Afro-Argentine Tango dancing maestro Facundo Posadas & Ching-Ping Peng
This origin seems to be in accordance with the 19th century use of the word, when it referred to any place where Africans assembled to dance. Only later did the word tango come to refer specifically to Afro-Argentine dance, before being ascribed to the specific form of couple dancing we know today as the tango. Both the dance and the musical style known as tango has three main antecedents, the lunfardo, the milonga and the candombe, each of which represents a different component of the Argentine cultural mosaic.
The topic of “Race” is still a topic which awakens deep passions….Robert Farris Thompson’s, “The Art History of Love” in which he makes a strong argument for the African roots of tango, even precipitated a heated battle of critics over the subject…in startling acrimony, reviewer Anthony Howel says of Thompson’s book “this irrelevant and dishonest book…the author makes irresponsible claims and insists in implying that white folk stole tango from the blacks”...in a counter-accusation, reviewer Christopher Everett defends Thompson and in a point by point rebuttal…”Tango, The Art History of Tango” is in fact a thoughtful, well documented and well written book…the number of people of African descent in Argentina went from 34% in 1810 to 2% in 1887 and their disappearance is a subject of controversy and a source of racist humor among the residents of Buenos Aires…reportedly, when the great Josephine Baker visited Argentina in the 1950s, she asked the bi-racial minister of public health Ramon Carillo, “Where are the Negroes ?”, Carillo responded laughing, “there are only two, you and I”…nevertheless, Thompson, renown Yale Africanist and art historian, demonstrates how their presence can be clearly traced through the tango culture
An early caricature of the black 'tango'
He asserts that the word “tango” comes from the Ki-Kongo word which means “moving in time to a beat”…he explores tango’s relationship to cakewalk, ragtime, cubanhabanera and even rossini’s opera and he observes that the custom of dancing tango while moving in a counter-clockwise direction may have been influenced by the African myth that moving in a counter-clockwise direction means long life…he mentions that renown dancer Juan Carlos Copes was taught by Afro-Argentine Carlos “El Negro” Anzuate…he cites renown Afro-Argentine tango greats like Celedonio the black poet of tango, Rosendo Mendizabal composer of the immortal “El Enterriano” and Oscar Aleman one of the greatest entertainers which Argentina has ever produced…one reviewer said of the book, “Thompson mines working class origins and its emotions of defiance, freedom, self-control, humor, love and redemption”
CLICK HERE-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuUMssU2Sg4 to see a program on the Afro Argentine legacy of tango presented by Robert Farris Thompson
ENTERS JUAN CARLOS CACERES (Staunch defender of the black origins of Tango)
Juan Carlos Cáceres is an energetic and multifaceted personality and can be labelled as a renaissance man. He is just as colorful as his paintings, as can be seen on the artwork of the CD Toca Tango and the November 2003 cover of El Farolito. He paints, composes music, plays piano and trombone, sings, produces shows, does research into the history of tango rioplatense and many other things. Micheal Stone describes Cáceres as "a longtime student and conservator of tango, candombe, murga, and milonga - and a painter and scholar of the history of music in the River Plate - Cáceres is among few artists born in the 1940s to champion the neglected African influences in Argentine music".
Juan Carlos Cáceres
1993 is the year that Cáceres decided to go solo and started his career as a singer. Because of his rough and unpolished style of singing and the fact that he was well over fifty years old before he started his singing career, he has been nicknamed the Paolo Conte of Latin America. With his CD's Tango Negro (1998) and Toca Tango (2001) Cáceres broke through in the world of tango dancing. His style can be characterized as a mix of tango and jazz, clearly hinting of carnival in Rio and a voice like Paolo Conte, but above all his music accents the African roots of tango.
Cáceres is an advocate of the African roots in tango, a phenomenon that has been overlooked, ignored or even denied by generations of tango researchers and other Latin cultural historians.
In the La historia negada (History denied) attachment of the CD Murga Argentina (2005), he defends the African roots of tango by fire and sword.: "To give back African heritage its rightful place in Argentinean culture is only fair. The tango is the most significant exponent, and the most exported one, of that Afro-Argentinean expression. Usually the duality of tango's origin is ignored in favor of the European contribution Let us not forget that Buenos Aires used to be a slave harbor and that a third of its population was black until the middle of the 19th century."
For many decades Argentina has been gradually 'whitening', a practice Cáceres despises: "this willful forgetting is a product of racism prevalent in a society that looks towards Europe and self censorship on the part of the African community".
About tango he adds to this, in an YouTube interview: "tango is not only a dance. Tango is a style. It is a style taking in a series of rhythms. It is this phenomenon that used to be called, and still is today, ira y vuelta, which means coming and going with music".
