Alumnus brings Buenos Aires to the Bay Area with tango music

When Debora Simcovich visited Buenos Aires four years ago, she wasn’t looking for anyone to perform her tango compositions, but a chance encounter with famed Argentinian orchestra Orquesta Victoria led to their current collaboration. Now they are travelling throughout the Bay Area on their “El Mundo is the World” tour, performing Simcovich’s tango compositions from her new album.

Though Simcovich was born in Buenos Aires, she has been living in San Francisco since the mid 80’s. She studied spanish language and literature at SF State and stayed on as a lecturer for six semesters after she graduated in 1994.

“I was a lecturer while I was finishing my master’s degree at State, but I left after that because I was looking for full-time work and they weren’t offering that,” Simcovich said.

Simcovich has been writing poetry since she was a teenager, and until recently, was unaware that her work would evolve into tango lyrics and compositions. Her songs, which she says are influenced by everything around her, can come to her at any moment.

“I don’t look for it, it just happens. I listen to that inner voice,” Simcovich said. “I will stop everything and listen to a thought because you never know, it could be something that unwinds, like a spool or a thread, into a song.”

According to Simcovich, finding new material in tango music is difficult and finding new composers is uncommon. So when she met Orquestra Victoria while visiting a music hall in Buenas Aires, they jumped at the chance to work with one another.  

Joseph Ostos, a physics major and a lifelong musician, was excited to hear about her work and how prominent her music has become.

“Tango music is the foundation for a lot of genres, it’s pretty cool that she’s able to bring new light to an older artform,” Ostos said. “It’s also encouraging to hear about something from this school becoming so successful, especially in the arts.”

Working with Orquesta Victoria has been very rewarding for Simcovich. The 12-piece tango orchestra is well-established in the tango music community and their world tours have made them a name known worldwide. Simcovich said she has great respect and admiration for the group.

“They are very connected on stage,” she said. “There’s lots of interaction between them, and I can tell there’s a unity about them. It makes a great sound.”

Orquesta Victoria was also interested in Simcovich because of her role as a female tango composer. Tango music is primarily male-dominated with the majority of lyricists, arrangers and composers being men. As a woman in this field, Simcovich often encounters resistance and skepticism.

“You don’t have to rely on what men decide is good and bad,” Simcovich said. “It’s important to validate any woman who wants to do something that’s dominated by men.”

According to Ostos, it’s rare to hear success stories about former students succeeding in the arts, which makes Simcovich’s story is an inspiration for students who hope to make their art into a career.

21-year-old Trevor Phillips is an anthropology major, but he dreams of doing theater professionally someday. Though he isn’t a musician, he still draws hope from Simcovich’s story.

“I feel like I’m constantly hearing stories about people having to struggle so much to do what they love, it’s really discouraging,” Phillips said. “I switched my major from theater to anthro because I thought it was a smarter idea, but hearing stories like this make me want to keep trying.”

For Simcovich, this tour with Orquesta Victoria is only the beginning. She wants to continue writing and composing. She aspires to help tango music reach a wider, more mainstream audience and ultimately create music that will last beyond a lifetime.

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