The first days of spring are as fickle as a woman who refuses to dance with one guy and then says “yes” to the next guy who asks. Yesterday it was in the 70s and absolutely gorgeous, today it’s windy and chilly. But I can’t complain because we’ve seen some really great live tango orquestas in the last couple of weeks.
Orquesta Típica el Afronte plays regularly at one of our favorite milongas, La Maldita Milonga. You could say they’re the house band. Located in San Telmo, on Perú 571, we call this location the “movie set milonga,” cause of its gritty, funky, wabi-sabi atmosphere. The dance floor is really old, which means it’s not perfectly flat. In a few places you feel like you’re dancing down a little slope and then back up again, kind of like being in a boat that dips with every swell. But the vibe is so splendid, the concentrated essence of a dance floor well danced for years and years…. you just can’t buy that and have it installed. This is the real thing!
Maldita is not a really nice word, but not especially bad … “damm milonga!” would be my translation. El Afronte translates as “confrontation.” Their music is a blend of old and new, traditional tango with jazzy nuevo flavor, executed with skill and spirit. Perhaps their name reflects the confrontation between classical Tango and the revolutionary new sound that Astor Piazzolla created, a new genre of Tango, born and bred in the post-WWII 20th century.
Another night we made a quick taxi trip over to the Armenian Hall in Palermo Soho. Only about 12 blocks from our apartment. This milonga is called La Viruta, which is a Porteño term meaning dance floor. All you milongueros know that a particular location, a dance hall or club, may have different names on different nights. For example, the famous milonga Niño Bien, on Humberto 1°, is called Rouge on a different night. The name of the milonga belongs, basically, to the person or persons who organize it. Just like our friend Norm Tiber organizes La Milonga Dorada in different locations in the San Luis Obispo area. The organizers may DJ the music, or they may have an invited DJ.
Los Reyes del Tango (Tango Kings) didn’t start playing till 2:30 am. We came in just after midnight and managed to snag one of the last tables. The densely-packed crowd of 500-600 kids (Ben’s professional estimate) danced to a Latin blend for about an hour till the tango kicked in around 1 am… (it goes to 5! We stayed till 4.)
You gotta love these guys! I think they qualify for some kind of wabi-sabi award (are we sick of wabi-sabi yet?): an amazing juxtaposition of musicians in their sixties and seventies playing to a packed Tango club full of 20 and 30 year olds! The wise and beautifully aged, like a good bottle of vino tinto, bubbling over with music that is ageless — as fresh and young as ever!
In this foto you see two of the three bandeonistas gettin’ down! Stepping back from my enthusiasm for a moment, Los Reyes’ sound was not as light, tight and bright as ever. I found myself wondering if these guys, when they get together to rehearse, just end up drinking and lying to each other about their glory days. Or, even scarier thought, maybe they don’t bother to rehearse? At any rate, they were much applauded and enjoyed.
Last night we ventured out to a brand new Palermo Soho milonga at Café Vinilo, a hip urban café, a bit too edgy to be chic. I mean, a dead tree in the atrium hung with dry, brown leaves isn’t my idea of upbeat chic. But, hey, there’s a 50s-era sideboard stereo with turntable, and speakers on each side built into the cabinet. Did your folks have one like that? Mine did. They were playing Ella Fitzgerald. Made us feel quite at home. La Milonga del Bonzo has live music every monday, starting with a tango class at 8, milonga from 10-12, then the flavor of the week, i.e., singer, guitarist, poetry, etc. from midnight to ?? A community space for upcoming new artists. We like it!
I was reading in the September El Tanguata that a concert at the Tango World Finals, the Horacio Salgán Orchestra, (we didn’t go) was an extraordinary, historic event because two pianists, Andrés Linetzky and Nicolás Guerschberg, working from original 78 rpm recordings of Sebastián Piana, Eduardo Rovira, Francisco Canaro, Astor Piazzolla and Aníbal Troilo, recovered and transcribed, at times measure by measure, the original partituras of some early treasures from those orchestras’ repertoires. Their concert was an invitation to close your eyes and be transported into another era.
While this may be too much information for the armchair reader, I think you Tango dancers know what I’m talking about. It seems particularly noteworthy in light of all the different genres of tango that are out there these days. Buenos Aires breathes deeply the essence of the classics but also drinks assiduously from new sounds being brewed as we speak. Some of the newer stuff, like electronic tango, is despised by many, but the portrayal of urban dissonance like traffic noises, sirens, etc. is an element that Piazzolla incorporated into his music in a way that worked, and was groundbreaking in his time. (Leonard Bernstein also comes to mind.) Some of the new tango orchestras are in the midst of similar transformations, bringing new sounds into the light, and it’s absolutely marvelous to be able to observe, from the fringes, the contemporary music scene in Buenos Aires.
Violinist Pablo Agri brings a beautiful harmonic balance to his blend of the old with the new. The classical training, the technical superiority of every member of his quartet, is obvious, but there’s also a relaxed lightness, an unpretentiousness in their sound.
The bandoneonista looked to be the youngest recruit of the quartet. Maybe a younger brother?
Emiliano Grecco, piano player, is only 21 and has already made a name for himself in the underground music scene. Not only is he an amazing pianist, he is also a composer. The quartet played a couple of his compositions and I can tell you they were extraordinary. Next time we see him play, I will corner him and find out more about him… all I really know for sure is that he is the spitting image of my son Ode! Am I right?
After the show it was only midnight so we went dancing. Talk about culture shock! We stepped into another world when we walked into the milonga Viejo Correo.
I felt like I’d been transported back to the 50s in a steel-mill town, somewhere out in the middle of nowheresville. The clothing was 70s-ish but definitely not Summer of Love. I saw more guys wearing fake rugs than in a Vegas casino. Trailer Trash meets Juan Travolta. And the gals…. well, beehives are still in vogue somewhere in the world, you knew that, right? I would only wish that place on someone who really yearned for a Route 66 experience. Even the waitresses were archetypal. And here’s the cool blue ride to take the waitress out in:
Can you see how confusing and wabi-sabi this Buenos Aires reality can be? I mean, I walk past the Acropolis every time I go to the subway stop!
I want to end this post with a REQUEST.
CALLING ALL TANGO ADDICTS!!
TANGO ADDICTS ANONYMOUS!
YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
Please, listen up. I want everyone who HAS BEEN, is NOW, or PLANS TO BE Addicted to Tango to send me an email detailing:
WHEN, WHERE, and HOW did you realize that you were HOPELESSLY ADDICTED TO TANGO?
(For my spanish-speaking readers: ¿Cúando y cómo sabías que le había caído preso al tango? O sea, ¿que llegaste a ser adicto sin esperanza?)
My plan is to collect all your comments (feel free to send photos too!) and insights into the depths of your pathos & etc. I will post it all on the blog (so long as it’s not obscene) and then… we’ll see what happens from there!
Let me know if I can include your name or if you wish to remain anonymous. Through our collective reflection we can shed some light on the how and the why tango can become an obsession. If we don’t manage to penetrate the depths of our collective psychosis, we can at least have some fun sharing our common dilemma. I am already sketching out a Tango Addiction Flow Chart, and perhaps a Telltale Signs Deep Water Chart.
Drag those hidden desires and obsessions out of the murky depths and into the twilight of your favorite milonga! One of our favorites is Boedo Tango, a very classy place.
Now, don’t forget to respond, and soon! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ciao from Buenos Aires!