Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snobbery revisited - a way to break a vicious cycle

Yes yes, here I am again, the snobbery apologist. I've been back to the US for a few weeks, and I've DJed at a few milongas, and I have to say, I am absolutely appalled. I'm not an experienced DJ, but I have never felt my work be so unappreciated. A few experienced dancers and organizers come up to me at the end complimenting me on the music. Of course I have no way of knowing whether they mean it or it's just courtesy, but I'll take it at face value. The not-so-good dancers (yes, I'm being my judgmental self, so what), though, grew restless and continuously came up to me asking me for salsa and nuevo....... Seriously? Asking me for nuevo is asking for a backhanded slap to the face. Please don't make me resort to violence. And salsa? This is a city with a huge hispanic population; you can go pretty much anywhere else to dance salsa. Try asking for tango at a salsa bar...
From my perspective, it boils down to two things:
1) people have come to expect these kinds of things by being accustomed to poor, negligent DJing, as I've remarked on a previous post. To continue with the analogy of the previous post, I felt like a parent feeding their kid a 5 start hotel full course meal with the retard child complaining that he prefers McDonalds' happy meal.
2) Organizers continuing to acquiesce to these people's demands, continuing a never ending vicious circle. Why should they honor the requests of people who have no idea what a milonga should be? To keep them coming to the milonga and make it profitable? I believe tango should be above money and profits... On the long run, chasing the money has made this community stagnate.

Leo, who I consider my mentor, is the one who first encouraged me to start DJing. I remember a conversation with him where I asked him how you would evaluate a DJ's performance. He told me that, for a regular milonga, seeing the best dancers pleased would be a good indicator, while for a festival or a workshop milonga the visiting maestros' reactions would be the gauge. At first, this struck me as a very elitist approach, although I didn't say anything. But it's the way I've been DJing since I started. The rationale was that keeping the best dancers on the floor would make others follow suit. Now I really agree with him, that from the perspective of a DJ, at the risk of being perceived as snobby and an elitist, one has to cater to the best dancers' demands (whether or not they're explicit, which in most cases they're not, unlike others...), not the other way around, catering to "the unenlightened masses", who in a way are unenlightened because of a vicious circle started with negligent organizers who are only chasing their share of the pie rather than really promoting tango (although this is arguable, as with all vicious circles... like the chicken and the egg).
You can give me all the arguments of bad economy and the need to be pragmatic in making sense in the short term business perspective. But it's time to swallow the pragmatism in favor of a long term vision, of creating a community that really understands and loves tango.
I'm ashamed to say that I gave in to the constant demands for salsa, and even gave the DJing duties to a co-organizer for a tanda of electrotango. But next time, I'm standing my ground and not giving in.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The six pack abrazo - an experiment

First of all, I want to address something. Most of my posts can be categorized as follows:
1) complaint about something/someone
2) criticism about something/someone
3) lyrics and translation to a song
In this year end lovey dovey season, for those in the US, I'm just going to say I'm thankful that I found tango, and I'm thankful for all that tango has given me. I complain about things that I believe shouldn't be, and I criticize things that I believe could be done better. And I do it not to be an asshole (because I don't need to try!), but because I genuinely believe many things in tango communities worldwide could be better. blah blah blah
But anyway, I think the tone of the blog, at least my posts, could also be better. So in order to take a bit of a different direction, I'm doing an experiment for the next few months, and who knows if for the rest of my life.
There is a common belief among some people that it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to be in incredible shape and have a comfortable embrace. In other words, apparently a flab in the mid section is necessary for a comfortable cushion... more cushion for the embracing. Often, they cite examples of guys who look out of the 300 movie set starting out tango, and then gradually becoming flabbier for comfort. I believe this is argument is a fallacy. Somebody who is beginning to learn tango, regardless of their shape, will probably not have an ideal embrace. And for the athletically gifted, they'll probably use their physical prowess to attempt to lead something, which can only lead to disaster. Then as they get more drawn into the whole milonguero night lifestyle, they gradually abandon their fitness regime and get a beer belly that some tangueras cherish, as long as it's well hidden under a nicely ironed button-up shirt. But their embrace doesn't become comfortable because their body fat increases; their embrace becomes more comfortable because they become better dancers. Perhaps a spare tire helps, but a ripped body should not be a handicap. So right after I get stuffed tonight for Thanksgiving dinner, I'll start an experiment to get incredibly ripped, and still have a comfortable embrace, which will be verified through pictures and through the opinions of milongueras who dance with me.
On the bigger picture, the outcome of this experiment may shed light unto a sustainable, healthy lifestyle as a milonguero, which nowadays seems to be incompatible. I'll prove this wrong!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Alternative music revisited - When does it cease being alternative?

