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September 29, 2008

Letters from Buenos Aires #3

Letters from Buenos Aires
Beatriz Dujovne

I head towards Avenida de Mayo today Thursday September 25th 2008. More precisely to Professor Enrique Binda’s second class at the National Academy of Tango. Teacher and students do not kiss in his class, we do not seat in a circle either. But I have another class before this one with a different teacher; in his class we seat in a circle and we do kiss.

Always a little shocked by cultural differences when I return to my first culture, I relish all this kissing. It happens like this: if I am the first one to arrive, each student who comes after me kisses me and whoever else is there. When the teacher arrives, he kisses all of us. The last to arrive bends down seat by seat to look us in the eye and kiss us. The kissing continues with each new arrival until the teacher begins the class. Anyone coming late is greeted by the teacher who interrupts himself to extend a welcome: “Hola Ricardo, como estas?”. Small nuances like the looking at each other in the eye before kissing, the kissing itself, and the self- interruption of the teacher, remind me why the eminently connecting tango was born and has been sustained by this interpersonally glue-making culture.

Enough about kissing. So, I am here going to share the notes from the non-kissing class. Last week, Binda had “proved” to us, with musical selections, that many “innovations” attributed to Julio De Caro (i.e. introduction of solo instrumentals, “contracantos” of violins) were already present in Firpo’s 1913 and Fresedo’s1922 recordings.

Binda is a researcher who does not hesitate to contradict the “official” history when his data show otherwise.

Today’s class will covers some highlights of music and singing developments from 1922 to 1924.

From a vintage edition of a De Caro’s book, Professor Binda shows us the picture of the orquesta Minotto where De Caro made his debut as the first violinist. We listen to “Fruta Prohibida” by Delfino, recorded by Victor in 1922. We notice the music to be rather repetitive. Without the variations, the subtleties or the expressivity that we had heard in the Fresedo orquesta last week. The Minotto orquesta had no particular characteristics, De Caro’s presence in it did not add anything, Binda says.

From 1922 we listen to “Viaje al Norte”, by Cobian’s sexteto, with its characteristic Cobian’s melody, with Petrucelli and Maffia in bandoneons, and Julio De Caro on violin. Binda and the knowledgeable members of this class find Cobian’s orquesta considerably less interesting than the rich Fresedo’s. (Anecdote: Cobian recorded this piece before he left for the United States in 1924, thus the title: “Trip to the North” [1924 is Binda’s research date, as opposed to the 1923 date find in publications]). Under his boss Cobian, Julio De Caro composed a tango named “Fresedo”, an expression of admiration and gratitude to the man who, since the 1910s had been the leading tango composer, arranger, and director. De Caro composed this tribute not to his boss Cobian, but to Fresedo.

Binda tells us anecdotes about De Caro’s early days as an orquesta director. He was hardly able to get good paying gigs and, to keep his orquesta together, paid his musicians out of his own pocket (without their knowledge); they performed at a bar a few blocks from the Academy of Tango in Avenida de Mayo. After about a month, when he was running out of money, a foreign impresario hired him to play at the luxurious Palais de Glace with a very high salary to play at dancing teas and dinners for the aristocracy. This unexpected success opened the door to recordings with the Victor company. This company had traditionally recorded cream of the crop musicians, while Odeon was less discriminating. To be recorded by Victor was, thus, a major step for De Caro.

“Todo Corazon” from August 1924 by De Caro’s sextet featured two bandoneons (Petrucelli [first bandoneon] and Maffia), and Francisco De Caro on piano. This is the only recording with these two bandoneon players. Petrucelli left soon thereafter and Laurenz joined. De Caro’s orquesta had far more liveliness than Cobian’s.

After listening to De Caro we listened again to “Sollozos” (1922), the Fresedo piece played during the previous class, with Cobian on piano, Roccatagliata in violin, and solos of bandoneon.

Binda reminds us that these great musicians were "practically children" between ages 22 and 24!

