The influences and timeline of Buenos Aires Tango is very much in tandem with that of American jazz.
Obscure theories of it’s origins and passionate advocates both emerge out of inner-city areas inhabited by the poor and the disadvantaged, in tenement blocks and on street corners, amongst people whose lives tend not to leave much trace within history record. In a similar fashion to ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton’s improvised offerings within the brothels of New Orleans, the origins of Tango and it’s progenitors would often be made up of flute, violin and guitar, or played on a solo piano in the brothels and cabarets of downtown Argentina.
It was the Tango of Rosendo Mendizabal, a pianist working in a club in the 1890s that became one of the first Tangos to feature regularly on any bands repertoire and was named, after one of their regular clients who came from the province called Entre Rios, El Entrerriano.Soon after this the first sound recordings of Tango started to appear, performed by everything from a singer accompanying himself on the guitar to a municipal brass band, as well as pianola rolls. Though there was a distinct Spanish sound to them and lacked many of the influences Tango has become known for, it was very much the beginning of Tango.
The earliest great Tango artist that can be named with any cetainty is a man named Angel Villoldo, attributed to a song entitled El Choclo, one of the two tunes that almost everyone will instantly recognise as Tango. Originally a comedy song which he performed himself – choclo means literally corn-cob,though the lyrics were replaced in the 1940s by a lyric proclaiming loudly that with this tango the ‘Tango was born’.
Large scale European immigration at the turn of the century brought huge numbers of Italians to Buenos Aires with a large proprotion of them from Naples.bringing with them a lyrical style of violin playing, and the melodic influence of Neapolitan song, a key factor in the melodic beauty of Tango. sometime around 1910, the bandoneón, the emblematic instrument of the Tango, arrived in Buenos Aires, perhaps brought by German immigrants or sailors and in 1912 Tango had its first real recording star. Juan Maglio, “Pacho”, a bandoneonista, recording with flute, violin and guitar achieved phenomenal success throughout Buenos Aires and the position of the bandoneón as Tango’s key instrument was confirmed.
Dance of course had always been the driving force behind the evolution of Tango and it was young men of wealthy Argentine families would be sent to Europe as part of their education . Some of these young men, not surprisingly, had spent many happy hours in the brothels, clubs and places of ill repute in Buenos Aires, where they had learned to dance the Tango. The elite classes of Paris witnessed Tango for the first time and was soonembraced across Europe at any levels of society prior to outbreak of war in 1914, ultimately raising it’s status in Buenos Aires from a dance associated with the lower classes to one of national prominence. A new age had begun.
1935 is seen as the beginning of the Golden Age of Tango, and the next decade was one of astounding creativity on every front. The dance matured into one of the most beautiful couple dances the world has ever seen, a subtle, heady blend of sex and chess. Composers, arrangers, lyricists and singers all hit new heights. There were more great orchestras than one could count, such as those led by Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Miguel Caló, Lucio Demare, Alfredo De Angelis or Osvaldo Pugliese. It was the period in the Tango’s history when all the branches of this extraordinary art were most closely integrated, and each spurred the other on to ever more stunning achievements.
In the late 1940s the music and the dancing began to separate again, as musicians began to be interested in playing for a concert audience, or for records and radio programmes designed to be listened to rather than danced to. Singers, too, who were becoming stars in films and on records, wanted to be freed of the rhythmic constraints imposed by the requirement to please dancers. For a while the two schools existed side by side.
In 1955 the coup that ousted Perón brought a very different political climate, which was to hit the Tango hard. The nationalistic Peronist government had encouraged Argentine music, for example by putting quotas on the amount of foreign music allowed to be played on the radio. The new regime, instantly suspicious of anything that was determinedly Argentine, because it implied nationalism, discouraged Tango, and encouraged the importation of music from abroad, bringing Rock and Roll and the new world youth culture to the youth of Buenos Aires. The coup had profound and long-lasting consequences for Argentina as a whole, and for the Tango in particular, launching the country into a kind of modern Dark Age
By the mid-1950’s, there were laws banning the presence of minors in nightclubs. These laws were rigidly enforced for Tango clubs, but were not enforced at all for clubs that only played Rock and Roll music.
In previous years, for a young man to meet a young woman was in a milonga, whereas suddenly it was much easier to meet a girl by dancing Rock and Roll. Overnight, young men stopped learning how to dance the Tango. There was no reason to spend three years learning how to dance Tango, when the girl you liked was in a Rock and Roll club instead. The generation that were 18 years old in 1955 learned to dance the Tango well and with confidence. The generation that were 13 didn’t learn it at all.
Between the coup in 1955 and the fall of the military junta in 1983 after the Falklands War, practically no one learned how to dance the Tango. The Tango did not disappear. It was still possible to go out dancing, and many people did. But the Tango was pushed underground, and naturally people became very suspicious of strangers.
The fall of the military junta in Argentina in 1983 began a spectacular Tango Renaissance in Buenos Aires.
Suddenly everyone wanted to move. It was as though a physical weight had been lifted from them. Yoga classes were full. Martial arts classes were full. Dance classes of all kinds were full. And suddenly people wanted to learn to dance Tango, the ultimate symbol of Argentina to the rest of the world, because suddenly it felt all right to be proud to be Argentine again.
The problem with the Tango was that there had never been beginners’ Tango classes in the Golden Age, and there was no tradition of teaching Tango. The prácticas had gone. There were no Tango teachers in Buenos Aires. There was a vacuum that needed to be filled.
Gradually the people who had been dancing in the Golden Age, and who might not have danced for thirty years began to dance again. Some of them developed a passionate desire to pass on to the younger generation the dance that they loved.
The dancing of the people who were dancing in the Golden Age remained unchanged, and one could still go to milongas away from the centre of Buenos Aires and see people doing the most fabulously complicated steps in a truly authentic and completely social way. But by 1995 the style variously known as “close hold”, “short steps”, “Tango club” or “milonguero” had come to dominate the dancing of the people in Buenos Aires who were part of the Tango Renaissance.
THE BUENOS AIRES TANGO FESTIVAL
The Buenos Aires Tango Festival is held for a total of 18 days and begins with a celebration of tango shows, recitals, and film screenings. The event has been coined as “the world’s biggest tango extravaganza,” and in previous years attendance has reached 400,000. The event takes place during August, throughout various venues in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but the dance competition is held at the BA Exposition Center.
Participation in the opening milonga, like all of the festival’s events, is free of charge.
Classes and milongas will take place daily at venues across the city and cater to everyone from the absolute beginner to the serious tanguero. The exact date is yet to be announced.