Here I go again, complaining. Two consecutive posts neutral in tone are enough to tone it down! Coming back to the same old topic of crap "DJing"...

Last week, I ran into a local organizer at a milonga. He remarked that I didn't go to his milonga. I paused for a second, meditating the consequences of my crude honesty. I thought to myself, someone's got to say something, might as well be me. I told him that it was nothing personal, but that frankly, the music was awful. His reaction seemed to be a combination of mild amusement with a bit of offense taken. With a nervous laugh, he got a little defensive saying something along the lines of the crowd of the milonga not being demanding because they don't know the music. True, his classes are comprised of mostly younger people, the majority of them just beginning. I am not claiming to be a music connoisseur, but for me this is just a cop out. It's akin to parents feeding their newborn just McDonalds' and TacoBell's, their excuse being that a baby doesn't know good food, so it shouldn't matter. But the real reason is that they can't be bothered to feed and properly nourish their child, much like this organizer can't be bothered to actually sit down and make a proper playlist.

My main complaint is that there was way too much so called alternative. It is called alternative because it is something, as its name vaguely hints, that should be played as an alternative, sparingly, if at all. When I walked in this milonga a few weeks ago, there was some 'alternative' playing. I don't even know if it was Gotan Project, Electrocutango, Bajofondo, or whatever. It all sounds the same to me. I thought to myself, "good, hopefully the tanda will be over by the time I put on my shoes, and there will be no more of this crap music the rest of the evening". How wrong I was... The usual accepted DJ playlist tanda format is TTVTTM, short for tango-tango-vals-tango-tango-milonga, but the format used in this milonga was CCCTCCC, short for crap-crap-crap-tango-crap-crap-crap, crap meaning either an electrotango/nuevo tanda or a very badly constructed tanda.

I understand why people relate more to electrotango/alternative music, especially outside of Spanish speaking countries. Firstly, it is music from another time, and oh how times have changed (I guess). Secondly, there is the language barrier that makes it difficult, albeit not impossible, for people to understand the music. As much as I'd like to be a dictator and just impose what I consider to be good music on these people, I realize they can just choose to leave. So the compromise would be to play these tandas alternatively - meaning very sparingly - just to appease the unenlightened. Then as people gradually gain appreciation of the good music from the Golden Age, these electrotango/alternative can be phased out.

My grief with electrotango/alternative is that these cease to be tango for me. Just because some lounge music has a bandoneon playing here and there with chill out ambient music on the background definitely doesn't make it tango. It's because these kinds of organizers play this music so much that people come to expect it to be played much even in proper circumstances. Whenever I am DJing and am asked to play some nuevo, I chuckle contemptuously and tell them to go to a lounge bar. Seriously, they play that kind of music! And it fits the atmosphere much better than a milonga. Even worse yet, the way I see some people dance to this cortina music makes me want to snap in uncontrollable rage. I don't know what they're dancing to; it looks like a hybrid of ballroom with bachata with some other shit... but certainly no tango... please make it stop! My eyes are burning!

To elaborate on the badly constructed tanda, it is a grave insult to D'Arienzo if you mix one of his best milonga songs like La Cicatriz, for example, with two other milongas that are not so good from a contemporary orchestra. Of course, I have nothing against contemporary orchestras. In fact, given the opportunity, I'd like to form one, and it's something I intend to do in the next few years (stay tuned! Not for a living, obviously). But it still forms part of alternative music for milongas. I guess it's acceptable to play a Sexteto Milonguero tanda every once in a while, but don't mix it with D'Arienzo! You just don't do it... It's like wearing a black belt and brown shoes. Or wearing suspenders with a belt. Or wearing a hat or a cap to a milonga. Don't do it, dammit!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Danza Maligna

Music: Fernando Randle
Lyrics: Claudio Frollo

As performed by Enrique Rodriguez and Armando Moreno.
Rodriguez has never figured among my personal favourite orchestras. Sure, it's great for dancing, so I play it almost every time I'm DJing. I guess musically I long for something more intricate. These past few days, however, Danza Maligna has been stuck in my head on repeat.....

