The old tango was once young

By Edgardo Ritacco
translated by Dolores Iglesias Rocha


Tango has always been a young phenomenon.

The splendor of its composers (Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco, Agustín Bardi, to name some of the few) took place in the post-adolescent era.

At first, tango was impudent, optimistic, immensely creative, subtly violent, unstoppable.

Curiously, the first that threw some cold water to such fervor of fueyes and feverish raptures were the ones that were then called “los de la guardia nueva” (the new generation).

Julio De Caro was not inflexible. On the contrary. His orchestra could get in the ring with the music stands and musical scores. Many looked at him as if he were weird. What did the tango have to do with all that paper work, like the director once said, if there would be a wind stroke, would the musicians be clueless?

As a paradox, when the guardia nueva began to settle down, the tango started loosing fire, the improvisation and the surprise of the heroic times. But in those times, (20´s decade, beginning of 30´s), its protagonists were still young.

The last half of the 30´s decade showed the first decay of tango. All of a sudden the death of Gardel, followed by the death of Agustín magaldi, held back  fire from the singer’s bonfire, and the people began to withdraw their support. The orchestras were living hard times: pro-men like Osvaldo Fresedo, for example, would come back from the United States with their ears filled with Jazz, and from the boxes would create a spectacle of three foreign songs for each tango.

Only Juan D´Arienzo riding the excessive pride rhythmic back of his extraordinary pianist Rodolfo Biaggi, would fight the match without giving or asking for a truce. 

 But when starting the 40´s the great porteño scenario had already been staged. The bleechers and cafés were flooded with orchestras. There was a time when there were almost 300 orchestras playing simultaneously in the different neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. The most popular names were downtown. The rest were spread throughout the neighborhoods, trying to earn merit so as to enter the small circuit in the heart of the city. “I would not go beyond Patricios and Pompeya – the inmense Horacio Salgán recognized one day to the journalist – We had to do our homework very well, so as to be able to loom downtown.”

But the 40´s were not the result of the first youth. The protagonists were already around their thirties and forties. There was no longer the rebelliousness of Arolas, nor the genial unconsciousness of Gobbi senior. Everything had been changed for everyone’s own style, the orchestration plus the growth of the singers, which were no longer chansonniers to become one more instrument in the orchestras.

The 40´s was the explosion of tango. But rather a nostalgic explosion: many plots talked about the past that will never come again, like the magic 1920 that A pan y agua proclaims; he names guapos (studs) that no longer inhabited the porteño streets, they mourn the genre becoming more French-like (“eras un varón / sencillo y compadrón / de una palabra sola / rimaba tu cantar / con la emoción triunfal / del bandoneón de Arolas / pero empezó tu decadencia / cuando te dieron tanta ciencia / y hoy rezongándote cabrero / un lagrimón fulero / enturbia tu canción”, Tango de otros tiempos complains).

The 40´s tango was a dance hall tango, a tango with extraordinary musicians ( the sprout of Aníbal Troilo, the stylish adjustments of Osvaldo Pugliese, the mixture of stars with Miguel Caló, the notorious impetus of Ricardo Tanturi, the strength of D´Arienzo, the experimenting of Francini-Pontier, the canyengue precision of Alfredo Gobbi). And also the explosion of the tango singers, that may as well have a chapter of their own. But was already a middle age phenomenon.

Today, after the long night of the second decadence of tango (60´s and 70´s decades, over all), young people have come around and gotten closer to tango and its compass, to its ritual and its dance. They do it their own way, with a seal of their own, mixing Piazzolla with the primitive bands with flute and guitar, deconstructing it a bit and also respecting another bit. Maybe that is why it is now again a phenomenon of the most powerful years, the resurrection of tango may be more real than ever.

At last.