Archive for the ‘Golden Years’ Tag

What monkeys see, monkeys shouldn’t do   1 comment

What monkeys see, monkeys shouldn’t do
By Alberto Paz
The tango tourist travels either physically or imaginatively into the universe of a tango that promises to fulfill a desire to escape and perform, to swap one’s identity with that of the “exotic other.” They see or hear buzz words about certain traditions or cultural traits and based upon certain assumptions and presuppositions, they go wild creating texts in social forums that are intelligible to other tango tourists. One of the fascinations of this crowd is the cabeceo, a word that becomes a cute verb inserted into English tango talk, and gives free rein to expressions like “let me cabeceo home.” I made that up.

According to the excellent reference source Gotta Tango, cabeceo is a nodding movement signifying “Shall we dance?” prevalent at the traditional dance halls of Buenos Aires. The gesture is used by the man as an invitation to a lady, who allows eye contact to be made from a distance. A lady’s nodding of the head, or any other subtle facial movement, indicates “Yes, you may dance with me.”

The operative words are, “gesture used by the man,” “lady allows eye contact.” It goes without saying that by avoiding eye contact women can blow a lot of people off. There is a reason for this.

In the 1940s World War II distracted the U.S. entertainment industry from promoting their music abroad. In that vacuum, as Argentina remained neutral, the 1940s unleashed a period of glory for the tango and its music.

These golden years were the pivotal time in history when the tango dance, the music, and the poetry reached every corner of the city of Buenos Aires, traveled across the interior of Argentina, and crossed the borders into most of Latin America. There was very little influence from the rest of the world, which was preoccupied with the war. As a result, the art form was kept in a rare state of purity and authenticity. The dramatic changes in the music, the dance, and the poetry of the tango once again matched the structural and social changes of the city of Buenos Aires.

The urban demographic of the 1900s, with five men to each woman, had long disappeared. However, the way in which couples resolved conflicts in life as well as in tango was still ingrained in their psyches. What had changed was that women were no longer the exclusive targets of blame for disappointments in love. Men shared the blame as well as the responsibilities and consequences of failure. The new generation of poets of the tango displayed in their lyrics an entirely new body of work that acutely reflected the transformations in ethics, anguishes, and hopes prevalent not just in Argentina but also worldwide.

In remarkable contrast to the generation of immigrants that descended from the planks of ocean-crossing vessels in the 1870s, the young generation that ruled the tango in the 1940s came from nearby provinces such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Santa Fé. They immigrated to the capital city of Buenos Aires, bringing along a meticulous musical education. They looked out for
one another, rooming together in boarding houses that soon became filled with the sounds of their instruments. The inspiration of these musicians as a whole was uninhibited. The fruits of their unusual talent resulted in an orgy of melodies that enhanced the repertoire of the best orchestras, delighting audiences with spectacular tangos, valses, and milongas. They introduced
the tango singer as a human instrument. Meanwhile, a new generation of dancers began to incorporate new concepts in order to differentiate themselves, since copying steps from other dancers was against the strict codes of conduct prevailing at the dance halls. Men and women developed a discreet and intimate way to invite, accept, or reject an invitation to dance. It was eye contact and cabeceo, or nod, a subtle movement of the head (cabeza) from a distance.

Men sought the best female dancers and vice versa, because part of tango dancing involved honor, prestige, and a desire to look the best on the dance floor. This required that both men and women first learn to dance well before attending a dance hall. The first public dances most men and women attended were with friends and relatives in a rite of passage into the world of the dance halls of Buenos Aires.

The ritual for asking, accepting, or refusing to dance afforded a distinct advantage to the female dancers. Prospective partners were judged on the basis of their skills, demeanor, and grooming. The ladies were seated in prominent areas around the dance floor based on a protocol that took into consideration their experience and reputation. From their vantage point, the women could assess the pool of male dancers. An invitation was allowed by making eye contact with the candidate. The men standing by the bar, or seated in special bullpens according to their reputation and seniority, scanned the room to make eye contact with those ladies who either had a reputation as dancers or had shown their skills on the dance floor.

