November 27, 2010

Troilo's Bandoneon

Ceremony at the National Academy of Tango
Letter from Buenos Aires, November 24, 2010.
By Beatriz Dujovne

Walter Rios playing Troilo's bandoneon. Horacio Ferrer and Soria in background. Click to enlarge.

Last week, the National Academy of Tango held a ceremony honoring Amelita Baltar (singer), Ernesto Baffa, Rodolfo Mederos, and Walter Ríos (“bandoneonistas”). The president of the Academy and “the” poet of Buenos Aires, Horacio Ferrer, introduced each artist with great affection. Although over one hundred people attended, the ceremony had an intimate tone.

I cannot tell you how moving it was to hear each artist speak.

Amelita, former partner in life and in music of Astor Piazzolla, holding Ferrer’s hand, expressed gratitude for the privilege of singing the “poesía caliente” (hot poetry) of Ferrer to the music of Piazzolla.

Listening to the musicians talk about their beginnings was to understand why the bandoneon (the “fueye” as it is called in Buenos Aires) is who they are. Ríos began playing with the buttons of his father’s bandoneon before he was old enough to walk. Mederos was a little kid when a neighbor put a fueye on his lap. For him, the sounds come from the fragrances of his early home, the sight of the dog laying on the dirt floor, the smell of “mate cocido,” and the love of his parents who, despite their “lean” pockets, managed to pay for his musical education when he was just 6 years old.

The program was to conclude with Ríos playing Troilos's bandoneón, which rests at the museum of the Academy (it is played twice a month). He passed the instrument to his colleagues, which gave us the experience of listening to the sounds of the bandoneon in the hands and souls of the three maestros.

Baffa hesitated abut what to play (for 1/2 a second) and about 10 people in the audience shouted "Responso!" The other 2 men played compositions of their own.

You may wonder if the musicians made any comments about the bandoneon of Troilo. Mederos was cute in his depressed proletarian presentation (contrasting with Walter Rios, who was dressed up with a very expensive silver gray silky suit). Mederos started getting acquainted with the bando before really playing and said (without meaning to be funny), "I must say a musical instrument is like underwear: to be used by one person." He was the last one to play and said "in respect for the music I am going to remove the microphones."

And did Troilo's fueye sound different when played by different musicians? Totally. I wish I knew the technical terms to describe it. Mederos's sound was like a soft lament that goes on and on. Baffa's sound was as seasoned and full as Troilo's orchestra. Rios' sound was highly refined, lively.... like eating oysters with a silver fork. - Beatriz

Beatriz Dujovne
November 24, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Beatriz Dujovne. All rights reserved.

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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)

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December 30, 2008

Concert - Café de los Maestros

Mariano Mores conducting
Orquesta de la Café de los Maestros (click to enlarge)


The Tango Golden Era of the 1940s is well and alive in 2008
Letter from Buenos Aires, December 11, 2008.
By Beatriz Dujovne

Sixty plus years later I was part of the Golden Era for two hours. Film director Gustavo Santaolalla, who produced two CDs, a book, a DVD, and a movie - all called “Café de los Maestros”-, was ready for The Maestros’ second one-time live performance. (The first was in August 2006, at the opera house.) His ambitious project gathered tango directors, musicians and singers from the 1940s. The seats at Teatro Rex on Corrientes Avenue (where tango action took place in the 1940s) were totally sold out. Some artists represented 6, 7 and 8 decades of tango.

Sitting next to a stranger in a show of this nature is having access to a temporary instructor. I do not have to wonder if my neighbor knows the artists’ careers. I assume he or she knows. So I ask what I want to know. In this case, he fills me in about the age and the most remarkable aspect of each musician and singer to appear on stage.

Leopoldo Federico, first row, glasses (click to enlarge)

Orquesta de la Café de los Maestros (click to enlarge)

This show was as nostalgic as tangos can get. The artists I remembered at the climax of their careers were in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

At the beginning and end of each number the audience applauded, shouting with fervor.

Some highlights:

Gabriel “Chula” Clausi (born 1911, played with Firpo, Maffia, Julio De Caro) had to be helped to his seat on the stage; when he sat down he played the bandoneon beautifully. He was the oldest of the bunch and the only one to receive a standing ovation. "Alfred Arnold" Tango by Gabriel Clausi

Gabriel "Chula" Clausi (Click to enlarge)

Atilio Stampone (born 1926, played with Calo, and with 1946 Piazzolla), Ernesto Baffa (born 1932, played with H. Stampone, Salgan and Troilo), Mariano Mores (born 1918, composer, director and pianist), looked stunning and performed as well as in the old times.