The blackness of tango
Dance's dark roots in a country "without blacks"by Sylvia Pfeiffenberger
"It is just as important to be well danced as it is to be well versed or well read." — Robert Farris Thompson, Tango: An Art History of Love (Pantheon, 2005)
Every Argentinian is proud of the tango. Yet, it's a commonly held belief that Argentina's black minority is so small as to have played no major role in tango's development. Most tangueros agree that African influences were strong in Argentina in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when tango's roots were watered by the candombe societies, resulting in the quickstep milonga that tangueros still dance today, and canyengue, tango's "melting" predecessor. But when it comes to a shaping Afro-Argentine presence, most people say, no: for that, you'll have to go next door, to Uruguay.Robert Farris Thompson, a professor of African art at Yale, champions black contributions to Argentina's national dance in his passionate, polemical new book, Tango: An Art History of Love. Not only are blacks present on the Pampas and in the port city of Buenos Aires, he argues, but their influence has been disproportionate to their numbers. Even more than has previously been acknowledged, the origins of tango are black, via Kongo culture imported from Central Africa and Cuba. Tango, "the fabulous dance of the past hundred years," started life as a creole: "the Kongo grind, caught in a waltz-like embrace."
One of the paradoxes here: tango is black music that has no drums. Don't be fooled by the instrumentation, Thompson says. Black musicians implemented percussive tactics in the way the strings and bandoneons are played, and special effects like "arrastres," whooshing runs (parodied in Hollywood's tango cliché) that pump up the dancers. Thompson documents early performers who were black, from the first bandoneista on record, to golden age composer Horacio Salgán and contemporary milonga dancer Facundo Posadas.. Afro-Argentine Fecundo Posadas the Tango dancing emperor in action
As background for an Afro-Argentine presence, Thompson documents a continuous history of Kongo spiritual belief and practice in Argentina, from the dances of the black candombe society—virtual embassies with their own kings and queens—to the way Buenos Aires cab drivers stream red ribbons from their rearview mirrors today.
Thompson is a brilliantly creative reader of visual and literary clues, from architecture and street murals in Buenos Aires to caricatures of black figures published a century ago and works of fine art. The subtitle, An Art History of Love, would seem at first glance to have nothing to do with dance, but it accurately reflects Thompson's methods. He graphs, charts, quotes, pivots into mini-biographies like praisesongs, and puts every eyewitness, painting, film, anecdotal report and expert opinion into swirling, reiterative, dynamic motion. The chapters build in a chronological rhythm to their climax, illuminated by piquant visual plates and bookended by Thompson's evocative reads on two iconic artworks about tango.
The "Cultural Preparation" chapter, an archaeology of Kongo language, customs and body language, will be familiar to those who've read Thompson's earlier books such as Flash of the Spirit and Black Gods and Kings. The sections on the habanera, canyengue and Astor Piazzola are among the most fascinating. Thompson describes milonga, modern tango's "co-presence," as the "Buenos Aires conversation" between two creolized Kongo rhythms—one imported from Havana. The contradanza habanera arrived with Cuban sailors around 1860 and fused its bassline with Argentinian candombe. I knew of habanera, but a light went on for me when I read Thompson's explanation. Nothing I had read before mentioned the "habanera bassline," which of course is a key register in any African-derived music. (Now it all makes sense: Bizet's Carmen, the European vogue in the '20s and '30s, and even a Nazi-era musical, "La Habanera," directed by Douglas Sirk.)
Thompson is an obsessive glosserwith a rare gift for cross-referencing Cuban Spanish with Ki-Kongo, Argentine vernacular and African-American English of the black church. (I once took a seminar with Thompson on Haitian Vodun, and he had a rule of thumb for interpreting lapses in the Oxford English Dictionary: If the etymology of a word goes back to the 18th century and then says, "origin unknown"—it's African.) Even where the language trail seems dizzying and hard to follow (how many among us are experts in Ki-Kongo usage?), Thompson's speculative synthesis has value. He is reading dance backward in time and across oceans.
"It is impossible to make up the real thing," Thompson writes, finding Afro-Atlantic correspondences in cognate dance moves and words without asserting exclusive causal relationship. Whether African-American "sass" comes from Ki-Kongo "sosa" or English "saucy," or whether—as Thompson most often suggests—the two reinforce each other in the creolization process, I want to hear what he hears and leave it for more plodding researchers to canonize or refute. I want to see tango through Kongo eyes. There is value in casting the net of African influence wide in order to hear echoes not previously heard, and to recognize contributions that have been systematically discounted or denied.
