If you go to the London tango festival this weekend, you may just be able to hear, over the swell of squeezeboxes and the tattoo of high heels, the sound of past masters turning in their graves. There are unconfirmed reports that work on Billy Elliot II has come to a virtual standstill and Angela Rippon is not returning her calls. Howling tots in tutus are being comforted by their mothers in front of terse notices explaining that Madam is indisposed with a migraine. The cause of this turmoil is a bunch of musicians who have the temerity to mix the passionate refrains of the tango with the beats enjoyed by today's clubbers.
On paper, the music of the Gotan Project looks like a fusion too far. Introducing the most intense of South American melodies to the dance floor has all the cross-cultural appeal of an Amish polka interpreted by Gareth Gates. But before the entire hoofing industry is shut down by a mass flounce, a word in defence of the Gotan Project. The curious name, by the way, is "tango" rendered in the backslang or street argot of Buenos Aires. You might think that the people of Argentina have suffered enough without someone mucking about with their national step. But the band features Argentine troubadours who are revered by their countrymen, albeit from afar. The musicians fled the former juntas to live in Europe. Their debut platter, La Revancha del Tango ("Revenge of Tango", on the !Ya Basta! label) might not be considered political in the way that a Dylan or even a Billy Bragg offering would be. But it includes tracks such as "El capitalismo foraneo" (foreign capitalism), a timely theme following the misfortunes of the Argentine economy. Compared with the common or garden dance disc, La Revancha del Tango is "The Red Flag". When the Gotan Project pens a song entitled "Queremos paz", the peace they're referring to isn't what's available in a chillout room.
Besides, for all the poses that aficionados of tango like to strike, it's as much of a mongrel as house music. Its true origins are probably Cuban: Borges called Havana "the mother of tango". And although its most celebrated exponent, Carlos Gardel, was an Argentine national, he was born in France, which is where the Gotan Project is based. The Gotan Project isn't at the official tango festivities, though a sell-out concert in London earlier this month turned into a one-night festival fringe, with dancers joining the band on stage. It will be left to the celebrated El Arranque orchestra to supply a traditional accompaniment to 20 of the world's leading interpreters of tango argentino. As well as performances, there will be workshops for dancers of all abilities. On one point, at least, all tango fans are agreed: the erotic charge of the step.
Details of the Fourth London Tango Festival (14-17 November) from www.tangofestival.co.uk