Saturday, May 15, 2010




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Negro Tango: Exposing the black roots of the white facade

Every guide book that you pick up on Buenos Aires will undoubtedly show you a few things.

1.) A tango picture.

You’ll always see the pale faced, dark haired couple dancing gracefully across the cover of most books on Argentina. Tango is the undoubted symbolic gesture that Buenos Aires gladly accepts to top the front of it’s national mythology.

yup. just go ahead and google Buenos Aires Tango. It all looks like this...

2.) The second thing that they’ll always tell you is that all of the black people are dead and gone. Of course, the language is more flowerly, but there will be a basic explanation that, dammit, this ain’t Brazil, if you were lookin for brown or black, you’ll have to go back to Africa.

Although there is some truth to both of these images, and statements, they are both indicative of the national mythology of Argentine whiteness that is exported in mass proportion.

As I wrote in my thesis:

"The reality is that tango started as a slave dance. It was danced in brothels, in the depths and dark crevices of the society that the Europhile elite of Buenos Aires didn’t want to accept. The dance had a wily percolacion upward through Cuba, and even ended up on tour in France, and other parts of Europe. It was only this contact with European hands that the dirty dance of slaves, and the lower class Italians who cohabitated with them, became the image of Argentine tango that we now see. This tango that glistens among chandeliers and fancy tacones that do flippant twists over waxed parquet--this tango is a complicit conversation between the throngs of tangoing tourists, and the few Portenos that actually DO the tango."

There were two events this month that focused on the African roots of Tango as musicologist Nestor Ordigo released his book about just this topic. The first took place at the annual Feria de Libros…which is toted to be one of the most important gatherings of literature, authors, academics, blabbity blabbity blah…

Maybe I’m missed all of the rich cultural exchange but I just saw it as an excuse to charge people entrance to pay exorbitant prices for books they can find more easily on mercardolibre (Argentine ebay).

Or perhaps it was just my general discomfort and discontentment with the presentation that I went to about Afro-Argentines.

Now, admittedly I walked in a bit late, but I was advised that I hadn’t missed anything. I grabbed a seat next to a few recognizable faces in the community. When I arrived, Pablo Cirio, a well known Afro-Argentine musicologist here was in a slide show that appeared to be describing each setting, and story of each black face.

“Que me falto…de que esta hablando?”


he whispered to me simply.

“Mostrando fotos de gente negra?”


And there it was, Afro-Argentine academia often decomposes into the primary process of just explaining to others that black people EXIST. Here is one, here is another, I’m friends with this one, oh and that one too.

The perfect way to end a presentation about the Afro-Argentine roots of tango that had nothing to do with the Afro-Argentine roots of tango with a tango done by an afro-BRASILIERA, and afro-URUGUAYO. Maybe it makes sense in some post-modern way somewhere?

To be a bit less critical, the European mythology of Argentine is a pretty brick wall to try to navigate. It shows a lot about the current pervasive ideology of invisibilization that exists in Buenos Aires, especially. Though in America we don’t see very many American Indians, and our national history is just a euphemized story of their massacre, you will hear very few people deny that there was ever a population of Indians. Most people won’t tell you that they just don’t exist anymore. That we just “don’t really have that problem”...

Perhaps a slide-show of black faces is the first political step that the Afro community has to make…but I’m inclined to say….so what??

Anyways, the second event I was initially very excited about:

In a tango museum, a small charla about the Afro roots in tango, then Rosa Montero, a middle-class black Portena was going to sing some of the “negro tangos”.

The museum was very interesting, especially in it’s inclusion of afro-argentine history, but the event left a bit to be desired. First of all, I had dragged along a friend and my roommate Emilse ( a tango lover) with the promise of an Afro-Argentine tango. We arrived to a small and packed room with two speakers set up and a pasty faced red head reeking of adolescent rebellion at the helm of the laptop.

Next, who grabbed the mic but our silly musicology professor with the black-faced-slide-show.

His introductions showed that he could switch around the words negro-and tango quite apty.