We spend some time appreciating how slow the development of singing was during the late 1910s and the 1920s. Singing lagged far behind the fast developing music.

In the rather mediocre voice of Ignacio Corsini, an actor who found his way into singing, we noticed his difficulties sustaining certain notes in “Patotero Sentimental” (1922).
On the other hand, Rosita Quiroga, the “Gardel” female of tango song, recorded “De mi barrio” in 1923. She was a fully mature singer by that time. She sang with expressiveness, invitingly, almost a cappella. The orquesta was background to her voice.

“Mia”, one of the first tangos that Azucena Maizani recorded in 1924, shows us that it would take Maizani several years to achieve the quality that Rosita Quiroga had reached a year earlier. With this recording Professor Binda closed the evening.

Impressed by my fellow students’ knowledge of tango music and history, I observed when Binda played specific songs (at times they dialogued with the teacher). I asked three of the men (as we descended down the white marble stairway hugging the turn of the century elevator) why were they attending this class if they knew so much. They had some “holes” in their knowledge and this teacher knows so much that it brings it all together for them, I was told. I was amazed one of them had identified “Almita Herida” during the two seconds Binda (by mistake) put it in the recorder and quickly removed it. Already in Avenida de Mayo at 9:30 PM, I asked him about his background. He was not a musician, not even a dancer, he replied. He had a “good ear”, a wide collection of recordings and loved tango. And you, they asked, what brings you to this class? “I come from dancing….” They seemed pleased and almost in unison they said: there is only one tango that cannot be separated: “music, dance, poetry and singing”.

Posted by beatriz at 08:49 PM | Comments (1)


Seth's Blog: It's easy to be against something

It's easy to be against something

...that you're afraid of.

And it's easy to be afraid of something that you don't understand.

Posted by joegrohens at 03:06 PM

September 23, 2008

Letters from Buenos Aires #2

Buenos Aires, September 18, 2008
Beatriz Dujovne

Avenida de Mayo was completed with its full European splendor for the one hundredth anniversary of the city in 1910. Many of its restaurants and cafes have been there since that time. So has the hotel where Garcia Lorca stayed.

Spanish immigrants used to congregate in these establishments. I know that for a fact. I was there among them during my childhood. I felt privileged as a seven year old when my uncle Jose took me on his Saturday night outings to Avenida de Mayo where he met his friends from Galicia, Spain. As the only child at the restaurant table I got a lot of attention, but soon got bored listening to their reminiscences about the old country. Once, to alleviate my boredom I got up and moved around for a while holding what I thought was Jose’s hand. Instead I looked up and discovered the person was a perfect stranger. I became frightened for a second, until I spotted my uncle watching me from a short distance, wondering what I would do when I realized I was holding onto a stranger. That event did not become a trauma. Maybe back in my unconscious it adds to my delight when I embrace a stranger tango dancing.

Today I went by myself to the National Academy of Tango, which is located in Avenida de Mayo above historic Café Tortoni, whose manager told me last year about his recollections of when the intellectuals and artists of the XX century gathered there: our poets Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonsina Storni, Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, our painter Quunquela Martin, our tango singer Carlos Gardel, Italian dramaturge Luigi Pirandello. Wishing I had been part of those times, I climbed the marble steps of the academy, the same ones that our poet Horacio Ferrer (yes, the one who wrote the lyrics for Piazzolla’s songs), its director, climbs every day. I am in the building where the Museum of Tango is housed, where Anibal Troilo’s bandoneon stays, where it comes alive only on special occasions. Last year Raul Garello played it. I was there and watched Ferrer stand up when the instrument entered the room in the hands of Garello. And he stood up until the bandoneon was carried out of the room. I believe he had his right hand on his heart.

