Saturday, 5 April 2014

Tango Negro

So what is this music Ricardo Suarez enjoys dancing to? It's certainly not a 'golden age' milonga like those of D'Agostino, Laurenz or Troilo. It sounds like a milonga that's arrived from a different direction, from common ground with Latin music further north, perhaps from Uruguay or Brazil. The milonga beat is in there, but there's more going on. The lyrics are on Todotango here.

Tango Negro is called a candombe rather than a milonga. The music, lyrics, vocals and piano are by Juan Carlos Cáceres, and it's dated Paris 2003. (There's also another Tango Negro, a milonga by Vicente Demarco dating back to 1940, but of course it's different.) Cáceres is an exact contemporary of film maker and politican, Fernando Solanas, and like him spent years in exile in Paris. More accurately, Cáceres left Buenos Aires for Paris in 1968, and still lives there. A musician and painter who lectures on art history and on the history of the music of the Rio Plata area, he's founded and recorded with a number of groups in Paris. Tocá Tangó is another of his tracks that gets played in milongas. 

Like Robert Farris Thompson (Tango: The Art History of Love) Cáceres argues for the black roots of tango, suggesting that tango has distanced itself from any African heritage. The music never uses percussion – although the instruments are played percussively. (I've heard a couple of Fresedo tracks with percussion, but it just sounds wrong.) Thompson suggests the dance ironed out any African background, adopting (and adapting) the upright stance of European ballroom in the 1920s and 30s. Childhood friends Rudolfo Cieri and Manolo were unfashionable in growing up dancing crouched (as in canyengue) rather than upright, as in tango: a crouching dance with bent knees was thought to be of African origin. 

I really enjoyed Thompson's book, but I wonder if he overstates the case. His arguments aren't always convincing: he draws attention to words similar to 'tango' in central African languages but I'm sure there are words similar to 'tango' in most languages. A 'tango' in Spanish is also a particular kind of flamenco song. I doubt anyone would disagree that there's African influence in tango dance and the music, but there's a great deal that's European too: the vals, polka and mazurka were popular dances in the largely immigrant population. To be fair, Thompson is in no doubt about the influence of these dances in Argentina.

As to the music, here are four recordings, 1911 to 1927, from YouTube:

Hotel Victoria (1911) Vicente Greco y su Orquesta Tipica Criolla
Mi Noche Triste (1917) - Carlos Gardel/Jose Ricardo (guitarra) 
Aromas (1923) Orquesta Osvaldo Fresedo
Coquetta (1929)Orquesta Tipica Victor

A simple over-view of pre-golden age tango: European roots seem broader than African. Perhaps it's a matter of semantics: a 'root' suggests a definitive source. There are African influences in tango music and dance, although the influences of European society and music might seem stronger. ('Criolla' meant locally born of Spanish origin. People of mixed-race origin could not be Criolla.)

Simba tango posted on the recent film, Tango Negro (2013: dir. Dom Pedro): I discovered a couple of days ago that it was shown in London at the end of March. I didn't see any notice of it on the TangoUK noticeboard or I would have gone over to Camberwell to see it.

& 'Tango Negro' is described as a candombe. Candombe is still the great street music of Uruguay. I filmed this prominent Uruguayan Candombe group in Buenos Aires for a festival a few years ago. (There are plenty of other candombe clips on YouTube.) This kind of candombe (I assume there could be others) is a very complex music: three types of drum playing three separate rhythms, against each other. It's very powerful, but I don't think it resembles tango – or even 'Tango Negro'.


Janis said...

I know that Ricardo Suarez's favorite orchestra is Anibal Troilo, so he'd probably prefer dancing to Troilo before Casares.

Milongueros viejos like Suarez aren't used to doing exhibitions, but that's the trend in the milongas, and Ricardo goes along with it now that he's 90 and one of the oldest.

I'm sorry to say that the exhibitions with Tati are more about watching her wiggle than Ricardo's dancing.

Tangocommuter said...

I find it hard to believe that Ricardo could be pushed into dancing with a partner he didn't enjoy dancing with, to music he doesn't particularly like at an event that doesn't suit him. It's his birthday! He does what he chooses to do. Perhaps there is a bit of 'party piece' about it, but he doesn't exactly seem to be reluctant.

I'm glad these clips are available because it's a good opportunity to see his regular milonga dancing very clearly and to see that a good milonga doesn't rely on a wide variety of 'steps', but does require precise and energetic attention to the beat.