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A History of Tango

  • Written by  Christine Denniston
  • Tuesday, 03 July 2012 07:52
(0 votes)
Published in Tango History  

A Brief History of Tango

Buenos Aires and tango are synonymous terms, and tango is an integral part of the large city. You can find the tango all over Buenos Aires: in it's mythical cafes, at the milongas, and by walking around the city's authentic neighborhoods.

The history of the Argentine Tango, from tango's humble beginnings to its latest developments, is part of the grand history of Buenos Aires.

The Passion of the Underworld

Although it has come to epitomize the glamour and elegance of high society, with women in sleek glittering evening gowns and men in tuxedos, the Argentine Tango originated in society's underbelly, the brothels. As immigrants from Europe, Africa, and ports unknown streamed into the outskirts of Buenos Aires during the 1880's, many came toward the houses of ill repute. The tango dance originated as an "acting out" of the relationship between the prostitute and her pimp. In fact, the titles of the first tangos referred to characters in the world of prostitution and were considered very obscene by society.

This form of the tango spread throughout the underworld for a number of years. During that time the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument, was introduced into the music. The bandoneon came from Germany where it was used to play religious music in churches that couldn't afford an organ. In Argentina, Eduardo Arolas is credited as being the main early pioneer of the instrument and having forever intertwined the fates of the bandoneon and the tango artform. Eduardo said that the bandoneon was made to play the tango, with its deep melancholy feeling that the immigrants enjoyed as a sentimental tingle in their hard working lives.

Next Came Paris..

The next chapter in the history of the Argentine Tango was "written" by Ricardo Guiraldes. Ricardo was a well-to-do poet and writer and an upper-class playboy in Argentina. He enjoyed emulating the social lives of his more bohemian friends, including going to these tango performances. In 1910, Ricardo went on a tour of Europe. He wrote a poem called "Tango" to honour the dance, and gave a tango performance at a fashionable Parisian salon. The crowd was deeply attracted to the dance and Tango was the first of the many latin dance crazes that were to sweep Europe. With the popularity of the Argentine Tango in Europe, Argentine high society took a new look at the dance and welcomed it into their own lives.

Introduction by Hollywood

The next great name in the development of tango is movie star Rudolph Valentino. Hollywood moguls were able to connect the Argentine star's image to the tango artform in the movie "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"(1926). Valentino played a gaucho(Argentine Cowboy) and performed a tango dance wearing wide trousers and leather chaps while holding a carnation in his mouth and a whip in his hand. The scene is probably the greatest in the history of the Argentine Tango, not for a second discounted by the fact that gauchos never danced tango. Even future tango stars were forced to perform dances dressed as gauchos for no other reason but the strength of that scene and the image it created.

Gardel and Tango's Golden Age

Carlos Gardel was the star that became the greatest champion of the Argentine Tango. His beautiful voice and macho looks made him Argentina's favorite sun and the measuring stick for generations to come. The invention and wide use of the radio, records and film helped spread his fame worldwide, and make this time the Golden Age of Tango.

Gardel was tragically killed in an aircrash in Columbia. After his death the artform split into two main movements that dominated the then packed concerts and dance halls that tango has become. The traditionalist movement was led by Filiberto, D'Arisen, Biggie and De Angel is, while the evolutionists were led by De Caro, Dia Sari, Troilo and Pugliese. Bands grew and became more popular until the end of the Golden Age in around 1950.

Piazzolla's Tango Nuevo

Astor Piazzolla became the next tango superstar. He had the vision of tango "for the ear rather than the feet". He created numerous operas, concertos, theater and film scores. Piazzolla paved the way for a new age of tango to begin.

In 1920s, tango-rocker(tango rock) became popular by such albums as "Homage to Gardel and Le Opera" by Lit to Nubia. The music replaced the standard combination of violins and bass with a rock-style rhythm section including electric guitars and synthesizers. Tango also mixed with jazz led by the Siglo XX trio.

Traditional tango was maintained by the old guard led by the singer Roberto 'Polaco' Goyeneche and the pianist Osvaldo Pugliese.

Tango Today

Today, after the long stretch of "the second decadence of tango" (in the 60's and 70's), young people have come around and have started to accept the tango around them as being a part of them. The youth realize the tango in their own ways, with their own unique character, mixing Piazzolla with the primitive bands and with flute and guitar, deconstructing and restructuring it. Maybe that is why tango is now again a phenomenon, this resurrection of tango may make the artform more powerfull than ever. The beautiuful city of Buenos Aires remains the world center of the movement.

The Evolution of Tango

The history of the Tango can be traced surprisingly enough to a country dance of 17th Century England. The English country dance became the Contredanse in France, and this in turn was called the Contradanza in Spain or later simply Danza. When imported by the Spaniards into Cuba, it became the Danzahabanera. During the Spanish American War, a popular dance called the Habanera del Cafe appeared which was the prototype of the Tango.


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