Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tango is in trouble...

From ruddy...this is one of those "must reads" that rises to the surface periodically...interesting stuff...

Hola Naifas y Garabos,
this has been an interesting topic, albeit IMHO just
another round in the seemingly endless battle between
the conservative and liberal camps of the tango spectrum.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine who just came back from
Buenos Aires posted the following in a local tango list:

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

Many Argentine people that are involved with the music of tango, such
as tango historians and others, 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
Amerian dancers and DJs with respect and hope. 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.

Traditionally, tango orchestras played at the milongas, sometimes as
many as four or five on the same night at the same milonga. There
was also recorded music. Each orchestra had its own unique sound,
and each orchestra's signature was their endings. After the WWII,
there were only two recording studios - Victor and Odeon. As a
result, many orchestras recorded either very little or not at
all. Those that recorded, left a legacy unmatched by anything else
from the more recent history of tango.

Why are the recordings of Pugliese, made in August of1945, have a
very special feel, something very haunting and beautiful that does
not appear in his later recordings? This was the first recording
that Pugliese did with his musicians as a full orchestra. Maybe we
feel that excitement in the music. It was a precious moment for
those musicians.

And what about Orquesta Tipica Victor? That was a special
time. Victor created a tango orchestra that never played in
public. They only recorded. But many, many musicians played with
them. That is why the sound of Donato and Carabelli powerfully
echoes OT Victor.

Because each orchestra had a different feel to their music, the
dancers became very selective regarding who they danced with to
particular music. The tandas maintained the feeling and the dancers
were never surprised by a sudden change. The lyrics of tango also
played an important part. The poetry of tango is beautiful,
memorable, and often painful. It was often written by very famous poets.

If, as my friend says, we Americans are the last hope for
tango, I think the tango will not last to celebrate its 200th

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

It is very easy to get drawn into a Chicken Little view of almost anything, including Tango. If Tango managed to survive its intentional suppression (before it had become a global phenomenon) for over a decade, it will also weather this transitional period. Even if the numbers dwindle, the hard core will remain and re-infect the masses in the same regenerative cycle it always has.

Tina said...

I hope I don't get in trouble, but
"Oh, por favor!" I couldn't get past the second paragraph of that post without saying that. ;-)

The person who wrote it fails to realize that the majority of Argentines have never liked or danced Tango. Only a small percentage of Portenos themselves have ever danced tango, and while plenty do like the music, there have always been many of them who can't stand it. Ask my 73-year old friend Pedro, he'll tell you that half his friends thought he was nuts for liking tango.
Ok, there are more tangueros here than elsewhere, but it's a very small part of the population and always has been.

Furthermore, Tango isn't simply "Argentine" it's from Buenos Aires. So when you consider that only a small portion of people from Buenos Aires dance tango, that makes it a teeny-tiny-itty-bitty portion of the population of Argentina.
And it's always been that way.

I laugh at the ignorance of tourists who come here and think that everybody is going to love tango just because it's Argentina.

Yes, many people here at least know some tango songs, having grown up hearing them. But most Argentines I know who don't like tango, have NEVER liked it. Mostly because they don't like the lyrics, too sad (that's the reason they give me anyway).

A middle-aged woman I spoke with the other day, a portena, told me that when she was young, NOBODY in her generation liked tango. Her parents would play it and she'd roll her eyes and say "NO, no tango! I want Rolling Stones, come on!"

It's not in danger. Tango has been alive for a long time and always will be.

Nobody seems to know anything about the Argentinean rock & roll scene which was always much huger than Tango (and I mean Argentine bands, not international). Nobody seems to give a rip about the folkloric music and dance that is WAY bigger outside of the prov. of BsAs than Tango ever will be.

If the author of that post traveled outside of Buenos Aires he'd see less and less tango b ut it's nothing to get all "chicken little" about. It's how it's always been.

Furthermore, if one takes into consideration the recent (in the late 70's/early 80's) dictatorship where Tango was forced underground, then one shouldn't be surprised that it's not that big here.

Anyway, thanks for posting this, it was fun to write this comment :-)

Tina said...

P.S. Another reason this guy probably didn't see many Argentines out dancing is because due to hyperinflation and a world economic crisis, nobody here has any money to go out anymore. People here live in pesos and don't have the luxury of dividing by three. A lot of people have had to cut back seriously on milonga outings because it's just too expensive after you take into consideration the taxi rides, entrada, obligatory consumption (and one water at El Beso is 10 pesos. And locals look at that like you would look at 10 dollars).

So many Argentines who indeed love Tango simply cannot afford to go out and dance it all the time. They are listening to it at home because at least that doesn't cost anything.

And a bright side is that recently my dear love was assisting a particular teacher in a Tango class. All of the students were Argentine and the class was in Spanish. :-) Don't worry folks!

ModernTanguera said...

I really don't get it. How do you start with this:

"Many Argentine people that are involved with the music of tango, such as tango historians and others, 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 Amerian dancers and DJs with respect and hope."

and conclude this:

"If, as my friend says, we Americans are the last hope for
tango, I think the tango will not last to celebrate its 200th


Alex said...

