Archive for the ‘GUESTS’ Category

What is tango nuevo?   1 comment

What is tango nuevo?

Written by Manuel Gonzalez,
November 2009
Translated and reproduced by Alberto Paz in July 2012
Courtesy of the journal Punto Tango

I have noticed that when most people talk about the nuevo tango, they’re actually referring to electronic tango. Even when people talk about “dancing” tango nuevo, they mean dancing a very open style wearing baggy pants, designer clothing. A style that is more rhythmic than melodic, more attractive than sensible,  using electronic music or other rhythms that hardly qualified as tango .

I base these views, looking particularly at different practicas, and some milongas, where they teach new dance styles that have been flourishing in recent years.

Although I confess that I like and I dance several song by Gotan Project, and some of Narcotango, I must admit that for most people, electronic tango, is quite non-danceable.

On the other hand it is curious how the people who dance the invented  “new tango” style can not blend in other styles of the tango dance, while the other styles though reluctant, mix, live and grow daily in the milongas.

I have already spoken in another note about styles, and I remarked that it is always good to be flexible when you dance with someone who doesn’t dance your same style. But I notice that there is no style more complicated, disconnected and individualistic both physically and musically, than the so called “new tango”. Perhaps this emergence of a new dance is based much more on being seen as cutting-edge, alternative and fashionable than being sensitive or musical. I’m sure that when these boys and girls who dance the nuevo tango get to be in their fifties, they will embrace the more traditional and communicative dance.

But back to the music … what is the Tango Nuevo? In my opinion it does exist, it is growing and it is being created by musicians who compose their own tangos, by others who invent their own style, or put in a distinctive feel to their sound and to classic tangos, without falling for synthesizers, beats , samplers and machines that play recorded sounds.

By contrast, the electronic tango has been around for several years since its inception, and is something that does not evolve, nor does it bring anything new within its style, and everything seems to show a behavior that is more commercial than artistic.

My criticism is not based on whether the electronic music must qualify or not as tango, but in that it is used as a banner to claim “this” is the new tango, when the new tango is much, much more wider, and thankfully, much, much richer than the electronic version.

I would like to start hearing about a “tango nuevo” concept as something that grows and evolves from the traditional tango,  and not like other styles that take advantage of the sound of the bandoneon to continue selling something that already exists.

Perhaps many musicians who already were making electronic music, today choose the tango as a basis for experimentation so they can make free and rare versions to sell a semi-new product.

The tango has always been and will be a bit painful, rough, sensitive and passionate, because that is its essence. The purpose of this note is not to criticize or say that something is or is not.

What I seek is to point out that there are some great musicians playing and creating their own music, composing, arranging and creating variations with much talent, sensitivity and intelligence, keeping the true essence of tango even adding new things, and that’s what we should highlight and proudly name as “Tango Nuevo”

The electronic tango may be liked by many people, but if we must talk about quality and great changes, please let’s go back to Piazzolla and from there to the new fine musicians who are composing, growing and those who are being born today. That’s why in this note I dare to recommend some albums of “Tango Nuevo”, which are well above the electronics, which are played without the need to connect synthesizers, computers or gizmos:

The names of the albums I recommend are between brackets :

Julio Pane Trio: (A las orchestras) In this outstanding album, the trio plays and sounds like an orchestra. Pane has influences from the greats, but with his own texture and style. A luxury.Richard Galliano (French touch) Great French Accordionist plays tango with Piazzollean influences  bringing a new style with French airs of his instrument.

Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro: (Envasado en Origen y Destrucción Masiva) Original and classic Tangos by a traditional orchestra with that has its own sound, strong, violent, passionate and very current. Really excellent.

Walter Hidalgo: (Tanguetnia) A genial kid … He plays the bandoneon, composes and sings!.

Angel Pulice and Ruth Divicenci:  (La Carnada y Tangos nuevos y usados) A beautiful combo. Guitars, Vocals and accordion. Great lyrics, great sensitivity and good taste.

La Chicana: (Ayer Hoy Era Mañana y Tango agazapado) band that has a fresh spirit between rocker, folk and tango.

Astillero: (Tango de Astillero) A rough Tango Orchestra, with lots of force, cruelty and violence in their sound.

