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October 04, 2009

Tango - Patrimonio de la Humanidad

Couples dance the tango on the street at Boedo neighborhood in Buenos Aires, on October 3, 2009. The United Nations declared the tango tradition of Argentina and Uruguay a world cultural treasure, adding its sultry dance steps and melancholy song lyrics to UNESCO's heritage list. (Click to enlarge.) Photo from Getty Images.

Tango - Patrimonio de la Humanidad
Letter from Buenos Aires, December 11, 2008.
By Beatriz Dujovne

Feelings of impotence reign in Buenos Aires. I feel it in the air. Cab drivers tell me about it. The newspapers report it: government officials pad their pockets with funds that belong to the people and the country. Official thieving is rampant.

For a change, this government carried good news: The 24 members of UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, through the initiative of the governments of Argentina and Uruguay, declared tango part of the world intangible cultural heritage last Wednesday. It gained this international recognition over 76 other immaterial world assets submitted for consideration.

On Thursday, posters printed and pasted by the city were everywhere. This is one of many, each of which featured a different tango icon:

Poster of Piazzolla commemorating UNESCO's granting of "protected cultural status" to the tango. (Click to enlarge.)

Many porteños shrugged their shoulders, quite aware that tango had reached all corners of the world by itself, and survived the most difficult times without government involvement. Others were unfazed, as they thought issues of unemployment and safety needed more attention than tango.  For the majority, the news was worthy of celebration. Reflecting the national ambivalence, singer Nelly Omar (98 years old) said: “I am not interested in the honor. I am, if those in power will give new musicians the space they need to work.”

Alberto Podesta singing at Avenida Boedo October . (Click to enlarge.)

Two days after the announcement, in Avenida Boedo, the barrio where the tango literature of the 30s and 40s was brewed (many poets and musicians lived or frequented the barrio’s cafes), an impressive black stage was mounted from sidewalk to sidewalk. On Saturday, a multitude of hundreds (perhaps larger) gathered to hear five iconic singers who the city had enlisted for the occasion, none under 80 years of age. The standing crowd, which extended one block long, listened with utmost reverence to Ruben Cane (b. 1927), Osvaldo Ribó (b. 1927), Julio Martel (b. 1923), Juan Carlos Godoy (b. 1922), and Alberto Podesta (b. 1924), who took turns on the stage. Elegantly dressed in black tie, each gave us three songs. Visuals of each singer’s childhood preceded his appearance. Nostalgic oversized photographs from the 40s and 50s, the familiar pictures that we see in CD covers, were projected at the left of the stage while each sung.

Ruben Cane. (Click to enlarge.)

Ruben Cane again. (Click to enlarge.)

Old and young spectators were in awe. The group’s emotion was profound; it was expressed in religious silence.

Osvaldo Ribó. (Click to enlarge.)

Juan Carlos Godoy. (Click to enlarge.)

As a finale, the five men lined up and sang “Vieja Serenata,” but not in unison. Each delivered a few verses and passed the microphone to the next. Their memories were faultless. I was amazed that, most likely without rehearsal, as each man passed the microphone, the next in line picked up where the other left without any hesitation. I could hear some whispering: “Can you believe he still has this voice?”

When it was over, I ran to the stairs where they would be descending from the stage. I stood there and watched each one march down. A woman spoke for me when she engaged my eyes and said: “Siento una ternura mirandolos” (I feel a tenderness watching them).

Prior to the grand outdoor milonga where Horacio Godoy was the MC and DJ, Hiroshi y Kyoko Yamao, the winners of the 2009 tango salon competition in Buenos Aires, performed two tangos. They were warmly welcomed and applauded.  To the amazement of the dancers, porteños asked them for an encore.

Hiroshi and Kyoko Yamao. (Click to enlarge.)

I felt touched noticing that the integrationist spirit that gave birth to tango still lives on. The invitation of the Japanese to this unique celebration told me so.

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne)

Posted by beatriz at October 4, 2009 08:52 PM


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