Archive for the ‘Tango Argentino’ Tag

A show named Tango Argentino   2 comments

A show named Tango Argentino

The current revival of the tango spread with blazing intensity, thanks to the globalization of communications. It started to rise around 1990, after 30 years of no major tango activity, with the unexpected success of a musical revue aptly named Tango Argentino. Producers Claudio Segovia and Héctor Orezzoli synthesized all the implicit dramatic qualities of the tango on the stage. They focused on the taciturn man of Buenos Aires (who is secretly idealistic with a devastating sense of humor) and the seductive Buenos Aires woman (who is alluring and drop-dead elegant). But it was the performance of the dancing couples that captivated the public’s imagination, reintroducing a dance in which the man flaunted his masculinity and the couples embraced each other in a sensual ritual full of irresistible beauty.

This week, 30 years ago, Tango Argentino appeared for the first time on an international stage at the Paris Autumn Festival, which began on November 11, 1983. That run lasted one week, but those few days were enough to change history: the tango as dance resurfaced with an unexpected force, and became huge around the world. There has never been a time in history when so many social dancers are dancing Argentine tango as it was danced in the golden years of the 1940s and ’50s.

Posted November 14, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in EDITORIAL

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The notion of the existence of a rioplatense tango has been peculiar to the River Plate region. Whatever the motivations, Uruguayans have used the universal success of La cumparsita (originally written as a second line parade march for carnival and later redressed and arranged as a tango by Roberto Firpo), as a good enough reason to claim joint paternity of the tango. They also claim the nationality of Carlos Gardel.

In 1929, author Mariano Bosch wrote “History of the origins of the Argentine National Theatre,” partially in response to “National Theatre rioplatense,” a book by Vicente Rossi published in 1910. In clear terms and with plenty of evidence Bosh shows the impropriety of assuming an Uruguayan co-protagonism in the development of the Argentine national theater.

Similarly, in spite of the non existence of musical sheets or recordings by Uruguayan composers during the first decades of the twentieth century, there have been efforts to assume a shared partnership in the tango during that period. The habit of rights misappropriation may well be the consequence of an inferiority complex created by the enormous shadow that the brilliance of Buenos Aires cast over the small country on the oriental shores of the River Plate.

At the international level, there has never been any doubt about the country of origin of the tango because it has been known as tango Argentino since the beginning of the twentieth century. With a few exceptions, the global expansion of the tango has not carried explicit or implicit any reference to an alleged Uruguayan contribution to the birth or to the wealth of tango music.

We know that half way through the 1990’s, a Uruguayan bandoneon player took residency in a German city, and became romantically involved with a French expatriate who ran a tango school in Hamburg. His name was Hugo Diaz, not to be confused with the Argentine harmonic player folk musician who cut a couple of tango albums towards the end of his career. The late Uruguayan Hugo Diaz played a lot of vanguard Piazzolla compositions, and his various groups became very popular in certain German tango communities.

It was during that period that some zealous German entrepreneurs began to add the “rioplatense” handle to the tango represented by Hugo Diaz. As the appellation made it to the incipient Internet tango lists, a few others, with a nationalistic bone to pick adopted the “rioplatense” adjective attached to the tango they promoted in the USA. A sad occurrence of denying Caesar what rightfully belongs to Caesar’s.

The time has come to stop calling the tango “rioplatense,” and accept the undeniable fact that the tango is exclusively Argentine. In a recent article written for Todo Tango, author and historian Enrique Binda carves with the skill of a surgeon a time line that dissects the claims of joint tango paternity on the part of Uruguay. He uses tangible evidence and verifiable research to put to bed once and for all the ridiculous attempts to deny Argentina sole bragging ownership rights of the Argentine tango.

It has been documented that something that people called tango existed in Buenos Aires since at least 1890. By 1900 published sheet music scores suggest that a “tango criollo” had become very popular. Something still not clearly defined was danced on theatrical plays on stage, and on the dance floors around the city by all elements of society from the upper to the lower social classes. There were hundreds of composers, performers and definitely a mass audience. This preceded the appearance of the well known works of Angel Villoldo, Enrique Saborido and others at the turn of the century. During that period whatever may have been happening in Uruguay had nothing to do with the tango movement being developed not only in Buenos Aires, but also in cities of the interior, like Rosario and Cordoba.

To avert suspicions of bias Binda resorts to the testimony of a witness protagonist: Uruguayan pianist Alberto Alonso and his essay entitled “La Cumparsita – History of the famous tango and its author,” edited by Mosca Hnos S.A. Montevideo in 1966.

In the prologue, Eduardo Colinet refers to the author as “one of the pioneers of our tango”. The author himself acknowledges later that he formed his first orchestra in the fall of 1916. Binda compares this date with what had already been done by then in Argentina. There already existed compositions such as “Alma de bohemio, El entrerriano, Rodríguez Peña, El amanecer, Sans Souci.” In 1916 the following classics were being composed, “Re fa si, La guitarrita, Comme il faut, Ojos negros, Mi noche triste.”

