra, Horacio Cabarcos, Raul Luzzi and Latin Grammy nominated pianist Nicolas Ledesma.  Now 36, Powers travels the world playing with classical orchestras, jazz and blues bands, Japanese koto groups and, on one occasion, ten grand pianos at once. 


“Playing for symphony orchestras – there’s nothing like being backed up by a hundred musicians. The power, the energy that creates,” says Powers.  But he also thrives on the intimacy of playing to a roomful of dancing couples.  “I like to look out and see everybody dancing, immersed in the music. That's one of the things I really enjoy about this, is connecting with the audience. I like to share the energy of tango with people. And it comes back. That's what it's all about, for me.”

What's Cooking? Barbeque in Argentina

From World Vision Report | 03:34

In Argentina, construction workers have a special tradition. After a long week of hard work, they have a barbeque every Saturday.  Reporter Marcos Federman recently crashed one in a small town 30 miles north of Buenos Aires.

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