Argentine Tango is a complete cultural phenomenon that includes dance, music, song and poetry in which attracts and absorbs more and more people worldwide.
Although the facts about tango and its personages are often discussed and subjected to scrutiny, it is generally accepted that tango was born in Buenos Aires toward the end of the XIX century. Nevertheless, some prefer to say, for conciliatory purposes, that it was born on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, in order to please the Uruguayans who claim co-paternity of the phenomenon.
It is impossible to pinpoint a precise date of birth for a manifestation of popular origin and, therefore, one of evolutionary birth such as tango. However, what is certain is that most experts agree that the decade of 1880 was a starting point for what was then no more than a particular way of dancing to music. The society into which tango was born listened and danced to havaneras, polkas, mazurkas and an occasional waltz, as far as the whites were concerned, while the blacks, 25% of the population of Buenos Aires in the XIX century, moved to the rhythms of the candombe, a type of dance in which couples refrained from intertwining and danced in a way that was determined more by the percussive beat than by the melody.
Musically speaking, Tango is related by genealogy to the Hispano-Cuban havanera and is thus progeny of the mercantile transactions between the Spanish speaking ports of La Havana (Cuba) and those of Buenos Aires (Argentina). Nevertheless, these origins explain little abut its birth. Initially, tango was interpreted by modest groups consisting only of a violinist, a flutist, a guitarist -and at times without the latter- and accompanied by an experienced blower who set the beat playing a comb converted into a wind instrument by way of a cigarette rolling paper. The mythical concertina was not incorporated into tango until a few decades later, in the year 1900, approximately. Little by little, this instrument substituted the flute.
At first, tango must have been a way of interpreting already existing melodies, upon which other newer ones were created, although initially there was no written music since most often than not the interpreters and creators did not know how to read or write sheet music. In fact, with the passage of time, some of the first recorded tangos were not signed by the authentic authors but rather by clever characters who did indeed know how to write down music and took advantage of the existing void of authorship of certain popular tangos to put their own names on them, thereby earning a few extra pesos.
Perhaps, at this point in the text, some readers may wonder about the origin of the name. It is a good question, but one lacking an answer or, what amounts to the same thing, having thousands. In the Spain of the XIX century, the word tango was used for a genre of flamenco; there are some place-names in Africa called tango, in Spanish colonial documents the vocable is used in reference to the place where the black slaves celebrated their festive meetings... some even say the origin could reside in the fact that the Africans were incapable of pronouncing the word 'tambour' correctly and uttered 'tango' instead. All in all, it is a good question but the irremissible lack of written documentation as well as the origin of tango and its forefathers, will forever hush the answer.
However, it is possible to speak with authority of one important element: the stage of its birth. It must be said that turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires was an expanding city with an enormous demographic growth rate, sustained above all by emigration originating in several countries. Of course there were Spaniards and Italians, but Germans, Hungarians, Slavs, Arabs and Jews were part of this migratory current as well. All of them composed a huge mass of uprooted and poor working class individuals, with scarce possibilities of communication due to the linguistic barriers and mostly male, since they were usually men seeking their fortunes, to such an extent that the the population of Buenos Aires was completely unbalanced, for 70% of the inhabitants were male.
Argentina grew from a population of two million in 1870 to four million twenty-five years later. Half of that population was concentrated in Buenos Aires where the percentage of foreigners reached 50%, and which was also the migratory destiny of inland Gauchos and Indians. In this environment, down in the slums and brothels, a new dance began to a new rhythm, and was associated from the beginning with bawdy-house ambiences, since the only women present in the dance academies or dance halls were prostitutes and 'barmaids'. Since they were females dedicating their souls, and above all, their bodies to accidental companions, tango commenced as a dance which was very 'corporal', provocative, close, explicit... in a hardly sociably acceptable manner, something which would become apparent as it spread into an emerging phenomenon and began to expand outside the slums of the city of its origin.
From its humble birth to its elevation as reigning dance in the salons of the occidental world, tango traveled an interesting round trip journey between the Old and the New Continents, with a decisive and brilliant layover in Paris.
How did it get there? The answers to this question are also disparate and varied. Some texts, many more ingenuous then erudite, go so far as to offer first and last names of 'the' person responsible for this trip. Actually, in its expansion as in its birth, the causes were more complex and, indeed, more plural.
Within this social context, it was not difficult for the daring dance created in the Silver Capital to find a terrain fertilized for its blooming and conversion into an oddity at first and a furor afterwards. Once in Paris, the European trend setter, the capital of fashion, the cradle of chic, its extension to the rest of the continent first, and then to the entire world, was easy and quick. Ironically, it is not until then, when Buenos Aires takes a look at itself in Paris, that tango finally enters into the most noble salons, guaranteed by the European baptism, and becomes the best of all pedigrees for an emergent bourgeoise struggling to make of its city the Paris of America.
The Tango had triumphed, there were tango dresses, tango colors, tango teas... tango was the number one dance of that prewar world. Also, the world, in a new prewar period, discovered and admired Carlos Gardel (the most famous argentinian Tango singer).
All these years, tango has a brilliant history and a continuous life throughout which both the dance and the music have been developed so thoroughly that it has reached a level of sophistication and purification that makes clear the maturity of a manifestation now living the first decades of the second century since its birth.
Tango is a genre that originally involved dance, music, poetry and singing. Tango expresses a way of conceiving the world and life and it nourishes the cultural imagery of the inhabitants of the capital cities of the Rio de la Plata. This genre includes also the milonga, the milonga candombeada and the so-called vals criollo.
Tango was born among the lower urban classes in both cities as an expression originated in the fusion of elements from Argentine and Uruguayan`s African culture, authentic criollos [natives of this region] and European immigrants. As the artistic and cultural result of hybridization`s processes, Tango is considered nowadays one of the fundamental signs of the Rio de la Plata’s identity.
In 2009, The UNESCO declared the Tango an
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity