Thursday, November 4, 2010
Verdi Club Milonga with lecture beforehand by Robert Farris Thompson, Yale Professor and Author of Tango: The Art History of Love. http://www.amazon.com/Tango-
The room was packed, with not an empty chair and plenty of people standing around the perimeter of the room. It seemed nearly everyone (and their cousin) in the San Francisco Bay Area tango community was there. I got there late. The room was hot and stuffy. This lecture reminded me of one given by someone who has a PhD in music history, art history, and anthropology (and that's pretty much who Robert Farris Thompson is), because all three aspects were interwoven into the presentation. During the slide show, Professor went through some details of the history of black people in Argentina. He also spoke about the candombe rhythm impact, combined with the Moorish beats, as well as the arrastre drum rolls (a la John Santos). The slide presentation included many pictures of early (1920s-1930s) tango bands, clearly show black musicians, playing alongside white musicians and people of mixed race heritage. There were also pictures of dancers in poses that strongly suggest African and Cuban influence, and clips of the architecture showing Italian and Moorish influences. He would also play some musical clips during the slide presentation, illustrating the cowboy influences in tango music, as well as the conga drum influence from Africa, and the biggest influence of all: the Habanera beat from Havana, Cuba. He said that Puerto Rican Raggaeton has the same Habanera beat. It is the Habanera beat that we hear strongly in milonga.
He strongly suggested that if we ever come across the following CD, we should snap it up. Anibal Troilo on Bandoneon with Roberta Grela on guitar. http://www.amazon.
Milonga is derived from the candombe beat. In Candombe, there is a lot of cross over in the footwork, and in milonga, this is also the case. When done quickly, it can be a mystic test with your life. The Follower has to be like an oscillograph to the Leader’s movements.
From milonga, tango was born.
Canyengue is a type of tango that is done down, close, and you fall into each other. In Canyengue, you fall, melt into each other, with bodies more in inverted v shape /\. Knees are bent, the butt is out, and the torso is forward. You can also make an ugly face. This profile also reemerges in the quebrada move in tango, with legs bent and torso up. So there is a touch of blackness, but the rest is European. In Canyengue, the steps are very short, and to each syllable, and with short bursts of energy.
In tango lisa, both bodies are parallel and upright with dancers having straight backs. It is smooth. The Italian women made it smooth.
Whatever you learn about tango, double check it.
He spoke a little about two black composers, Horacio Salgan and Julio De Caro. He especially said to listen to Horacio Salgan to hear the influences of black (music that sounds more black than, say, Canaro or di Sarli).
He also recommended that we read the book “Back Then” by Bernays. I didn’t write down the reason. Perhaps because it is a vivid sensual depiction of urban cultural life in the 1950s (albeit New York, not Buenos Aires), if the reviews can be believed. http://www.amazon.com/Back-
The slide show concluded with some discussion of Osvaldo Pugliese. He highly recommended the album Ausencia (which means Absence). http://www.amazon.
He noted that Pugliese’s music, as well as his personal story, is all about power and luck. Pugliese was a lefty, so always had trouble with the Fascists. Peron jailed him 9 times, and the person in power after Peron (from the other party) ALSO jailed him multiple times. So it seemed he couldn’t win. Still, his band played on, even when he was incarcerated. They would put a red rose on the keyboard of the piano to signify that Maestro would not be playing that night, but that he WOULD be back.
He pointed out the influences of Stravinsky, African rhythm, and Blues, as well as suggesting the sounds of Chicago and Louisiana in the music of Pugliese.