Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Los Anarquistas

While rooting around for early tango recordings I came across Socrates Figoli, the 'payador anarquista', the anarchist folksinger, a recording said to be from 1906. It didn't strike me at the time that it was extraordinary that his voice ever made it onto disc. I'm not sure when recording started in Argentina, but his must have been one of the very first Argentine recordings, and indeed one of the very first recordings ever, if the date is correct, as mass-produced recording anywhere hardly went back ten years then. & he was presumably a political and social outsider.

I also came across a modern recording of a 'tango anarquista', 'Guerra a la Burguesía', written in 1901. It didn't sound much like a tango to me, and I assumed 'tango' might also be used in a Spanish (flamenco) sense, as a kind of song. If you search YouTube for 'tango 1909' you come across several versions of the opus 165 n° 2, Tango, by the Spanish composer Albéniz (1860-1909), who had been encouraged by his teacher to draw on Spanish folk and dance music. There's also a 'tango' written by Joaquín Durán, a close contemporary of Albéniz. I've read that there's not much connection between the flamenco tango and Argentine tango – but I'm not sure that holds if you go back to around 1900.

Anyway, a 'tango anarquista' written in 1901. Perhaps it's no surprise that there were 'anarquistas' in Argentina: they were fleeing Russia, eastern Europe and the rest of Europe too, and where else for refugees, political or otherwise to go than to Argentina? It was an idealist movement: maybe in the new world workers could establish ideal societies. The recent recording of the tango anarquista on YouTube is illustrated by some fine black-and-white drawings by an Italian anarquista refugee of the time. There are a number of studies on the internet of the anarchist movement in Argentina, in Spanish. It's plausible that the barrios from which tango emerged were those where the anarquistas had settled. It's also plausible that 'tango' was less clearly defined at the end of the 19th century. 1903, and the first performance of an arrangement of El Choclo by a society orquesta in Buenos Aires seems to mark the emergence of tango into wider society, where its growth was pushed along by the development of the recording industry.

& I remembered I'd read about another 'anarquista' recently: Andrés Cepeda (1869-1910). It's here – scroll down to 'The divine poet of the jailhouse'. A fascinating story of a petty criminal, anarchist and poet who wrote most of his poems in jail, songs which were set to music and recorded by his friends Gardel and his accompanist, José Razzano. 'Of the first fourteen recordings made by Gardel in 1912, five were authored by Cepeda.' But his songs are love songs rather than political, and in Cepeda's case this might be a complicated story.

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