By Alberto Paz
From a very early age Vega had two vocations: poetry and music. He chose the latter one. During his life Vega traveled numerous times to the interior provinces and to other Latin American countries like Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay in order to thoroughly study the characteristics of native music, its rhythms and instruments. The documentation he obtained formed the basis of an audiovisual archival and a collection of musical instruments.
In 1944 his study group become the Institute of Native Musicology by decree 32456/44 of president Farrel. In 1948 by decree 20,082/48 signed by president Perón the Institute of Musicology became autonomous under the direction of Carlos Vega. He dedicated the rest of his life to the study of the Argentine and American folklore. He is the author of many books such as “Argentine Dances and songs” (1936), “Creole Songs and dances” (1941), “The pop music of Argentina” (1944), “Panorama of the Argentine pop music” (1944), “South American Music” (1946), “The native and Creole musical instruments of Argentina” (1946), “The song of the troubadours in an integral history of music” (1963) and “The Argentine folkloric songs” (1963) among others.
Having been established that after 1820 the black population began to freely integrate into the porteño society to the point that three generations later actual blacks made out less than 2% of the population, the argument that suggests that the African culture in general and its music in particular was so influential and respected as to have had such a major effect on the decision of the remaining 98% of the population to adopt a popular music as their own, can be counterpointed with the argument Carlos Vega made in an article he wrote for La Prensa in 1932,
“ A song book may be influenced by another as long as there is not a sentimental abyss between them. Even though most of the enslaved Africans didn’t belong to the group of the more primitive cultures, even though many came from African regions influenced by the semitic-kamitic cultures, the imported music they brought along was, with very rare exception, of such rudimentary, original and strange nature, that it was inaccessible to the ears of the white man.
That music could not wake up in the Creoles the natural desire needed for adopting it. Far from finding in the black celebrations appropriate elements suitable for the expression of their own feelings, the Creoles found them so colorful and ridiculous that after their extinction they modernized them in grotesque carnival parodies with drumming and European songs.” –La Prensa, Nov 16, 1932 – Carlos Vega, African songs and dances in the River Plate area.
Still, the remaining question is why illustrious members of the intellectual elite porteña insisted in attaching African references to the tango of beginning of the twentieth century.