El Afronte: (Tango al palo) Orchestra with traditional instruments, but a lot of power.

Buenos Aires Negro: (Turra Vida) A tango band mixed with sounds of Buenos Aires rock and murga. Strange, dark, perhaps far from tango, it has the air of a dirty slum.

El Terceto : (tocatangó) Excellent trio with their own sound, difficult to classify. Mixing jazz, tango and folklore.

Cáceres: (tocatangó) own and others’ compositions, Excellent lyrics, resurrects the black origins of tango and milonga. Sounds like candombe, murga and milonga. Creates a strange phenomenon in the milonga.

Dema y su Orquesta Petitera: (Volumen 1) trio of two guitars and voice. Own compositions, with slang and humor.

And finally, I will not leave out without mentioning one of the greatest exponents of the Tango Nuevo.

Astor Piazzolla” (Suite Troileana, y Mundial 78´)

And I sign off paraphrasing the great Anibal Troilo, “Pichuco” who was asked once if there was a need for new tangos. He replied: There are no old tangos or young tangos… What we have is good tangos or bad tangos.

Note written by Manuel Gonzalez – El Amague Blog
Published in the journal Punto Tango No. 37 – November 2009.

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BUENOS AIRES SR. HIGH   Leave a comment

The competition and envy of the women
By Deby Novitz
It starts in childhood with mothers being jealous of the relationship their daughters have with their fathers. I know. My mother was very jealous of the relationship I had with my dad. She made no bones about it.It gets passed on unless, the child grows up and deals with it.I have always been competitive with one person in my life and that is me. I have always used myself as the meter to do better. Have I ever been competitive with other women? Sure, in the workplace. In relationships with men? No. What for? It seemed futile.I was lucky I realize in many ways to live in the Bay Area. I feel now that I lived in a microcosm in many ways that probably was not representative of the real world. The majority of my time in the Bay Area was spent in technology and around nerds and technoids. The Bay Area in general is a very tolerant place to live.Living in Argentina has opened my eyes to experiences I never dreamed of. Although I considered myself street savvy, I have walked into situations completely blind. The competition between women here is fierce. At times it can be a blood bath. The cat fights are endless. You need to know who really are your friends, and even then, you cannot always be sure.

I have had dates here with men who talk about their daughters as though they are their lovers or their wives. It is nauseating or a little weird. They interrupt dates to take phone calls from their daughters or worse call them. Like dude, you can’t wait to talk to her? You are on a date with me, hello. But they do. They spend all their free time with their daughters, not their sons. They take them shopping, they go to lunch with them, movies.

This being the foundation, it is no wonder, women fight in combat here over the men. They are always looking for that attention. Sure it happens all over the world. I don’t deny that. However, here it is more noticeable. You have the “Comehombres“, the women who will destroy a relationship, just to destroy it. They don’t want your man, they just don’t want you to be happy. They will go after your man behind your back until your relationship is destroyed.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my “amiga” was not my amiga. She was poisoning the well or ruining my relationship with my then boyfriend. My Spanish was not that good then. She would fill his head with nonsense and I was unable to defend myself. He began to lie, became hostile towards me. The relationship became unbearable. I ended it. I had too much self esteem. I confronted both of them. Denial of course. She went on to ruin more relations and my ex, well, he felt stupid for ruining ours. He never apologized. Yet he could not understand why I would not come crawling back.

I have had other so called “amigas” who made it a habit to try and sleep with the boyfriends and husbands of as many women as they could, including those of their friend’s. I was appalled. I would listen as they would justify and invent stories to the circumstances. Some would try to make it public through our tango community as a badge.

I would think silently how low their self-esteem must be to do this. I suppose in their twisted mind they think they are desirable stealing the man of another woman publicly. It is a form of competition and maybe self-hatred, who knows.

I began to realize that whenever I introduced a man I was dating to friend of mine he would disappear. I chalked it up to the way things are here. Then a man I had been dating for awhile stopped calling me. It seemed weird. He stopped answering my calls and my texts. It wasn’t like we were in love but we had a nice friendship. It was strange.

