Archive for the ‘tango’ Tag

Live and let dance   Leave a comment

Live and let dance
By Alberto Paz
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This editorial was originally written on Nov 28, the year of the tango 1995 in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was part of ongoing discussions about what could be done to take care of the tango so it remained strong and not become a hollow shell like happened to ballroom tango. A little over three months earlier, the country had been introduced to the first wave of “milongueros” from Buenos Aires at the 1995 Stanford tango week.
Copyright (c) 1995-2013, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved – Permission to reprint and share is granted as long as the proper attribution is clearly indicated
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Valorie and I were the first to publish an actual hard copy newsletter starting in 1994. El Firulete was born out of the need to educate an entire new generation of dancers, to provide a forum for open discussion, and to foster and preserve the rich cultural heritage of the Argentine tango. We did it while keeping a lighthearted attitude, sometimes laughing at ourselves, and working hard to enjoy our tango more. It can be argued that life is a tango, and that for many, tango is their life. It has been so for us since the early nineteen nineties.

Success breeds imitation, and sometimes envy and jealousy. As public figures we have buried our happy faces in the ground like the ostrich oblivious to the danger around, but like the ostrich we have left our behinds exposed to the proverbial kicks. To be honest, we have many good friends who have helped us spread the goodwill along the way. But it’s also disheartening to be surrounded by people who react in virulent ways to other people’s happiness. That is also tango for you.
Tango music and its dance are all about feelings and emotions. In a culture where emotions are held close to the vest, the way people act can have a profound effect on a community. For the good of tango we always tried to keep a good supply of olive branches, but for good measure we also have a few pieces of the tree.

1995 will become without a doubt the year in which the face of the tango in North America will change forever, and the onset of a global wave of social dancing will sweep across large and small cities in the United States. We’re still relishing memories of our first contact with “milongueros” during two memorable weeks in July in Palo Alto. And already we’re engaged in discussions about preserving the newly found essence of the tango from the influence of those who want to make it the eleventh dance of the competition circuit.

Within the tango there is a tradition of respect for the elders that tango dancers understand and value. But with some notable exceptions, our young communities lack elder milongueros. People who come to dance tango are often at the mercy of self-appointed teachers and tango experts. They can become pawns of politics and power plays. A word or two here and there can be enough to turn some people off, and for some to walk away and never come back.

So it is up to those who know, and who live and love the tango, to speak up against those who attempt to legislate behavior, and who pass judgment on who’s good or not based on their personal promotional agendas.

Tango will never become a hollow shell because the Argentine tango is about life. As in life, there are those who merely survive and those who live; those who simply get involved and those who truly make a commitment. Tango has evolved from obscure and hybrid origins to become a way of life for people all over the world. Many have and many more will attempt to “own” it, to make it the latest fad, and to legislate behavior. But unless someone puts shackles on people’s ankles, tango will continue to exist because it lives in each one of us: in those we love, in those who hate us, in those we care about, in those who ignore us, in those we know, in those we never met. Tango lives every time we say I love you and every time we don’t. It exists when we long for a hug or a kiss that doesn’t happen. Tango lives when we are angry, when we are jealous, when we feel insecure, when we feel powerful, when we are tired, when two lovers or two strangers embrace and move together.

We will die, but somebody else will walk across the floor and catch somebody’s eye. And silently they will move around the floor, oblivious to what you or I or anybody else might decide is good or bad. It is about their lives, not ours.
So live and let dance.

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Posted July 28, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in EDITORIAL

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THE CURIOUS OBSESSION WITH TANGO HISTORY   2 comments

Like a meteor shower on a cloudy night, The History of Obsession, a self published, well written book by self proclaimed septuagenarian Virgina Gift, received warm endorsements from friends of the author in Oregon, California and New York but it failed to gain traction among the majority of subscribers to the tango lists from which a large amount of material was harvested. The book succeeds in chronicling in curious ways how a puritanical society built on individualism and self-reliance deals with the inherent intimacy that the Argentine tango demands from those that heed its call.