Hola Mod...

It was not the same person making those two conclusions....the first was ruddy's friend...the second was ruddy's conclusion...obviously, he does not hold out as much optimism as the "tango historians" his friend referred to...

Alex said...

Thanks T and Johanna for the comments...very much appreciated as always...

I'm with you...tango is alive and well and growing...

As I re-read the post, I'm not sure why I felt compelled to post it...I suppose the part that the "tango historians" see a small (and growing?) segment of U.S. DJ's (and others) being committed to Guardia Vieja music...and committed to preserving and promoting the one true tango...

Dahmao said...

Tango is in danger only in Ruddy's limited and short sighted view where everything has to be "traditional"; whereas in truth, Tango is continually evolving.

Oksana Raymond said...

Well, I had a good laugh out of the post. Dostoevsky said the immortal: "The beauty will save the world" and now we have another pearl "Americans will save Tango" :-)))))
I have nothing to add to what Tina has written, totally, 100% correct.
I live in Buenos Aires and I go to a milonga about once a week now, not beacouse I am boicotting those, but spending 50 pesos each time (between the entrada, drinks and taxi)ads upto 1400 pesos (it's a monthly rent for a decent apartment). Once I am let in for free with my "maestro" friends and such, I feel uncomfortable, even when I see foreigners trying to sneak in without paying, claiming that he/she is a tango DJ, teacher,blogger from Amsterdam, Paris, Portland or elsewhere.
The costs at milongas are not dictated by pure greed. The skyrocket of the rent pushed the raise of the fees; I do know enough of organizers of milongas who have lost and go on losing money, including the Paracultural, which is becoming almost the MsDonalds of tango, having miloingas every day. Others are barely making it even, it's not a lucrative business anymore, especially when the whole world decided it is and opened a dozen more new milongas.
I think what WILL save tango, is only Tango itself. It lived through several epochs, prohibition, crisis, arrogance, inflation, deflation, tourists takeover.. There will be many more to live through..

Alex said...

Hola Oksana!

Thanks for commenting. Perhaps the post should have been titled (third person post that it is) "Tango is in trouble - in Buenos Aires" or something along those lines.

Perhaps it is in danger of being loved to death, or loved into oblivion, or loved to the point of being McDonald's-ized, or Disney-ized.

I really don't have any concerns about tango dying out. My concerns stem from my U.S. experience, the trends I see happening in Texas, and locally around Austin. You see, there just aren't many folks (as I see it) who really, truly appreciate guardia vieja music, and milonguero style dancing. Appreciate it to the point that it would be primarily (say 90%) what they want to dance. There are strong nuevo influences - with organizers bringing in nuevo-ish teachers for workshops and festivals. Then there are the strong ballroom influences. Finally, there are the generally ignorant - who don't know or care about the history and culture of tango.

Luckily, there are a few of us here in Austin who do care. There are perhaps half a dozen followers and three or four leaders who are 'carrying the torch' for estilo milonguero. I'm thinking of starting some fundamentals workshops to help spread the gospel.

Here's an interesting note. I started a new/bie class last night in the small town I live in (50km outside of Austin). In the first 10 minutes, when I was giving my talk about tango history/culture/music, one of the men asked "So what other kinds of music can we dance tango to?"

The world over, most people just don't "get" tango, and never will.

Sad, but true.

Oksana Raymond said...

Hi, Alex,

thank you for a thoughtful response to my comment. I used to live in Houston and came once to a festival in Austin, so I know what you talk about.
I liked your tango being "Disney-ized", it's very true, and btw, it's no less obvious in milonguero festivals, that are just extremely commercial. Not to mention the latest event I attended, which was called "Bailando Con Estrellas"; the name speaks for itself. It was a red-carpet sort of event (do not even know the fee, we were invited), diamonds-studded older Americans and rich argentinians, in the Palace of San Martin. No place to dance, of course (we never even tried), but that was the selling point: rubbing elbows with Zottos of this world, literally. Since when tango, a street dance of the immigrants, turned into the entertainment for the priveleged? Well, roughly since about 3 years ago or so.
On a completely different note: I was actually directed to your blog by a friend in Seattle, Leigton, who saw the pictures of my very dear friend Luciano Mares I posted on my facebook (my user name is Oksana Cherniavskaya). Leighton said you had more pictures of him from his last trip and I was trying to find those, but got carried away reading posts and couldn't help commenting on this one. Could you please orient me as far as where to look for the pics?
Thank you very much and all the best, in tango and in everything else you do.

Alex said...

Hola again Oksana...

If memory serves me, I think we may have met and danced a tanda...at Luciano's birthday party at the Buenos Aires Tango Club in April of 1997...I was at Luciano's table...I think...was that you?

Here's the link to the post with his photos...


Oksana Raymond said...

No, it was not me. In 1997 I lived in Portland, OR, had never heard about Argentine tango and had no idea where life would throw me into :-0