I ran into a mutual friend of ours and finally after a few glasses of champagne he told me. My “amiga” made several advances and one night my special friend took her up on it. He was too ashamed to face me after that. Obviously no relationship or friendship was special enough to this friend, since I realized that she was going after all my men. Chau amiga, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

When I talk to my other women friends, they commiserate. Not all women here are this way. It is probably more so in the tango. Yesterday a friend called to tell me the latest. A women is so jealous of me she is telling the men who dance with me I have AIDS. I am amazed.

She watches me dance and sees the men who dance with me. I had begun to suspect she was doing something. She would go sit at their tables and talk to them. Some of them would never dance with me again. I would wonder, but not enough to ask or talk to them. Some of them didn’t even want to greet me anymore.

It blows me away that someone could be so consumed with jealousy they could do something like that. She has many many more years in the milongas here than I do. That is no reason to spew ugly gossip. If that is the only way you can get a dance, then you are pathetic as a person. This is the side of the tango the tourists do not experience.

When I wrote my blog post about the men, several of my guy friends called me and told me it was not fair, I needed to write about the women. “They are psycho.” said one of my friends. “I refuse to date them, they are a bunch of jealous maniacs.” said another. I was a little put off by their comments because I have some really great women friends here. But I understand what my friends were saying.

When you come from North American culture these kinds of games take you back a little. They seem so juvenile. More like what I did when I was in junior high school, not now as an adult. Calling people names, doing things behind people’s backs to get their boyfriend. Please, how old are we? I thought we got past all this. No wonder I am still single…happily and without jealousy and AIDS. Thank you.

Reprinted with permission of TangoSpam:La Vida Con Deby
The not so secret life of an American woman in Buenos Aires. In 2004 she sold everything she owned to move to Buenos Aires Argentina. She went from being a high powered computer geek to a tango dancing bed and breakfast owner and English teacher. Now she is in her new incarnation as a clothing designer for women selling her original designs in Palermo Soho in Plaza Serrano.

Posted August 2, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in EDITORIAL, GUESTS

THE SCUFFMARK WARS   Leave a comment

by Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff
Copyright @ Clarin, 1999
 

According to Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff, the various styles of dance practiced at the popular milongas in Buenos Aires generate confrontations and polemics between milongueros. Their featured article was published in daily newspaper Clarin on Sunday, August 8, 1999. The translation by Alberto Paz was first posted on the Argentine Tango Open Forum of the Internet.

For ten years, the proliferation of teachers and schools have been modifying the way to dance tango. Although the change is evident, it has heterogeneous forms. As a result of that, there is a new paradigm: today, anyone can dance.

The static postcard of the milongas today, with its colorful mixture of “hip youngsters ” and “old time historical habitues” united in the “ritual” of the dance, is not more than that: a flat image that rarely reveals something more than a repertoire of archetypes. Behind that frozen scene, nevertheless, an unsuspected and burning world exists where the old can be new, the novelty can be obsolete, a simple thing can be difficult, and the excessive is insufficient. And in that, on the other hand, all these values are in permanent change.

In 1989, and in a symptomatic coincidence with the worldwide triumph of the musical review Tango Argentino, the social dance of tango began to rise from the ashes in which it had been almost buried for decades. It is known that throughout these last ten years, the panorama was modified completely.

Today, hundreds of instructors shape thousands of dancers who attend tens of milongas. In order to have an idea, it is enough to take a look at anyone of the specialized publications (El Tangauta, B.A. Tango), or to consider that at a single school  (Estrella-La Viruta) there is an enrollment of six hundred students.

But beyond the numbers factor, the phenomenon of the contemporary milongas marks a historical change in another sense: a new change of direction in the continuous transformation of the styles of dance throughout the century.

What is being favored today on the dance floor? If it is what can be observed with more frequency, one would say that three tendencies are disputing for supremacy: the Urquiza style, the Almagro style and the Naveira style, as the fans know them, – implying a neighborhood, a club and a teacher.

They are not difficult to distinguish. Make yourself comfortable on a stool by the bar and you will see them move over the waxed surface: a couple that advances with long steps, touching the floor as if they are wearing gloves on their feet (Urquiza), is followed by other couple closely embraced and whose short steps adjust synchronously to the beat (Almagro), and behind, a third couple that unfolds all the imaginable variety of figures which the previous couples can do without (Naveira). Adding to that, there will be another couple schooled in the style of Antonio Todaro and belonging to an elite with technical formation, that alternates between the social dancing at the milongas and the professional stage performances.