The author uses a tried and true method of collecting comments and answers to informal questionnaires circulated at tango events in the US, Europe and Buenos Aires. She candidly admits to scribbling quotes on scraps of notes while eavesdropping on other people’s conversations at milongas, classes, workshops and tango festivals. Thus, both credited and anonymous quotations add some degree of immediacy to what amounts to be the best pages of the book. Descriptions of people’s tango experiences make for good reading. Quotes from an Internet tango list server add a colorful potpourri of opinions about the meaning of tango in the midst of endless metaphors of the “tango is like…” variety. Whether the reader is just curious or someone who has actually been around the floor a few times, the body of information reflecting personal experiences is worth reading because it establishes a moment in time and the circumstances when the global expansion of the tango began to take off in the US and around the world.

The author offers a comprehensive description of different tango styles based on a collection of Internet subjective descriptions that attempt to quantify different ways to imitate the dancing of others. This is followed by the announcement that the seemingly unclear controversy about the actual existence or not of something called Tango Nuevo, Nuevo Tango, or Neuvo will be put to a rest by one of the alleged parents of the elusive style. “The New Tango has become so predominantly misunderstood that Gustavo Naveira offered to present his thoughts in his own words on the subject, written especially for this book.” What follows is eight pages written in italics where, under the heading New Tango, Gustavo Naveira suggests that it is wrong to define tango nuevo as a style. That it is “everything that has happened with the tango since the 1980’s” without actually describing what happened, and that “people dance to old music because there is nothing better, therefore the emphasis is really in dancing for the sake of dancing.”

Next Naveira launches into an indictment of “mediocre dancers, trapped in a crude and sentimentalized way of dancing who confronted with the logical impossibility of distinguishing themselves, seek prestige by calling their dancing traditional tango. When facing good dancers dedicated to the development of the dance and showing real ability (the casual reader may not be aware of the tall tale about a research group allegedly led by Naveira for the purpose of investigation, thus the reference to good dancers, development and real ability), these mediocre traditional tango dancers will pigeonhole them with the inane label of nuevo dancers.” The focus of the attack seems to be aimed to milongueros who have been dancing for four or five years but present themselves as old milongueros given their age.” For Naveira this situation is comical and only found in Buenos Aires, and in his opinion, around the world a tango is danced today “with no relation to Argentine culture, with no knowledge of the music, but most important without the presence of any milonguero authorities.”

An opportunity to acknowledge and accept an educated opinion from a recognized figure is missed because the manifesto comes across as slanted and tinted with resentment at not getting recognition by the “mediocre traditional tango dancers.” Instead, it is presented as the oracle with the ultimate declaration that tango nuevo is interesting in itself regardless of where it comes from, Argentina or anywhere else. That reasoning is supposed to back the concept of the existence of a new tango even when nowhere is there a definition as to what it really is.

Quite often the author resorts to platitudes such as “… tango has a specific goal…” “… the early tangos danced between men represented a sort of duel between male dancers…” or “… because of its powerful demands on the mind leave little room for unrelated thought or emotion, the tango offers a refreshing escape from the worrisome world beyond the dance floor,” in lieu of facts. In the section about The City: Buenos Aires she writes, “In Buenos Aires milongas, once a contract is made by ‘locked eyes,’ it is regarded as extremely rude for a woman to refuse the implicit invitation,” revealing a lack of understanding of the codes that apply to the locals who attend these functions on a regular basis. Locking eyes is not a contract or an implicit invitation. The statement is misleading because it implies that a woman is limited in her choices or actions. She may seem to lock eyes but unless she makes it clear with a nod, a bat of her eyelashes, a faint smile or any other clear sign of affirmation, there is no contract, and there is no obligation for the woman to dance just because she may have accidentally wandered into somebody’s gaze. Nowhere is it explained that the codes of the milongas are part of a tradition, originating in a time before there were tango tourists, and that they are part of a sociocultural behavior agreed to and accepted by men and women when attending the milonga.

