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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tango Negro

What is the Tango Negro? We are familiar with the tango, the Argentinean music, the music of Buenos Aires, immortalized by Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla, Anibal Troilo, so many musicians of the past hundred years: the music of the "arrabal" of Buenos Aires, the working class neighborhoods of the city. But its origins in the culture of the African slaves of the nineteenth century, and their music, the "candombe" or "candombie," have been forgotten, which is what Tango Negro is designed to remind us of.

And here we hear the references to the despot, Juan Manuel de Rosas, who governed the city, the province of Buenos Aires, and the region now known as Argentina, from the 1830's to 1852. The reference to the "owner" who left by sea ("el amo se fue por mar"), is of Rosas, who in 1852, after the Battle of Caseros, took ship and sailed to England and to exile.

Don Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877)

The tango has its origins in the music of the slaves, the "candombe" or "candombié" . What is the connection of Rosas and Tango Negro? To be sure, the presence of the black slaves in Buenos Aires was far more prominent in the days of the hegemony of Rosas than it was later, when the tango became known in Europe, in Paris, and eventually in the salons of Buenos Aires. But there is more here than is hinted at in the juxtaposition of historical chronology, the portrait of an age that had not yet banished the black African slave from Argentinean society, and the culture of slavery that was an intricate part of the life of the city in the days of Rosas.

Rosas, on the far left of the picture, enjoying a Candombie

In the Tango Negro we hear the rythm and structure of African music and the words that would make the tango familiar in later times. It is a synchretism of cultures that has been erased from the history of the tango and from the history of Argentina. But most interestingly, we hear of the nostalgia for a time that is past, from whence the old tango negro has disappeared: "te fuistes sin avisar" (you left without giving notice), and where the candombe was no longer heard: "se acabaron los candombes en el barrio e' Monserrat" (no more 'candombes' in the neighborhood of Monserrat). The lyrics testify to the passing of an age, "Tango negro, tango negro, la cosa se puso mal, no hay más gauchos mazorqueros y Manuelita que ya no está. . . " Black tango, black tango, things have gotten bad, the "mazorqueros," - Rosas' gaucho police force -, are gone, and so is the daughter of the despot, Manuelita, who patronized the 'candombe,' the African slave dances and rythms. The 'tango negro' is thus the testimony of an age and a music that is past, laced with nostalgia, even though it is also the matrix for a music that is not yet born, and that will become the quintessential music of the city of Buenos Aires.

Manuelita Rosas while she was still in Buenos Aires, in the 1840's. Portrait by Prilidiano Pueyrredon (1823-1870)

Lyrics: (English translation below)

Tango negro, tango negro,
te fuiste sin avisar,
los gringos fueron cambiando
tu manera de bailar.
Tango negro, tango negro,
el amo se fue por mar,
se acabaron los candombes
en el barrio ‘e Monserrat.

Más tarde fueron saliendo
en comparsas de carnaval
pero el rito se fue perdiendo
al morirse Baltasar.
Mandingas, Congos y Minas
repiten en el compás,
los toques de sus abuelos
borocotó, borocotó, chas, chas.

Borocotó, borocotó borocotó,
borocotó borocotó, borocotó, chas, chas.

Tango negro, tango negro,
la cosa se puso mal,
no hay más gauchos mazorqueros
y Manuelita que ya no está
Tango negro, tango negro,
los tambores no suenan más
los reyes están de luto
ya nadie los va a aclamar.

English version:

"Gloomy [Black] Tango, Gloomy [black] tango
You left without a warning,
The 'gringos' gradually changed
the manner of your dancing.
Gloomy Tango, gloomy tango,
The Owner went away by sea
the candombes came to an end
In the neighborhood of Monserrat.

In time they still came out
for Comparsas or Carnaval,
but the ritual was forgotten
after the dying of Baltasar.
Mandinga, Congos and Broads
now move to the beat
of their grandparents' sounds:
borocotó, borocotó, chas, chas.

borocotó, borocotó, borocotó,
borocotó, borocotó, borocotó, chas, chas.

Gloomy [Black] tango, gloomy [black] tango,
everything went all wrong.
Gone are the 'mazorquero' gauchos,
and Manuelita is now long gone.
Gloomy tango, gloomy tango
the drums are heard no more,
and the Kings are deep in mourning
that they'll no longer get any applause."

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