The fans are simultaneously protagonists and judges of the prevailing tendencies. In some halls, one or another one dominates. But on several pistas the practitioners of different styles mix with each other, they seek each other out, they appraise each other, they admire themselves or they condemn the others. The commentaries can be listened to between the tables, but they can be tracked all the way down to the Internet (currently a Tango list site burns with opinions like: So and so’s dancing, looks like a cowboy with hemorrhoids ).

Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs led the first changes at the beginning of the 90’s. When they reconstructed in their spectacle Tango x 2 elements of style of the popular dance, they revealed to inadvertent eyes of the public, the wealth of the world of the milonga. Then, the halls, and the classes of Antonio Todaro, bricklayer and milonguero, with whom Zotto and Plebs had made their meticulous work of stylistic archaeology, began to fill with new customers.

A little later, Susana Miller began her classes at the traditional Club Almagro. Miller (of academic extraction) associated with Cacho Dante (a veteran aficionado) began from her classes the propagation of which usually is known as the Almagro style – very similar to the typical style of the downtown night clubs of the 40’s. Its less demanding requirements gave access even to those who were less fitted naturally, technically or sensitively. And it quickly put on the dance floor an enormous amount of new fans, generating a true leveling off of the dance.

Right now, the influence that registers greater growth is, perhaps, the one of dancer and teacher Gustavo Naveira. The faithful followers of his method of combination of steps and figures consider it the acme of creative improvisation. The detractors, who detest the way in which the Naveira dancers move around the floor looking for space for their movements, define them as the patrol cars of the dance floor.

Naveira himself affirms: a single person cannot be determining in the evolution of the dance. That’s been happening from the beginning of the tango, and without stop, always because of a conjunction of factors. Now, what is arising is a system of improvisation of an even greater variety of combinations. And these changes are also transferred to the marking techniques to lead the woman.

However, for disc jockey Horacio Godoy the future is in Villa Urquiza. Teachers Vilma Heredia and Gabriel Angió also agree that many young people are focusing their attention to the floor of the old Sunderland Club of Villa Urquiza, where they still can watch the habitues of half century ago. Urquiza is what’s coming,  prophesies Godoy. There is a group of kids that realized that the maximum wealth is there. I am not talking about figures. It’s about the musicality and the quality of the movement. It’s about a wealth of knowledge so subtle and complex that for the ordinary eye is imperceptible.

The trends, in any case, hardly draw along general lines: common characteristics, airs of familiarity. As it has always happened with tango, there are so many ways to dance as there are dancers (it is what highly distinguishes it from almost all other forms of popular social dance). And in the same way, there will be so many opinions on the question as the number of people on the dance floor.

Posted January 9, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in ESSAYS, GUESTS

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DANCE AS LIFE   Leave a comment

DANCE AS LIFE
By Cafe Girl
Published by courtesy of CAFE GIRL CHRONICLES

I used to think my dance lessons were all about timing, steps, musicality, and technique.   Lately I have come to realize that that there’s more too it than that.  The more I dance, the more I learn about life.  According to my teachers – dance is life.

And nowhere was this more apparent than on my recent trip to New Orleans where I managed to squeeze in a two-hour tango lesson with the very elegant, “man in black” – Alberto Paz.   He was gracious and patient, and I immediately felt at ease with him despite the usual stage fright I feel whenever I dance with someone for the fist time.

“There is no test,” he said. “You’re here to learn.”

Lesson #1: “Dance is like life. You have to understand that it’s not about pass/fail; it’s about getting the most out of it.”

Alberto was surprisingly complimentary at what little technique I had managed to pick up in Buenos Aires.  (Ah, me of little faith.)  He liked working with beginners, he explained, because there were few bad habits to correct.

Doubting myself – as usual – I told him that it was his excellent lead and clear direction that enabled me to dance well

Catherine,” he said. “It’s a compliment so take it and just say thank you,” he said.