Whoever saw Leopoldo Federico walk with difficulty, would have never imagined he could wiggle with passion in his seat elevating the orquesta to new aesthetic highs (he is one of the greatest bandoneon players along with Troilo, Laurenz and Maffia. Played with Di Sarli, A. Stampone, Salgan, and Quinteto Piazzolla). Federico got one of the biggest ovations of the evening.

When Carlos Lazzari, bandoneonist of D’Arienzo, joined the Orquesta Tipica Café de los Maestros - directed by Osvaldo Requena - in “La cumparsita”; the director changed the style accelerating and giving a strong D’Arienzo beat to the music. Dancers appeared on the stage: an older couple who danced as people do at milongas, and a younger couple who danced a semi-open style with little connection. They came later for “Si sos brujo”, played with an arrangement Emilio Balcarce had made for Pugliese.

It was very emotional for me to see Virginia Luque who has always been the petite woman I watched as child in some of the 130 films she made as a movie star. Her voice last night was unmistakably Luque, with the same polenta (potency) and acting she had at the peak of her career. She gave us “La cancion de Buenos Aires” and “El patio de la morocha”.

Virginia Luque (click to enlarge)

Fernando Suarez Paz’s violin became the foreground of the orquesta for me; he was younger than most; (played in Piazzolla’s orquesta; Piazzolla composed “Escualo” for him. To watch Piazzolla and Suarez Paz in Escualo: :: Astor Piazzolla Escualo en Holanda :: durmiendoeneltren. Suarez Paz gave us “Los Mareados”.

Fernando Suarez Paz (click to enlarge)

With one of the singers of Alfredo De Angelis, Juan Carlos Godoy we emoted as he sung “Anclao in Paris” and “La mariposa”.

Juan Carlos Godoy (click to enlarge)

The program closed with Marianito Mores, whose tangos and milongas we dance the world over today: “Gricel”, “Adios pampa mia”, “Cafetin de Buenos Aires”, “Uno”, and “Taquito militar”. He played the piano and directed the orquesta in “Uno” and “"Taquito Militar"

What a night! I will keep remembering Virginia Luque as she appears in youtube: YouTube - Adios VIRGINIA LUQUE

There were many white hairs, bald or semi-bald heads...yet, the spirit was unequivocally 40s. The size and sound of the orquesta was definitely 40s. I felt fortunate to have been part of the soul of an era for two hours. Walking along Corrientes after the show was nostalgic as well, for I pictured this avenue in the 40s, with one tango venue next to the other, and in each confiteria or restaurant I heard the sounds of terrific orquestas tipicas in my mind.

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne)

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December 09, 2008

Susana Rinaldi: Live Performance on Sunday October 26


Letter from Buenos Aires
by Beatriz Dujovne

Today porteños attend events celebrating the day of Buenos Aires’ historic cafes. I am at Café Homero Manzi, where dark lustrous wooden walls are covered with photos of tango personalities during the golden era (1935-1950). This is the venue where the poet Manzi gave birth to the nostalgic lyrics of tango “Sur."

Cafe HomeroManzi.P1010373.jpg

Cafe Homero Manzi

The day woke up grayishly and drizzingly tanguero. At 11 AM, at the corner of San Juan y Boedo, the thirty musicians (12 strings and three bandoneons) of the Orquesta de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires open the outdoor show. They give us Piazzolla’s Libertango, and two other pieces with lyrics by Ferrer and music by Garello (who is conducting): “Buenos Aires es tu fiesta” (“Buenos Aires is your celebration”) and “Viva el tango."

This is the luscious appetizer.


The black stage, built for the occasion across Boedo Street, is ready for Susana Rinaldi’s big presence. We, about 500 people standing on the street, are impatient for the delay caused by light morning rain. We give her a warm ovation; the sun salutes her too as it begins to dissipate the gray skies. I quickly position myself just two yards in front of her.

She opens the festivity with the tango “Sur." Like many other tangos, the crowd knows this poetry by heart and sings with her when she turns the microphone towards us.

“Old San Juan and Boedo…..”

