My article got published in Gancho. You can read it online here.
Buenos Aires in 1900 was not recognizable. In the early 1900’s Buenos Aires was one of the richest cites on Earth and its port was one of the busiest. By the 1920’s, Buenos Aires was a favored destination for immigrants from Europe, as well as from the poorer provinces and neighboring countries, and large shantytowns started growing around the city’s industrial areas, causing social problems.
There was a severe Yellow fever epidemic in Buenos Aires in 1867 that transformed the city. Before this time most people lived South of the center. La Boca housed the poorer new immigrants and San Telmo housed the wealthier citizens. After the disease, most residents from those areas abandoned their homes and began to build North of the center in what is now Recoleta and Palermo. The plague of 1871 left empty and available huge properties that were possessed by dominant classes in San Telmo, who decided to migrate north and found new quarters. The face of the city was completely changing by different kinds of people coming down from the ships, occupying the streets and settle in abandoned houses. What hitherto served to house a family, became a real city with its own name, a tenement, made of dozens of rooms, languages and customs, all gathering around a central courtyard that established an identity synthesis.
Different customs, different sounds created a great diversity. However, for the tradition, it is necessary to keep the cultural thread. Therefore tango emerged as the first expression of this cultural mixture, creating a sense of community. Unlike other folklore, where the lyrics describe the feeling and the pride of belonging to a place of their own, the tango described an emotional identity, relationships, sexual desire, dancing, poverty, love, friendship, mother, betrayal, etc.
Tango is not reactive; it does not appear as an expression of margins against discrimination of elites; the erotic nature of dancing is not a response to the prevailing sexual morality. It is an artistic expression that appears, along with other expressions, as a way to establish new values, as the initial sound of a class that is inventing itself, opening a gap between the wealthy bourgeoisie and poverty. Tango was a way to compensate for certain shortcomings, to be built on the mythical Argentine courage. The mass immigration was inventing a new social model without any program and, therefore, without any direction. Cultural traditions that immigrants dragged from their countries of origin were mixed with others. The relationships between them had no establishment framework and, despite the efforts of many immigrants the mixture was inevitable. It was a melting pot with neither common history nor tradition, religion, or even a common language. Tango was the musical effect of this mixture, an Italian, Spanish, Jewish, French, German, African kaleidoscope. It was a wonderful fusion of experiences, emotions, instruments and aspects that each culture needed.
In 1913 Enrique García Velloso wrote: "Tango is not going to agonize. He will die suddenly and disappear like the flame of a candle which gives a whooshing ... One morning you wake up and no one will know what has been the tango. " The land where tango grows is mixed because its flower is a combination made from German accordion, melancholy, harmonies, dancers from Spain, Italy and Africa. Therefore it is possible to understand the prohibited period, its early years in a brothel and the aversion that occurred in the dominant classes. If it is true that this kind of sexual dance involved a challenge to the moral standards of the time, then tango produced rejection, directly related to the rejection of the immigrant. The generation of '80, that wrote novels, laws, regulations, associated immigrants with plague and tango received the same derogatory adjectives abroad. Abroad, tango, was threat of an infection that needed to be removed.
The boundaries were dissolved in Tango. It is true that the tango was originally danced by men. Buenos Aires built its identity with Tango. The unique nature of tango is beyond social conditions. Tango spread to all levels of society. Tango made its own discourse. The problems in each society and era were different. The sublime tango addressed them and kept the flame alive. Whether it was 6000 brothels that emerged in Buenos Aires and rampant prostitution, large number of immigrants who were men or plague, tango had a mystic answer to pain, heartache, sadness, war, love or even love lost. Over the years Tango proved that everything else is temporary and transient. What will remain is Tango.