As far as orchestras are concerned, Roberto Firpo, Eduardo Arolas, Juan Maglio “Pacho,” Vicente Greco and Francisco Canaro among many other directors were already quite established and very popular with the public. Binda compares Uruguayan pioneer spirit or beginnings, against the full aesthetic and stylistic maturity of the Argentine tango.

In the first chapter of his book, under the heading “The outpost of the tango,” Alonso, writes, “Montevideo, was lagging in the tango race that it had begun propitiously in the neighboring shore where it had developed with well defined characters. And even though there were some guitar players early on, there were no proper tango musicians here.” The evidence presented is conclusive. Montevideo was really straggling, as Alonso writes. Lagging the evolution of tango in Buenos Aires by at least 25 years.

Paraphrasing Binda’s words, young Alonso turned enthusiastically to the tangos of Angel Villoldo, because he understood “how much education was contained in the works of the teacher.” Consequently, it can be said that the genuine precursor of tango in Uruguay was Angel Villoldo and not a native Uruguayan. Later, Argentine pianist Prudencio Aragon, arrived in Montevideo around 1907, and “it can be said that he initiated the authentic tango era” in Montevideo.

Such conclusive statement of facts should support the challenging of the claims of a “rioplatense” paternity of the tango. For that to have happened, a joint parallel development should have taken place, and that didn’t happen. Binda acknowledges that by applying the proper elements of chronology, the idea of tango movement on both shores of the River Plate could be specifically applied from the mid-1930s onwards.

Alonso also writes about the arrival of other musicians from Argentina. The timing is unclear, but one can deduce that it refers to the first decade of the twentieth century. The arrival of these musicians contributed to “the tango efforts in our environment.” The alleged rioplatense tango was being mainly nourished by Argentine elements.

Another important fact that Binda extracts from Alonso’s book refers to Minoto Di Cicco. Until 1914, the pioneer of the Uruguayan bandoneonistas was better known as a talented accordion player. He adopted the bandoneon many years after Juan Maglio “Pacho”, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco, Agustin Berto, Genaro Espósito, Arturo Bernstein, and Vicente Loduca have been shining in the tango firmament of Buenos Aires. A conclusive difference both in timing and numbers.

A very special event took place around 1914 or 1915 when “the famous Argentine orchestra of Juan Maglio” played in Montevideo. But perhaps the event with historical implications was the arrival to Montevideo of a quartet led by Roberto Firpo, who made its debut at Confiteria La Giralda early in 1916. It was in this instance that Firpo arranged, added an introduction and converted a carnival march into La cumparsita, a song that would go on to become the undisputed sound of the tango around the world. The success of Firpo’s performances at La Giralda inspired young Alonso to form an orchestra following the model of the famous quartet, a novelty since “… until then, all the typical combos were mostly trios.”

This is another forceful difference, as Binda points out, because in 1916, the typical Argentine orchestras already included a piano, a bandoneón, two strings and a flute.

As Alonso says, he made his decision, because “he was convinced that there were a few local musicians who qualified” for such an undertaking. This affirmation indicates that he was conscious of the difficulty to finding musicians for that purpose.

Enrique Binda continues to draw a clear time line reminding us that in 1916 nothing of transcendence came out of Uruguay while in Buenos Aires, Eduardo Arolas introduced Anatomia and Rawson, Agustin Bardi released, Independiente Club and Vicente Greco premiered Racing Club, to name just a few tangos that would go on to become classics. Concordantly, that year according to Alberto Alonso, he was forming what it would be the first orchestra or rather, a quartet equivalent to the one led by Roberto Firpo.

Soon after forming his quartet, Alonso’s orchestra, quickly became outdated because in 1917 the typical Argentine orchestras grew richer in innovations. In new recordings, Eduardo Arolas added a violoncello and Osvaldo Fresedo incorporated his bandoneón next to the one of Vicente Loduca, among others examples.

Finally, putting aside the Alonso book , Binda analyzes the Uruguayan discography from those times. Only three bands recorded between 1917 and 1929: The Tipica Alonso-Minotto (1917), Minotto (1922) and Donato-Zerrillo (1929), the latter, almost 20 years after the first recording of the Orquesta Tipica Criolla Greco (1910).

Three Uruguayan orchestras in a dozen years, point to a significant difference compared with the amount of Argentine orchestras who had access to recording studios during this period as well as their already vast published repertoire. Binda does make a reference in relation to the marketing of records, admitting that Uruguayan and Argentine markets were actually one and the same, but fed almost exclusively by Argentine artists.

The evidence is overwhelming and conclusive regarding the concept of “tango rioplatense.” It simply didn’t exist. There isn’t a shred of evidence to refute the time line and chronology exposed by Enrique Binda. When it comes to history it is important demonstrate what it’s being said, and Binda does that like the best on his profession. We can appreciate those musicians who have come out of Uruguay, such as Hugo Diaz, Raul Jaurena, Miguel Villasboas, Donato Raciatti, and respect with admiration their talent for being such faithful interpreters of the Argentine tango.

Posted May 19, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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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.

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

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