We tremble.

We shout. “Vamos tana” (Go Tana – Tana means Italian-).


She seems quite emotional and yet contained in her rather conservative day time attire. Up to this moment, in my mind, she has been a tall priestess dressed in a long white gown with snow-white short hair, the way she appeared on the stage of the opera house three years ago at a performance I attended.

She proceeds to sing “Maria” a capella. The music soon joins her voice. Rinaldi’s whole body sings Catulo Castillo’s poetry. How harmonious are the music, her singing and her emotions. She places her hands on her abdomen, her core, as if being in excruciating pain.

When the next song begins her right arm extends forward with an accusatory index finger while her other hand holds her forehead. Ah…”Uno” by Discepolo. She sings the tragedy and anger of its poetry with full force but without exaggeration.

Si yo tuviera el corazon,
el corazon que di...

If I had the heart…
the heart I gave away...

Shouting: “Te quiero Susana, te quiero”

We get quiet as we hear the first chords of “El ultimo cafe." Rinaldi closes her eyes. Her body is more collected. No arm movements, only facial expressions. The instrument of her voice follows the nostalgic mood of Manzi’s poetry.

Recuerdo tu desdén,
te evoco sin razón,
te escucho sin que estés:
"Lo nuestro terminó",
dijiste en un adiós
de azúcar y de hiel...

(The poet remembers his lover’s derisive departure, he realizes that evoking her is senseless, he hears her bittersweet good bye: “what happened between us is over”)

Two more by Catulo Castillo are the dessert: “Desencuentro” (“Dis-encounter”) and “Y a mi que” (“Who cares?”). This will be her last song, she announces.

Protest: “No Tana. No, no te vayas (Don’t leave Tana. No. No)."

Rinaldi says she is too old to keep on singing; she calms us down and invites us to listen to the tango’s fabulous verses; we join in singing the verse “Y a mi que."

The show is over. The crowd disbands slowly. I run to the back of the stage to catch her. People want autographs. I just want to touch her; I extend my hand and she shakes it. With the feeling of the small, warm and a bit tremulous hand of the tall priestess in white…

I head towards the next café…

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne).

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December 06, 2008

Piazzolla-Jazz concert

Letter from Buenos Aires, December 5, 2008 By Beatriz Dujovne

Laura Escalada accepting plaque of honor from Mario Parmisiano
for her work as president of the Astor Piazzolla foundation.

After ten years touring the world with USA guitarist Al Di Meola, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John Patitucci, Steve Gadd, and Orquesta sinfonica de Moscu, Argentine pianist, composer and arranger Mario Parmisiano returned to Buenos Aires. Last night he appeared in concert combining Piazzola’s tangos and improvisational jazz. Piano, electric bass, bandoneon, and drums, were at times joined by eight strings from the opera house, the Teatro Colon. A DVD was made during this performance at the Metropolitan Teatro in Corrientes Avenue.

Jazz fans clapped enthusiastically and talked with Mario loudly from their seats. Tango fans like me could not hear the arrangement of “Soledad” without comparing it to the gripping, romantic original played by Astor himself.

Laura Escalada, actress and Astor Piazzolla’s second wife, was in attendance. When she was called to the stage to receive a plaque of honor, she mentioned how much Astor loved jazz, and, (tongue in cheek) asked Mario why he had disarranged her husband’s music. Her seat was in front of mine. Quite moved by her close presence, I watched her head in constant motion to the beat of jazz music. After Astor’s death, she became the main force to spread his cultural heritage in her capacity of President of the Foundation Astor Piazzolla.

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November 30, 2008

Sandra Luna’s live performance. October 10, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires
By Beatriz Dujovne

Sandra Luna and Raul Lúzzi. Click to enlarge.
From Link: Sandra Luna * Blog Oficial

Not all tango singers fulfill porteños’ expectations. There is no mercy for poor diction or out of tune voices. In a way they are as picky as Italians are with opera singers.

Sandra Luna has it all. She delivers the heart of tango with perfect voice, stage presence, beauty, warmth and drama.

Her intimate show happened at café concert El Vesubio in the mythological Corrientes Avenue where orquestas tipicas used to perform in multiple establishments during the golden era of tango.

[Historical Note: “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, the tango poetry written in 1922 by Celedonio Flores exalts the narrow street prior to 1933 when it became a wide avenue; I have to remind myself that the lyrics were not written for the avenue I know].

