Archive for the ‘ African Descent ’ Category


“Who would have thought back then, sixteen years ago that one day I would be singing here” wrote Carlos Gardel to his friend and manager Jose Razzano referring to their boyhood when the thought of performing at the mythical Paris Opera House was only a wildly unattainable dream for boys from poor immigrant families…indeed to have been invited to sing at the Paris Opera House for the “Bal de Petit Lits Blanc”, the most important social event of the year, was to have conquered Paris and therefore the world…he became the darling of a decadent aristocracy and it is they  who would catapult him to international fame; it is they who would export tango into a world sensation…on this particular night the well liked President of the Republic Gaston Doumergue was especially thrilled and he sent down a note to Gardel, would he please re-sing “El Cerretero”; with deep respect Gardel bowed to the president and did, to the enthusiastic applause of his excellency…


Ten days later he opened at the Casino in Cannes for the unbelievable sum of 4000 francs a night; a famous magazine “La Rampe” in the luxurious end of the year edition, ran a full color photo of him….telegrams were personally delivered to him, a service reserved for only the most important people…he relished his success in paris, “I am living better than a millionaire in paris, in the best district in a comfortable house” he would write in letters to friends; much of his fortune would be squandered in his horse gambling habit…..150 years earlier, other Gardels were conquering an earlier version of the Paris Opera, Maximilien and Pierre Gardel ballet dancers and choreographers…Maximilien became the dance instructor of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI…he died young from an infection resulting from a small toe injury sustained while dancing…his brother Pierre became a renown choreographer and ballet master for 35 years surviving a number of political upheavals including the French Revolution…on the day that Louis XVI was beheaded, the Paris Opera was performing Pierre’s “The Trial of Paris”…Gardel would meet his own premateur demise just six years later in a fiery airplane crash .



1938, January 26 – Nestor Feria Records “CHUMBALE LOS PERROS”

Singer, Composer (born March 5, 1894, Pisces) – Nestor had struggle for many years and he felt he had paid his dues; he wanted to be treated with a certain amount of respect and he wasn’t getting it…in a moment of rage he told the producer at Radio Stentor to go to hell and he stomped out…walking alone now on this chilly night he was the loneliest person in the world…Now what was he to do; his career had been one of stops and starts and he was no longer a kid…out of the misty night he heard his name called,  “Nestor how are you”, it was his friend the actor Fernando Ochoa…when he told him what had happened he promptly dragged him to Radio Belgrano where they hired him on the spot…it was the begining of the resurgence of his career…he became the singing voice for the very popular variety programs sponsored by Federal Soap; important offers for stage and theaters were to follow….he was hired for his first movie “Juan Moreira” directed by Nelo Cosimi…he debuted with his own composition “En Blanco y Negro” which became a big hit…other successful compositions were to follow, “Las Carretas”, “Paginas Intimas”, “La Bata de Percal”


Nestor Feria was born in the village of  Canelones Bolivar, Uruguay into a family with closely guarded secrets….after a quarrel his mother, with rare courage for those time, left her husband and moved to Montevideo to the neighborhood of “La Union” where Nestor was to spend formative years…as he grew Nestor, like Carlos Gardel, became spellbound by the nearby racetrack where he eventually got a job as a stable boy…young Nestor loved to sing, he sang all the time…it was the other stable hands themselves that suggested to Nestor that he pursue singing as a career…at the age of 16, he found himself singing at the Pancho Orezoli Cafe and the launching of his career…In 1945the first symptoms of lung cancer began to appear but he kept working inspite of the pain and discomfort…now he regretted never having married…he lived alone in a rented room in BuenosAires….Fernando Ochoa, his old friend, again came to his rescue…through his connections he obtained for Nestor a role in the remake of “Juan Moreira” directed by Jose Moglia Barth…immediately after the film he had a strongh desire to return to his native Uruguay and just a few weeks later he collapsed and on September the 27th at 11 am he passed away


1942, September 29 – RAUL BERON RECORDS “AZABACHE”

