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World Music Features

Federico Aubele

By Tad Hendrickson
Published January 17, 2008

Travel is an ongoing theme for Argentinean songwriter Federico Aubele, whose Panamericana is named after the famed highway that stretches from Alaska to the tip of Argentina. Not only does he let everything he comes across influence his music, but he spins it all into a rich, sexy tapestry that jibes perfectly with the ultra-hip Eighteenth Century Lounge label headed by Thievery Corporation. GR catches up with Aubele to get to the bottom of his travel bug.

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Federico Aubele’s music seems to conjure sounds of a perfect world—a cosmopolitan place where dreamy dub meshes with lounge music’s gentle sway, and spikey bandoneón tango melodies dance to the rhythm of Spanish guitar strumming. Some of his songs have sensual vocals, while others are richly detailed instrumental tapestries. It’s a small world to be sure, but one where each country is worth an extended visit.

Sitting down to talk during a break from the rabid networking that went on at this year’s Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, Aubele offers long and thoughtful answers to questions about his brand new album this is, after all, the same artist who created an equally intelligent and luxuriously rich-sounding disc before this one. With such a hip, global and universally seductive sound, it’s no surprise that Aubele’s music has been released by Thievery Corporation’s über-sexy Eighteenth Street Lounge record label (Thievery’s Eric Hilton even produced both albums). And while Panamericana boasts such guests as Calexico, the horn section from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and several talented singers—including Amparo Sanchez of Amparanoia, Columbian chanteuse Vernie Varela, and regular backing vocalist Natalia Clavier—it’s clearly Aubele’s traveling show.

Born in Argentina of German-heritage parents, Aubele left Buenos Aires in 2002, living first in Berlin and then Barcelona over the next four years. He’s now happily returned home while still spending chunks of time in Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, he still sees his initial time away as an inspiration. “I wanted to go live outside of Buenos Aires for a while just to have the experience,” he explains. “Even though the world is a lot more connected than in the past, it’s still better to just go to places and see things—like really see them, and see how people live in other places. You get a much wider impression of the world. And then you realize that it’s like that in every aspect of your life, and if you’re an artist you get a lot from that. You see how other musicians are playing, how people play in a different place—even how the music business is organized in different places. Jorge Luis Borges, the writer, said once that ‘a writer is what he reads,’ and a musician is pretty much what he listens to.”

Leaving the hotel and hitting the road, Aubele has followed up 2003’s Gran Hotel Buenos Aires with 2007’s Panamericana, whose title is inspired by the Pan-American Highway—the famed (and slightly incomplete) 29,800-mile route that winds from Fairbanks, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. The idea for the title of the newalbum seemed apt because Aubele realized that a lot of his influences are spread throughout the Americas, but in reality, his all-American-and-then-some mix makes it tricky to classify his sound. Even he’s worried about it, insisting that his music fits just as easily among electronic (where it usually lands because of Eighteenth Street’s reputation), Latin (all his lyrics are in Spanish) and world music genres. To make matters more complicated, Aubele’s writing is more song-based—as opposed to groove-based—this time around, which further distances him from the ESL label’s reputation as a purveyor of cool electrolounge “vibe” music.

Aubele’s own feelings about electronic music and technology are ambivalent but pragmatic. “You know, it’s just there’s this whole thing with electronic music this and that,” he says, “and to me, it’s just one more tool to make music. You can use electronic resources to do certain arrangements, and that’s fine, but I’m not a huge fan of orthodox traditional electronic music.”

While the