The tango scene is going through a period of great vitality and stylistic diversity. There is a blow of fresh air into the genre. Update your playlist!
For a long time, tango music was for “old people”, without the slightest chance of being listened to by new generations, but it’s not like that anymore. Currently there are at least 150 contemporary tango groups in Buenos Aires, playing their own arrangements and lyrics, in all kinds of different formats — from string trios to big orchestras. Whoever comes to the city looking for classics such as La Cumparsita and Por una Cabeza will be surprised. There is a new “Top Ten” in town!
The current Tango music scene is kind of underground, hidden even from most Argentinians. But it’s worth going after these new sounds, which can now be influenced by the blues, fado, punk, jazz or chamber music.
The lyrics have also changed. They talk about new kinds of drama, as you can hear in Tango Palestino and Hacia las Cenizas, which is about the fire at the Club Cromañon. Tango lyrics may have been written for the rocker Indio Solari, who recently composed for the Orchestra Ciudad Baigón or, as in the case of Cuarteto Coviello, they may be an anonymous Mapuche song (Mapuches are people from Patagonia). Anything goes now!
Traditional Tangueros turn up their noses, as they did previously with Astor Piazzolla: “Very nice”, they say, “but that’s not tango!”
The new generation doesn’t care. “Tradition and the roots of the genre make a lot of people react to what is unfamiliar. If the tango is not what they imagined it to be, then they leave. It’s only normal. I guess the best tribute we can make to the classics is to make the tango walk forward”, says Agustín Guerrero, Director of the Orchestra that bears his name.
Guerrero composed his first tango when he was ten years old. At the age of 11, he formed his first orchestra, La Branquita — everyone was amazed! By the age of 16, he already had his second orchestra, Cerda Negra, composed of musicians whose average age was 20. Today, at 26, he has just released his second album, formed exclusively of creations by contemporary authors.
Back to the tango roots
In Volver, one of the most classical tangos, Carlos Gardel sings “20 years is nothing”. But it has taken at least two decades to get the smell of mothballs out of the tango, according to the journalist Andrés Casak, conductor of the “Ayer, Hoy, era Mañana” radio show, which is totally dedicated to contemporary tango.
“The first phase, in 1990, was dedicated to rescuing traditional tangos and relearning the genre for young people who never had played. Musicians who are now in their forties were getting old scores out of their grandparents’ chests and learning with the maestros of the old guard”. The movement is very similar to what happened with the Brazilian Samba and the Portuguese Fado — both of which have now been brought up to date.
The groups that emerged at that time were quite fundamentalist. They were inspired and played exactly like the orchestras of the 1940s, the so-called Golden Age of Tango.
The creation of school orchestras was vital at that time to form new generations of musicians. Older musicians were invited to give master classes and educational concerts. “By that time, the new musicians had already realized that just the scores were not enough. They wanted to know all the tricks, such slapping the bass for percussion, and how to rescue the irreplaceable oral transmission,” adds Casak.
The tango goes out into the street
But what was the point of playing tango if no one listened? The researcher Victoria Polti, author of the research paper “Tangos de Hoy: 25 años luego de la siesta?” (Tangos of today, 25 years of after the siesta ) adds that the musicians had to invade the streets and squares in order to gain public attention. Especially young people because they would never listen to traditional tango music. Every Monday orchestras such as Fernandez Fierro would take their instruments to San Telmo hoping that people would listen to them playing. It worked!
From the year 2000, the number of tango groups and orchestras began to grow exponentially in Buenos Aires, including Orquesta Típica Emilio Balcarce, El Afronte, La Vidú, Ciudad Baigón, China Cruel and La Siniestra, to name just a few.
In 2005, there was another novelty. Julián Peralta created the Astillero Orchestra and launched the first album composed entirely of new tangos. “It was a risk and a point of inflection, which paved the way for new bands and marked the start of the second phase of contemporary tango,” he says. This was the beginning of what some people called tango de ruptura — the tango of rupture.
Not only was the music starting to be different, but also the way of singing and dressing. The Orchestra Fernandez Fierro was one of the pioneers. In addition to appearing on a stage full of lights and smoke, the visual was a rocker — one of the bandoneonists had giant Rastafarian hair, and the singer performed wearing dark glasses. The way they played was almost punk. A revolution to merge tango with the Ramones.
The tango off circuit — where is it?
However, it was the way they were starting to organize themselves that changed the scenario. The orchestras (ignored by the conventional market) created self-managed places to play. So then they had a permanent address, meaning a “tango off circuit”, with a series of concert rooms, bars, and festivals, which provided support for the new scene.
Note on your agenda for your next trip to Buenos Aires places such as Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro, Theater Orlando Goñi, and the Cafe Vinillo Bar; these are an excellent introduction to this new circuit. Or can also check out the Los Laureles bar (Barracas district), El Faro bar (Villa Urquiza) and Sanata Bar (Almagro).
Another tip is the milongas (places to dance the tango)where they have live music. Several orchestras are now doing this, such as Andariega, Mall Llevado, El Afronte, Sexteto Fantasma, Orquesta Victoria and Amores Tangos. The best way to know where they are playing is to follow them on social media.
Casak explains that the self-managed milongas have their own dynamics. They are organized into cooperatives, they charge affordable prices and usually begin with a tango lesson, followed by an orchestra. Information about these milongas is always spread through social networks and by word-of-mouth. “ In the absence of an industry that supports them, the alternative circuit tango musicians need to be producers, generate ideas and join projects”.
The El Afronte orchestra, which plays three times a week in San Telmo, is a good example. “In our milonga, the 11 members do everything. We set up the stage and tables, we talk to the press and we are responsible for reservations,” says the singer Marco Bellini. The Fierro also opted for the cooperative system. The orchestra produces its own CDs independently and manages its own space.
This freedom from the commercial system inspired the musicians. “People say we play new tango, contemporary tango, or off tango. But perhaps the best definition is free tango,” adds Agustín Guerrero.
On the other hand, the lyrics have evolved more slowly than the music. It’s a phenomenon that only started five years ago and is illustrated in the album “Un disparo en la noche”. This features an orchestra directed by Julián Peralta and 12 original songs, sung by 12 new voices. You can listen to the whole album on Spotify. The DVD is also available on the internet.
This work illustrates the latest in the new tango music scene and is a good start to understanding what’s going on in Buenos Aires. “There is a quixotic strength, these tangos are not aiming to be famous but to represent the new genre with dignity”, says Julián Peralta,the founder of Astillero.
One of the most emblematic songs is entitled Vuelve el tango, by Jorge Alorsa Pandelucos, the leader of La Guardia Hereje, who died in 2009 at the age of 39. And the song sums up everything expressed in this text: “Vuelve el tango. Alguien lo dio por muerto/ ¡Que locura! Era siesta nomás la que dormía” (The tango is back. Some people said it was dead. That’s crazy! It was just asleep.)
This story was written by journalist Gisele Teixeira, Eder Content partner at Buenos Aires, with editing text by Dimalice Nunes, editing photos by Cacalos Garrastazu and graphic design by Juliana Karpinski.
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