Archive for the ‘African roots’ Tag

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.

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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!