In the busy South American ports of the Rio de la Plata, boatloads of Italian, French, Hungarian and other European immigrants disembarked to escape the wars and famines of Europe. They sought a new life in the "Land of Silver" - Argentina.
There emerged a common hope in a will to escape, if only momentarily, from men's oppression. This gave rise to strong emotions which poured out into song. The music became a means of consolation for men. It demanded further expression in the form of dance; and so, in the back streets of Buenos Aires, the Tango was born.
The tango was no thoroughbred. The negros had brought with them a rhythm of obscure and distant African origins called the Candombe, and with the Gauchos came the Payadores. The Milonga was the music of the Payadores. The term 'tango' began to come into use in the 1800s. However, the word referred to a type of drum used by the negros, and it may be spurious to link too closely the name of this type of drum. Originally, the instruments of the Tango were the piano, the guitar, and the flute, which, when combined with the diversity of immigrant musical tradition, produced a development of the Milonga into an early forerunner of the Tango.
The jolly music and syncopated rhythms of the Milonga carried with them a sense of the moment- a moment of temporary escape, of forgetting; a moment to enjoy. When, however, the dance was over and the revelers returned to their pathetic homes, it was a different song which was to be sung. For the people of the pavement, the piano was replaced by the bandoneon. With the bandoneon, the Tango lost its facade of jollity and acquired
a more dense and earthy feel - more accurately expressing the song it was to sing.
The Tango became intense, dramatic and brooding. The low growl of the bass line echoed the depth of inertia which faced the ghetto dwellers, while the melody translated the mood of the people whose song it sang. This was sometimes coupled with the shame of betraying social class, family or friends, and with nostalgia for lost times and lost lovers. The tango became, quite simply, a metaphor for life itself.
Discepolo, one of the foremost tango composers, once said, "Tango is a sad thought expressed in dance." Tango is not a thought; it is a feeling, an emotion, and an enigma. It is a dance not only of the moment but of the potential of the moment. It is the dance of a hundred secrets, a thousand shadows and a million mysteries; of the blue veil of mist and the glistening of street lamps on back street cobbles after rain; of footsteps, sometimes
measured, sometimes hurried, on a midnight pavement; of a glance exchanged...
During the Twenties, Rudolf Valentino popularized a rather melodramatic and theatrical version of the tango in his 1926 film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But the greatest impetus for the tango came with Carlos Gardel. The son of a French ironing woman who had immigrated to Argentina, Gardel grew up with the tango and shared its humble beginnings. The first tango sheet music, Dame La Lata, was published in 1888 within a
year or so of Gardel's birth. Famous, good looking, and a highly popular tango singer, composer and film star, Gardel had become an idol in Argentina. Gardel emigrated from Buenos Aires to Paris and took Paris by storm before he was tragically killed near Medellin in Colombia, a victim of an aircrash in 1935. To honor Gardel's achievement, the 4th Friday of the month is designated for Milongas (Tango Festivals) in Medellin, Colombia.
Tango is a dance born of ordinary people, invented by everyday folk. It is a dance of contrasts, embracing the full gamut of emotion from exasperation to ecstasy. It is not a sexual dance but a sensual dance; it tantalizes rather than satisfies. It is a dance of raw passion and of intimate tenderness, a dance of domination and of seduction. It is the dance of the back streets and of high society. It is the ultimate dance of man and woman. It is the authentic dance of Canyengue, the spirit of the back streets - It is the tango. The spirit of the tango lies somewhere inside each of us.
"Esto es Tango"
(partially taken from Bottomer, Paul, Tango Argentino, 1990, Sounds Sensational)
We have to remember that during the early part of the nineteenth century, contact among partners was limited to touching hands at certain moments.
Tango originated before or around 1880, and at that time, just to dance in front of each other, the right arm of the man touching the back of the lady, was a little too much. We had a dance born in the periphery of the city, among bars, cafes and brothels. There was a close embrace; cheek to cheek, chests together, legs invading one another's space ... a long conversation of love and passion. Decent families and women of good reputation did
not want any part of it.
If a man wanted to practice the new dance, his only possibility was with another man! To be a good dancer was, and still is, a sure way of attracting a lady's attention. Men practiced amongst themselves so they could surprise and attract the admiration of other men and women.
Tango eventually moved inside the city to Houses of Dance. The next step was to the patios (yards) of conventillos (boarding houses) and finally into the Middle and High Class Argentinean Homes.