Lesson #2: Dance is like life. You have to give yourself a little credit.”

I decided that the next time someone paid me a compliment, I would own it.

I would say: “It’s mine. I worked for it.  I deserve it.”

As the lesson progressed, the steps started to feel different – they started to feel “right.”  Alberto’s small tweaks were making a big difference to my comfort level.   But just to be certain, I asked, after a particular sequence of moves, “Is this right?”

He tossed the question back at me, “Does it feel right to you?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I can definitely feel a difference.”

“Then, it’s right,” he said, then added: “Never ask a man his opinion. He’ll never tell you the truth. If you ask him if something looks good, he will always say yes.”

As naive as it sounds, it came as such a revelation that I actually asked Alberto if I could write that piece of wisdom down before I forgot it.

He laughed, put his arm around my shoulders, and gave them an affectionate squeeze . “But you already knew that!” he said.

Lesson #3: “Dance is like life, It’s about how you feel and not how someone else makes you feel.

Probably the hardest lesson of all was just learning to slow down.  Tango, more so than any other dance, requires the dancer to be in the moment, wait, and savor each step. However, I sometimes I approach tango as something “to do” rather than something “to dance.”  I want to make sure I do all of the steps whether I enjoy them or not.

As Alberto so eloquently put it as I rushed through my steps of our last tango together, “Slow down, you always have time to make a step, but once it is made you can never take it back.”

Lesson #4: “Dance is like life. Make every step count!

HOW DID THEY DO IT?   Leave a comment

by Andy Doubt Raiser
London, November 2008

The claims that the population of African origin in Argentina was exterminated in an act of genocide are absurd and they deserve a place next to extraterrestrial kidnappings and the staging of the moon landing in an Arizona undisclosed location, under the heading of looney tunes hoaxes. Currently 10%, around 1.4 million of the population of Buenos Aires has African heritage. In 1810, black and mulatos totaled 9,615 [42% of the population], therefore, in 200 years, the number of individuals with African ancestry in Buenos Aires has gone up 142 times!!!!! This confirms the claims of those who attribute the “disappearance” of blacks to consensual interracial marriages among other things.

The slave trade was made illegal in 1810 with independence from Spain, Then in 1813, came what was known as the “Ley del Vientre”, declaring free anybody who from that day onwards landed on Argentine soil, whether from abroad or from their mother’s womb. Clearly it made no difference to those who were already slaves at the time, who had to wait another 40 years, until slavery itself was made illegal, in the Constitution of 1853 to acquire their freedom.

The Constitution of Argentina, to this day, has a racist foundation: Article 25. “The Federal Government shall encourage European immigration; and may not restrict, limit or burden with any tax whatsoever, the entrance into Argentine territory of foreigners who arrive for the purpose of tilling the soil, improving industries, and introducing and teaching the arts and sciences.” Imagine the audacity of these people wanting to attract laborers, artisans, artists and scientists. What’s next, restrictions to terrorists, or tango teachers like the US and the UK have done?

There is a precedent out there. Domingo Sarmiento, abhorred blacks with their candombe processions because he was painfully aware that white men can’t wave and shimmy. His dream was to populate and civilize like the British Empire and the rising US had done. To that effect he toured extensively both countries to copy their educational system and their immigration policies. Natives and Negroes were systematically eliminated, and Argentina was the success story of genocide, well in front of Custer and the 7th Cavalry, Apartheid and Adolf Hitler. If you think this is absurd wait until I tell you about the yellow fever epidemic.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1871 started in 1871. Biological warfare had already been used against the Indians; indeed, in the first 100 years of their occupation of the Americas, the Spaniards eliminated at least 80% of the native population, with the diseases they brought with them. The authorities encircled the Negro barrios with the army holding hands after releasing a swarm of mosquitoes and mowing down anybody trying to escape with a blunt instrument called the bandoneon, invented by Hitler’s grandfather in a white supremacist region of the Bavarian Empire.

What does this have to do with tango? Probably nothing. The tango doesn’t come from Africa.

With so much persecution, genocide, extermination, chemical warfare, and every known or to be invented methods of extermination used against them, how did the black population find the time to go dancing? With such impossible living conditions how did they manage to develop such a unique and complex choreography? How was it possible to create such a alluring music with their typical drums?