I take the luscious turn-of-the century elevator to the second floor (I like its feel, never miss an opportunity to touch it) and look for the “History of Tango in the Twenties” course in which I have registered. The instructor is the historian who tango academicians respect. The only one that does not believe in the abundant narratives and mythology passed as history, the one who only writes and teaches what he has personally researched and documented from articles in newspapers of the time or at the National Archives. His name is Enrique Binda. He is best known as the co-author of a classic book: “Tango en la sociedad portena 1880-1920” [Tango in the portena society 1880-1920]

I would like to share a few notes from the first class (I missed the 3 previous classes) with those of you who are tango music connoisseurs. But first let me share a cultural observation. I arrived 10 minutes late (oops…) expecting he would frown at me. But he stopped the class, came towards me, introduced himself and welcomed me.

He continued talking about the musical quality of first tango cancion (sung tango) “Mi Noche Triste”, recorded by Gardel with accompaniment of guitars. We tend to think of it as a great tango but the country sound of the music needed to evolve into tango music. It took three years for a tango song to have musical quality. This first quality tango song was Milonguita, in 1920. We listened to the original recordings of both “Mi Noche Triste” and “Milonguita”.

Piracy of recordings is not a contemporary phenomenon. It existed as early as 1915. A factory located in Porto Alegre, Brasil, recorded with its own label the work of Argentine artists. Bringing a few of those old pirated records, Binda let us touch them and inspect the labels.

He then played for us the 1920 recording of “El Rodeo” with Delfino on piano and Fresedo on bandoneon. We then heard “Sollozos” (1922) by Fresedo’s orquesta with Roccatagliata on violin and Cobian on piano. Binda guided us to notice the several instrumental solos in this piece. Some of the novelties that Fresedo introduced were credited to De Caro who came on the scene later.

From the fall of 1922 Binda played “Almita Herida” by Fresedo’s orquesta, featuring another solo by Cobian. In “Firulete” from 1922 we could hear new sounds (cymbals) which Fresedo later discarded. Binda pointed out that new “timbres” were explored by Fresedo, even though there is a tendency to believe tango music had to wait for those new timbres until Salgan and others appeared on the musical scene later.

From the Orquesta Tipica Flores he played “Buena Mano” (1922), which did not have the esthetic sense of the balances, tensions and richness of Fresedo.

A reading of his class notes, which he graciously gave me to catch up with the material I had missed, clarified the main point of the lecture. In spite of his great respect for De Caro, Binda asserted that many “innovations” attributed to De Caro (i.e. introduction of solo instrumentals) were already present in 1922 in Fresedo’s recordings. The same is true about the “contracantos” of violin; they had been introduced by Firpo in 1913. Binda also found the “acompanamiento armonizado” in the hands of Cobian during his work with Fresedo in 1922, and to some extent In Delfino 1920. Fresedo is an example of “a style rich in colors, alternating solo passages with pianissimos and tuttis in excellent concurrence”.

I am amazed at the high quality education that Binda is imparting with a boom box that has to be adjusted constantly for quality of sound, at all the research he has done for his passion of writing a documented history of tango. I imagine he did it without a grant, in his own time, at his own expense…but I will find out this and more when I meet one-on-one with him at Café Tortoni, as we arranged.

I walk out wishing that the thousands of foreign dancers who go to Buenos Aires could know that there are dozens of workshops on tango music and history like this one simultaneously offered throughout this city.

Posted by beatriz at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2008

Music Selection for Beginning Class

I have made an iMix for my beginning tango class.

Joe's Tango iMix 1 Click to listen and download items. (Requires iTunes.)

  Joe's Tango iMix 1

Playlist Notes: This is an iMix of traditional tangos for dancing Argentine Tango. The collection is good for beginners who want to familiarize themselves with the music used for dancing social tango. Good for practicing and sampling some of the classic orchestras. I included two valses (tracks 10 and 11), and two milongas (tracks 12 and 13).