Se arrastran los compases compadrones
del tango que se encoge, que se estira...
Su música doliente pareciera
sentir que una amenaza se aproxima.
Viviremos los dos el cuarto de hora
de la danza nostálgica y maligna.
Escuchemos latir los corazones
al amparo de Venus Afrodita.

Placer de dioses, baile perverso
El tango es rito, y es religión
orquestas criollas son sus altares
y el sacerdote su bandoneón
Quiero sentirme aprisionado
como en la cárcel de mi dolor.
Guarda silencio, mitad de mi alma,
que hay un secreto entre los dos...

"Malignant dance"
Dragged are the arrogant beats
of this tango which shrinks and stretches.
It's hurting music makes it seem
like there's an impending threat.
You and I will live the fifteen minutes
of the nostalgic and malignant dance.
Let's listen to the beating of the hearts
under the protection of Venus Aphrodite.

Pleasure of gods, perverse dance,
tango is a ritual, it's religion.
Creole orchestras are its altars,
and the priest its bandoneon.
I want to feel trapped
like in the prison of my pain.
Hold your silence, half of my soul,
for there is a secret between us two.

Some performances to this song:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Soy Aquel Viajero (1947)

Fellow blogger El Ingeniero has been pestering me for the past week to post something, reminding me that the past two posts have not been made by me! Given that most of my posts in the past few months have been nothing but complaining and more complaining, I wanted to make a post that was not bitchy. But I really have not been able to think of anything substantial to write about that is not negative. Maybe I need to seek professional help.
Anyway, as my usual cop out when my mind goes blank, I decided to transcribe and translate the lyrics to a song that I really like:

Soy aquel viajero
Music: Héctor Grané - Lyrics: Justo Ricardo Thompson
Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli
Vocals: Alberto Podestá
Date recorded: 28/05/1947

This is a song I don't think I've heard being played at milongas except when I've played it. Indeed, it doesn't seem to be a very famous song. Searching on YouTube yields to only a demo by Homer and Cristina that I did not even bother opening (don't get me started), and there is no transcription of the lyrics on or anywhere else, it seems. It seems this song is not usually included in the Di Sarli-Podestá tandas because it was recorded at a substantially later date than the bulk of Di Sarli-Podestá's works, although I didn't realize this until I looked up the details at So I listened to the song and wrote the lyrics down:

Contemplo desde el barco a la ciudad
sombreada por la luz que da el anochecer...
pronto el turbión de su calle
me arrastrará por encontrarte.
Y siento que la duda y la emoción*
aumenta la ansiedad que traigo al regresar
otra vez con la esperanza
de atarme a tus besos que no sé olvidar.
Miro a los que esperan y se van
y la ilusión de verte agranda más mi soledad.
Soy aquel viajero que partió sin un adiós
y sabe que al llegar tu voz no escuchará.
Tengo que encontrarte, corazón,
no sé si por mi bien o si esta vez para llorar;
sólo sé que he vuelto por tu amor que no olvidé,
que no podré olvidar jamás

I'm that traveler

From this boat I contemplate the city
shadowed by the light given by the nightfall...
Soon, the flood of its street
will drag me to find you
and I feel the doubt and the emotion
makes me more anxious as I return
with the hope of tying myself down
with your kisses that I cannot forget.
I look at those who wait and leave
and my hope of seeing you extends my loneliness.
I'm that traveler who left without farewell
and knows that your voice he will not hear.
I have to find you, love...
I don't know if it will be for my good or this time I'll cry;
I only know I've returned for your love that I have not forgotten
and will never forget.

*Thanks to those who have helped us decipher the slurred singing. After hearing it again, it sounds more like "La duda y..." rather than "súbita". Special thanks to Derrick, Fernando, and gloonie.