venerdì 7 agosto 2015

What’s that thing called tango? by Rubén Andrés Costanzo first part

"... The taste of tango simply is, you don’t create it, you can’t produce it, you can immagine it. And this is why tango is not a work, or a man, or an instrument-invariant basis on which you build the most absurd literary definitions-;it is not even a musical notation”1

A pair of dancers engaged in a passionate dance, erotica, with a complex choreography that seems to struggle against the rhythm instead of being lead by him, this is the image that an Italian or an European has about tango. Investigated among the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, we discover that the perception of the tango is like an invisible rope that ties the whole city, the tango evokes its own neighborhood, friends of the bar, your mother, an unrequited love, the nostalgia of the present, anger. Only one thing and two perceptions that travel in opposite directions. It is not easy to define in words tango and it happens very often that the words are not the most suitable instruments to define a thing but at the same time they are essential to describe the thing.

What to do then? Let’s circumscribe the tango in some limits. Geographic: tango is a phenomenon born of a fusion of different cultures that developed in the cities of Montevideo in Uruguay and Buenos Aires in Argentina. Temporal: origin end XIX century and early years of the twentieth century, some etnomusicologists tango was born in the last decades of the 1800s as the imitation of the dances of African origin, the imitators were European immigrants who lived in the slums of the cities mentioned, this "new" dance hadn’t his own music and it was adopting and adapting different musical rhythms present in that area, including the milonga, the Habanera, and even the mazurka, in the late 800's there was also another rhythm of music from Spain called tanguillo or tango andaluz, very fashionable in rioplatensi theatre2.
There are other theories and musical analysis about the origin of tango, I will show a bibliography with some interesting work on the topic, for those who want to deepen. Now focus your attention on the phenomenon tango since 1897, the year of the creation of the tango El Entrerriano, one of the most ancient tangos of which we know the author: Rosendo Cayetano Mendizabal; let’s discover if there is a " tanghità ", an essence , which gives the same identity to El Entrerriano by Mendizabal and Troileana Suite by Astor Piazzola composed in 1975, including all tangos composed between these two dates from thousands of musicians.

The challenge is interesting: to determine whether the essence of a phenomenon which spans 100 years of history, changing his shape according to historical circumstances, and the modes and contaminations, continues to be the same or even we call tango different things. In the beginning I reported in the different perceptions that Europeans and porteños3 have about tango inside porteña society, even if the perception of tango is the same, the debate about the true essence of tango, it’s harsh and ancient as is tango.
Imagine the tango like a river that is born in the high mountains formed by streams of melting water and then, as it progresses towards the sea changes its shape, color and size. The tango as Josè Gabello said: "is not as centrifugal as jazz which split consistently into new musical species. It is centripetal. It draws everything toward itself. Incorporates everything. Anything that puts in his body: it ingests, digests and metabolizes”4. Consequently, all that remains "outside" even if it seems tango is not tango.

But outside what? Please excuse the rioplatense campanilism in this response, the main essence of the tango can not be other than to represent, explain, convey and share the way of being of the inhabitants of Montevideo and Buenos Aires. The tango, as music, was born at the late 800's to give to the Buenos Aires’s inhabitant a rhythm suited to the steps of a new dance, which needed a music with a short melodic phrases and rhythmic fast execution (the first tangos were performed in 2 / 4) to perform its frenetic choreography, which enhance his individual skills and show who was the boss of that universe called by Borges "the cult of knife and courage5”, satisfy this need for the tango was his first essence.
Not only in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and Montevideo social habits was changing. The world at the end of'800 was changing, the masses began to play an important role in political, social and cultural decisions, changed their habits, the old and caste dances where men and women would lightly approaching, were leaving space to dance for a couple where the dancers were bound in an embrace, the most representative example: the waltz. In this wind of change and in an Europe open to all new exotism makes its appearance tango. In 1906 the Cadets from Fregata Sarmiento (the training ship of the Argentine naval fleets) in their annual round trip, left in each port visited scores of La Morocha tango, in 1907 a large warehouse in Buenos Aires, Casa Gath & Chávez sent to Paris, the composer and performer Angel Villoldo, with Alfredo Gobbi and his wife Flora Hortensia Rodríguez to record some tangos on disk. Villoldo will return to Buenos Aires in 1908, while the Gobbi and his wife remained in Europe spreading the tango until the outbreak of the First World War.

1 Horacio Ferrer op. cit. in Ernesto Sabato Tango discusiòn y clave. Buenos Aires Editorial Losada 1963
2 Rioplatense: Rio de la Plata is the river where have been founded the cities of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, the rioplatense term is the adjective that identify the provenience from that zone
3 Porteño: adjective that identify the provenience from the city of Buenos Aires
4 Josè Gabello. El tango como sistema de incorporaciòn. Buenos Aires, Academia Porteña del Lunfardo. 1987
5 Jorge Luis Borges. Il tango, Poesia del libro L’altro, lo stesso. JLBTutte Le opere. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. Milano.1994

Photo by Pat Ferro

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