Argentina vs. Uruguay: Instrumental Interpretations of Football

by | May 26, 2018

Argentina vs. Uruguay: Instrumental Interpretations of Football
Gustavo Casenave & Dario Boente

Liner Notes
By Kabir Sehgal

There may not be anything taken more seriously than football in Argentina and Uruguay. The role that this game plays in these countries may rival only that of religion, as devotional fans take pride in their national teams. When their squads win, pride and joy animate the supporters. When their teams lose, sadness and even pain grip the true believers. In 2018, these feelings will swell as the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia on June 14. Both Argentina and Uruguay have storied traditions in World Cup football, as each has won the World Cup twice (Argentina, 1978 and 1986; Uruguay, 1930 and 1950). What is more, given that the two countries share a continent let alone a border of 579 kilometers, there is an intense rivalry. The national teams have faced each other 193 times since 1901 with 89 wins for Argentina, 45 for Uruguay, and 45 draws. For this summer’s World Cup, Argentina and Uruguay are in different initial groupings and will have to perform well in order to face each other – it’s a prospect that many are hoping for, including two talented pianists.

Gustavo Casenave is an acclaimed, multi-Latin Grammy nominated pianist, composer, and arranger who hails from Montevideo, Uruguay. His counterpart Dario Boente is a virtuosic pianist, composer, producer, and arranger in his own right, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Though both are now immigrants living in New York, they revere their native cultures and traditions. And when it comes to football, they are ardent followers of their national teams. As for selecting a project to work on for 2018, one inspired by football was an obvious choice. “Football isn’t just a sport,” says Boente. “Like music, it’s an art form. The players are musicians, and the coach is the conductor. Both football and music take discipline, skill, planning, inspiration, and emotions. They both have the same objective – to unleash passions in the audience.”

And so the match was set. On a wintery day in a recording studio in Queens, New York, a few friends and family members gathered to watch Argentina vs. Uruguay, Boente vs. Casenave. Both pianists wore their team’s national jerseys and took turns manifesting their respective and sublime compositions on the piano – eleven tracks overall (to equal the eleven players on a football team), five tunes written and performed by the Uruguayan, and five by the Argentinian, with one tantalizing duet. It should be noted that the production crew was also part of the festivities, wearing their national team jerseys (Cuba and USA), while blowing whistles and occasionally displaying a yellow card (yes, really) when a wrong note was played, and a red card when the jokes got particularly salty. We had fun. And that was really the point.

“The making of this album is the opposite of what our title suggests. It wasn’t Argentina vs. Uruguay but two countries and friends meeting each other and making music in the spirit of camaraderie,” says Casenave. “What seemed at the beginning to be a competition and challenge became true teamwork. Everyone in the studio grew together and we had an exciting and amusing experience.” (Gustavo’s comment may deserve a yellow card for sappiness, but he makes a good point!)

El Primer Mundial Inspired by Hector Scarone (El Gardel del Futbol)
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)

“El primer mundial” refers to the First World Cup in 1930 which took place in Casenave’s birthplace of Montevideo. The final match pitted Argentina against Uruguay, and the home team won and became the champion. One of the stars on the Uruguayan team was Hector Scarone, considered a legend among his countrymen. Casenave began the piece by writing an anthem to represent the tradition of playing national anthems from each team’s country before a match begins. The piece evolves into an energetic number that symbolizes the start of the game, followed by an ambiguous passage that represents the game itself. A short resolution appears, returning to the initial brisk pace, with an abrupt ending that marks the end of the match. 

Memories Inspired by Mario Alberto Kempes
Dario Boente (composer, piano)

Boente grew up watching one of the most charismatic footballers of the 1970s, Mario Alberto Kempes, so he had to write a piece inspired by this famous athlete. Indeed, the composition reflects the nostalgia and a longing for Boente’s childhood in Buenos Aires. Musically, the piece is based on a simple theme that develops with various harmonies and tonalities, yet the theme always comes back, sending the charge to always come back home, and the mantra to always remember where you’re from. 

Garra Charrua Inspired by Luis Suarez
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)

The first composition that Casenave wrote for this album and its title refers to the Charrúas, the name of the indigenous people of Uruguay during the period of colonization. When it comes to football, the same term describes the passion, drive, and strength that are displayed among the players on the Uruguayan national team. Casenave wrote this piece as an honorific to Luis Suarez who possesses these aforementioned qualities. One of the most famous footballers today, Suarez is the striker for the celebrated Barcelona club. 

