As a miniature opera, Tango is a musical genre which passes through all times. With an incredible modernity, Tango passes through centuries, while keeping a step in advance. That is why it is eternally in demand.
With a duration of less than three minutes, we discover a hyper-realistic scene and atmosphere in which characters, whose carriage is tense, are on the verge of passion, tragedy, and self-lamentation. Quite intuitive, Tango music is linked to its own history, as common as it is universal.
To have a better understanding, we need to turn back to the dramatic origins of old tangos, those unique documents of raw poetry, and to the scenes that saw its birth.
Everything began close to the edges of the big port cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Real crossroads of merchandise, several million heads of cattle were driven every day, by lonely Gauchos, after weeks of riding their horses. These big slaughterhouses, called Mataderos, illustrate the shock and the confrontation of an infant modernity, specific to Buenos Aires against the rest of the country. Real cities into cities, these Mataderos outgrew the wild rurality of the Pampa. Drowned under enormous quantities of meat, mud and blood, the only law which prevailed was the one of the Facón, this ostentatious knife that the gauchos would wear.
Decorated with gold and silver, this knife acted as an unassailable safety device and as a judge of peace between these rough men. Within a single movement, they knew how to wrap their poncho in their left arm to make a shield out of it and display with the right arm the long Facón, ready to kill or to die.
By the evening, Milongas, Cielos, Escondidos, Huellas, Zambas and other dances broke the silence of the Gauchos.
Still in the Mataderos, these men would tell their thoughts, their love and loyalty by singing. They also challenged using the Payada, a kind of counterpoint sparring between two Gauchos with guitar. This dangerous musical game made of questions-answers in Decima reflected the favorite meter of popular poetry.
Accepting only a single winner, the loser could admit his defeat in a very last verse and tidy up his guitar. Otherwise, the jury would declare a winner.
But it’s the Milonga, taking little by little a Habanera swing, which gave the final touch to Tango, which endures.
The first Tangos were born at the end of the 19th century, not in the mataderos, but a bit further in the outskirts. In those rural and rough districts, the brothels of the Rio de la Plata flourished, and lonely men dreamed of making their fortunes – their “American Dream” – come true. As most of them were immigrants, they learned Porteño Spanish and their respective slang became mixed up. It’s in fine all this mix which gave birth to the tango language: the Lunfardo, which has a strong South Italian connotation.
Authentic polylingual lounges, these salons became the shelter where men waited endlessly for the illusion of a girlfriend. Never has the expression “waiting room” been more accurate.
To counter this loneliness, the landladies of these places offered music to their customers, played all night by little orchestras. And to encourage them to dance together, the focus was on milongas and fast rhythms. This was the first form of Tango, called La Guardia vieja, which was mainly instrumental. Around 1890, the original setting was composed of flute, guitar and double bass. The attendance increased, the profit increased, and salons became real shops. After that, the orchestras became bigger, as well as the sound needed.
At that time the violin came to enrich this Tango primeur. Around 1925, the Violin corneta (a violin of a metallic box with a trumpet shape pavilion) appeared in the hands of the unforgettable Julio de Caro. He immortalized the instrument through his recordings of Mala Junta, El Monito, Boedo, Berretin, masterpieces of the new Tango. He played and recorded with great musicians such as Pedro Maffia, Armando Blasco, Pedro Laurenz, Manlio Francia and even with his brother Francisco for the piece La Rayuela. In those times started the Guardia Nueva.
At the same time, Argentina discovered the bandoneon, which was imported from Germany. Called after its inventor Heinrich Band, the famous instrument became the trademark of modern Tango, and made it’s entry on stage next to the piano. Since then, from the two sides of the Rio de la Plata, the big orchestras and Tango big-bands combined into what was called orquestas tipicas.
The Tipica Sondor of Donato Raciatti, Francisco Canaro, Juan D´Arienzo, Alfredo de Ángelis, and Alfredo Gobbi resonated all over the country, as did the very renowned Osmar Maderna, Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos Di Sarli, Héctor Stamponi, Aníbal Troilo. Next to them, we find also Mariano Mores and Horacio Salgán, great interpreters of piano tango.
At that time, Tango developed widely, and singers became more and more famous, with texts whose authors are now part of the Tango Pantheon. Some examples are El Negro Casimiro, Rosendo Mendizábal, Enrique Saborido, Juan Maglio, Ángel Villoldo, Evaristo Carriego, Roberto Firpo, and Agustín Bardi.
But the couple who made Tango shine on the international scene was the one of Toulouse singer Charles Romuald Gardés, known as Carlos Gardel, and Alfredo Le Pera. Son of a French mother and an unknown father, probably an Argentinian sailor, Charles Romuald Gardés arrived in Montevideo during his childhood. He then moved to Buenos Aires where he changed name, passport and citizenship, to become Carlos Gardel, The King of Tango.
All that said, the link between France and Argentina isn’t new. The first Tango recording, directed by Eduardo Arolas in 1905, was made in Paris by the Garde Républicaine. Little by little Paris will add to Tango its fame and renown, and will become the 2nd Capital of Tango.
1. «Le chemin de Buenos Aires», a documentary of Albert LONDRES, re-edited by «Le serpent à plumes». Written in 1927, this text deals with White Exploitation by the French chain between France and the Rio de la Plata.
2. «The Slaughterhouse » (El matadero), this short masterpiece that Esteban Echeverría wrote at the end of the 1830’s emphasized the birth of Argentinian fiction and the introduction of romanticism in the Río de la Plata. The events mentioned in this foundational text are entrenched in the context of its writing: a country split between city and countryside, torn by the endless conflict between Unitarians and Federals, holders of two opposed projects of State organization. To stigmatize the violent and despotic regime of Juan Manuel de Rosas, governor of the Province of Buenos Aires invested of dictatorial power, Echeverría makes slaughterhouses the symbol of the Argentinian politic polarization and the miniature replica of the Rosist Federation. Theater of the tragic confrontations between civilization and barbary, this neighboring space fell within an apocalyptical Buenos Aires, paralyzed by two weeks of pouring rain, which in the eyes of the people, had been caused by those “miscreant Unitarians”.
3. «Quien fué Gabino Ezeiza, el payador» magazine El Federal 2012.