As a man scanned the room, a connection might be made with a gazing lady. The man would nod his head in a silent invitation. Upon receiving the assurance of a gentle nod, a subtle smile, or a deliberate batting of the eyelashes, he would begin the journey toward her table with his eyes locked onto hers. This was necessary to avoid embarrassing situations in which more than one suitor might have misinterpreted and intercepted a lady’s green light.
When the man reached the table, then and only then would the lady stand up and take one step onto the dance floor, waiting for the man to stop in front of her. He would raise his left arm, offering his open hand, palm up, to gently wrap her hand with his fingers. She would then raise her left arm to allow him to embrace her while she rested her left arm on his shoulder. Then
they would take a side step to the left of the man and begin to move into the line of dance. This action of getting onto the dance floor was expressed in Spanish as “salir a bailar,” which translates as exiting to the dance floor, to begin the dance. It’s possible that the name of the Salida we learn in tango refers to that initial move.

The reasons for certain codes in the dance halls of Buenos Aires are the result of sociocultural behavior, and it has nothing to do with things that foreigners need to do in order to get certified as good tango dancers. No serious teaching professional nor seasoned dancer would ever suggests that tango tourists should dream about becoming instant dancing porteños by doing monkey see, monkey do. No matter how hard one tries to hide it with silly behavior, a tango dancing gringo will always be a tango dancing gringo. Gringo used with the most endearing of intentions.

Aspiring tango dancers should spend their time learning the techniques and the know how of the tango from the very few that actually know how to teach it. Then they should stop acting like fools with silly characterizations they heard on the grapevine,  and dance the way they are, be themselves, and be pleased they have learned a new skill. Nobody expects them to be anything else.

Reference source : GOTTA TANGO by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart – Published by HUMAN KINETICS, Champaign, IL 2007

Autographed copies of Gotta Tango can be purchased HERE.

Posted March 22, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

Tagged with , ,

TIME FOR RESOLUTIONS   Leave a comment

Another year went by, and the new year is moving in at a frightening speed. If history repeats itself, we are now well into the second half of another one of tango’s forty-years cycles. Which means it might be downhill from here on. We’d like to say it ain’t so but who are we to tamper with time and fate?

The current cycle in tango’s reemergence as a worldwide attraction, began roughly in the 1980’s, rising up from the ashes of tango’s decline at the end of its prior forty years cycle, which peaked during the Golden Years. The musical Tango Argentino is credited with getting the current cycle going, and soon after, city after city, country after country, new generations of people began to fall under the spell of the tango and its power to bring people together. Same as before, at first there was a wave of romanticism, militancy and a genuine appreciation of the priceless contribution of the elder dancers from the previous cycle. Then the music of the Golden Years became available on CDs, and gradually displaced the madness and pretentious sounds of a tango that didn’t want to sound like a tango but demanded to be recognized as tango.

Eventually, as the dance reached this point, it also became the subject of divisiveness as opportunism and a desire for instant gratification unleashed an entire new cadre of “promoters, teachers and musicians” proselitizing entire communities. Even those, who intently chose to ignore the deep roots, solid trunk and rich sap which constitutes the body of tango traditions, have fallen under the inexorable truisms recorded in hundreds of lyrics by dozens of well known authors. That is perhaps, why we are not surprised, much less disappointed, at the freelance insensitivity, selfishness, chicanery and unethical behavior coexisting alongside mutual respect, bonding friendships, camaraderie and sincerity.

Just in case the end is near, if we are to believe that the tango indeed rises and falls in forty year cycles, it behooves us to make some resolutions far and beyond the ending of the Eight Count Basics. Over the last couple of years, this publication has failed to adhere to its self-imposed monthly schedule. Blame it on the traveling, blame it on the teaching, blame it on the dancing, blame it on the enjoyment of a new home base and blame it on a desire it to do it all without being able to stretch the twenty-four hours constraint of a given day.

Rather than trying to delude ourselves into believing that the world of tango needs us to do it all, we want to focus on the areas which we enjoy at being at our best. Teaching and dancing are at the top of our list. Creating opportunities for others to share the fruits of our teaching and partake in the enjoyment of dancing together, follows right in line.

Although writing has been part of our contribution to educate, the time and costs involved in putting out this publication are excessively inefficient in achieving its original purposes. The creative juices of an artist can not be turned on and off at will, so as inspiration strikes, a couple of book projects may now have a chance to be brought from the back burner to fruition, along with an largely overdue series of instructional videotapes.

Even if we are to be moving into a down cycle now, enjoying this moment and this tango should have the effect of riding the wave so we can be ready and full of experiences should a new cycle begin in the foreseeable future.

