The Seductive Tango—A National Treasure
The Argentineans like to claim the tango as their own but in fact the tango originated in the region (on both sides of the border) that surrounds the Rio de la Plata, the river estuary between Uruguay and Argentina. It developed towards the end of the 19th century when music of African origin merged with European and Creole instruments and rhythms. The dance evolved in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and is now seen as one of the most genuine and original cultural expressions of Uruguay.
Two of the more historically significant dances include the masterpiece “Morocha”, composed in Buenos Aires in 1905 by the Uruguayan Enrique Saborido, and “La noche triste” (Sad Night), written in Montevideo in 1916 by the Argentinean Pascual Contursi.
The “anthem” of all tangos, “La Cumparsita”, was written by Uruguayan Gerardo Mattos Rodríguez; and Carlos Gardel, who is internationally recognized, is considered to have been the biggest Uruguayan interpreter in the history of tango.
The King of Tango
Carlos Gardel, also a disputed possession between Argentina and Uruguay, is recognized as the primary force for the movement of tango from the neighborhood and down-market clubs in BA to the high-end, upper class theaters and cabarets.
Carlos grew up (from the age of two) in the Abasto neighborhood of Buenos Aires. He didn’t receive any formal training in music but from a young age showed a talent for singing and later for composing music. When he was 14 he moved to Montevideo for an unknown number of years but began to show up at bars and club in Buenos Aires from the age of 20. It wasn’t until his late twenties when Carlos turned his attention to the tango and began to record the many tango records that are highly regarded and still played in tango clubs everywhere to this day. He was also involved in a number of film projects as both an actor and composer.
The Uruguayans believe, and Gardel himself claimed that he was born in the Uruguayan northern town of Tacuarembo (where you’ll find a museum dedicated to him). However many believe him to be born in France and say he claimed his Uruguayan heritage to avoid French military service. His manager attested to his French nationality but it is widely believed (in particular by the Uruguayans) that this was in order to keep his heritage from the Argentinean government.
The Tango in Today’s Uruguay
Today Tango clubs abound in Uruguay, and in particular in Montevideo, where singing and dancing can go on into the early hours. Our favorite one is Baar Fun Fun. Read this week “Expat Account” article for more on Baar Fun Fun.
If your Spanish is up to scratch, www.montevideo-tango.com is a good resource on all things tango, and includes information on venues and upcoming events.