An excellent guitarist, Raul Luzzi, accompanied Luna on the small stage of this narrow, simple venue, all painted in black. She conversed with the audience in between songs, as many singers in this city do. This conversation creates a cozy cocoon for singer and audience.

Sandra sung many of my favorites, opening with the contemporary lyrics and music of Eladia Blazquez (who was born in Sur): “El Corazon mirando al Sur” [The heart looking South].

[Note: Sur is the district of Buenos Aires where tango was born. Most milongas are concentrated in Sur (barrios San Cristobal, San Telmo, Monserrat). Sur is where many tango musicians and poets were born. Countless nostalgic lyrics have sung – and will likely continue to sing - to Sur].

A poignant rendition of “Milonga Triste” followed, with music by Sebastian Piana and poetry of the great Homero Manzi (who grew up in Sur). Her repertoire included, among other songs, “Martirio” sung with the desperation its lyrics require, “Nunca tuvo Novio” [She never had a boy friend] from Agustin Bardi and another great poet Enrique Cadicamo, and “La Trampera” from Anibal Troilo.

Lazzi gave us a jewel, an instrumental only of “Adios nonina” [Good bye mama] by Astor Piazzolla; according to her this piece had never been recorded.

I enjoyed her selections of classic and contemporary tangos, particularly “Recalada” with music and poetry by contemporary artists; composers Nestor Basurto and Raul Luzzi and poet Alejandro Szwarcman.

I happened to see Szwarcman the following day at the National Academy of tango and told him about Luna’s repertoire including his beautiful poetry. With unnecessary humbleness he said that Luna can take anything and transform it into beauty. For Spanish readers, I recommend reading Szwarcman’s tango lyrics in: Todo Tango: Alejandro Szwarcman

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne).

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Gavito’s dance shoes at the National Museum of Tango

Shoes, cologne, cufflinks of Carlos Gavito. Click to enlarge

Letter from Buenos Aires
By Beatriz Dujovne

There are many treasures in this museum. The typewriter where Catulo Castillo wrote his glorious poetry, the bandoneon play by our beloved Anibal Troilo, historic publications, recordings, and memorabilia of all kinds.

Link showing display cases: Academia Nacional del Tango - El Museo

Knowing that Gavito has a place in the heart of many in the Chicago area, I took pictures of his shoes, cologne, and cufflinks guarded at the museum. (Photos to come.)

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne).

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La Biela


The picture above shows my "office": an outdoor table at confiteria La Biela, where I write my letters.

Link: El restaurante La Biela en el corazón de la Recoleta

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Iglesias del Pilar


This is Iglesias del Nuestra Señora Pilar. It was founded in 1732. The photo does not reflect what it is.

Posted by beatriz at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

National Museum of Tango declared of cultural interest by the legislature of the city of Buenos Aires.

Letter from Buenos Aires. October 28, 2008
By Beatriz Dujovne

Salon Dorado. Click to enlarge

Hat of Carlos Gardel at the National Museum of Tango. Click to enlarge.

Sweet and brief. That’s how it was the ceremony held in Salon Dorado of the Legislature of Buenos Aires. This is one of many French neoclassic public buildings erected in the first third of the XX century. It features a ninety-five meter high clock tower. Upstairs the Salon Dorado’s elegant glass doors opened into a charming space of sober grays and rich golds. Shedding warm light, six chandeliers along the main central hall and ten smaller ones along two side galleries are testimonies to Argentina’s economic splendor during the early 1900s.

The ceremony, by invitation, was attended by the faculty of the Academy of Tango and their guests. During the mingling I spoke with Eduardo Aquimbau about our interview at La Refinery some years ago in Champaign, Illinois. (We had spent two hours talking about the early history of tango).

As founder of the Museum, poet Horacio Ferrer, wearing a light brown jacket, a striped white and blue shirt with his usual round collar and bohemian bow tie hanging down his chest, received the certificate of honor. Then he spoke about the creation of the National Academy of Tango in 1990, and entity which, under his initiative and direction, created the Museum of Tango in 2003.

Ferrer said that the "Museum of Rock" in Cleveland, which he had visited with Gideon Kremer, was spectacular. It was built with money. The Museum of Tango was created with limited financial resources. The space and display cabinets were designed by Ferrer himself. They did not have money even to announce “We are here.”