Posted December 21, 2002 by Alberto & Valorie in EDITORIAL

Tagged with ,

The birth of the golden years   Leave a comment

The birth of the golden years
By Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 2000-2011, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

The business success of the Argentine tango posed a threat to the American record and film companies following the Great Depression. An all out attack was launched to sell the entertainment products coming from the North to a new generation of Argentines, and one of the main ingredients of the strategy was to destroy the tango as a favorite pastime for many residents of Buenos Aires. The untimely death of Gardel in 1935 supported an orchestrated marketing campaign that resulted in the now legendary headline published in one of Buenos Aires dailies: “The Tango is Dead.” That was going to prove to be a major blunder.

A friend recently wrote from Buenos Aires to remind me that history is written by the winners, and that Americans and British tend to look at the world from a winner’s position and sometimes assume ownership of things that don’t belong to them. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe he’s been reading absurd messages on the Internet. However I agree when he added that the tango, being Argentine like the Pampas and the ombu, can tell its own history from a vantage viewpoint.

Even so, there are aspects of tango history which are biased depending on the agenda of those in a position to influence public opinion. Horacio Ferrer, president of the National Academy of Tango has written in his book History of the Tango: In 1935 Rodolfo Biagi, with his nervous pianist modality (harmonically elementary and rhythmically monotonous because of the invariable repetition of the same musical ideas), joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo, contributing to define the interpretative style of the combo.

The dancing section of the tango stands knows not to trust those yielding power solely by the nature of their political or social affiliations, but many outsiders (metaphorically and geographically speaking) tend to repeat (and believe) as words from some sacred gospel, the obvious put down that elitist Ferrer dishes out to one of the musicians responsible for changing forever the history and fate of the tango music in the 1940’s. Dancers became a motivational force with a strong say in influencing the way tango music for dancing should sound.

Rodolfo Biagi played a very important part in the history of tango, particularly in regards to the renaissance of the dance craze that has become to be known as the Golden Era of tango. A pianist, Biagi seems to have been unjustly forgotten or maybe shortchanged when it comes to highlighting names in the gallery of tango’s greatest figures.

Perhaps the birth of the Golden Era of the tango was an unexpected stab of fate. Uruguayan composer Pintin Castellanos brought a new tango to orchestra director Juan D’Arienzo for his consideration. Members of the orchestra suggested that the piece would be more suitable as a milonga, so they rearranged it and one evening of 1935 they played it for the first time from the studios of LR1 Radio El Mundo. The vibrant sound of the milonga was accentuated by the unmistakable presence of the piano striking rhythm and melody through the hands of the recent addition to the Juan D’Arienzo orchestra, twenty-nine year old Rodolfo Biagi. La puñalada (The Stab) became an instant hit, and the sound of D’Arienzo with Biagi at piano caught the imagination of an entire generation of listeners. Soon dancers began to flock to the neighborhood clubs to dance to the compelling beat of the renewed two by four tango signature of the early 1900s, revived and polished by the diabolical arrangements of D’Arienzo and Biagi’s “harmonically elementary , monotonous rhythm of invariable repetition of the same musical ideas.”

With an undeniable talent and a spirit characteristic of the natives of the city of Buenos Aires, Rodolfo Biagi injected a much needed, and later to become a well-known and fruitful change, in the music of Buenos Aires. The enormous success of the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo during the 1936 Carnaval season, with its strong and accelerated emphasis of the forgotten 2×4 rhythm led to a decade of extraordinary activity among musicians, singers and dancers between 1935 and the late fifties. The energetic and original treatment of the piano by Rodolfo Biagi set new standards for that instrument, and forced the rest of the orchestras to vary their styles, and many pianists assimilated the influence of the new rhythm in vogue.

Heading into 1940, the tango began perhaps its most fruitful period.

It all began when Rodolfo Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan D’Arienzo in 1935. Soon after, other orchestras abandoned their romantic (and at times dense) style characteristic of the late twenties and early thirties. They opted for a more upbeat playing style to please the increasing demand of the dancers.

The tango scene became brilliant, the quality of the musicians shot upwards, and the personality of the singers blended within the new musical structures as another instrument that responded to the needs of the dancing public.

Concurrently, Buenos Aires underwent a significant transformation anticipating the Peronist regime that would come to power in 1945. The deteriorating conditions of the farmlands, and the industrialization of the capital city driven by the need to replace imported goods, provoked
a massive emigration of people from the provinces to Buenos Aires.

The working class underwent a process of national restructuring that included the embracing of a nationalistic cultural pride. Coinciding with World War II, and the weakening of the cultural influences of the imperialists nations, a national cultural industry grew quickly aided by a massive development of the media. Movies, radio and the dance halls contributed to the renaissance of the tango and the onset of its Golden Era.

