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Tango and the global village 

by Leo Vervelde


Leo Vervelde

So much has changed in the tango world since the 80s when the genre became known in the Netherlands. Of course, long before the 80’s there already existed an interest in tango. In fact, this interest goes back as far as the first decade of the twentiest century. Gert Buiten, brother of Hugo Buiten from the Rotterdam Tangoschool Cuartito Azul, organised an exhibition about tango for the City of Den Haag and found advertisements from this era where tango  was announced together with the foxtrot. And not to mention the famous orchestra of Arie Maasland, better known under the name Malando. He wrote in the thirties, even before the Second World War, his biggest hit Ole Guapa. I once heard a recording of that piece from the 40's and that actually sounded like the Argentine orchestras of the time. Before the war the chic dance club Pschorr opened it’s doors at the Rotterdam Coolsingel and invited artists like Pizarro and Eduardo Bianco and their orchestras. Pschorr had a glass dance floor and when an Argentinian orchestra played in the club, the decorations changed into a beautiful scenery that  was reminiscent of the Argentine Pampas. These orchestras played weeks, sometimes months night after night. This must have been the inspiration for Malando to start his orchestra. 


Nevertheless, in fact, the real tango culture remained a big secret that took place at the other end of the world. A culture so much more than only a rhythm and a dance. And that culture only came to Europe in the second half of the seventies. Cynical enough the military dictatorship under Jorge Videla was the direct cause. Many artists chose to live and work in Europe because life became unbearable in Buenos Aires. To name just a few : Gustavo Beytelmann, Juan Jose Mosalini, Juan Cedron and many others. They all went to Paris. 


In 1979 I first saw someone playing the bandoneon. That was during a concert by the quartet of Juan Cedron in theatre Venster/Lantaren in Rotterdam. Also Cesar Strocio was diverted to Paris where he played that beautiful instrument. I played the accordion at the time in 1977, and listened to my birthday present, the LP of Astor Piazzolla playing together with Gerry Mulligan on baritone Sax. So I was already familiar with the magical Bandoneon from that period. I was seventeen, and I decided to save money to buy a bandoneon, but was too silly to actually catch a flight and travel to Buenos Aires to search for the instrument.

It took until 1986 before I finally had the instrument. Brought by the then, in the Netherlands resident, Argentinean Gerardo Neugovsen of Latin American Cultural Center 'Jose Marti' located on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. Since '85, democracy had returned and travelling to Buenos Aires was possible for him again.  This period of '76 to'83 had great influence on life in Argentina and hence on the tango in Buenos Aires. A whole generation had left Argentina and lived in Europe, especially in Paris. Which meant that we in Europe came into contact with this culture, and at the same time it was a big loss for the genre in Buenos Aires.
Only years later I understood that. We played in 1990 with Sexteto Canyengue at the invitation of Don Osvaldo Pugliese in Buenos Aires. We were on TV in the program "La Noche de Sofovitch “ and it made a deep impression on the Argentinian tango scene present in that period: young Europeans that where seriously interested and immersed in the national music of Argentina. We were lucky to meet also a part of the old generation of tango musicians. Besides Pugliese also Sebastián Piana, Fulvio Salamanca, Carlos Garcia, Osvaldo Ruggiero and many others. 

Some of them still performed and there were two famous Orquesta tipica's active. The one of Pugliese (that stopped in'95) and the Orchestra of Leopoldo Federico (stopped in'93). For me the visit to Buenos Aires in 1990 was a great experience. I felt the city was bursting with tango. I was 5 weeks in the city, visited daily at least 1 tango concert and never saw a concert twice in that period. Still people told me it was nothing compared to the old time, the ‘Epoca de Oro’. It was clear, you could feel that, but still…. 
Precisely because so many artists / musicians left Argentina in the years of the Dirty War, there was a discontinuation in the transfer of the genre from one generation to another. There were, relatively speaking of course, not many young Porteños interested in that music. Many inspiring examples lived here in Europe. In those days there was not one group of young people playing in the style of Pugliese (with exception of Sexteto Tango and Color Tango). 



OTRA Teatro de la Ribera Bs As 2 maart 2006



Consciously I skip many years now to show the contrast. In 2006, the Gran Orquesta tipica Otra (the training orchestra of the Argentine Tango of the Rotterdam World Music Academy of the Rotterdam Conservatory / Codarts) and Porteñas guitarras (the guitar ensemble of the same training) participated  in the VIII Festival Buenos Aires Tango . We played in the old factory Dorrego that the organisation had transformed into a giant festival  site, and we were shown live on TV. Obviously we had a great time.


But at the same time it showed us the huge contrast with the early 90s. After the death of Don Osvaldo in 1995, there was not one Orquesta tipica to  be found in the city, now there are dozens. There was no coherent training in Buenos Aires where the various aspects of the genre could be studied (in Rotterdam Carel Kraayenhof and I initialized in 1993 the above mentioned training, and since the death of Pugliese, he was from '93 to'95 our artistic   leader here, we work with Gustavo Beytelmann). Now there are several training opportunities. 

The most important training is the Orquesta Escuela de Tango under the direction of Ignacio Varschausky from septet El Arranque. This school took our training structure as an example for their curriculum (how absurd is that ! ). At first there were few young Porteños engaged in the tango, now there are very many new bands. They play all different styles, including those of Pugliese. There are D'Arienzo-inspired ensembles, Di Sarli-like groups and bands in the style of unknown Maestro’s like Eduardo Rovira. But also Lounge-like bands following the new trend that started Gotan Project. And this generation speaks English and is actively looking for contacts in the European tango scene. The Internet plays a major role. Scores that were nearly impossible to find are ready to be downloaded now. Historical footage is accessible to the whole world through YouTube. 

The world has changed into a big village. The blessings of the global village ...

text editing : Lucia Knoflikova

text Correction : Wendy Martin

Leo Vervelde (bandoneón),
Artistiek Manager Rotterdam World Music Academy (RWMA)
Rotterdams Conservatorium/Codarts, Hogeschool voor de Kunsten
Leider Gran Orquesta Típica OTRA
Trio Otros Tiempos
(Mede-oprichter) Sexteto Canyengue (’88-’99)


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