A brief show followed the ceremony. Maestro Juan Trespiana played “La bicicleta blanca” [The white bicycle] with lyrics written by, and today recited by, Ferrer, and music by Astor Piazzolla. Maria Jose Mentana sang the next piece with an exquisite voice.

Coffee followed with ample opportunity for conversation among guests.

I highly recommend to dancers - who go to Buenos Aires for tango – to visit this museum which displays things ranging from Gavito’s shoes to Troilo’s bandoneon, dresses of famous singers, tango books, historic recordings, and about anything related to music, dance, poetry and singing.

Academia Nacional del Tango - El Museo

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne).

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November 08, 2008

Each milonga is its own story

Each milonga is its own story.
Letter from Buenos Aires, November 1st 2008
By Beatriz Dujovne

Photos from milonga “Sueño Porteño”

“Sueño Porteño” on Wednesdays at 7 PM has a different ambiance. I found it friendlier and less macho scented than most. The space was problematic since I could not grasp the entire group, something I came to expect in the usual large square or rectangular venues. This one was split into several dance floors and seating areas but remodeling is planned for the near future. At 10 PM all seats had already been taken by the 500 to 600 dancers who had arrived before 8 PM.

A very accommodating woman (a rarity among milonga hostesses) led me to the only table available - next to two tables occupied by couples. I could move to any chair I wanted if one became available anywhere, she said. At most milongas, the men’s and women’s sections are clearly separated. Not in this one, a refreshing and different touch. My next seat neighbor greeted me, also an unusual social gesture in this city where people are friendly everywhere except at tango dance halls. He warned me that no one would look for a dance partner where I was sitting because this was the couples’ area.

What to do? Just sit there and watch?

So I did. I observed a majority of local people doing excellent art and entertained myself watching the different ways women dancers wrap their arms around their partners. Styles ranged from surrounding his shoulders and neck, to arms a few inches below his shoulders, to an awkward looking oblique positioning of the arm across his back (I started seeing this position relatively recently in Buenos Aires. I first saw it in Champaign, Illinois, several years ago in an Argentine couple of teachers).

Enough watching. How do I get invited to dance here?

To walk around and scan the environment may be a good idea. I did and was pleased to see “el muchacho del tio,” sitting around an elbow of the maze. (We had met at Club Español years before. He (el muchacho [young or not so young man]) was proud of his 90 year old tio (uncle) and insisted I should talk with him because he was a walking history of tango and could assist me with the tango manuscript I was writing). I moved towards him; I tapped his arm. He sprang up from his chair and was ready to dance. He is a good dancer without the airs one encounters among many tangueros.

After the tanda I returned to my territory for couples only.

I thought, shall I take a trip to the far end of this labyrinth? I did and I found more mazes until a voice reached my ears from my back. “Would you like to dance?" I turned my head and we recognized each other from having danced at El Beso six months before. He was as disoriented as I was in this complicated space. But we both liked its energy.

It became clear to me that the milonga organizer made this energy happen. She is a woman named Julia with a theatre background. With stage presence, in her becoming apricot tulle dress, microphone in hand, she addressed us with maternal assertiveness; she referred to women as “papusas” and to men “galanes” (papusas and galanes are two terms frequently used in tango lyrics of the 1920s and 1930s, they refer to women and men respectively). She announced the date of the upcoming “milonga of the transparencies.” “Papusas, we will wear something with a bit of see through (transparencia). Nothing showing. Only suggesting.” She also announced that the tanda of the rose and the tanda of the candy will happen later that night.

The galanes were told to fetch a rose following her cue, and then invite a papusa to dance adhering to the “strict code of cabeceo.” “Papusas may leave the rose at their table, or adorn the back of the galan with a garden.” For the other themed-tanda, women will have a candy, will initiate the invitation and then give the candy to the men. “We women are givers, we give birth, we give to others throughout life; this candy represents our giving feminine essence.”

[Cultural note. In Buenos Aires – whether in classes or at milongas – the words used for women and men preserve gender differences. The words “leader” and “follower”, which we use in the USA, wash out gender differences.]