Not only that but how did they manage to impose their cultural preferences to the great majority of Europeans and Creoles who were so busy exterminating them, yet couldn’t help stealing their dance moves and cultural roots instead of using their power and wealth to create something on their own.

How did they do it?

Andy is a fiction writer specializing in the inclusion of fantastic elements in a self-coherent setting where any location of the fantastical element is possible. In addition, he is the European record holder in Conclusion Jumping and Tall Tales category.

Blondes of Buenos Aires   2 comments

Black Roots: What tango and the Rubias de Buenos Aires are Hiding
By El Yanqui Yeff
Buenos Aires, February 1996

Mary, Peggy, Betty, Julie. We are all familiar with the Rubias de New York, the blondes about whom Gardel sang some sixty years ago. I would like to turn our attention to Susana, Libertad, Claudia, Zulema, Rubias de Buenos Aires. I write “rubias“, but what I want to focus on is that they, and many of their compatriots (and the Rubias de New York), are “rubias teñidas“, that is to say, “dyed blondes”. It is not a secret that Susana Gimenez, Libertad Leblanc, Claudia Maradona, and Zulema Menem, to name just a few, owe their blondness not to nature, but to Roberto Giordano, Miguel Romano, or some other porteño hairdresser. The Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin even observed that one of Madonna‘s key qualifications to play Evita was that she, like Evita, was a rubia teñida. There are natural blondes in Buenos Aires, but they are not nearly so numerous as the rubias teñidas. Walk down Calle Cabildo in Belgrano. If you doubt that most of the many rubias you see are teñidas, ask yourself why there are so many more blonde women in Buenos Aires than blond men.

What do these rubias teñidas have to do with tango? The answer, some theories say, is that both try to conceal their black roots. Most of us have heard stories about tango’s uncertain origins that nevertheless involve Afro-Argentines, Afro-Uruguayans, and even Afro-Cubans. Or, we have heard that musicologists recognize a connection between the syncopated rhythms of tango and habanera. Few of us, however, could identify any African elements in the contemporary tango scenes in Buenos Aires or San Francisco, Tokyo or Amsterdam. Some would claim that tango’s black roots, like those of the rubias teñidas, are hidden.

In Buenos Aires, black roots are often hinted at, but they are seldom seen. Go into any milonga in San Telmo, Boedo, or Almagro today and you will hear people call one another “Negrita” or “Negrito“. Similarly, one of tango’s great lyricists was “El Negro” Celedonio Flores. Such references to blackness are common in tango and in Argentine culture in general, but blacks per se are very rare. In several years of attending milongas, practicas, and tango shows in Buenos Aires, I have seen only one black tanguero. He is a professional dancer who goes by the name Pochi and he has been performing for over a year now at Cafe Homero in Palermo Viejo.

Last July I attended a performance at La Trastienda in San Telmo by a group called “Afro-Tango“. Though the instrumentation included several African drums, none of the musicians was black. I am not suggesting that “black music” or “black dance” can only be performed by black people, or that black people necessarily sing or dance differently from white people. For example, Pochi is a very good dancer, but so far as I can discern there is nothing unusually “black” about the way he dances tango. I do not even accept that there are “black people” or “white people” in a genetically significant sense; I understand that there is more variation within so-called racial groups than between them. As a matter of fact, in my (white) opinion, the all-white Afro-Tango group was quite good. Still, even if it is not genetically significant that the group contained no blacks, it is politically significant. Race may not exist in nature, but it does exist in the culture.

I was prompted to consider these politics when my partner, which I will call La Morocha, and I had the pleasure to show Buenos Aires to an African-American friend. Our friend was staying at the Sheraton, so she had a beautiful view of Retiro and the Costanera from her room. La Morocha, who is something of a historian, explained that African slaves used to be auctioned off just in front of Retiro. Our friend was surprised and she wanted to know what happened to the slaves. Why was hers the only black face she saw in Buenos Aires? La Morocha explained that there is no simple answer to that question, but that some factors have been identified. Throughout the nineteenth century, thousands of Afro-Argentine men died fighting in wars. Some blacks emigrated because they were not welcomed in Argentina‘s recessionary labor market. And many blacks stayed in Buenos Aires, where they were more integrated into the general community than elsewhere in the Americas. Thus, their descendants are usually not identifiable as black. Like the hair of rubias teñidas, the Afro-Argentine community has been whitened.

