The Tango

03 Feb

Since the Steampunk Opera makes consistent use of and plays with the tango,  i did a lot of online exploration of it, and as it’s truly a deep and rich style,  it’s worth doing a post on. The Narrator’s songs are all tango variations (although i’m not trying to be “authentic”, merely using my riff on the genre as a leitmotif). The obvious thing was to make her numbers cabaret style, and i certainly throw cabaret elements into many of the songs throughout. However, i got the the idea of not being so obvious and thought that i might have a real blast using tango as her thematic genre.

So let’s talk about the tango, shall we?

The tango originated in the poor neighborho0ds of Buenos Aires in the mid 19th century. No one knows exactly how or when it originated but the dance began showing up bars and brothels after the century’s half way point.

Buneos Aires had a large African slave and spanish peasant population and at the beginning of the 19th century only 180,000 people in the entire city.  It was a forgotten town on the edges of the spanish empire, but it had an open port,  an immense wealth of land and resources  upon which Spanish landowners needed labor to allow them to get wealthy off of, and as of the middle of the century, a railroad built by the British. The railroad sealed the deal, and the immigrants poured in.

In order to entice workers to come to Buenos Aires, landowners and industries would offer incentives including free room and board for the first week, and financial assistance with the travel costs. Many European immigrants flocked there, almost entirely men, set on working a few years, sending their earnings home, then returning to their wives and children. Most never made their fortune and never made it home.

Thus, after the mid century mark, the slums were filled with a mix of Africans, spanish peasants and poor displaced europeans. Also, due to the influx of so many family-less men, there was an insanely small ratio of women to men. Thus the brothel became a well attended center of social activity.

It is in the brothels that the Tango first becomes traceable. On busy nights there were long waits for the women, and so, much like New Orleans, music was an important part of the drinking and socializing that went on while the men lounged about waiting for the women to… um…. open up. Men practiced their dancing, and practiced their tango with each other. A good dancer increased his chances of spending his time with a woman in a real, legitimate club, so the men practiced with each other frequently, honing their moves so they could be razor sharp, thus increasing their chances of dancing more than once with a woman.

From there, they took the dance to the courtyards of the tenements, where the girls and the people in general lived on top of each other. The dance was passed on, watched and grew.

But in the brothels, everyone came. The poor, the struggling, the upwardly mobile, and the rich boys slumming it. All of them drinking and dancing together. Thus, over time, the tango was seen and learned by some of the young Argentinian upper class, the ones who vacationed in Europe in the summer. Eventually in the early 20th century it hit Paris and became an international household name.

I’m presenting 2 vids. One of the dance and another the music, although both are updated incarnations of tango. (And i’m certainly not the guy to introduce you to the “real, down home, old school tango”. Everything i know about it i learned off the net, for heaven’s sakes).

This dance may be showy, may be  meant to impress (as opposed to some great vids like this one that show the more intimate side of Tango), but the thing is, when someone who’s merely decent is out to impress, you can smell it. When a virtuoso is out to impress you just simply sit there slack jawed. This couple is just so bloody GOOD i HAVE to show it.

This is next is Izhak Pearlman, who is not a bit Argentinian, but on his side he has the fact that he’s Izhak Fucking Pearlman going for him, and this tune, a song made famous by the renowned singer Carlos Gardel (whose timeless version can be heard here), is just stupendous. I listened to it about 7 times one night while researching tango music.

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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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