Most conversations about the tango turn quickly into platitudes mostly because there is a lack of interest in real history but an abundance of, according to Melissa Fitch, editor of the journal Studies in Latin American Popular Culture and associate professor at the University of Arizona, travel writers, tourists traveling either physically or imaginatively into the universe of the tango whose narratives display a desire to escape, a desire to perform, to be different shedding one’s identity and becoming the “exotic” other. They display the neocolonialist impulse to “discover” the Other, and then share the discovery with other compatriots through writing about it in a book or on tango list servers. What is most interesting to Fitch is how each author places Argentine history and sociopolitical reality within their own grid of intelligibility, which is to say, they base it upon certain assumptions and presuppositions, some conscious, some perhaps not, to create texts that are, in turn, intelligible to their readers.

In the opening paragraph of the Introduction, the author states that “few outside Argentina are aware that the tango had its origins over 150 years ago in the slums of Buenos Aires as a partnered dance between men.” That is followed by exotic and forbidden tales of poverty stricken male immigrants dancing a forbidden dance they invented outside the slums of Buenos Aires. Few outside Argentina, including the author, are aware of the existence of an enlightened, wealthy and cultured porteño society in the nineteenth century.  There is no explanation as to why after a half a century of men and women being criticized for touching fingers and even holding each other in an open embrace while dancing waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and habaneras, a group of destitute and disenfranchised foreign men decided to “invent” a dance and only danced it among each other. The History of Homosexuality in Argentina by Osvaldo Bazan offers a plausible and accurate explanation of the conundrum of same sex dancing in a logical and historical way.

After a compact section describing technicalities about the dance where the author’s dancing experience comes in handy, the chapter on The City: Buenos Aires that closes Part 1 starts with a wealth of good information of interest for the tourist but turns into an incomprehensible attempt to stereotype the inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Not just what one may expect to read about tango aficionados, but the entire population and their identity crisis. In trying to explain the cosmopolitan nature of the city, and the influence that Spaniards, Italians and other European immigrants have exerted in the manners and customs of the people of Buenos Aires, the author resorts to offensive characterizations, ethnic jokes and cheap shots at things she obviously doesn’t understand.

“What is an Argentine?” she asks. “An Italian, who speaks Spanish, acts French, and wishes he was English.”
“Argentines don’t know who they really are,” an unnamed psychiatrist allegedly said to a visitor.
“The resurgence of interest in the tango,” he adds, “arose because the tango is one of the few things undisputed as being one hundred percent Argentine… a national icon.” Never mind that there are countless instances of a totally opposite point of view emanating from the ruling class as well as the blue collar ranks. The poor tango has been the target by association of every racist and intolerant figure of authority since the end of the nineteenth century. At the onset of the 21st century, the tango is a magnet for tourist money and as such the city government has taken it over and made it a brand.

“How do you make money off an Argentine man?” she asks, as she continues with her essay on the people of Argentina. “By buying him for what he’s worth and selling him for what he thinks he’s worth.”
“Argentine men like to look good and there is no possible way to look good when learning the tango. Argentine men are too macho to appear in public trying to do something new. If they do try to learn the tango, but don’t immediately ‘get it’, they quit dancing.” Rodolfo Dinzel, a teacher who eventually is revealed as the subject of the author’s infatuation and to whom she dedicates almost an entire chapter, is quoted as indicating that “poor people have pride and like to groom themselves and leave the house clean and well coiffed.” Another doctor from California is quoted as saying that “younger men and women deny themselves food to look the best on the dance floor.”

For Ms. Gift Argentines apparently are mostly concerned with appearance. “Argentine men have always dressed up for milongas, partly to conceal their lower class origins.” Many men also deliberately “don’t color their hair in the hope of being taken for a milonguero,” the author continues without giving due credit to the clueless women who judge a milonguero by the color of his hair.

Stereotypes are at times trumped by misconceptions and the use of a tourist lens to explain something with a subjective slant. Take for example the explanation of the cortina. This is a term borrowed from the old radio days where a distinctive musical interlude served to separate segments of a program. In the dance halls of Buenos Aires, a distinctive musical interlude is played between sets of tango music. This is done  to clear the floor so the waiters can take orders and serve people at their tables. Also people use the break to go to the bathrooms, or to walk to the bar to get a drink and get a better vantage point. The author offers the following explanation, “The end of a tanda is marked with a cortina which is a minute or two of non-dance music that cues dancers to leave the floor… to await a change of partners for the next tanda.” Changing partners is a foreign concept in the adult settings of a tango dance hall in Buenos Aires. As with many instances in the book, the author confuses her personal experiences or those of list servers contributors, all foreigners as far as Argentina is concerned, with facts she presents as part of a history lesson to further confuse curious readers.

