Last night I attended a small but historically significant event: The San Francisco Tango Orchestra performed for the first time at a milonga in the Mission District. (A milonga is a traditional Argentine tango dance club as well as an event held there. Both are named after an up-tempo African-influenced dance which led to the creation of the tango.) DJ for the event was Polo Talnir, San Francisco's preeminent tango webmaestro.
San Francisco has had an active and growing tango scene for years, which I just entered three months ago when I started to take Argentine tango dance lessons. The dance has a steep learning curve, but in my view is very much worth it.
There are many unique and remarkable things about the tango. For starters, how many world-wide dance traditions began south of the equator? Historically associated with Italian immigrants, the tango has a reputation for once having been an art form for thugs and gangsters, yet clearly bridges the extremes of high and low culture. How many musical traditions combine a string quartet with three accordions, a piano, and a bass? Tango's orquesta típica, which inspires the San Francisco Tango Orchestra, is a modified and refined version of such an ensemble. The violins are sometimes used as percussion instruments, bowed rhythmically on the bridge al ponticello, or plucked like a bass.
And that brings us to the role of the bandoneón, and from there to last night's remarkable performance. The bandoneón, an instrument originally from the German Rhineland, has reeds and bellows like an accordion, but a square body with buttons rather than keys at both ends. Its tone is more plaintive and evocative than an accordion, and shares with the jazz saxophone a highly emotional vocal quality. In an ensemble with two violins, a bass, and a cello, as well as an electric piano, who outside of Argentina would have expected the bandoneón to be the primary solo instrument? Thanks largely to Roman Rosso, a young, talented, good-looking visitor from Buenos Aires, it was indeed that at last night's performance. Not that the violinists, Erin and Roy, need play second fiddle to anyone. Dom and Miller are local bandoneistas, and Michael, Charles, and Mag, pianist, bassist, and cellist respectively, appear to be equally talented.
As a neophyte to tango, it is my impression that the whole scene, musicians, dancers, composers and vocalists, shares a profound respect for excellence, style, elegance, emotion, and spirit. In other words it's more of an open source environment than, say, a Microsoft.
In any case, I hope to see the San Francisco Tango Orchestra become a permanent part of the local scene, and I feel privileged to have been there at their debut performance.| Technorati tags: Tango Argentina Music Dance Baile
Copyright ©2004-2005 Jonathan David Leavitt