Who invented the tango?
As if their eternal battles on the football field were not enough,
Brazil and Argentina are now fighting over the paternity of the
tango. While conventional wisdom has it that the sensual dance
originated in Argentina, a recent study here says that the tango
originated in Rio de Janeiro.
Marcelo Verzoni, a local painist and musicologist, insists that
the first tango recorded in Latin America was not The Corn
(El Choclo) in Argentina in 1890. Rather, the oldest song
in the genre was Killer Eyes (Ojos Matadores) written
by Henrique Alves de Mesquita in Rio de Janeiro in 1871.
Reaching this conclusion in his thesis on Brazilian tango composer
Enrique Nazaret, Verzoni attempts to explain the feelings harboured
by Argentina towards the tango.
"The reason is that, in the decade of 1910, Argentine tango
was a big hit in Paris which was the main springboard for artistic
expression. From there, the tango was disseminated as an Argentine
creation," he says in an interview with IPS.
The researcher says tango is really neither from Argentina nor
Brazilian. It origins are in the Habanera music - popular
among prostitutes and sailors in the port of the Cuban capital.
Habanera music was then supposedly taken to Europe, particularly
to the Mediterranean coast. It was a big hit mainly in Spain where
it was labelled the American tango. With new Mediterranean influences,
it traveled back to Latin America through small opera companies
that presented plays with music.
"In South America," says Verzoni, "the genre was
well received and began to be cultivated by local composers, who
added new influences." In Brazil, it was influenced by the
lundu and the polka, giving it a quicker rhythm than the Argentine
"I think that the most interesting things for us to know
about the tango is that it originated in Cuba, that it travelled
a lot and that it became popular because it was very good music.
The important thing is not really who owns the tango," he
points out, "but that the quality of the music is marvelous."
But such justifications fall on deaf ears. In the Argentine consulate
in Rio de Janeiro, where information providers presents the tango
as an inextricable and unquestionable part of national culture,
Verzoni's discovery is treated like an insult to the flag.
Alexandra Gonzalez, an Argentine who teaches tango at the consulate,
prefers to leave the matter "in suspension". "All
of a sudden," she complains, "it's as if the Brazilians
heard that the samba was born in Buenos Aires."
But her dancing partner, Marcelo Pareja - also Argentine - does
not give credence to the new theory. "There may be many hypotheses,
but we all know that the tango is something which is very much
ours, and that is how I teach it in Brazil - as part of our culture,
as part of the way we are."
Every day, the two instructors teach a group of about 20 Brazilians,
who try to trade in the samba rhythm of their feet for the measured
and compassed steps of the tango.
Samba dancer Marcelino, one of the best students in the group,
prefers soccer metaphors. "The tango is very porteno
(from Buenos Aires). It's like Maradona," he says.
In the past few years, many tango schools and dance halls have
sprung up in Rio de Janeiro. The dancers meet every Thursday night
in Gurilandia. They see themselves as a kind of brotherhood who
have even been able to extend the love for tango among young people.
With a photo of Carlos Gardel in the background, and blue and
red street lamps illuminating the dance floor softly, Plinio Pilhio,
a Mulatto, initiates the tango steps together with his partner,
who is wearing a red miniskirt and the typical buckled, high-heeled
"I do the tango because it is the dance genre that balances
emotions and mobilises all the human feelings," says Paulo
Lima Silva, who claims his facial paralysis was cured thanks to
the tango. "It is one of Argentina's greatest contributions
to the world."
Yace Franco learnt Spanish naturally, by listening to the Argentine
tango. Every Thursday, he goes to Gurilandia and other dance halls
in Rio de Janeiro. He is preparing to take part in the grand Tango
Gala, which will take place in the city's municipal theatre.
"This is the tango that was born in an Argentina without
borders. We are just," he concluded, "trying to share