As the book progresses into the actual “history” chapters, the inaccuracies, prejudices and at times glaring lack of fact checking, are so many that their listing in a critical review might end up looking like a revisionist book in itself. Let’s review a few to make sure readers understand the futility of filling pages with alleged tango history with personal prejudices projected into an improbable period from where there is absolutely no evidence of what was called tango, how it was danced and why. Only those who were alive at the time knew.

On page 221 it says, “A popular form of entertainment was to act out tales of men fighting over honor or a woman in a stylized combat performed as competition among neighborhood gangs.” There is no reference as to when this is supposed to have happened. Those who have seen shows like Tango Argentino, Forever Tango and West Side Story will recognize the choreography of men imitating a fight through a dance. “Bar and cafe owners watched the men dancing in the streets and decided it might be good for business if they danced inside their establishments and drank beverages when they became thirsty. They hired musicians to play tango music to lure the men inside. Waitresses were pressed into service as dance partners, many of whom became fascinated with the dance and turned into skilled partners.” It is obvious that the author ignores the nature of so called cafes, the clientele that patronized these places, and the reason why there were night clubs that featured live orchestras. The author makes use of certain assumptions and presuppositions to invent situations that may be intelligible to her readers, but denotes a total lack of veracity regarding Argentine history and its sociopolitical reality. For the author, dancing tango seems to be the main activity of men throughout the history of Argentina. Women are stereotyped as the contemporary females who look at tango from a complete different prism than Argentine women do. The idea of women as waitresses becoming fascinated with the dance of tango is so absurd except that modern American women do become fascinated by stilettos and choreographed passion on stage. Fascination doesn’t result in acquisition of skills. This is another projection of the author’s personal experiences into an alleged moment in history.

Tales of bordellos, prostitution, women working there as tango dancers when it is well known what the business of a bordello is, abound and for this reviewer eventually offend. The repetition of long debunked tales under the excuse of history is a disservice to anyone wanting to actually to dig a little deeper into what the tango is, where it comes from and what it represents. But nothing is more offensive that the reckless and inaccurate treatment of the period known as the Process of National Reorganization (1976-1983). “The military discouraged tango,” and “To listen to or to dance the tango became even more dangerous,” are just samples of what amounts to lies being repeated without an attempt to use the rigorous verification that history demands.

Journalist Sergio Pujol, author of the book Rock and Dictatorship, was a witness to those hard years and compiled history in the words of the protagonists. On the topic of the dictatorship attitude towards music, he writes, “In music generally, the dictatorship established a regime of tension and harassment favoring some genres over others. It had a cordial attitude towards the tango or some of its representative figures, and a violent rejection of folklore, especially with the so called representatives of the new song book like Cesar Isella or Mercedes Sosa. There was a line of political commitment and many representatives left the country”. The relationship was different with rock and roll. To be a rockero was synonymous of being a rebel. In 2009, the Comfer (Argentine’s FCC) unveiled for the first time a list of songs that were prohibited during the last military dictatorship. There appear works of national musicians like Leon Gieco, Charly García, Horacio Guarany, and of international figures like Eric Clapton or bands such as Pink Floyd and Queen. La bicicleta blanca, a ballad describing the coming of Jesus Christ riding on a bike, with lyrics by Horacio Ferrer and music by Astor Piazzolla is the only song that could remotely be associated with the tango, which is not, among hundreds of banned songs. One thing that was clear is that the dictators had a thing for young people and rock and roll. Something to do with progressive ideas being transmitted genetically from parents to children, which explain why they stole so many children and gave them away to military families for an ideological cleansing. It is a very complex history and the record needs to be set straight about the many lies about the tango during that period.