“So llegamos a este evento para hablar sobre los tangos negros. Si estamos aca para todo que ver con los negros en tango. Si, los Afro-tangeros if you will”

I must admit I was a bit volanda at the time, but I was confused when an older white gentlemen with an admitted “cara de orto”. Who is this apartato??

As it seems, he must have some type of pact with the academics who planned the event, or a pact with the devil to be able to keep a straight face through the largest JOKE of a song that I’ve ever heard.

With his ill timed, flat, silly-faced, no feelinged, stiff arm (I can go on and on) delivery, I literally had to put my camera on my lap so as not to waste my arm strength. May I say it again,Who is this tool??

At one point, about half way through the eternity of this horrid spectacle, mid-breath, before this chavon was about to let out another limp and languid sound


The man angrily and bitterly looked at the adolescent who was surfing the web to pass the time (oh I wish I had a web to surf too…) and they decided that they would move onto the next song as that one had “a glitch”. In my trying my very hardest to suppress laughter…I noticed my roommate out wandering the hallways of the museum. I couldn’t blame her.

After a few more songs, and a pitifully staged shout for an encore (why is that TWO people clapped and shouted for the SAME song) I smell a set up here, and I was ready to protest….

Rosa Montenero…this middle classed Afro-Argentine who in all of her 70 something years was fabbed out in a very middle classy way. No cleavage, but happy patterns. Jewelry glittery enough without being hookerish? I dunno.

She explained that as all singers were, that pronounce and pronounce that they are singer and despues cuando nos toque ya estamos resfriadas…

She was sick, and losing her voice, but she would make the concert happen.

After four songs, she called in quits in her tango esque style

“No puedo mas” she whispered, gently cradling her throat….

I asked my roommate, the tango lovah for her recap of the event. I asked her to tell me in English so that we could talk about the event freely. (If the poor chavon happened to understand English, well, perhaps it was only right that he was brought down by a yanqui imperialist)

“That…” Emi started empathetically (and remember you have to picture all of this happening in her accent from a very specific part of Liverpool) “was the most terrible….awful…”

she started fishing for adjectives so I started to turn it into an English synonym lesson

“piss poor…embarrassing…pice of crap...ugly...undesirable...offensive” I offered

“excuse for a tango that I have ever seen. I had to leave to stop myself from laughing at this man”

For some laughs….check out some outtakes from the show. Well, actually, they are really just clips from the event, but they should be outtakes because of my shaky cam, and his shaky voice.

At least the museum had an impressive display of Afro-Argentine representation in thier story of the tango:

Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks. An article written by Ebony in the 70's.

Various books on display on the Afro roots of the tango.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hip-hop Competencia

After funk night at Makena, one of the girls that I met gave me a call to let me know that there would be an underground hip-hop comepenticia then fiesta going on that evening at around 10.

Unfortunately, (and Fortunately of course) that evening, I was singing with a friends group called Mukele (check them out!) A very instrumental world-beat funk band, all of the vocals were hooks and improvisation.


It was a fun and intimate show, without rehearsal. Their primary female vocalist, Gaby, has an incredible ability to harmonize and improvise! Although I enjoy singing a lot as a thing in the shower, it really made me want to work on learning some of the basics of voice!

My roommates of course were in the audience, but my two friends from Dock Sud showed up suspiciously, and ridiculously late. J

My roommate Emilse and I are constantly joking about our differences in style. I like my men “morocho, o con color”, BROWN skinneded and super ethnically ambiguous, speaking to me in Spanish or Portuguese.

Her boyfriend is a pale-faced Englishman with blue eyes, whose accent has marked her even when she sings 60’s soul songs with me.

I research hip-hop, I like to sing R&B, soul, funk. She likes indie rock, and whiney Argentine boy rock. Ok, I’m not giving her much credit, but you get the point.

Luckily when I got out of the concert, and had my fill of free drinks from the bar, the hip-hop competencia had barely started. In the back of a bar, that looked like a warehouse we all entered with curiousity. What was Buenos Aires offering?