The world “Azabache” means black and the lyrics speak of the abandonment in African candombe rythms of a young mulatto girl  in San Telmo, Buenos Aires whose hips movements are captivating….there is a reference to blood and “tumba” which in the lunfardo dialect means the boiled meat typically served in prisons…in the mind of legendary lyricist Homero Exposito he was harkening back to the period when blacks and mulatos outnumbered “whites” five to one…their disappearance is one of the most intriqueing riddles in Argentine history..many emigrated to Uruguay which had less racist policys and many died in in various wars as they disproportionately comprised the soldiers in the army….still others intermarried and many of mixed african descent were great contributers to the development of tango…for example Oscar Aleman, Cayetano Silva, Rosendo Mendizabal, Celedonio Flores to name just a few


Raul Beron is considered by many as the best tango voice in history and yet in the eyes of cognoscenti, Jose his older brother, had the talent surpass his legendary brother but preferred the bohemian night life …but it wasn’t only these two brothers but the whole family that seemed particularly gifted…their sister Elba for example, would record several hits with the Anibal Troilo Orchestra….they  were the children of Adolfo Manuel Beron, a guitarist and composer who encouraged his children to play and sing; theirs was a household visited by Adolfo’s musician and artist friends….their first taste of stardom occurred when Adolfo organized his five children into “Los Portenitos” which began singing in the cafes of their home town of Zarate…Azabache was composed by Enrique Francini



French newspapers in 1925 were ecstatic about Carlos Gardel…Le Figaro waxed with child like enthusiasm, “his consumate artistry…his magnetic charm over the public…perfectly cadenced”…his photo graced the cover of the magazine “La Rampe” in a luxurious end of the year edition…Gardel was stunned by his success and almost incredulously he wrote to a friend, “I am living like a millionaire in the best hotel in the best neighborhood”…Gardel was more than happy to oblige his fellow countryman and mentor Paul Santolini when he asked him to perform at a charity event at the Femina Theater to help the victims of the Island of Guadaloupe…it had been ravage by the 165 miles per hour winds of the famous 1924 “Cuba Hurricane” the earliest officially classified Category 5 Atlantic hurricane…interestingly, it was at a charity event to help victims of an earthquake that “Evita” first met Juan Peron


Among the performers at the Femina Theater that evening, was the great Josephine Baker…growing up abandoned and in abject poverty in the slums of St. Louis, she left school at the age of 12 to work in a series of menial jobs, surviving in makeshift cardboard shelters…her street corner dancing attracted attention and at the age of 15 she was recruited to dance in a vaudeville show…she found success in New York Harlem’s dynamic night club scene and eventually she was invited to Paris where her exotic looks and erotic dancing captured the imagination of the public…beloved by the French public, she became famous and rich at a time when she would be denied entry into a restaurant in her own country…her love of France was such that during World War II, at great personal risk, she used her notoriety to spy on the Nazis…she would become the first American woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix De Guerre…she was a mentor and inspiration to tango and jazz guitarist Oscar Aleman, one of the greatest entertainers in Argentine history…among her numerous lesbian lovers was the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo…Ernest Hemingway would call her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”



The topic of “Race” is still a topic which awakens deep passions….Robert Farris Thompson’s, “The Art History of Love” in which he makes a strong argument for the African roots of tango, even precipitated a heated battle of critics over the subject…in startling acrimony, reviewer Anthony Howel says of Thompson’s book “this irrelevant and dishonest book…the author makes irresponsible claims and insists in implying that white folk stole tango from the blacks” a counteraccusation, reviewer Christopher Everett defends Thompson and in a point by point rebuttal…”Tango, The Art History of Tango” is in fact a thoughtful, well documented and well written book…the number of people of African descent in Argentina went from 34% in 1810 to 2% in 1887 and their disappearance is a subject of controversy and a source of racist humor among the residents of Buenos Aires…reportedly, when the great Josephine Baker visited Argentina in the 1950s, she asked the bi-racial minister of public health Ramon Carillo, “Where are the Negroes ?”, Carillo responded laughing, “there are only two, you and I”…nevertheless, Thompson, renown Yale Africanist and art historian, demonstrates how their presence can be clearly traced through the tango culture…