After her words, an unknown galan found my gaze in couples-land and sent me a cabeceo from the bar area across the floor. He took a quick look at my shoe bag lying on the floor by my table. In between songs he said that since I carried a shoe bag I was probably from academia (meaning I learned to dance in schools as opposed to having learned within my family). Unlike me, he said, he was “from the terraza and the patio.” I knew what he meant. But asked him to explain and he did: terraza is where he learned tango, dancing with his cousins and family as he was growing up. So was the patio. I shared that the house where I grew up in Buenos Aires’ Barracas district had a terraza and a patio which I loved. Requesting I save the dance of the candy for him, he disappeared into the ocean of people.

[Note. Homes built in the Spanish tradition have terrazas, which are tiled open living spaces above the houses; they are surrounded by walls or ornamental iron. Patios are open courtyards in the middle of the ground floor of the houses.]

It was a pleasant surprise to see Horacio. He was waving from afar. I knew his name because we take the same course at the National Academy of Tango (a tango music class, not a dance class). Last week our professor, knowing Horacio and I were dancers (some people in the class are singers to be, others are poets in the making) asked us to dance so the class could observe what steps went with the variations of the rhythm and the pauses in the music. At La Gran Milonga we danced for real enjoying a Biagi tanda. We could not wait to report the event to the class the next day. Adding a little spice of imagination we said we had danced with a sign across our back which read “Sponsored by the National Academy of Tango.” The professor asked (tongue-in-cheek) if we had represented the Academy well. We said Horacio Ferrer (the president of the Academy) would have been proud of us.

People admired Julia, I learned. She took the microphone again and read lyrics written by someone in attendance – which she had also placed on each table. Another special touch. I believe her personality, her being a respected female leader, her arrangement of men and women sharing seating areas, have created a non-stiff milonga. This may be the reason for its success. It had started only two months ago.

The tanda of the candy was about to begin. I only had five galanes in the bar area across the floor to choose from. I decided to invite a friendly face. He accepted and we went out to the floor. From this role reversal I learned that I invited him with the certainty he would accept…because he was inviting me with a “smiling face.” Not with a smile, but an interested friendly look I am calling a “smiling face.”

The tanda of the candy was true candy for me. Because it was sung by Alberto Podesta. I had interviewed the singer two years before. He had told me he was in his late teens when he recorded the ageless and poignant pieces we were dancing: “Nada”, “Tu el cielo y tu”, “Bajo un cielo de estrellas.” How serendipitous that on that occasion Podesta had given me a booklet called “Caramelos” (candy).

(Copyright © Beatriz Dujovne, 2008)

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November 05, 2008

Adriana Varela Live in BA

Photo courtesy of Luis Guzman. Click to enlarge.

Adriana Varela - live performance Letter from Buenos Aires. October 31th 2008. Beatriz Dujovne

Adriana is definitely a wild tango singer. Different in style and personality from others I watched perform: Susana Rinaldi, Amelita Baltar, Maria Graña, Sandra Luna. Five different strong personalities, voices, stage presences, ways of feeling and delivering our splendid tango poetry.

The Ateneo theatre was filled to capacity. I asked the man sitting next to me why this was the most expensive show I ever attended in Buenos Aires. Varela has a big following, he said. She came to tango from rock and roll. She has followed Roberto Goyeneche’s (deceased) tango singing style. My neighbor warned me that his wife would scream during the show; that’s what she does when she likes something, he added. For no reason at all he recommended “La Fanola” a program in Radio Nacional from 1:30 am to 5:00 am. He likes to listen to the radio at those wee hours of the night.

[Cultural note. Strangers converse in a casual manner in Buenos Aires; we call it chamuyo. Like tango - creature of the night - porteños also like to live at night]

Dressed in furious purple skinny pants, strapless top, silver high heels, hair long to the waist in the back, she made a dramatic entrance yelling “Buenos Aires como te quiero!” (How much I love you Buenos Aires). She likes singing here more than anywhere else in the world even if she only makes two bucks (dos mangos) per show. Her mother tells her that poverty must make her horny (a vos te calienta la pobreza).

By the end of the show I could understand why singers like to perform in Buenos Aires. Where would they be able to turn the microphone towards the audience and have everybody sing lyrics they know by heart and are crazy about?

The ongoing conversation between her and audience seemed to be taking place in a large living room.
Varela interacted back and forth with friends, family, and her psychoanalyst, who was in the audience.

[Cultural note. Porteños like being in psychoanalysis and openly talking about it.]

