Che Malambo reinvigorates the legacy of South American dance

Karsyn Lemmons

Dusting off the style of traditional Malambo dance, dance group Che Malambo will soon be presenting their rich culture and heritage in a theater near you.

Malambo dance originated in South America among the nomadic and solitary Argentinian gauchos, or traveling cowboys of South America. On the occasions that these men would gather, whether it be at trading posts or campsites, Malambo was a way to assert themselves while also developing a connection with whomever they had encountered. Matthew Bledsoe, managing director of Che Malambo, further expands on the history of Malambo dance.

“Malambo is the dance of the South American cowboy,” Bledsoe said. “And it was normally this duel between two men focusing on technique, power and stamina.”

For anyone unfamiliar with Che Malambo’s performances, Bledsoe provides a quick overview of how the show unfolds.

“There’s no storyline or narrative,” Bledsoe said. “But there is an arc. It begins with establishing your own ground and then ultimately everyone celebrates together.”

Che Malambo made its debut in 2007. At the time, they performed mostly in France, the home of Gilles Brinas. Since then, the group has expanded its popularity and entertained audiences in approximately 150 countries over the past three years. Bledsoe said that Che Malambo will be spending most of their tour dates in the northern hemisphere in the coming months. Che Malambo will perform March 27 at Bass Concert Hall, where UT students can receive a discounted ticket.

But Che Malambo isn’t your tradition Malambo-style dance. Artistic director Gilles Brinas has taken the art form and added his own twist with added choreography and different rhymes to create the Malambo of today.  

Bledsoe described this new Malambo as a “melting pot,” elaborating on how different cultures from around the world molded Malambo dance into what it is today.

“At first, the dance was almost barefoot except for thin foot coverings,” Bledsoe said. “Because of this, the dance was soft. When the Spaniards arrived, they brought the boots and the drums come from West Africa. Immigrants from Ireland added the element of high kicks and high knees.”

In their performances, Che Malambo introduce a number of tools used by South American gauchos hundreds of years ago. One tool is the boleadoras, similar to a lasso, made of braided leather with a stone attached at the end. Long ago, gauchos would use these to hunt their prey, but today they’re an exciting apparatus employed to thrill the audience. Bledsoe also explains how the drums used in Che Malambo’s performances are different from how a traditional drum may appear and sound.

“Usually whenever you see a drum, it’s a smooth leather,” Bledsoe said. “But they use sheep’s skin with fur and it makes for a stronger, deeper sound. The origins of these drums are in West Africa, where they were carved from a special wood that grew on the riverbank.”

“At the moment, Che Malambo is on their seven-week tour of North America,” Bledsoe said. “After that they will take a small break, then tour in Europe for the summer.”

For Argentinian artists, Malambo is not something that stops when the stage lights dim and the curtains close. Many of these performers learned Malambo from their families and ancestors passed down the dance for generations. Because of this, Bledsoe said the dancers are proud to share their passion and their culture with audiences worldwide.

“(The dancers) learned Malambo as kids and it’s part of their culture,” Bledsoe said. “Malambo is not music, it’s not dance, it’s a lifestyle. This is the Malambo of today and it’s a huge honor for these guys to share this.”