Enrique Binda and Hugo Lamas write in the first chapter of their book “El tango en la sociedad porteña 1880-1920,” that “the bibliography on tango history is not based in verifiable documentation. It describes improbable events which each writer repeats to their heart’s content thanks to the lack of rigorous and methodical investigation about the topic.”

In the world of tango books there has always been an obsession for advancing reasons and arguments to defend or to persuade what is false. Those who can write the most comprehensive collection of arguments that seem reasonable but are actually false and misleading, fall under two distinctive categories, the innocents and the deliberates.

The innocents deceive themselves, and their fault is logical but non-moral. The deliberates know that they are deceiving, not to themselves because they know the distinction between the truth and the false, but to others. They are not ignorant, they are manipulators. Their fault is not logical but moral.

The History of Obsession, definitely falls right under the innocent category, applying to the history of a foreign country, i.e Argentina, and a foreign cultural manifestation, i.e the Argentine tango, a seemingly similar methodology of collecting opinions, comments and answers to informal questionnaires, scribbling quotes on scraps of notes while eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. That worked very well in Part 1 titled Argentine Tango and divided into four chapters, The Obsession, The Attraction, The Dance, and The City: Buenos Aires.

The book lacks rigorous fact checking, however calling the Malvinas Islands the Maldives is not as bad as bringing them in the first place into a book about tango. As it seems to be the case with a surprising number of tango books that venture into so called history, events and circumstances are presented out of context without any temporal reference to establish when, if ever, they happened. For a historian, time is not only essential, but it is the umbilical cord that ties events to specific moments in time.

COME TO MY MILONGA OR TANGO DIES   4 comments

A Manifesto by Nena Pezonchico
(Agitator, troublemaker and a mistress of exaggeration in the rarest of thin air)

Tango is in trouble. Living in our own world of music and dance, we are failing to see it. The milongas in Buenos Aires are full. And when they are not, the practicas are (100-300 people). But in the real world, outside of the milongas, the picture looks very different.

Argentines, essentially, are boycotting the tango. Many even hate it. Out of 100 radio stations in Buenos Aires, only one plays tango music. Argentine companies do not use tango music in their TV commercials, preferring rock, foreign or national. And Argentine people that love tango music are in despair. They no longer have hope that the young Argentines will embrace the tango. Many also have lost hope in the Europeans. But they have a lot of hope in the Americans and their belief in how stupid Americans are at dealing with things they don’t understand.

Many Argentine people that are involved with the music of tango, such as tango historians, taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys, who may not even dance themselves, feel that the Americans have a genuine interest and love for tango music. It appears that many people from the US are buying a lot of tango music, and not just the most obvious selections, but things that are rare, and they know what they are buying because they have been looking for it. These Argentine tango historians look at the American dancers and DJs with respect and hope they don’t wise up. They believe that if anyone can save the tango, it will be the Americans that love it.

There are many young people (18 +) in Buenos Aires, who dance beautiful traditional tango with great style and energy, and they do not dance “nuevo” or dance to electronic tango (both of which seem to be the domain of dancers outside of Argentina). Instead, they love to dance to Donato, Canaro, Lomuto, etc. But there are not enough of them to keep tango from oblivion. That’s where the Americans come in.

This complexity demanded a great skill from the DJ when there was recorded music in the milongas all those decades ago. It is that same special quality that we bring to you at my milonga.

Our DJ does not DJ from a play list. Instead, he creates his tandas in advance, which allows him to match all the songs according to singer, date of recording, ‘mood’, tempo and key. He never selects consecutive tangos that are in the same key. He insists that it is the job of the DJ to maintain proper sound and volume at all times. He is a sound engineer at heart with a laptop choke full of mp3s.

We hope that you will come and enjoy this beautiful music. We hope that the men will learn what music makes them the best dancers in the world. For the ladies, we wish that every dance reminds them how beautiful, alive and happy they feel in this music. And we hope that every one of you, who loves tango, accepts the monumental challenge of keeping it alive by dancing it and knowing well its poetry and music.

Come to my milonga because you don’t want to be held responsible for the death of the tango.

Posted March 12, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in HUMOR

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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.

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

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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

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