In Argentina, digitizing archives to save tango

30 septembre 2009
01m 53s
Ref. 00502


Summary :

Tango, dance of Argentine and Uruguayan origin, which is today practiced across the globe was added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List on Wednesday at a meeting in Abu Dhabi, where 76 other traditions from 27 countries were distinguished. In June, in Buenos Aires, one Argentinian started a crazy project: to save all tango recordings produced since 1907, which are today under threat.

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Broadcast date :
30 septembre 2009
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One of the fundamental differences between Tango culture and Caribbean folk music is that the former brings together a great diversity of styles under a common term, whereas the latter has spawned a very large number of similar but distinct musical genres. Tropical music is indeed a nomadic, protean, and opportunistic phenomenon , a large poly-rhythmic cooking pot that has produced inter-related genres throughout the course of history, but each with its own identity, related to a place, a time, a community, or a way of living and therefore a way of dancing: Rumba and Cuban son, Puerto Rican Plena and Bomba, Venezuelan Valentano, Haitian and Dominican Merengue, plus the Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, Salsa, Reggaeton, but to mention a few members of this prolific family that has spread its offspring throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Although they may have their own distinct names, they nonetheless recombine different elements of the same afro-European DNA albeit in new ways and with different dosages. This is not how it happened with Tango. Indeed, despite the subsequent stylistic developments that profoundly transformed it, it continued to be known as "Tango": the first being the Tango-milonga at the end of the 19th century up and the latest Electro-tango. There was also the lyrical Tango made popular by Carlos Gardel in the 1920s, the style Vieja guardia by Canaro, the Nueva guardia by De Caro, Pugliese’s evolutionist movement, and piazzolla’s modernist movement It is a genre that remains true to himself, which is strongly identified with a single city (Buenos Aires), and which has persistently retained the same name throughout the ages. And which, after having gone through major aesthetic changes, has in the last few decades raised the question of its own identity. Such ontological concerns, however, are far from the minds of tropical music artists, who direct their curiosity to recombining, adulterating and adding new components to create new styles. In short, this "Tango" – we could call this genre “modern urban music from the Río de la Plata", if you prefer to be able to draw geographic and conceptual parallels with tropical music – has, under its unchanging name, amassed a gigantic heritage, composed of more than 100,000 records Only this is a problem: this huge corpus, which is the historical memory of musical Tango, is now seriously under threat. Indeed, the old 78 old LPs as well as the more recent vinyl records have, for various technical reasons, tended to deteriorate with age. In addition, between 1950 and 1990, Tango went through a long period of indifference and disuse. This did not incite record companies to pay a lot of attention to preserving matrix records – the ones they didn’t just throw, that is. Finally, many records have been spread here, there and everywhere; sometimes the last remaining copies are in the hands of dozens of private collectors, and therefore inaccessible to the public. After the revival of the Tango in the 1990s, some artists and researchers were anxious to gather and preserve this heritage. This could certainly be said for the late Rodolfo Dinzel with respect to the dance. It was the bass player Ignacio Varchauski, with his club Tangovia, who in the early 2000s sought to safeguard this corpus by systematically digitizing the records. "If we don’t do it now, it will be too late” proclaims Varchauski in the report “the tango archives”, filmed in 2011. 3,000 records have already disappeared, and only 20% of the remaining heritage is today accessible to the public." A project which, despite the progress made over the past four years, remains as critical as ever. The efforts led by the young bass player Ignacio Varchauski are also expressed in his own artistic work, who alongside the El ArranqueOrchestra has revived and modernized the sounds of Osvaldo Pugliese. They have been reinforced by the creation of the Tango Orchestra School, which was designed to transfer the musical knowledge of old artists such as Emilio Balcarce to the younger generation. This saga was beautifully made into a film "Si sos brujo", produced in 2005. Even though this brief report (barely more than 5 minutes long) practically doesn’t mention these latest initiatives, it does nonetheless allow us to enjoy some beautiful scenes of contemporary Tango dance, from the scenic streets of San Telmo to this mythical place of Tango from Buenos Aires, which was long La Confiteria Ideal. A nice way to browse through the history and news about the Tango in record time.
Fabrice Hatem


It is the perfect cliché of Argentina, a tango in the middle of the street in Buenos Aires, a sensual music genre that came into existence more than 100 years ago and popularized by great singers like Carlos Gardel. Yet, this musical heritage is now under threat, this young 32-year old musician is sounding alarm bells.
Ignacio Varchausky
You see this disc, it is a metal plate covered with a fine film of artificial silk. It is very fragile because over time, the film comes off and is lost completely.
Yet, it is in this form, vinyl or cassette, that the vast majority of the Argentine tango repertoire exists. No institution has taken on the responsibility of its conservation, the copies, some of them unique, are in the hands of only about 30 to 40 collectors. So, Ignacio Varchausky has embarked on a massive project to scan the entire tango repertoire since 1907.
Ignacio Varchausky
We know that we have already lost at least 3000 tango recordings. Not to mention the thousands of hours of radio and television programmes that have also disappeared. This is our last chance to have access to this material. If we do not scan it now, it will be lost forever.
Of the about 100,000 recordings in the repertoire, only 20% are accessible to the public. With these archives, the world would be able to discover the major part of this treasure, tango, that UNESCO has just declared part of human heritage.
Tango is all the culture and history of this country, the absolute reflection of all the events that have marked Argentina. Tango has always been a witness to our history.
In the last 3 years, Ignacio Varchausky has already digitized 6000 records. If he finds the necessary funds to continue, approximately one million dollars, the tango repertoire will be permanently saved by 2014.