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The History of Tango

Alhough it has come to epitomize the glamour and elegance of high society, with women in sleek glittering evening gowns and men in tux's and tails, the tango originated in Argentina's underbelly... the brothels of turn-of-the-century Argentina. As immigrants from Italy, Africa, and ports unknown arrived in Buenos Aires during the 1880's, many gravitated toward the port city's houses of ill repute. In these establishments, the portenos (as they were called) could drown their troubles in a few drinds and fnd some companionship. They looked desperately for a distraction to ease their sense of rootlessness and disfranchisement as "strangers in a strange land."

From this heady, intermingled cultural brew emerged a new music which become the Tango. Ironically, as these lonely immigrants and societal outcasts sought to escape from their feelings, they instead developed a music and dance that epitomized them. It is said the tango, speaks of more than frustrated love. It speaks of fatality, of destinies engulfed in pain. It is the dance of sorrow.

Though musical historians argue as to its exact origins, it is generally accepted that the tango borrowed from many nations; the relentless rhythms of the African slaves; the santeria, or candombe with their distinct beat on their drums; the popular music of the pampas (flatlands) known as the milonga, which combined Native Indian rhythms with the music of early spanish colonists; as well as other influences, including the Italian immigrants and ancient Latin linguistics. Some say the word "tango" comes from the Italian word tangere (to touch.)

The tango originally developed a portrayal of the relationship between the prostitute and her pimp. Many the titles of the first tangos referred to characters in the world of prostitution. These tango songs and dances had no lyrics, were often highly improvised, and were generally regarded as obscene. As well many of the early tangos not only represented a kind of sexual choreography, but often a duel, depicting a duel between men fighting for the favors of a woman, that usually ended in the symbolic death of an opponent. During this time. the wailing melancholy of the bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument which originated in Germany and later arrived in Argentina in 1886) became a mainstay of tango music.

In 1912 the lower classes were allowed to vote after the advent of the universal suffrage law--passed in Argentina, which served to legitimize many of its cultural mainstays, including the tango. Over time the tango lost some of its abrasiveness as it became absorbed into the larger society. The structure of the dance, however, remained intact, and soon the tango developed into a worldwide phenomenon. Even the Americans were doing it.

During the the first two decades of the new century, the tango became a hit in Paris. The Tango... by Parisian standards became a staple of Argentinean high society. Tango was becoming more and more popular amongst the cabarets and theatres throughout Paris. The tango musician became elevated to professional composer status. Roberto Firpo, created the typical tango orchestra rhythm played on piano and double bass; melodies played on the bandoneon and the violin, with strong counter meloodies and variation. The stars of the era were osvaldo Fresedo and Julio de Caro.

In 1928, lyrics for the Tango became the latest trend, bringing for the birth of a star who is still celebrated to this day many decades after his death..., singer Carlos Gardel. The memory of this handsome, charismatic performer has reached into the hearts of the people of Argentina and to give something of national pride.

In 1930, a sudden rise in military action in Argentina ended the citizens' right to vote and thus largely silenced the voice of the people. Tango revived in the late 1930's when the Argentinean masses regained a good measure of their political freedom. They celebrated their social rise with the tango, which became a symbol of thir physical solidarity and part of their daily life. Again, tango musicians emerged who took the form in new directions including Fresedo, de Caro, Pugliese, and Anibal Troilo.

Soon, wealthy intellectuals, far removed from the working class, "orilla" began writing new lyrics for the tango. Because of their influence, tango took on a more romantic, nostalgic and less threatening air, a sweet remembrance of youth in an idyllic society that never existed.

When Juan Peron rose to power in 1946 the tango again reached the pinnacle of popularity in Argentina, as both he and his wife Evita embraced it wholeheartedly. Yet after Evita's death in 1952, the Tango again fell from the mainstream spotlight. American rock-and-roll invaded the popular scene, and the Tango again lost interest of the mainstream public.

Today the tango is enjoying a renaissance of popularity, keeping the fire of this daring art form burning brightly.