A few theories about the origins of the Argentine Tango

Lidia and Hector Legrand

If you are interested in learning more about Argentine Tango and Argentine Tango events in SaddleBrooke, please visit our website http://tangoargentino.sharepoint.com where you can also read Parts 1 through 15 of this series.

Historians as well as musicologists have arrived at different conclusions (sometimes these conclusions complement one another) about the origins of Argentine Tango. Let us start with the name itself.

Horacio Ferrer (lyricist, composer, reciter and broadcaster) provides many details about the various acceptations of the word tango in his book El Siglo de Oro del Tango (Tango’s Golden Era). Tango is an inflection of the Latin verb tactum (which has several meanings, one of them being to touch) but it is also considered an African expression, similar to tan-gó, an onomatopœia with origins in the African continent. In folk languages from native Central American Native Americans from the region where the country of Honduras is today, the word tango was used as the name of both a percussion instrument and a cigar.

José Gobello lyricist, writer, and lunfardo guru (see Part 12 of this series) states that tango is a Portuguese word with Latin roots – the first person of the present indicative of the verb tanger – meaning to feel by touching or to make a sound with a musical instrument. He thinks that the word was brought to America by slaves shipped via Portugal.

In regard to the origins of the musical style, the Cuban habanera, the Andalusian tango and the Milonga have been considered as the most influential styles in the final stages of the development of this unique musical form. Zarzuelas (Spain, Latin America), Candombé (of African origins), played a role in the development of Argentine Tango music. But it was not a simple integration process of these genres when you consider the melting pot of African, Spanish, Italian, British, Polish, Russian and native born Argentine cultures in Buenos Aires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that borrowed music from one another.

What is not clear is the connection between the beginnings of the music and the beginnings of the dance. The origin of the dance is attributed to compadritos, imitating, while mocking, the way black people danced, adopting their cortes and quebradas (tango steps).

By the 1930s Argentine Tango had evolved to become a pretty much well developed style, unique in the world. Considered by upper class porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) the musical style of the poor immigrant low class, Paris adopted Argentine Tango as their favorite music, thus getting the nod of approval by all levels of society in Argentina.

About the authors: Lidia and Hector are Argentina born U.S. citizens and SaddleBrooke residents founding members of SATS, chartered in both HOAs. They travel to Buenos Aires often to dance Argentine Tango, to participate in international Argentine Tango festivals and to further refine their Argentine Tango teaching skills. 2014 is Lidia and Hector’s eleventh year as SaddleBrooke Argentine Tango dance instructors of both group and private students. They have been teaching Argentine Tango dancing for sixteen years. They also offer seminars and workshops on Argentine Tango music, history, culture, and cuisine. Hector has authored a book on Porteño Cuisine associated with Argentine Tango, available at Amazon.com. Please visit their website http://tangoargentino.sharepoint.com