Archive for the ‘African slaves’ Tag

A sentimental abyss   2 comments

A sentimental abyss
By Alberto Paz
A thorough search for Spanish literature regarding Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries confirms the fact that such literature is almost non existent. Yet, that lack of reference material at the beginning of the twentieth century has not stopped many from talking about African matters with the erudition of a parrot. It seems that those pursuing transcultural crusades have given ample publicity and used as reference the unverifiable sayings of Vicente Rossi in his book Cosas de negros, paradigmatic among the theoretical defenders of the Africaninfluence in the tango.Completely left out off their discourse is the reasoning of poet and musicologist Carlos Vega (1898-1966).

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.

Posted November 15, 2008 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

Tagged with , ,

The African roots conundrum   3 comments

The African roots conundrum
By Alberto Paz
Researching for facts and figures takes time and anyone interested in the history of Buenos Aires during the half-century preceding World War I will be richly rewarded by a visit to the Archivo Historico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. Documents recently made available have added tremendously to knowledge of the period when, what a decade later would be identified as the tango, began its genesis and evolution, enabling scholars to recreate the complexity and texture of daily life in historical Buenos Airesin the nineteenth century.That’s how we know that during the first decade of the 19th century the population rolls of Buenos Aires recorded the largest number of slaves of African origin. Africa then, as now, reflected a multitude of religions, languages, cultures, traditions, beliefs, forms of expression, ethnic groups, and historic backgrounds. Such differences characterized the African slaves brought to the shores of the River Plate. They were as different from one another as they were different from the existing Spanish population.

They did not arrive in Buenos Aires all at once. Nor did they remain bound by political or cultural liaisons that could have preserved and kept their ethnic diversities alive. Their native identities were quickly dispersed upon arrival.

On April 9, 1812 all slave carrying vessels were banned from entering the River Plate. By 1813 everyone born in Argentine territory, including sons and daughters of slaves was deemed to be free. Anyone who set foot on Argentine territory was considered free.

On February, 1813, the ruling Assembly declared that all slaves brought in any way, shape or form from foreign countries were declared free from the moment they set foot on Argentine soil.

So, it is absurd to talk about slaves in Argentina after 1820, and that is probably because the black population cared more about integrating into a society that considered them free people than spending time inventing rituals for future revisionists with an agenda for rewriting history.

So, any discussion regarding whether the tango has African roots or not must take in consideration the fact that there were no slaves in Argentina after 1820. Blacks joined the new society and made contributions the same way other immigrants did. Of course, they had to endure the same discrimination, political persecution and bigotry that immigrants suffer anywhere in the world, depending on the way the political wind blows.

The census of 1887 of the 429,558 inhabitants of Buenos Aires listed 8,005 blacks, of which only 905 were foreigners, mostly from Brazil and the United States. In other words, by the last decade of the nineteenth century, the black population was about 1.8 % of the city population.

Samuel Gache (1859-1907), famous for his work with the Red Cross, wrote in 1913 in La Nacion that towards the end of the nineteenth-century, the black population had basically disappeared, not just in Buenos Aires but also in the provinces. For example, the province of Santa Fe had 20 registered blacks. And in the province of Corrientes, where a large black town named CambaCua had existed, the black population was zero. Causes for the disappearance seem to have been wars, illness and interracial marriages.

The census of 1905 listed no blacks at all.

It is important then to look at the time line. During the period of gestation of the tango (1880’s) the citizens of African heritage made up less than 2% of the total population of Buenos Aires.

The argument that the tango has strong African roots seems to suggest 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. Or that the mythological personage (unverified and unsubstantiated), of Negro Casimiro with his scrawny violin, left such a major imprint all by himself.

Those who have cited the works of Zenon Rolon or Carlos Posadas to support claims of an African root of the tango, need be reminded that both Rolon and Posadas had very solid European academic musical formation. They didn’t fit the stereotypically destitute “negros candomberos” figure used to represent the distressing socio-cultural conditions of a minority that was supposed to have had such a major influence on the music of Buenos Aires.

Posted October 8, 2008 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

Tagged with ,