The disappearance of hundreds of thousands Afro-Argentines should not be forgotten, nor should the disappearance of a million or more Native Argentines. Indeed, the Venezuelan anthropologist Fernando Coronil suggests that one of the reasons the 30,000 disappearances of the “Dirty War” were possible is that Argentines were already accustomed to live in the shadow of black and Indian desaparecidos. What I am concerned with here, however, is not the disappearance of the Afro-Argentines per se, but with the absence of blacks in the contemporary tango scene both in Argentina and abroad. The fact that there are far fewer blacks in Argentina now than there were one hundred years ago might explain why there are almost no blacks to be seen in the milongas and tango shows of Buenos Aires. This fact does not, however, explain why there are so few blacks seen in the milongas and tango shows of San Francisco or New York. Despite alleged tango’s black roots, the international tango scene has grown to include just about every one except blacks. Tango is popular in many countries–including, for example, Japan and Turkey–but not, so far as I know, anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

Blacks do participate in the tango scene in Uruguay. For example, La Morocha and I recently met Francisco Prieto dancing at IASA, a social club in Montevideo that also goes by the name Salon Sudamerica. Mr. Prieto explained to us that he, too, goes by another name, “El Groncho de la IASA“. “Groncho” is a lunfardo word that means “black” since it sort of reverses the syllables of “negro“, the way that “gotan” reverses the syllables of “tango”. What struck me about El Groncho‘s dancing is that it is both very good and very different from the dancing I have seen in Buenos Aires. For example, he moves his upper body more than would be permitted in the tango Argentino or the social dances of Europe, and sometimes he marks an ocho with his right hand gripping his partner’s waist. In Buenos Aires, El Groncho would probably be dismissed as too “canyengue“, a word used to indicate old-fashioned, low- class dancing.

While we were in Montevideo we also had the privilege of attending an asado at the Asociacion Cultural y Social Uruguaya, an Afro-Uruguayan collectivity. There we heard classic tangos such as “La Ultima Curda” sung to the accompaniment of a guitar and three African drums. Once again, it was different from any tango I have witnessed in Buenos Aires (including that of Afro-Tango). The rhythm is what Uruguayans call “candombero“. The word comes from “candombe“, an Afro-Uruguayan music, dance, and religion. Also, the singing was less operatic and more enunciated than is typical in porteño tango. It reminded me more of Goyeneche in his final years than of Gardel, Corsini, or Rivero. I have rarely heard tangos performed more beautifully or to greater effect.

Before our trip, La Morocha and I asked tangueros in Buenos Aires for recommendations on where to dance in Montevideo. We were told that the tango scene in Montevideo is a disaster. Note that many Argentines express admiration for Uruguayan soccer, asado, dulce de leche, and wool, so their lack of respect for Uruguayan tango cannot be attributed to a general anti-Uruguayan attitude. Thus, I was surprised to find that Montevideo is such a wonderful place to hear and dance tango, and I asked myself why the tango scene in Montevideo is so little known and respected in Buenos Aires and the United States.

Could it be that in Montevideo tango’s black roots are too visible, like a rubia teñida who has waited too long between color treatments? I suspect that this is one of the reasons most tango tourists go to Buenos Aires and not to Montevideo, and why so many people are enamored of tango Argentino whereas so few have even heard of tango Uruguayo. Tango in Montevideo is too African for the international Tango market.

When I say that the tango’s black roots are closer to the surface in Montevideo than in Buenos Aires, I do not mean to suggest that Montevidean tango is less developed or more primitive than porteño tango. A century of history has surely left its mark on tango in Montevideo just as much as it has on tango in Buenos Aires. The difference is that for most of this century porteño tango has been systematically whitened, while Montevidean tango has not. In tango Argentino, both in Argentina and abroad, African (and Indigenous) elements have been suppressed in favor of the European elements with which they once coexisted. There are also many fewer rubias teñidas to be seen strolling down 18 de Julio (in Montevideo) than down 9 de Julio (in Buenos Aires).