By Joe Grohens joe@cu-tango.com

Song Name Artist
El Flete D'Arienzo Orchestra (Tango Lesson Soundtrack)
Pensalo Bien D'Arienzo Orchestra (Tango Lesson Soundtrack)
Milonga Triste Hugo Diaz (Tango Lesson Soundtrack)
El Calabozo Carlos Di Sarli Sexteto
Poema Orquesta Francisco Canaro
Hotel Victoria Orquesta Francisco Canaro
Don Juan Carlos Di Sarli
Champagne Tango Carlos Di Sarli
Verdemar Carlos Di Sarli Y Su Orquesta Tipica
Lagrimas y sonrisas Rodolfo Biagi
Palomita Blanca Anibal Troilo con Floreal Ruiz
Milonga sentimental Ernesto Fama & Orquesta tipica Francisco Canaro
Reliquias portenas Orquesta tipica Francisco Canaro
Posted by joegrohens at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2008

Letters from Buenos Aires #1

Letters from Buenos Aires
Beatriz Dujovne

What does a porteña tanguera who lives in the USA do during her first day in her beloved Buenos Aires?

Waking up at noon to break the time regimentation routine is a must. Rushing to work? I already forgot. Instead I hurry to an outdoor confiteria for a cafecito. Hurrying just to get the morning caffeine. Leisure begins. Sipping the cafecito under the sun…reading two newspapers so no cultural event is missed.

Today Sunday September 14, 2008 one event draws my interest: Discussion of Piazzolla’s Tango at the Fondo Nacional de las Artes with Horacio Malvicino (guitar player of Piazzolla’s quintet), Amelita Baltar (Piazzolla’s wife and singer) and music critic Diego Fischerman.

I am personally interested in learning why I do not hear Piazzolla's tangos played in milongas in the USA. When I dance Piazzolla’s Oblivion, Tanti Anni Fa, Nonino, even Libertango, I dance the same heart I feel in traditional tango. I understand why Piazzolla's tangos are not played in Buenos Aires milongas. Porteño tangueros have never accepted his music as real tango. Yet, outside of Buenos Aires I would have expected loyalty to traditional tango would not have unleashed passionate animosity against Piazzolla's music.

Digression: several years ago his music was used as a “cortina” in Salon Canning. I took offense.

We congregate in what was the former home of Victoria Ocampo, one of the poets of the early XX century. This home stands nested among greenery in Palermo Chico, a neighborhood of palatial residences, embassies, and the replica of Buglone Sur Mer, the house where San Martin (Argentine hero) died in France. Among the French architecture of the area, Victoria’s home is strictly Corbusier.

Digression: Ocampo left a few sentences about her exposure to tango at the aristocratic home of her grandfather in the very early 1900s. Tango continued to be played at her home for her intellectual elite friends. I am engaging in this digression to dispel the myth I hear in the USA, the one that says that Buenos Aires’ upper class rejected tango until after Paris cleaned it up after 1913.

Malvicino (who says he was “found” when the maestro was looking for a guitarist that could improvise) says Piazzolla was a complex personality. He and Melita agreed that he was harshly demanding and critical of his musicians, he never gave a compliment for a job well done.

Fischerman says that Astor Piazzolla always felt he was composing tango. He had left Troilo’s orquesta tipica, his major influence, in 1945. In spite of classical and jazz influences Piazzolla’s music was tango. Tango was his expertise. Piazzolla would compose songs according to the talents of the musicians he had. He gave room for improvisation to some and permitted no deviation from the partitura to others. Because of the opposition to his music by porteños, they played in small café concert venues – rather than in large theatres- and made hardly any money. While working for Piazzolla, Malvicino says he and his wife slept in a mattress on the floor next to his new born son’s mattress. Malvicino’s inability to sustain a family forced him and other musicians to move on. The Octeto, formed in 1955 became explosive, unleashing a “civil war”, a passionate debate as to whether Astor’s music was tango or not. Francini advised Piazzolla to make his music more accessible to the masses, more danceable, but he would not listen to him. The octeto had a short life, only two recordings were made because Malvicino owned a small recording studio.

