Buenos Aires: Volume 2
Fiji and Argentina strengthened their alliance in January 2018 with a visa-free travel agreement for Fijians wanting to explore the cultural capital of South America. Easily accessible via a stop-over in Auckland, maiLife will be taking readers on an exploration of Argentine food, traditions, places, people and landscape in upcoming issues.
Along the riverside is the colourful neighbourhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango. It was in this neighbourhood that the poorest immigrants settled in congested squatter houses, sharing many of the common facilities. Language being a barrier for all, the new settlers of La Boca came together with music, each culture bringing their own musical instrument to the party. The melody of tango music represents the melting pot that La Boca was at time of settlement. The close dance movements have roots in sub-Saharan Africa with the graceful turns and swirls from European ballroom dancing. As we peel back each movement, the cultural history of Latin America’s second largest country becomes clearer. In the early 1900s, tango was not a dance shared by man and woman — in fact, in its infancy, tango was danced by men who competed for the affection of women by outmanoeuvring their dance partner with the intricate footwork signature of the dance form today. If you can allow your imagination to take you back to a place of dire poverty but alive with music that brought people from different walks and struggles of life together, this was the birth of tango. In La Boca, a young French immigrant named Carlos Gardel, who had crossed the Rio Plata from Uruguay, found himself working at the docks to make ends meet during the day and hanging around the tango musicians at night. Carlos Gardel was the first person to put words to tango music and is still regarded today as the father of tango. His songs became famous not only in La Boca but also across Rio Plata in Uruguay’s immigrant colony, where the dance form and music of tango had reached already. Carlos began doing shows and quickly became famous in La Boca — however, the aristocracy of Buenos Aires prevented his fame to seep further into society. The wealthy immigrants who had settled in the affluent areas of Buenos Aires heard about this new form of dance and music but simply turned up their noses at it, considering it a lowly immigrant activity. But it wasn’t long until news reached Europe of a French
immigrant in Argentina who was making a new form of music. Carlos Gardel was given the most prestigious invitation — a night to perform at the Paris Opera. The entire performance was more of an idealised show of Argentina where Carlos was dressed up in Argentine cowboy clothes so that the wealthy Parisians, who considered Argentina their summer vacation home, could have a glimpse of the wild south. News quickly reached the affluent in Buenos Aires that Gardel had performed at the Paris Opera. It was then widely accepted as a hallmark of Argentine culture and Gardel was able to take the tango to the rest of Buenos Aires. Tango today is everywhere in Buenos Aires. It is not uncommon to see performances at subway stations and there are tango dance halls, known as ‘milongas’, all over the city. The contemporary take on tango is also prevalent in swanky tango bars as well as high powered tango shows that sell out tourist-packed arenas every weekend. For an authentic tango show, visit Cafe Tortini in Buenos Aires. They have a small seated area in their basement for nightly tango shows — stay back for dinner upstairs afterwards where you will see that the graceful and stunning tango dancers are in fact also your waitstaff! For a tango lesson, visit Airbnb experiences where many vetted locals offer private lessons as well as bigger classes. La Boca neighbourhood today is lined with dolled up tango dancers who will perform small routines and take photographs with you for a price. Although this commercialised version on the streets is not for everyone, it is well worth visiting the La Boca neighbourhood where its original squatter settlements that gave birth to this beautiful dance are still standing.