She has been in psychoanalysis “one thousand years.” “Where are you Dr. Ivan?” (spot lights on him). “Where are you mom?” (spot lights on her) “I love you mom, even if you call me fifty times a day, even if you are a ball breaker (an hincha pelotas). Considering how you are, I still love you mom (tongue-in-cheek). I am going to dedicate the next tango to you. You are going to love it so much that you are going to fall on your ass” (in the back row her mother stood up and cheered her daughter). Mama had asked her not to use bad words but she made ample use of them in Spanish and in lunfardo. "I told mama to stay home if she could not stomach foul language.”

[Cultural note: Lunfardo is the everyday genre spoken by porteños; it is used in tango poetry as well].

Varela announced this show was being recorded for a CD. Six excellent guitars accompanied her. The audience, feeling part of the recording, sang and whistled at her request. She sang a fabulous repertoire of classic tangos: “Caminito soleado,” “Bajo un cielo de estrellas,” “Desde el alma,” “Nieblas del Riachuelo,” “Gricel,” “De barro,” “Amurado,” “Lejana tierra mia,” “En un feca,” and “Silbando” among other songs.

Foot in her mouth: “I love you (looking up to the balcony). I love people upstairs because they have less money; they are good people and the best love makers.” (Oops). “I like people on the main floor too, I do, they pay big money.”

Tonight’s performance was the last before Varela’s tour to Chile.

Foot in the mouth: “I love the Uruguayans, I would have preferred to lose (a recent soccer game) to them than to the Chileans. (Oops). How many Chileans are there in the audience? (Several hands go up). I love Chileans too. I do. I will be there in a few days. They treat me very well. But with the Uruguayans we share the same codes, the mate.”

“ duelen los zapatos. May I take them off? Only one foot hurts, the right one.” From that point on she performed barefooted.

Someone stood up and shouted:
- Adriana, do you know how is today’s tango called?
- No.
- It is called Adriana Varela.

She rarely sang standing or sitting up as other singers do. She frequently leaned forward, contorted or squatted. My neighbor asked me if I liked her; I told him I was trying to. I enjoyed her freedom to say what she pleased, her healthy shamelessness, her speaking before thinking, even if she did not enunciate all her vowels, even if she imitated Goyeneche in her interruptions of the flow of sentences or in the interjection of unexpected pauses.

My neighbor whispered in my ear that Cacho Castaña (a well known and wild tango singer performer with a rock background) was in love with her and composed a tango for her “La gata Varela” (Varela the cat). At the end of the show the audience asked her to sing it. “How do you ask me to sing a song written to me. It would be like…masturbation, I would be praising myself.” But she did. “After the thousand years I was in psychoanalysis, Cacho wrote my x-ray in poetry. It must be the street in him.”

(Copyright (c) 2008 Beatriz Dujovne)

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October 25, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires # 5

To dance tango at its fullest, it helps to have a feel for its culture.

By Beatriz Dujovne: Letter from Buenos Aires # 5. Sunday October 19, 2009

My friend Celina wakes me up at noon for our daily telephone funny routine. With a smiling heart, sun glasses, and giant invisible arms I step out of my apartment eager to hug this Buenos Aires I love. At this time of the year the jacaranda trees’ bluish-lilac flowers sprinkle the city with impressionistic-brush strokes.

As usual, I head towards my office which is a lovely outdoor table at my favorite confiteria in the corners of R. M. Ortiz and M. Quintana. After breakfast at 1:00 PM, with the eagerness of a kid looking for Christmas presents, I look forward to discovering the events I will find in the newspaper. I want to go to all of them; I want to play with all my toys. Choosing between Susana Rinaldi’s recital and Sexteto Mayor grand performance is no easy task. I discard seven or eight seductive events, and choose to watch a four-hour long Argentine film “Inexplicable Stories”; it is only shown at the Museum of Latin American Art.

Taxi! Taxi! To MALBA please. I arrive three hours in advance. Oh…No…It sold out three days ago. I have been observing how people in this city consume high doses of art. I see it everywhere I go, no exceptions. I get tickets for an older Argentine film showing: “The Other”. I was struck by its focus on expressions, by its minimalist plot. The story was inside the protagonist’s mind and you either figured it out or you did not. The director does not hand meanings to the audience. The absence of background music was palpable; I loved its silence. The few sounds that are usually background became foreground: the steps of the protagonist, the noise of vehicles, and the murmur of water flowing when the main character gives a shower to his senile father. In this wordlessness the man’s sweet communication with his father stands out poignantly. The silence of “The Other” reminds me of another Argentine film I saw yesterday, a gem called La Camara Oscura; the “action” was inside the protagonist, it was easy to intuit it, what was most important was the un-said. (Does this bend for interiority and silence in these two Argentine films remind you of tango?).