Melita met Piazzolla in the 60s on the occasion of his visit to the venue where Tarantino played, she happened to sing folklore there. He became interested in her and in her voice. “Que linda voz tenes piba” he used to tell her. Soon thereafter they began composing Maria de Buenos Aires, the operita with lyrics of Horacio Ferrer (which will be on stage in October at Teatro Cervantes). After the performances Piazzolla, Ferrer and Baltar went to Bachin, a restaurant that no longer exists (note: there is one with the same name across the street where the original one was). The song and lyrics of Chiquilin de Bachin were inspired by the children who came late at night selling roses. Unlike the legend says (that it was written about a specific child) this song was written as a sensitive human commentary for all children who had to work at night. Piazzolla is more admired worldwide than in Argentina as I can tell by the many chamber music ensembles and symphonic orchestras that play his music. He was not only revolutionary in his music; he also broke away from the dress code of tango directors. In 1972 he began using black shirt and pants instead of suit and tie.

I always knew that when Balada para un loco was presented at Luna Park, people in the audience whistled. It did not win first prize. The next day people of Buenos Aires were singing it in the streets. Tonight I knew the “inside” of the story. Melita said that people were organized to whistle when Piazzolla presented the song because it mentions calle Arenales and Callao Avenue which are in the aristocratic part of Buenos Aires. It was a major departure from singing to Sur, as traditional tangos had so far done. Melita said she has kept secret the names of the three organizers of the boycott, who are still around. Furthermore, she explained that people were instructed to whistle but, as we know, porteños took it further and threw objects at the musicians.

The attraction of the program for me was not so much its content, but being with panelists and audience that had known Piazzolla. The older generation in the audience could not keep their mouths shut; they wanted to tell their stories about Astor. As closing the facilitator asked Melita to do a narration. Instead she sang a stanza from Balada para un loco (without music) with her raspy voice and self assured demeanor.

On the way out my eyes met Melita’s. To make contact I asked her if she remembered the name of a café concert, in Recoleta, where I saw her and Piazzolla perform in the seventies. She did not remember, but invited me to go to El Vesubio where she is singing now. I said I would. The exchange of words was not important, but the connection woman to woman I felt with her was quite special.

Posted by beatriz at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2008

How Can We Have More Men in Tango?

Four tango teachers, one woman and three men, were talking after dinner at the home of a festival organizer in the U.S. Other dancers were also present. Someone asked, "How can we bring more men into the tango?"

The first tango teacher, the woman, said "Get more attractive women." Some laughed at her joke.

The second tango teacher said, "Always give the men things that they can't do yet, to challenge them. Otherwise they will get bored." Some men in the room nodded in agreement.

The third tango teacher said, "No, the opposite. Make sure that the men have it easy and build on small successes. If it's too hard for them to do, they will leave." Some other men in the room nodded in agreement.

The fourth tango teacher said "You must teach the women about their responsibility in the dance and give them their work to do. Don't always focus on the men. Otherwise, the women think it's just up to the men, but the men can't make such women dance until they themselves are more advanced. That's why the men give up. And the women start asking you for adornos because they don't think they have anything to do." At this, all fell silent. Some had surprised looks on their faces. The next person to speak changed the subject.

Posted by joegrohens at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2008

My first milonga

The "Confessions Of A Tango Dancer" blog asks Question #3: What Was Your First Milonga Like?

This was my response, modestly revised.

My first milonga. Beautiful question.

I'll call it "our" first milonga, because I went with my tango dance partner, who eventually became my girlfriend, and we still are together.

Our first milonga was in Chicago @ Tango Nada Mas (now defunct). We had taken a few private lessons from our local ballroom teacher where we live (Champaign-Urbana). I would say they were very good lessons, and he was and is one of the best dance teachers I have ever known. But he was just beginning to learn Argentine Tango himself, and what he taught had a lot of carry-over from ballroom tango.

