[Marxism] Eva Perón and tango artists

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Mon Feb 16 10:23:27 MST 2004

Louis Proyect:

"Politics has always been present just below the smoldering surface 
of Tango. As the expression of proletarian sensibilities, the music 
has often interjected itself into the class struggle in Argentina 
despite itself. During the 1930s, the army suppressed Tango because 
it was seen as a potentially 
subversive force. After Peron's rise to power, the music enjoyed a 
golden age as Buenos Aires could boast of ten to fifteen orchestras, 
either professional or amateur, per barrio. It was also at this time 
that Tango began to detach somewhat from its plebeian roots."

Yes, tango and politics have always been strongly related. This is 
completely true. 

But the reference to proletarian sensibilities and the 30s is in a 
sense misleading.  This does not mean that tango was not a strongly 
*plebeian* music.  It certainly was. But the fact is, in late 19th. 
century and early 20th. century, "plebeian" and "proletarian" were 
not equivalents in Argentina,
 not even in urban Argentina.  

And this is one of the reasons why, not even in Perón's industrial 
Argentina, could tango manage to adequately express the structures of 
sensibility that the new industrial country had generated. The music 
had to wait for Piazzolla, I would dare say that words have still to 
find a good interpreter.

Of course, there were performers who invented a "style" that turned 
them into the fans of the newly reborn (and incredibly extended) 
Argentinean proletariat (I am thinking of Alberto Castillo, in 
particular).  But the verse and the music were behind the style. 

On another mail I will sketch a history of tango that may be of use. 
For the time being, suffice it to say that no truly plebeian music of 
the Buenos Aires of the 30s could be essentially proletarian, and 
much less so before the 30s:  there simply existed too little 
proletariat in the thrifty agro-
export harbor, most of what proletariat existed was essentially in 
the agro-export related industries (and part of that proletariat, 
e.g. railroad workers, were privileged as regards the mass of the 
population), and most of this proletariat wasn't yet integrated to 
the culture of Argentina. 

So that early tango was not exactly proletarian, not at least in the 
sense it would have been had it been born, say, around Haymarket 
Square in Chicago. No pun intended. The fact is that, had it been 
thoroughly "proletarian", tango would simply had not been authentic, 
that is, a true artform. 

The first "social" tangos don't broach the issues of class struggle 
at the workplace, etc.  There are some "social" rural milongas 
(generally by Anarchists), but few tangos reach the levels of 
compromise with the world of workers that these rural milongas 
attain.  I don't even remember (but I am _n
o pundit at all_) a single tango chanting to the martyrs of the two 
"Tragic Weeks" in Buenos Aires during the early 1900s.  

Early social tango sings the miseries of the unemployed in the great 
hostile city, the persecution of the poor by the justice of the rich 
("Pan" is a classical example), the loneliness and nostalgia of the 
immigrant (in Buenos Aires, during the 1910s, around three out of 
four people were either imm
igrants or very young first generation of Argentineans: I doubt that 
this happened anywhere else in the world), the castaway feeling of 
the foreign sailor (Eugene O'Neill was one of the illustrious 
habitués of the "Union Bar", a mythic, long ago closed and 
demolished, hole near the old Buenos Aires
 harbor area).  

We shall have to wait for the bleeding and bitter tangos by 
Discépolo, during the 30s, to find a more "modern" and more 
"proletarian-related" tango.  But even Discépolo, save for a couple 
of particularly strong poems, is more petty bourgeois than 
proletarian in his tangos.  (Tango was so notoriousl
y non-proletarian that you will hardly find truly proletarian, either 
"good" or "bad", tango in the Communist Pugliese!)

Later on, during the 40s, more nostalgic tangos, like those of Homero 
Manzi, kept alive for decades an idyllic vision of the pre-industrial 
city of Buenos Aires, while it was withering away beneath the 
smokestacks of the newly spawned factories that sprang up everywhere 
under the economic policies 
of Peronism.

And this mention of Homero Manzi brings me to the age of Peronism and 
tango.  The reference to the "Golden Age" -this is the way in which 
the 40s are known, atually- is very accurate.  What is little known 
is one of the reasons why Peronism generated such an outburst of 
popular musicians: during th
e first Peronism and until the late 1950s or early 1960s all cinema 
theaters, of which there were many in every neighborhood because 
cinema theaters have been a very popular entertainment in Argentina 
up to the 1975 crisis, were forced by law to offer what was known as 
the "número vivo" ("live rout
ine") before the motion picture show proper began.  

The "número vivo" was usually performed by local barrio musicians, 
who also worked at local dancing meetings, etc.  Many of them were 
simple workers who loved music and did the shows as a secondary 
activity, but the idea of the "número vivo" was to offer some kind of 
a a springboard to those who tr
uly wanted to begin an artistic carreer.  Eva Perón's biographers use 
to forget that by the time she first met Perón, Evita was not just 
"an artist", she was an _unionist_ in the artists' union of 

And this "número vivo" law was a way to promote local artists to the 
fore. Eva had a lot to do with laws promoting Argentinean plebeian 
artists like herself, and this one may have been one of the cases.

There is a good deal of other things to say of politics and tango, 
but this will have to wait.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de 
Buenos Aires, 1822
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