By Roger Cox
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Issue 383

Mike Gonzalez will be no stranger to readers of this publication as a writer on the politics of Latin America and its diverse cultures. In this new book Mike and Marianella Yanes seek to explain the birth and development of tango, the dance that originated in Argentina.

They set the emergence of tango against the background of a developing Argentinian ruling class establishing itself in the growing world markets of the late 19th century. The drive to produce meat and cereals for Europe and North America saw thousands of poor European immigrants drawn to Argentina in search of work.

As they were being driven off the lands in Europe, these new immigrants found themselves joined in the growing slums of Buenos Aires by the gauchos, the Argentinian cowboys, who were being driven by enclosures from the fertile Pampas region.

On Saturdays the European and Argentinian slum dwellers of Buenos Aires sought to escape their cramped lives by joining the “long wait in edgy queues that surrounded the buildings in darkness”. They came to dance and tango was the result, a dance born in the “streets, cafes and brothels”. The dance’s sensuality was driven by the loneliness of men deprived of women except for the prostitutes in the brothels offering “three minutes of love”.

As the ruling class of Argentina grew rich they turned Buenos Aires into “the Paris of Latin America”. So tango emerged from dark unlit streets to become something that excited the interests of the rich and the world.

Under capitalism everything is commodified. And tango could not escape. Tango was not just a dance but music, songs that spoke of loneliness, love, hope and commentary of the lives of the growing working class of Buenos Aires. As it became internationalised it touched the lives of all who have their lives distorted under capitalism.

Tango is the same expression of defiance as the Notting Hill Carnival. Both are the products of immigrants and an expression of resistance. Both are regarded as dangerous and threatened by the rulers but they find themselves unable to suppress them because of their popularity.

The authors have written a book that re-establishes the root of tango in the lives of the oppressed fighting back and creating this fascinating dance.

Tango, Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes, Reaktion Books £14.95 pounds (GB)

Available at Bookmarks, the Socialist bookshop.

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