Anyway -- teacher said we knew enough, we should find a place to go dance, and see how other dancers do it. The nearest place was Tango Nada Mas in Chicago - 2.5 hours away. I called Bob Dronski, said we wanted to come up. He reserved a table for us. (!)

It was beautiful, fantastic, glorious, changed our lives, etc. I remember that all we knew was a few patterns - a few 8-count basics, though I don't think they stepped backwards. We also had learned "the gancho", "the parada (w. sandwich, etc.)" and "the sentada". The sentada cracks me up when I think about it now, and I sometimes lead it for fun. It's actually a classic figure - Pibe Palermo used to do it. And I saw Carmencita doing it on one of the CITA videos.

Anyway .... we stood out like we were Harlequin and Columbina - a couple of puppets. Everyone in Chicago was so friendly and welcoming to us. A lot of the guys asked Carlota to dance, (and of course, were quite generous with the teaching.)

God, I remember that night so fondly. I was scared to death, and managed to dance a total of four songs the whole night (each one separated by a half hour of sweating pulse-pounding recovery).

I learned a lot from seeing real tango dancers dance.

And the part that makes us laugh to this day (more than 10 years later) is that when people could come chat with us and ask us where we were from, they always said "You seem to dance a different style of tango." Yeah, that's for sure.

That was when I started to think of myself as an orillero.

Posted by joegrohens at 07:46 PM

Oscar Ferrari - 9 August 1924 - 20 August 2008

Oscar Ferrari biography on TodoTango

Oscar Ferrari died on August 20, 2008. He had been performing until recently, his pure tenor voice undiminished by age.

  • With Orquesta Tipica Fervor de Buenos Aires

  • On stage with another group.

  • With Anibal Arias

  • In the Cafe de Los Maestros film, by Gustavo Santolla

    Excerpt from interview on Todo Tango (linked above):

    I suggest to all who "dig" tango that they ought to have respect for the music, for the lyrics and that -before recording- they have to dive into the meaning of the lyrics; especially for a very simple honest reason: we are using the talent of the writers and musicians and the least we can do is to respect what they wrote. We don't have to change the music to fit our convenience. Today I listen to recordings in which the music has nothing to do with what the composer wrote. No, boys, no. When distorting the music, tango loses harmony, loses beauty, because the one who wrote it burnt his eyebrows to find the chords and to achieve the right harmony. The least we can do is to respect him, to sing according to the music the author wrote and not to accommodate the lyrics to make it easier for us. No, no, let us respect him, because we are using that talent without paying anything and living on him.

    Posted by joegrohens at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

    September 02, 2008

    Miguel & Nelly Balmaceda

    In early July we heard the sad news that Nelly Balmaceda had died. Julia Balmaceda, Nelly's son, and his partner Corina were scheduled to teach in Chicago on the July 4th weekend but had to cancel.

    This video shows Nelly and her husband Miguel Balmaceda performing to "Gallo Ciego" (Pugliese version) at Salon Canning. I believe the video was filmed by Daniel Trenner in the early 1990s. Please correct me if you have better info on this.

    Miguel and Nelly ran one of the most important practicas in Buenos Aires during the 1980s and 1990s, until Miguel's death. Many of today's teachers started there. Susana Miller, for example, started learning tango there. The story is always told that Miguel would not allow dancers to do figures. He wanted them to train only in walking for the first two years.

    In this video you see a lot of figures.

    Posted by joegrohens at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

    Tango reaches lolcats

    That is some nice contra-body torsion!

    Posted by joegrohens at 08:44 AM

    September 01, 2008

    Alterna Tango

    The Tango Tales Radio website has a page listing examples o what they call alternative tango. Each title includes a link to the iTunes store where you can listen to the mp3 sample. (Requires iTunes).

    Music Sampler: the best of alternative tango music (alterna-tango or found tango)

    Posted by joegrohens at 05:47 PM