He asserts that the word “tango” comes from the Ki-Kongo word which means “moving in time to a beat”…he explores tango’s relationship to cakewalk, ragtime, cubanhabanera and even rossini’s opera and he observes that the custom of dancing tango while moving in a counter-clockwise direction may have been influenced by the African myth that moving in a counter-clockwise direction means long life…he mentions that renown dancer Juan Carlos Copes was taught by Afro-Argentine Carlos “El Negro” Anzuate…he cites renown Afro-Argentine tango greats like Celedonio Esteban Flores, the black poet of tango, Rosendo Mendizabal composer of the immortal “El Enterriano” and Oscar Aleman one of the greatest entertainers which Argentina has ever produced…one reviewer said of the book, “Thompson mines working class origins and its emotions of defiance, freedom, self-control, humor, love and redemtion”



Cayetango Silva died forgotten, alone and in extreme poverty without realizing that his San Lorenzo march, the same one he had sold for a small sum of money, would become immortal and be played and recorded many times…indeed it would be the march that the victorious Nazi army would play as it marched in into a conquered Paris on June 14, 1940…the march had been given by the Argentine army to Nazi Germany as a gift of friendship for although Argentina was officially neutral, its army sympathized with Germany…indeed, after the war Argentina became a leading haven for Nazi war criminals…Cayetano Silva first played his composition on his violin in 1901 for his baby daughter in her crib to lull her to sleep…he had dedicated it initially to General Pablo Ricchieri but the general asked that it be named instead for the city of his birth San Lorenzo…it became the official Argentine march which was played before and after all ceremonies…


For many years, it was played for the changing of the royal guard in England…Cayetano Silva, of mixed African descent, was born in the city of San Carlos in Uruguay; his mother had been a slave of the Silva family…from an early age he showed a love of music and he devoted himself to learning the violin….at the age of 17 he joined the army but by the age of 20, his precocious musical ability earned him the post of band director of the seventh regiment…he would go on to lead other military bands…he composed a number of other marches and composed the tango “Mas Vale Que Nunca”…his San Lorenzo March was recorded in a tango beat by the orchestras of Roberto Firpo and Juan De Dios Filiberto…when he died at the age of 52, he was denied burial in the local cemetary because of his African roots



The fascist like overthrow on June 4, 1943 of the elected government did not augur well for poet Celedonio Flores…the dictatorship’s censors, in a misguided attempt to raise the moral level of Argentine society, began to prohibit precisely the kind of language he used to describe the tough underworld which he was familiar with…Celedonio Flores, of mixed african descent, was born in the neighborhood of Villa Crespo to a poor and sometimes violent family…he was restless in school and was often in trouble and so he quit to seek his fortune in the outer world…he worked at a number of odd jobs including having been a boxer…in the evenings, he led a wild, bohemian life among Buenos Aires’s clubs, cafes and houses of prostitution…it is in this dark underworld that he crossed paths with life’s tragic stories which would be the themes of his tangos…in 1920 he happened to send a simple poem entitled “Ultima Ora” to a newspaper which to his surprise was published and for which he was given five  pesos…that might have been the end of it had not Carlos Gardel happen to read the poem and created the tango “Margo” from it…


Carlos Gardel would go on to record twenty-one of his tangos in the process making Celedonio a famous poet and financially secure…for a number of years he wrote exclusively for the legendary Rosita Quiroga who was the incarnation of the characters he spoke about in his lyrics…Rosita  recited her tangos as she strummed her guitar not averse to using the slang and vulgar language she heard on the streets of her neighborhood of La Boca; the same one where her neighbor and teacher Juan De Dios Filiberto lived in…Celedonio Flores wrote many successful tangos like “Viejo Smoking” which was a great hit for Carlos Gardel in 1930 and “Mano A Mano” which would be a great hit for Julio Sosa 30 years later…in an interview Celedonio Flores was to say about his work, “I search for an piece of life, I live it personally in my mind, and slowly and carefully I begin to craft it with words”…Celedonio would attain much success in life but he would die embittered at the relatively young age of 51…Robert Farris Thompson in his celebrated book “Tango, The Art History of Love” called Celedonio Flores, “the poet laureate of the people”