Thompson relies on his own deep knowledge of Kongo culture, and cultural informants on both sides of the Atlantic, to identify specific moves in tango with African antecedents. The fact that these gestures (and their philosophical meanings) erupt in other diasporic dance forms, from Brazilian capoeira to hip hop in the Bronx, is offered as supporting evidence for Thompson's thesis. One example: the Charleston, derived from a knock-kneed curtsy of obeisance in Kongo dance culture that also finds its way into Argentinian canyengue.
This posture of canyengue—a word directly of Kongo origin, like milonga and malambo—is one of its most African features. Dancers are stone-faced, the knees flexed, rear extended, as couples meet in a leaning embrace derived from European couple dancing. Tango moves like quebradas (a hip twist), cortes ("breaks") and sentadas (the woman seated on the man's thigh), which Thompson relates to the bumping of bellies, hips or rears called "bumbakana," have Kongo ancestry. Jumpcut to Cuba, and the same Kongo gesture is creolized as the famous vacuna of rumba.
While many of these features remain in tango, including the cool facial expression, the straightening up of tango posture is one of the most obvious ways tango's African roots were obscured. "I'm somebody who's coming into the tango from the African perspective," says Hillary Honig, a Durham tango dancer at a recent practica at Dance Plus Studio.
"Because I've been African dancing for so long, I want to arch my back and bend my knees," says Honig. "To me it feels very natural. If you're dancing the tango they try and stop that a lot. They want you to have an upright torso."Thompson has never cloaked his arguments in coy restraint, nor does he bury them in academic jargon. But while his argument is vividly confident, it isn't an either/or campaign. He doesn't deny the Andalusian influence on gaucho heel-stamping, or taconeos, a dance known in Argentina by the Kongo name "malambo." He hears Italian street slang in Buenos Aires and notes the city's Moorish preference (via Spain) for diamond tiled floors. Jewish presence emerges in such things as chirping bird sounds made on violins and a pivoting dance step, "la viborita," known in Eastern Europe as the grapevine.
A main thrust of all Thompson's work is that the philosophical and physical arts that Africans carried with them into exile helped them carry themselves with poise and style, exert resistance and nurture their spirits while living under stress. These traits are all in evidence in hip hop, Latin dance forms, blues, jazz, and every major musical manifestation to come out of the New World—all touched and created by blacks. Black achievement, black cool, black self-control, black mastery and black improvisation are the hallmarks all these art forms have in common. Tango suddenly makes much more sense as part of this pantheon.
On a profound level, the book changes the way we perceive dance as a purveyor of ideas. Dance is embodied speech. The persistent mind/body split has denigrated the body as a mode of knowing in the West. There's truth in the body, even when it has become a latent memory, some sacred text gone secular in the mouths of the generations. Tangueros know this.
"Tangueros don't need books on tango," says Dmitri Ponarin of Raleigh. Thompson would likely divine great insight in that, because it points to tango—to movement—as a metaphor, a spiritual toolbox, and a philosophical worldview in and of itself: moving with an arm around life.
"People who have been doing tango for 20, 30, 40 years, each of them can write their own book on tango," Ponarin adds. Tango is a life history for every individual, and Thompson honors this, never generalizing tango into an anonymous dance lesson, a set of shoeprints on a record cover. Personality is as irreducible to tango history as individual style, dress and posture.
This is the African way of understanding dance. It's a call on the ancestors, and the gods. Life happens at the intersection of these two worlds. Choreographer and MacArthur "genius" grant winner Liz Lerman, writing for The Washington Post, sees in Tango "a paean to all the feet, hips, hands, that went before us"—a fittingly African form of ancestor worship.
Facundo Posadas & Christy Cote photo: Barak Yadidia
Capturing the history—let alone the essence—of something as transient and ephemeral as dance across a period of centuries is not easy. It requires a special way of seeing, of telescoping the past into the present, and overlapping geographical spaces. "Seeing connections where others see distance" is how Thompson describes kindred spirits Piazzola and Borges, but it applies to him as well. Thompson has a way of capturing muscle memory and footnoting it for posterity. He sees the New World through Kongo eyes, and restores the suppressed and lapsed memories of African civilization. He causes us to wrap our mouths around the names of Kongolese capitals Lwangu and Cabinda in the same breath as London, Rome, Genoa and Paris. This is a great service. The world around you should look different—or simply be more visible—after reading this book.
|The Black People of the Tango|
Musicians and composers of the last century
Pure or of mixed race blacks abounded in the nineteenth century tango; also, but to a lesser extent, in the next century. And they were there from early days. Exactly in 1900, Eugenio Py opened a large tango filmography with his short Tango Argentino (see the article on the film in this edition). The actor and dancer Black Agapito from the Podestá Company and a today unknown couple showed the cuts, although the tango was not heard.