MALBA is not far from Fondo Nacional de Las Artes so I go to pick up the October cultural program (more toys). The walk through Palermo among European mansions is quite entertaining.
[A note about Palermo and tango: Ada Falcon, the famous tango singer used to live in this area enjoying a high life style. She and the famous music director Francisco Canaro were lovers…until the break up. She stopped singing. She disappeared. Years later she was found in a monastery in the province of Cordoba. A few years ago a rather interesting film was made of her life just before she died].

The clerk at Fondo Nacional hands me a free ticket. Events are free here. I give her a puzzled look. “Are you attending the Molocznik interview about Jauretche conducted by Horacio Embom? It is about Peron and the intellectuals”, she said. I knew none of the first three persons she mentioned. “Sure” I replied. If I gain one additional iota of understanding of this complex Peronist phenomenon that is quite alive today, it will be worth it, I thought. I do gain new perspectives but, as usual, I am fascinated by the human environment. This audience is highly opinionated and impressively knowledgeable. They insist in expressing their views, even when the moderator wants to redirect the focus away from them.
It would take too long to relate the content of the presentation. But I cannot resist reporting on just one jewel: when the interviewer asked Molocznik when the revolutionary Peronist movement died, someone from the audience answered the question before the invited guess had a chance. And he did it loudly: “When Evita Peron died. Evita was the left hand and Peron was the right hand”. The speaker thought it was an oversimplification but basically agreed with him that Eva Peron was the physical link to the masses.

[A note about Peron and tango: Peron was a dictator, a Hitler sympathizer who was brought to power by the working class led by his wife Evita. Peron lifted the ban on the Argentine lunfardo [slang] in tango poetry. The European-loving ruling oligarchy had banned the popular lunfardo to cleanse the language. Tango singers on the radio found cleansed lyrics to sing. There was no choice about it.]
On my way home something big and unusual calls my attention. It was an actual size war tank with an inscription on the side: “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. The body of the vehicle was totally made of old books. At first I thought it was a truck where old books were sold. No. It was an art piece with a political statement parked along the curb around the feria artesanal of Plaza Recoleta. The sign was on the street side, so taking its pictures became a bit suicidal as it required zigzagging among fast traffic in never ending motion.

I love that this city’s habitants are so politically aware and so eager to express their opinions. Creativity is very much in the air around here.

I enter the lobby of Recoleta Cultural Center and pick up the program of events. At any time you are likely to find an interesting program happening here. At this moment the closing of a week-long jazz festival is taking place. It has gone on from the 15th through the 19th of October. Yes, people of Buenos Aires like all kinds of music and dance. Cumbia is danced as much if not more than tango. Shall I go to the jazz event? No. Enough for today.

The colonial Iglesia del Pilar looks mysteriously attractive tonight. Its lighting transports me to the early 1700s when it was built. Its open doors show off the splendor of the shining gold altar. The sounds of the evening mass reach the street as the church is full to capacity and people have to stand in its front yard.

I watch the surrealistic picture of hundreds of devotees standing just a few steps from hundreds of others with mundane and artistic concerns. They stroll around in artsy attires, body adornments and tattoos. Some have their palms read by interesting looking Tarot specialists. Some are eating street food. No popcorn or hot dogs; mostly home made goodies and freshly squeezed juices.

I notice that the outdoor tango dancers, permanent features of this plaza, are already gone. They will be here again tomorrow afternoon. So will the accordion player. So will I. Same place, same time. Same appointment with daytime bohemia. Feeling a sense of communion with the light, the energy, the jacaranda trees, and the vitality of those around my “office”. I have a personal relationship with the staff of mature professional waiters that are so gifted at learning customer’s habits, who say hello and good bye in their very own personal way. One greets me with a kiss on the cheek. How can I explain this kissing between a waiter and a customer? It is Buenos Aires!

Posted by beatriz at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)

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, 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 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

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)

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 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)