All of us more than a little bit curious about the hip-hop scene, we entered and were immediately inundated with the energy of the scene. Well, it was either the energy of the underground crowd—or it was smell of aerosols burning our brain cells. On either side of the wide club there were scaffoldings full of taggers posted like construction workers, painting, spraying, designing, and admiring. Flor, my friend pulled me to the middle of the club where the dance battles were happening. All of us just went into swivel mode, trying to take in the colors of the atmosphere, the youth formed into crowds getting amped up to dance, and trying not to huff too much paint.

Then, I was sucked into every photographer’s nightmare—ok let’s say amateur photographer, because real photographers I’m sure don’t get into this type of trouble.

All of this art, energy, excitement and hip-hop…and my roommate hadn’t charged my battery, and hadn’t erased photos from the memory card.

I looked around for fellow videographers and photographers frantically. It seemed there weren’t too many people interested in taking the pictures. The first kid I met was strapped with a D60.

I gave him props for his camera choice, then promptly went back to my mission of searching for a videographer.

And then I saw him, under the scaffolding. What was that that glistened in the dark light? It was the black shell of a Panasonic Lumix DMC….the EXACT same camera that I own!!!!

For real though, out of two cameras in an entire building, the exact same semi-professional semi-point and shoot camera that I own?

After doing a bit of a thank you dance to the universe, I explained to him my situation. He promptly handed me his full battery, and his empty memory card and I went to work.

As the grafitti artists put their finishing touches on their pieces, the dance battles started. A table of three judges (veterans in the hip-hop community) sat at the foot of the dance floor ready do give their expert opinion

All those who weren’t hanging in the stands of the scaffolding formed a circle around the dancers, and each would come break into the center for a rapid-fire one minute solo battle.When the beat switched the next dancer jumped in for their kinetic rebuttal. The judges had a quick second to deliberate then they would shout an “un, dos, tres” and each would point in the direction of their favorite. The winning dancer would move onto battle the winner of the following series.

They had competitions in freestyle, dancehall, breaking, pop-locking, and krumping. In the fast paced competition, the technical highlights were definitely in the bboys. Although the photographer warned me that there was another Porteno cat who could out break all of these kids, there was definitely some real talent. Super-de-duper head spins, flips, a lot of acrobatic movement. What was missing though it seemed was the differenciating style. Most b-boys were lacking in their top-lock, in their transition, and in the attitude that made me crush on so many of my friends older brothers growing up—the shamelessly smooth style.

But what the scene lacked in originality they definitely supplanted with energy. My two friends stood on the sidelines mouths wide, heads bobbing back and forth, chiming in with the crowd with their own ‘ooooooohs”.

The Dancehall session was equipt with an androgynous gent with all the attitude in his hips, gyrating his booty so fast that it made me dizzy (again, could’ve been the paint fumes). A girl who I think learned krumping from watching a few episodes of Community (SEE VIDEO) but from my point of view, it was an exciting starting point for two reasons.

1.) The hip-hop community of Buenos Aires is definitely in it’s infancia, it’s not like many Latin American communities who aggressively latched on to hip-hop like Chile, or Columbia. Buenos Aires, the larger part of the marginalized population is more comfortable with cumbia villiera—a form of similar based music that has many of the characteristics of a reggaeton. But, the two have a very, very, close relation, and I imagine more and more the two moving together and getting closer and closer to marriage. BUT, the community is very, young, excited youth, looking for their form of expression.

2.) There is definitely a lot of Afro presence within the hip-hop community. The African immigrants always posted up in Lost are part of the scene, but it also really excites me that Afro-Argentines, and a lot of the mutted and mixed kids of Buenos Aires have latched on to this type of dance and expression.

We all cut out of the joint around 4am. As I passed the photographer mis datos, I noticed his hijo de puta girl/friend rushing me, and encouraging me not to give him my information. In her rush to get him out of my sight, I left without getting his information.

And sadly, I have yet to hear from him…I can only imagine how the girlfriend disposed of my information. So Venezuelano, if you’re out there….give me my pictures & footage back!!!