Mi Alegria Inspired by Angel Fabian Di Maria
Dario Boente (composer, piano)

Angel Fabian Di Maria is one of the best Argentinian footballers who plays for Ligue 1 team Paris Saint-Germain. He is both an offensive winger and midfielder who possesses phenomenal endurance. When he takes the field, he brings his passion and personality to the game, which gives Boente a feeling of “Mi Alegria” (My joy). “Seeing him play brings me joy,” says Boente. 

This piece is based on a flamenco compás called “Alegrias” that typically has a blissful melody and upbeat rhythm. 

1950 Inspired by Juan Alberto (Pepe) Schiaffino
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)

The year was 1950 and it was the second time that Juan Alberto (Pepe) Schiaffino scored one of the key goals that helped Uruguay win its second World Cup, this time over Brazil. The match was nicknamed “El Maracanazo” or the Maracanã Blow, since the game took place at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It was a terrible and even tragic day in Brazil as some fans committed suicide. Though he wasn’t alive to see it, Casenave grew up in Uruguay hearing stories and watching vintage footage of the game. One of the stars from this match was Schiaffino, so Casenave composed this piece that has elements of tango. “It’s only fitting that I honor one of our national heroes with the national music of my country,” says Casenave.

The Hand of God Inspired by Diego Armando Maradona
Dario Boente (composer, piano)

According to Boente, Maradona is undoubtedly the “best player of all times!” That is because Maradona was a wizard on the football field, who demonstrated a range of emotions while he played. This song refers to the goal he scored in the quarter finals match against England in the 1986 World Cup by using his hands (which is clearly against the rules). After the match, he admitted that he used his hand, saying that he was helped by the “hand of God.” Later in the same match, Maradona scored another goal considered one of the most compelling in football history. The match had symbolic importance, as Argentina felled England in football, four years after Argentina surrendered to the United Kingdom during the Falklands War. In composing this piece, Boente wrote three different sections with unique sounds that transition seamlessly. These disparate parts reflect the emotional range demonstrated by Maradona. Boente’s virtuosity on the keys is a testament to Maradona’s genius on the field.  

Obdulio El Negro Jefe Inspired by Obdulio Varela
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)

Obdulio Varela was the captain for the Uruguayan team that won the 1950 World Cup. A true Uruguayan hero, not only for the national team, but also for Casenave’s preferred local team, Peñarol. His composition starts with a very clear and outspoken melody presented in unison that resembles the voice of the captain, establishing the musical strategy that will ensue. The main theme is ever present throughout the song, leading the direction of the composition. 

Pato Inspired by Ubaldo Fillol
Dario Boente (composer, piano)

Ublado Filliol was the goalkeeper of the Argentinian national team during the 1974, 1978, and 1982 World Cups. He also played the same position on the local football team, River Plate, which Boente rooted for as a child. Fillol was nicknamed “Pato” (which means “duck”) because he would fly through the air to make remarkable stops of incoming shots. Boente composed this song so that it has a buoyant rhythm, like that of a duck bobbing. This piece has a sweet, lyrical melody, with delightful harmonies.  

El Matator Inspired by Edinson Cavani
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)

This tune is based on the folkloric Uruguayan rhythm of candombe that comes to the foreground, after a dreamy introduction. After Gustavo establishes this enticing rhythm, which undulates between uncertainty and determination with an affecting melody, he pierces through the music with a solo that evolves into the final exposition. The piece culminates with a decisive ending. Such resoluteness is a hallmark of Edinson Cavani, who is a Uruguayan icon forward who leads the Paris Saint-Germain team, in Ligue 1. Cavani is noted for evading defenders only to strike assertively, finishing games with triumph.  

Theme for Messi Inspired by Lionel Messi
Dario Boente (composer, piano)

Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in football today and has won five Ballon d’Or awards, which is given to the top player of the year. The melody for this piece came to Boente relatively easy, who tried to make the harmonic elements move with finesse between sections, just like Messi who subtly works his way down the field – and before you know it, he puts the ball in the back of the net. The track is in a minor key, which reflects how difficult it  must be to be the captain of a national team while also playing for Barcelona, with all the responsibilities and pressures that must be on Messi’s shoulders.  

Clásico del Río de la Plata
Gustavo Casenave (composer, piano)
Dario Boente (piano)

After trading “possessions” of solo tracks, the duelers end with a duet. The song title is a reference to the title of every match between Argentina and Uruguay, which share the river, Río de la Plata. To be sure, these countries share more than geographies but histories, cultures, tradition, music (como el tango), families and friends. That the two conclude with this piece is a statement not just on music but friendship, as these two genius musicians present what amity can and should be. The rhythmic and melodic material of this piece is energetic, propulsive, and even enigmatic, rendering a sound that will have you wanting more. If we’re lucky, maybe these maestros will challenge each other to a rematch!

–Kabir Sehgal
Multi-Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winning producer
New York Times bestselling author