Sunday, August 23, 2009


The Tango is the typical music of the Rio de la Plata region of South America and of the two great cities on the shores of this river - Montevideo and Buenos Aires. Both cities claim its origin but essentially the origin is common to both and as such tango has developed with a certain character in each place.

It is generally accepted that the Tango is originally from three cities - Buenos Aires and Rosario in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay. Its distinctive music is played by a typical orchestra or a sextet composed of piano, two bandoneons, two violins and a double bass. The "bandoneon", a type of accordion of German origin, is essential in creating the distinct sound of tango.

The dance begins with an embrace between the man and the woman (although it was originally danced between two men). It is very sensual and the movements of the bodies are very complicated, but there are classes and milongas for all levels.

As a song, the Tango tells stories related to the lives and hardships of everyday man and woman. Its main themes are love - especially unrequited or lost, betrayal, the passage of time, the low down neighbourhood (arrabales) and death. These songs very often use the slang language of Tango called "lunfardo" One of the greatest poets of Tango, Enrique Santos Discepolo, defined it saying that "the Tango is a sad thought that is danced", its passion is also a way of working through grief.

The Tango is an urban music, and it developed together with the cities of its origin. It contains a mixture of African, Latin American and European music. It is closely related to the process of immigration. In the mid 1800´s the "working class" both in Montevideo and in Buenos Aires was made up mainly of three groups -

Black people of African origin who had been brought as slaves and then freed, they had played a very importance role in the war of independence.

The gauchos, who were similar to the North American cowboys - expert horse-riders who lived in the pampas and worked for whoever paid for their services herding cattle. But when the ranches began to be fenced, their freedom was limited and many emigrated to the cities.

The third group were the immigrants. They came mainly from Europe, looking for work and wealth. Many originated from Italy, Spain, England, Portugal, Germany and Syria-Lebanon which created a very ecclectic culture with aspects of the many different nationalities combined.

The people from these three groups went to live mostly in the suburbs, near the riverside, on the slums called arrabales. The tango was born as an expression of their feelings, their hardships and their lives. In this way the Tango can be compared to the Blues in The United States.

The Tango music was commonly played at the brothels. There it began to be heard by people of higher classes, who took it out of the slums and helped it spread. As it became more popular it also became more professional and musicians with more knowledge of music began composing.

In the beginining of the 20th Century the voice and face of Tango, for many still the most important tango singer of all history, was Carlos Gardel. He was born in Tacuarembo, in northern Uruguay, but grew up in Buenos Aires. There he became a well know singer and he travelled to Paris and then New York where he made a number of movies. He died in an air accident in Medellín, Colombia, when he was 48 years old.

The golden age of Tango is considered to be the decade of the 1940´s, with great orchestras like those of Juan D'Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli, Osvaldo Pugliese and Anibal Troilo and great composers like Julio De Caro, Juan Carlos Cobián and Osvaldo Fresedo. Great lyricist like Enrique Cadicamo, Enrique Santos Discépolo and Homero Manzi and great singers like Roberto "Polaco" Goyeneche and Edmundo Rivero.

In the late 1950's, musicians like Mariano Mores and Anibal Troilo began to experiment with new sounds. But the man who changed Tango music drastically was Astor Piazzola. Piazzola brought to Tango dissonant harmonies and different rythmic bases that were closer to jazz. He also brought influence from classical music. He used different instruments like electronic keyboards, bass guitar, drums and sax. Although his music was claimed not to be Tango by the classicists, his new approach became very popular amongst younger people. He is now internationally considered one of the greatest musicians and composers of the 20th Century.

Tango is still nowadays a very popular music. Singers like Argentina's Adriana Varela or Uruguay's Laura Canoura, Malena Muyala and Francis Andreu have brought new strength and voice to classical tango. Groups like Bajofondo Tango Club, composed of Uruguayan and Argentine musicians, have fused tango with electronic music and rock and recieved excellent reviews. Argentine pianist Adrián Iaies has fused it with jazz.

It has been a long road for Tango. From the slums and whorehouses of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, to the international musical scene. I know that not understanding the lyrics is missing part of the essence of Tango, but there is a lot more that can be enjoyed. From watching two people do the magic and mysterious ballet of the Tango dance, to learning how to dance it yourself. Or just listening to the universal fascination of the music of Astor Piazzola or the warm voice of Carlos Gardel.

Tango is there for all of us to experience, regardless of your nationality or language, it communicates so many emotions that are universally understood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. You have written some interesting articles.

A Friend Away From Home

I too am a foreigner. I have the advantage of coming from a country that is just round the corner. But I spent most of my childhood and adolescence as a foreigner, so I understand very well what it like is to be away from home. We could say that I became an expert in creating a home away from home. In times when there was no Internet and no cell phones, one had to get used pretty fast to life in new, far away places. And it was at those moments when one learned to really appreciate a friendly face, a soothing voice and a warm handshake. One felt that even living in a different culture and hearing a different language, one could find, and one always did find, a friend to make one feel a little less lost and lonely. Uruguay is very similar to Argentina, so it took no effort for me to feel at home here. Specially when the reason that brought me here is a lovely Uruguayan lady. We´ll get into that later on. But it really amazed me to find such a large quantity of foreigners, mostly from countries that are not so close at hand, living in this beautiful country. I have had the opportunity of meeting some of them. And I thought: "wow, even if the weather is great, it must not be so easy living far away from countries like Canada, USA, Switzerland, India or France. But I have been there so I can understand the feeling. And then I thought, what can I do to help them feel less far away? Could I find a way of becoming their friend away from home? I would really like to. I know Uruguay and the Uruguayan culture very well. I speak some of their languages. I understand them. Yes, I think that might work. I´ll try to help them and become their friend. And that is what I want to do. I am here to help you, to understand you and to try to make your stay in this great country as pleasant as possible.
Just ask, we´ll see what we can do.