Edmundo Rivadaneira

15. Tango of mine

t seems that the word tango was an important organic part in the musical life of the negroes who populated the Spanish American Atlantic coast, from the River Plate to Mexico. This has led to thinking of probable African origin of tango. Its rhythm, at least, has been rescued as a component of undoubtedly African origin.

Anyway, being «an affair of blacks», tango appeared fatally associated to an unjust and cruel racial discredit. Hence that in 1788 people was warned against the negro dances, «for the sake of religion, the State and the public».

Such dances were performed in the «tambos». They were no other thing but dairy farms, lairs or open spots where the negroes held festive reunions and where «negroes of both sexes devoted to tambo and indecent dances».

It is quite likely that the word tambo had turned into the word tango, on some occasion that the term was written on a document. In any case, tango developed in practice as an audacious and daring, forbidden and despised, regarded as base and injurious, contrary to people´s morals and honor, especially women´s.

However, tango went on its way, through which it was shaping itself and clarifying little by little its contents and its far reaching influence. It further traveled to Europe, as other expressions of the Latin American culture of the time did, as raw material which later would come back already processed.

It returned from Europe, in fact, enriched in its morphology and even sophisticated. Passing by the city of La Habana, it acquired already decisive forms, hence the name of «habanera» with which it is known for a time.

Deeply-rooted as a typical expression of the River Plate peoples, it will be called «tango-habanera». Finally, it will settle forever in the word «tango», about whose meaning and sociological, historical, musical and literary characteristics very much has been said and written.

From the tambos (dairy farms) where the black slaves reunited to celebrate their habitual boisterous frolics, tango went to town. «It carried a warm breeze of sin —Ezequiel Martínez Estrada says—, a resonance of a forbidden world, from outside. Later it started to wander on the streets with the beggar´s street organ, to achieve citizenship. It clandestinely infiltrated in a world which had denied it of access. Then, likewise tragedy on a wagon train, it arrived at the cities until it victoriously entered saloons and homes, in disguise».

A similar process of assimilation and later triumphal dominance took place with jazz in the United States. The people is sometimes used to conquer high society, not by means of weapons, but through music. It infuses, lastly, its ancestral sensitivity and, in exchange, makes those who impose their system sing and dance. Waltz entered as well the elegant salons of the Austrian emperors, preceded by bakery odors and popular romances.

The case is, finally, that tango culminated its long history, becoming one of the most alluring and worthy aspects of the River Plate culture. Since the lustful caracolling of the negroes it has turned out to be that what the wonderful Discepolín said of Argentine tango that it is no other thing but «a sad thought that can be danced», because «sadness is the heart that thinks». Edmundo Eichelbaum says, in his biography of Carlos Gardel, that tango is a synthesis of many different and individual sadnesses.

It was Gardel whom, precisely, we wanted to speak of as for the commemoration of the centennial of his birth next December. This 1990, is, then Gardel´s year.

Not surpassed yet, when Carlos Gardel is singing better than ever before, to evoke his art and his personality is to pay homage to the people in whose soul the Morocho del Abasto worked his way in so deeply. Within the frame of his musical genius and the wide repertoire of his songs, the «mersa maleva» (tough rabble)'s profile was possible side by side with refined expressions. From lunfardo(slang), in which Gardel was a true master, he switched to being explicit and clear as water. From a language of reprobates in cipher by need of clandestine communication, Gardel switched to songs less involved. And all that on the wings of a unique voice, thanks to which he managed to modulate the deepness of the human, social or purely romantic meanings.

In Sabat´s precious book, Tango Mío, the modern history of tango is summed up. You can choose, out of its pages, the exponent you like most, between Eduardo Arolas and Astor Piazzolla, for whom, however, Gardel´s voice never lies, «and if each day that passes he sings better it may be because his records rehearse by night».

Edmundo Rivadaneira: He was born in 1920. Journalist, essayist and writer, his work Novela italiana de la segunda posguerra won the Premio Universidad Central in 1959. That award he was also given for Capítulo de la memoria in 1967 and La novela ecuatoriana in 1978. Out of his published works are worth mentioning Mi encuentro con el hombre, Dieciséis cuentos ecuatorianos, La condición humana a través de Frankestein y Drácula, Cuadernos de itinerario and Recopilatorio. He was vice-rector of the Universidad Central and dean of the Facultad de Artes. At present he works as professor at the Escuela de Ciencias de la Información. Rivadeneira is columnist of important communication media.