The Recordings of the Forties

Between 1940 and 1949 the following orchestras registered the indicated number of recordings.

Francisco Canaro, 345
Juan D’Arienzo, 232
Anibal Troilo, 189
Enrique Rodriguez, 172
Carlos Di Sarli, 156
Miguel Calo, 151
Francisco Lomuto, 148
Ricardo Tanturi, 140
Rodolfo Biagi, 113
Alfredo De Angelis, 113
Osvaldo Fresedo, 110
Angel D’Agostino, 106
Roberto Firpo, 100
Osvaldo Pugliese, 94
Leopoldo Federico, 62

People can’t control, choose nor decide where and when they will be born. These circumstances, particularly at the beginning of the twentieth century in Buenos Aires, would unfortunately affect negatively the future of many talented people. Such was the case of Rodolfo Biagi, born in the working class district of San Telmo on March 14, 1906, into a the bosom of a humble family. The desire of immigrant parents to forge a future for their sons and daughters through education played an important role in the decision to enroll young Rodolfo as a non-paying student at a conservatory. By the time he turned thirteen, Biagi had graduated from the Conservatory of La Prensa, where he had been coached to be a concert violinist, but in the course of his studies converted to piano. At the suggestion of one of his teachers he continued to widen his knowledge at the Conservatory of the Anglican Church, while he earned his first money as a pianist in one of the many movie houses featuring silent movies.

There he discovered the legendary Juan Maglio “Pacho”, and at barely fifteen years of age was invited by Maglio to play in his orchestra. The setting could not have been more auspicious, none other than the cafe El Nacional on Corrientes Street, the Olympus for fans of the tango. From that moment in time Rodolfo Biagi had to juggle his performances with “Pacho”, his performances on Radio Cultura and his studies of teaching methods at the Mariano Acosta college. On parting with Maglio, he joined Miguel Orlando’s formation at the Maipu Pigall cabaret, and in that place he met Carlos Gardel, who was a habitual client of that establishment. Gardel proposed that he accompany him on some recordings together with his guitarists Guillermo Barbieri, Jose Maria Aguilar and Domingo Riverol, plus violinist Antonio Rodio. These recordings took place on April 1, 1930. The order of titles waxed was as follows: the tango Buenos Aires, the fox-trot Yo naci para ti, tu seras para mi, the waltz Aromas de Cairo, and the tangos Aquellas farras and Viejo smoking. After this recording experience, Carlos Gardel offered him a trip to Europe as his accompanist, but Rodolfo Biagi chose to remain in Buenos Aires.

At the beginning of the thirties we find Biagi at the piano of accordion player Bautista Guido’s sextet and in 1935 he was with Juan Canaro’s orchestra on a successful tour of Brazil. In Buenos Aires they enlivened the shows at the Teatro Cine Paris which were broadcast over LS9 The Voice of the Air. With Juan Canaro he began to develop his personal style, a style which reached its zenith in 1935, a time of crisis for the tango for the reasons mentioned before.

The socio-economic and political situation of the country had brought the tango and its people to a crossroad which was difficult to resolve. Many orchestras dissolved for want of places to play. The invasion of strange foreign rhythms, advanced by the ruling classes of the nation, and “supported” by a docile middle class, sent the business of tango into a tailspin; in this desolate environment for the popular music of Buenos Aires, a miracle aroused at the hands of Rodolfo Biagi.

It was then that Biagi was contracted by Juan D’Arienzo to take the place left vacant by Luis Visca. The tandem D’Arienzo-Biagi propelled the movement which produced the rediscovery by the people of their music. Rodolfo Biagi’s contagious sound emanating from his piano, fully coincided with the aesthetic postulates of Juan D’Arienzo, the popular style that at the time some qualified as simplistic, too fateful for the tango’s future. In fact, the tango establishment, the kind that meets to talk about things others do, never acknowledged D’Arienzo as a major influence for the tango. The king of the rhythm laughed all the way to the bank, but that is another story.

It was the common citizens who were the real depository of the culture which pertains to them and things were finally put in their rightful place, the public responding with its multitudinous presence at the performances of D’Arienzo with Biagi. A new rhythmic line was imposed and it was rapidly adopted by other orchestras and a new generation was born which brought about a great resurgence in the forties decade. Rodolfo Biagi was with Juan D’Arienzo until 1938, the year he formed his own orchestra.