El Yanqui Yeff is an anthropologist dedicated to the study of Argentine popular culture and an enthusiastic but inexperienced tango dancer.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH ALBERTO PAZ AND VALORIE HART   1 comment

A testimony by Jean-Pierre Sighé
April 2, 2006

I met Alberto and Valorie during the Winter of 1998, in California . I had just made the decision to learn Argentine Tango, after going to the show “Forever Tango” twice in San Francisco and watching the movie “The Tango Lesson” by Sally Potter. I needed someone from the Culture of Argentina to teach me Tango, as I had intuitively sensed how deep Tango seemed to touch the different delicate layers of the human emotions.

Someone had given me their phone number. I called and during the preliminary introduction, I explained the reason of my call: “I needed someone to teach me Tango, but more than the steps. I wanted to understand the “Culture” behind the moves”. After his delighting usual chuckle, he said: “Well…you found me. I think I can teach you what you’re looking for”. These words marked the opening of a marvelous door to my quest.

The first lesson consisted in Walking and… Walking, with no reference to any figure. I had to learn how to keep my partner in front of me, therefore, learn how to “negotiate” curving and straight paths. “Tango is a walking danceAlberto said. Little did I understand at the time all the profound implications of that comment. Confident I was, sensing I was studying with someone who knew what he was doing.

After several months of private and semi-private lessons, Alberto and Valorie encouraged me to start going to the milongas to dance. The dance floor is the place where my many lessons taken, would show, they kept saying.

About 6 months later, as I signed up for the Nora’s Tango week-end (a major Tango event in the San Francisco Bay Area in July) I began to realize how fortunate I had been to study with Alberto and Valorie. I had been very well prepared to understand the instructions of other great tango Masters such as Fabian Salas, Carlos Gavito, Tito…etc. that I encountered at the event and later on, studied with.

I had NEVER had to go back and unlearn or correct anything Alberto and Valorie have taught me. For that I will be forever grateful to them. In the world where many delve and stagnate in so much fantasies and half information dispensed by people who have not yet studied long enough and yet want to be “teachers”, it means a lot to find the right Master Teachers such as Alberto and Valorie, from the very first neophyte’s steps.

To Teach is also to express Love. It is a gift and a talent. I was very impressed with Alberto’s ability to go into my mind and explain to me a difficulty I was experiencing. He was thus able to help me identify the problem and therefore put me in a better position to correct it. Infinitely patient, Alberto and Valorie NEVER looked at their watch to “check the time” of the lesson. I remember one day where I was so enthusiastic about a subject we were studying, that I kept working on it and asking questions, over and over. At some point, Valorie went to the kitchen for a quick brake. I continued with Alberto for a while. Then, Alberto walked toward the couch, slumped onto it with his hands resting on his head. At that moment, Valorie came out of the kitchen and Alberto, looking at her said with a very calmed and exhausted voice : “I think we’ve created a monster!” She burst out laughing. I quickly realized…checked my watch and (Oh my God!) we had been working for over two hours already, for a lesson that was meant to last one hour. I too laughed, apologized for my “stubborn focus” and departed shortly after to allow my teachers some rest.

That availability of a Teacher, that Love expressed tirelessly for the student, has marked me forever. There is an indescribable joy in helping a student receive the information and to see that information take shape in his/her mind. The length of time it takes to accomplish the goal does not matter anymore. That is the modus operandi of Alberto and Valorie.

Very attached to the historical accuracies, Alberto opened my eyes to many facts about Argentine Tango. He is the one who made me realize the contribution that the African descents in Buenos Aires , along with the Italian, Spanish and Indian, had brought to the birth of Tango. After the class, it was customary to sip a cup of tea, graciously offered by Valorie, in the kitchen of their wonderful house (I called it ‘The Temple of Tango”, because everything in that house was breathing Tango). During that special time, casual comments often helped me open my heart more to the Argentinean spirit.

Alberto and Valorie gave me a gift of a priceless value, an added life lasting joy to my existence: the experience of Tango. They opened a window on the garden of my soul to let more rays of the sun and more warmth of Love rush in. Thank you!