The next stop of this pilgrimage was Europe. With the popularization of Tango in Paris (the center of the Arts and refinement), dancing in a "close hold" became more acceptable across the world. Argentine Tango rose to be the craze of the time. The dance and lyrics were then altered or completely changed. Some elements of the original music are still present, although they have lost their earliest meaning.
Everybody started giving parties with Argentinean orchestras, tango lessons and milongas. Women's fashion had to change to adjust to the moves of tango. Tango became the dance of the moment; from Paris, it rapidly migrated to the other big capitals: London, Rome, Berlin, and finally New York.
Next tango returned to Buenos Aires, dressed in a tuxedo, where it is received as the most beloved son. What a change!
Now, tango lovers gather many places worldwide, including...Calgary.
(Partially compiled from ToTango.net)
CARLOS GARDEL, THE TANGO LEGEND
It would be extremely difficult to assess what it meant for the nation of Argentina and many other South American countries, to wake up on the morning of June 25, 1935, to the chilling news; Gardel is dead. Under contract with Paramount, Carlos Gardel, a singer of uncertain nationality, was becoming a box office attraction in South America because of his personal appeal, baritone voice, and successful tours around Western Europe.
It was during a promotional tour for his latest film, El Dia Que Me Quieras, that Gardel, and composer, Lepera, met their untimely deaths. Puerto Rico, Cuba and finally, Colombia were stops on the tour, attracting large crowds eager to see, touch and listen to Carlos Gardel. Towards the end of the tour, Gardel and his entourage boarded a plane at Medellin airport in Colombia for a short flight to Cali. Upon arrival, he would make his final appearance on a radio program, before traveling to Buenos Aires to fulfill a promise he had made to his mother; to spend more time with her. The aircraft was never completely airborne before it suddenly veered off course, slamming into another aircraft waiting to land. Among a twisted pile of melting metal and an infernal blaze, Gardel's mortal existence was ended. Almost instantly he became an immortal; his image, his legacy and his works became the subject of religious adoration and veneration for a large majority of people spanning several generations.
As his remains arrived in Buenos Aires, the city came to a grinding halt. He laid in wake for a day at the Luna Park arena; located where Corrientes Avenue begins to grow into the heart of the city. Dignitaries, musicians, singers, artists, and the public all shed tears of sorrow and mourning before his casket began its final journey along Corrientes Avenue to the cemetery of Chacarita, where he was laid to rest. The slow pace of the funeral march was accompanied by the shower of flowers and tears being cast from every balcony and every door along the way.
Carlos Gardel, native of France, began singing at a very young age. Raised in poverty and with limited means of survival, he managed to get singing gigs at weddings, birthdays and other family receptions. His repertoire was mostly made out of Creole compositions, a genre that included folk songs and rural milongas typically accompanied by one or more guitars.
According to legend; sometime in 1917 Gardel was approached in Montevideo by a street poet with a penchant for writing risky lyrics to existing Tango music. Gardel loved what Pascual Contursi had written for a Tango named Lita composed by Samuel Castriota. In private gatherings he was amused at Contursi's clever use of lunfardo expressions to describe the sappy tale of a pimp in love, who would lay awake at night hoping for the return of his
former whore. Going against the advice of his friends, Gardel decided to take a chance and sung the Tango (his first in public) at a theater performance. Carlos Gardel made history by singing Mi noche triste in public, sending the audience into a frenzy standing ovation. What followed was a body of work touching on tales of love, hate, infidelity, and passionate crimes depicting the fictional relationships between pimps and their whores. Record companies could not press enough vinyl to keep up with the demand, and many popular bards followed Contursi's suit and inundated the market with one of the most prolific productions in Tango history.
Gradually Gardel began to incorporate Tangos in his recordings, and by the early nineteen twenties the popular demand, and pressure from the record companies, made him become a Tango singer. Soon he traveled to Spain and was met with great success. Then he ventured into Paris and became the darling of a decadent aristocracy who catapulted him into international fame.
When Gardel died, so did the hopes of any aspiring singers to ever reach universal acceptance. Perhaps what it is most important to understand about Gardel, the man, the myth, the icon, is the identification that the common people of Buenos Aires have with his rise to fame from humble beginnings. With his unmatched fame and success and eternal smile, he has been shining a ray of hope over the tribulations of those who face life challenges from a less than ideal social standing. Gardel is the epitome of the socially challenged immigrant who made it out of the tenement and into the royal palaces of Europe. All the while he retained the modesty, humility, loyalty and generosity of those who will never forget the friends they made on their way up, because they know that they'll still be there when it's time to come down. This we shall always remember because of his eternal smile.