AFRO-ROOTS OF TANGO
At the beginning, there was the Candombe !... Then, the Candombe gave rise to the Milonga ; the Milonga inspired the Canyengue ; The Canyengue became Tango !
It all started with the Candombe ! What is the Candombe ?
Candombe is the skillful execution of very complex mathematical environments, also known as RHYTHMS. Candombe has always been practiced by the People of Africa, for millennia. From the middle of the 15th century, the Africans were colonized and soon after, made slaves and shipped to the plantations in the Caribbean Islands and in other places, such as the United States, Cuba and Argentina. Everywhere they arrived, they kept the tradition of the Candombe, except in the United States, where they were forbidden to use their drums or have any other cultural and traditional attachment. The cruelty in the United States was exceptional.
Playing their drums and singing, never left these African slaves. It was the Spiritual Place they could heal and cultivate the strength to face the adversity imposed on them. This Spiritual Place was the open channel of communication to their ancestral connections. Drumming was another language they utilize. The language or Drumming produced a host of art-forms. The Candombe drumming is a conversation, a call-response, between the drummers. That call-response automatically generates a huge varieties of rhythmic patterns that are all calculated to be correct in their cycles or in their tangent developments, all this spontaneously created and executed. The down-beat is the ground place where the drummers know where to meet, whereas the up-beat places and opportunities allow the freedom to improvise at will.
Any new rhythm pattern can be isolated, slowed down or accelerated, to create, yet, another new rhythm. This possibility gave the African drummers, the range at infinitum, where they could very easily incorporate any basic 2 beats or 3 beats patterns, such as the European Waltz or Foxtrot.
From the Candome to Tango,
In Argentina, after the abolition of slavery, Candombe was a major event in Buenos Aires, the city that was at some point, 30 % Afro or Black people. The descendents of the slaves gathered to a place they called in their Kicongo language « Tango », to play the drums and dance. Playing and dancing always went together since ancestral times. The gathering was very popular and attracted watchers of other races of immigrants in Buenos Aires.
One particular segment of the Candombe drumming was named HABANERA in the plantations of Havana (Cuba). The Habanera in Cuba developed the Salsa, Rumba and all the other sub-divisions. The same Habanera in Brazil produced the Samba and all the sub-divisions to it. In Argentina, the Habanera produced the Milonga. So, people went to the « Tango » to experience the Milonga.
Dancers came up with more and more complex moves and created the Canyengue. The Canyengue was just another way to dance on the Milonga rhythms and songs. The skilled dancers came up with more complex moves to generate the Tango, as we know it today. It is predictable that other skilled dancers will further refine Tango. We already have the « Nuevo Tango » movement in motion.
The place « Tango » now, gave its name to the art-form produced there. All the names, Candombe, Milonga, Canyengue and Tango...all are from the Kicongo language of the slaves and their descendents. This is not a coincidence ! In other words, these words mean something. These words are not, in any way, from the European or Latin languages.
Nowadays, we go to the « Milonga » to dance Tango. We also dance the Milonga and the Vals (Argentinean Waltz. Developed from the understanding of the Habanera call-response).
It is later, after it has been already created and confirmed as an art-form, that Tango will enter the brothels of Buenos Aires. To pretend otherwise, is just intellectually dishonest. Argentineans hated with passion the Tango and anything attached to it, because of its Afro roots. The fact that Tango entered the brothels in Buenos Aires, just gave more reasons to hate it. Racism in Argentina was a very strong fact in the society. The government of Domingo Sarmiento banned the Candombe in Buenos Aires. Mass killings of the Africans and their descents ensued over the wars Argentina fought against its neighbors, one of which was the sedition of Uruguay that declared itself independent. It must be noticed that the Candombe is still practiced in Uruguay till this present time, where it has become the national identity, embracing Uruguayans of all skin colors. While at the very same time, Argentina wants the world to believe in its fallacy of a « Whites » country, hiding and destroying any reliques or facts tracing back its Afro roots. Of course, history teaches us that this is a futile and ignorant approach, as the natural truth will catch up. It is merely a matter of time !
The Importance of understanding the Afro Roots of Tango.
It is impossible to comprehend the music of Tango, if the Afro Roots are neglected, or left out. What makes Tango music a specific genre, is the way the Habanera is used in it. The musicians playing the Tango music are very well in tune and in harmony with the Habanera ( otherwise, they could not play the Tango) ; just like the musicians playing the Jazz are well in tune with the Afro Roots of Jazz. It should be noticed that, at first, Jazz was rejected for the same reasons as the Tango. The musicians playing Jazz have a lot of pleasure, as they actually delve into the rhythms patterns that the African drummers discovered and projected.
To not hear the Habanera in Tango, makes the Tango experience, severely incomplete, at best and frustrating, most of the time. Those in that category are not always forthcoming in admitting their uneasiness with dancing Tango.
The "THE MAGDALENA TECHNIQUE ®" proclaims that the easiness to the Habanera call-response can be learned and acquired ; it entourages everyone, regardless of their natural background, to open up to the learning. Simple exercises have been put together to help understand the Habanera.
Facundo Posadas and Cheng Ping
Todd and Marizabel