Alberto Paz | Indy Week

Alberto Paz 
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Re: “The blackness of tango

After 1820 the black population in Bs. As. began to freely integrate into the porteño society to the point that three generations later actual blacks made out less than 2% of the population.

The argument that suggests that the African culture in general and its music in particular was so influential and respected as to have had such a major effect on the decision of the remaining 98% of the population to adopt a popular music as their own, can be counterpointed with the argument Carlos Vega made in an article he wrote for La Prensa in 1932,

“A song book may be influenced by another as long as there is not a sentimental abyss between them. Even though most of the enslaved Africans didn’t belong to the group of the more primitive cultures, even though many came from African regions influenced by the semitic-kamitic cultures, the imported music they brought along was, with very rare exception, of such rudimentary, original and strange nature, that it was inaccessible to the ears of the white man.

That music could not wake up in the Creoles the natural desire needed for adopting it. Far from finding in the black celebrations appropriate elements suitable for the expression of their own feelings, the Creoles found them so colorful and ridiculous that after their extinction they modernized them in grotesque carnival parodies with drumming and European songs.” -La Prensa, Nov 16, 1932 – Carlos Vega, African songs and dances in the River Plate area.

Tango as a song and dance popular genre can't be defined just by one of its constituting elements, the music, its lyrics or its choreography. And much less if the essential element is not the music because the music is the organizing and substantial element. Without the music the others can not exist. Without the music there is neither singing nor dancing. A dance step in itself, a verse alone, does not define anything, inasmuch as an isolated musical chord does not qualify as melody.

In Tango, The Art History of Love, the author's tactics seem to circumvent those concepts in a gratuitously attempt to inject the race card in an otherwise all inclusive popular cultural foreign manifestation. He looks at paintings and reads the painter's mind, he listens to a song and states the composer's intention, he watches a dancer and extrapolates a step or posture making up analogies and pulling hairs in a reckless way.

The least it can be expected from a history book is respect for time lines. Repeating irrelevant urban legends the author jumps all over time lines placing habanera dancing Cuban sailors in Buenos Aires about 60-70 years before Cuba's Armada was created.

Page after page of this irrelevant and dishonest history book, the author makes irresponsible claims and insists in implying that white folks stole tango from black folks adding another layer of racist pandering enlightenment.

- Flores = Black = Poet laureate of the people = Commiserates or melts by woman of the night.
- Discepolo = White = Darling of the intellectuals = Turn cold shoulder to woman of the night.

But here is the problem.

Tango YIRA, YIRA is not about a woman at all. There is no woman in YIRA, YIRA, a fact that anybody with basic high school Spanish could easily verify. The verses of Enrique Santos Discepolo at best reflect upon the inevitable end of our lives and the plight of those who live going around through life without ever finding a purpose. At worst, they are an indictment of the prevalent political and social climate just after the Great Depression.

Discepolo begins...

"Cuando la suerte que es grela, (When luck that has feminine gender) fallando y fallando te largue parao' (letting you down, letting you down, leaves you standing by yourself)" ... clearly talking to a male listener, or maybe to himself, using the noun "parao," an uneducated variation of the passive participle of the verb PARAR, `parado' which he uses to signify being abandoned on your own. PARADO's gender is masculine. A woman would be left PARADA. Right there and then everyone knows that the tango is not about a woman.

In YIRA, YIRA, Discepolo is not turning a cold shower to a woman of the night. A serious tango historian must know about the lunfardo verb YIRAR - the tour around all the police stations of the city by repeat thieves so they'd become known to all the officers. - Serious tango experts also must know that the noun YIRO , a derogatory word for prostitute. A culture vulture would listen to YIRA, YIRA and rightfully think of a prostitute.

The sources of most fairy tales in Thompson's book are generations of Argentines who qualify as ignorant culture vultures, and maybe some reassured him that YIRA, YIRA is about a woman. However ignorance is not a reliable source for a book heralded for having discovered in the Argentine tango a racist undertone that ignores African culture.

By accusing Discepolo, under false pretenses to prove his case, if not of outright copying Flores, "the black poet laureate of the people," but at least of willfully misinterpreting him, Thompson may have inadvertently fit in the vision of Discepolo.

"Veras que todo es mentira (You'll see that all is a lie) veras que nada es amor (you'll see that nothing is love) que al mundo nada le importa (that the world couldn't care less) Yira, yira! (go around every police station so they can take a good look at you)"

A total waste of precious resources and an unfortunate source of false pride for trusting blacks who fall in love with the tango.

15 likes, 22 dislikes
Posted by Alberto Paz on 02/02/2012 at 12:43 AM

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