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October 11, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires # 4

Letter from Buenos Aires # 4. October 10th. 2008
Beatriz Dujovne

Sadly, Enrique Binda’s seminar came to an end last night. If you have followed my letters you know that he is a true historian of tango’s beginnings, as well as an expert in tango developments in the 1920s (also a collector of music of that era). I felt so enlightened about yesterday’s materials that I feel inclined to share my notes with those of you interested in tango music. As a dancer I tend to think that the best of tango belongs to the golden era. Not so.

Binda noted and illustrated (with available and unavailable recordings) that from 1914 until the beginnings of the decade of the 1930s, musicians were major protagonists of orchestas. He compared an alfarero [ceramicist?] who models his art with his hands infusing his soul in it, to a worker who makes bricks in an oven using a mold. Both use similar basic materials but the former gives his product soul and the later does not. For more on this, you may consult www.todotango.com, click “cronicas” and look for Binda’s articles.

In the 30s, as orquestas became larger, the role of the director and arranger acquired more prominence than that of individual musicians; thus great directors and great arrangers emerged and the individual expression and soul of each musician became anonymous (with exceptions). The sheer size of the orquestas demanded the roles of arranger and director. Binda placed the beginning of these changes with the orquesta of “Edgardo Donato y sus muchachos”; the name itself lumps all musicians under the anonymity of “muchachos” [men]. It would take years for a Piazzolla to give weight to individual musicians again, as was the case in the 1920s, the period we are studying.

What made yesterday’s class abundantly rich for me were the pieces Binda brought from his private collection. What a privilege to listen to them! How exciting to realize that from 1910s through 1927 tango was in its period of most rapid evolution!

We listened to “Mocosita” (1926), a bandoneon duo (Maffia and Laurenz), the richest and sweetest of the duos recorded during the 20s. We realized that just these two musicians (Mafia and Laurenz, so different in style and yet so complementary of each other) sounded like an entire orquesta (it would not take much to add four instruments and have an orquesta, the De Caro sexteto, as it actually happened).

Next he played “Campanita” (1927) by Orquesta Pacho, suggesting we pay special attention to Vardaro’s superb violin free interpretations.

Orquesta Firpo (1927), in “Dicha Pasada”, features violoncello; the piano freely acts as a commentator; another example of experimentation with new timbres and freedom of expression during this decade.

We listened to the same orquesta in “Inglesita” (1927) paying special attention to the richness of the music.

In 1927 Victor recording company started putting together its own orquestas; one of them is the “Orquesta Ferrazano”; from it we listen to “Viborita” composed by Eduardo Arolas.

What delighted us the most was “Poker de Aces” (1927) by Orquesta Pacho with Vardaro in violin. Unanimously we thought the violin was the center of the orquesta. The violin carried the orquesta in its shoulders, someone commented. If there had been an arranger the violin would not have freely “flown” in this personally expressive manner.

Pause for a cultural commentary.

[I am writing from an outdoor table at confiteria La Biela, my “second home” in Buenos Aires. At this very moment a waiter, Luis, comes out of this venue to bring me two chocolates and shake hands. We laugh, as this is part of an evolving story. Indeed, a few days earlier I reproached he had not brought me chocolates with the cafecito. He immediately brought two, “one for each of my eyes”, he said, since he knows I do not eat chocolate but like to look at them. Today he is working inside but saw me and decided to come out and say hello. We then chit-chatted about the financial world disaster in that familiar way which are so characteristic of tango lyrics].

Back to yesterday’s class. We listened to Cobian’s orquesta, which discography is small. We disliked the voice of Fiorentino in “Charlatan” (1928). He covered Vardaro’s extraordinary violin playing which Binda compares to a football player who moves the ball with dexterity in the field as the circumstances evolve.

“Domino” (1928) is one jewel that fell into oblivion, one of those compositions that were not re-edited, that only collectors like Binda own.

“Flores Negras” by De Caro, is a beautiful tango recorded many times. We all went Ahhhhh……

The moral of the story is that by 1928 there was an incredible richness in the music, many timbres, many ways of playing tango.

Next a surprise: “La guitarrita” by Sexteto Di Sarli, excellent orquesta, danceable, which was not successful in the 20’s. Truly Di Sarli. Binda says that Di Sarli’s recordings of this time show that he knew what he wanted in the 20s; it is the closest to the orquesta of the 40s. Di Sarli had to wait years for people to like his music. Di Sarli was always Di Sarli, Binda says.

On the contrary, D’Arienzo’s 1928 shows D’Arienzo was not always D’Arienzo. In 1928 he did not have his own aesthetic conviction. Binda does not appreciate the acceleration of the music he introduced. Even more, he opposes the titles assigned to him as “El rey del compas”, “Salvador del tango”, the director who took tango “from the head to the feet”.

Once again Binda shows us how tango’s history is filled with myths. The mythology goes like this: tango was nothing until De Caro in 1924. Then it became nothing again until D”Arienzo saved it in 1935.

The day is beautiful here. I will devote the rest of the afternoon to watch people at this outdoor venue. I am observing an interesting human flora and fauna. The ones alone have their heads leaning back trying to absorb all the sun they can. The ones in company (80% of them) are leaning forward talking with animation, gesturing. Everyone faces the sun. I am the only specimen with my back to the sun. They seem unconcerned about the carcinogenic effects of sun exposure. Who are the locals and who are the tourists? This is the solitary game I am about to play now. I have never played it systematically. I will report on how you tell apart a local from a foreigner in the land of tango in a future letter.

I am wondering…What in the bits of my cultural commentaries suggests to you that this is the city where tango is not just a dance, where it is part of a culture which, by its very nature has nourished the dance for over one hundred years?

Posted by beatriz at October 11, 2008 02:20 AM


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