Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Practica del Centro playlist, April 27, 2015

April is Edgardo Donato's birthday month and couldn't resist celebrating it by surreptitiously playing lots of tandas of my favorite orchestra: 5 sets in 3 hours (early masterpieces of Donato-Zerrillo, two mature period tango tandas - one more dynamic / semi-bitter and one more romantic / sweet, plus two tandas of somewhat less commonly played valses and milongas). As usually the practica started from adding set after set of "class-appropriate" music but this time I did it in a separate player window and must have not saved the final list ... I'm pretty much sure that I played some of the more moderately paced instrumental D'Arienzos, and more Di Sarli's too.

01. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Poliya" 1939 2:31
02. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "El Once (A divertirse)" 1945 2:43
03. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Derecho viejo" 1941 2:31
04. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Pimienta" 1939 2:52
05. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Arrabalero" 1939 2:32
06. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "Junto a tu corazon"  3:00
07. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "Tu!...El cielo y tu!"  2:59
08. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "El Choclo"
09. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "Champagne tango" 1938 2:30
10. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "Loca" 1938 2:57
11. Edgardo Donato - Hugo Del Carril  "El vals de los recuerdos" 1935 2:18
12. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Romeo Gavioli, Lita Morales  "Estrellita mía" 1940 2:36
13. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales, Romeo Gavioli  "Noches correntinas" 1939 2:18
14. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Adiós Arrabal" 3:10
15. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "El Yacaré" 3:09
16. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "Me voy a Baraja" 1936 2:30
17. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "Te busco" 1941 2:26
18. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos  "Soy mendigo" 1939 2:34
19. Carlos Di Sarli - Roberto Rufino "La Mulateada" 1941 2:22
20. Carlos Di Sarli - Alberto Podestá "Entre Pitada Y Pitada" 1942 2:33
21. Carlos Di Sarli - Roberto Rufino "Zorzal" 1941 2:40
22. Ricardo Malerba - Orlando Medina "Embrujamiento" 1943 2:52
23. Ricardo Malerba - Antonio Maida "Encuentro" 1944 2:20
24. Ricardo Malerba - Orlando Medina "Gitana Rusa" 1942 2:47
"Una Vez" delivers considerably stronger drive then the OTV pieces from the same period I matched it with, and in the end I thought that it worked well - the final piece of a tanda with a punch. But an alternative option would have been to tap into the earlier "versions" of OTV...
25. Orquesta Típica Víctor - Alberto Carol "Bajo el Cono Azul" 1944 2:43
26. Orquesta Típica Víctor "Senda de Abrojos" 1943 2:18
27. Orquesta Típica Víctor - Ortega Del Cerro "Una Vez" 1943 3:22
28. Los Provincianos - Alberto Gomez "Samaritana (vals)" 1932 2:58
29. Los Provincianos - Luis Diaz "A Tu Memoria, Madrecita (vals)" 1934 2:45
30. Orquesta Típica Víctor (dir. Federico Scorticati) - Carlos Lafuente  "Intima" 1940 2:28
"The 9 Aces of Tango", from Michael Krugman's blog
Edgardo Donato, who grew up and became a violinist in Montevideo, Uruguay, has already laid claim to tango fame in the early 1920s with his compositions (the most famous of which, the 1925 "A media luz", is among the most-played tangos ever). But he convened his first tango orchestra  in Montevideo only in the age of 30, in collaboration with a fellow Uruguayan violin player, 25 years old Roberto Zerrillo (who has just returned from a stint with the Parisian tango orchestras). Soon, Donato-Zerrillo orchestra took BsAs by storm! (They also recorded under Brunswick label). "Se va la vida" is their most famous composition together, and Edgardo Donato kept re-recording it. Still I love the 1928 original the most! The lyrics, a carpe-diem kind of a sage advice to a girl to live her life without fears or regrets, in a juicy lunfardo slang, were written by "Luis Mario Castro", a nom-de-plume of a female poet, María Luisa Carnelli (so few women wrote tango lyrics ... and even those who did may have been compelled to hide behind male identities!)  
31. Orquesta Donato-Zerrillo - Luis Diaz "Adelina" 1929 2:58
32. Orquesta Donato-Zerrillo - Luis Diaz "Como Lo Quiso Dios" 1929 2:46
33. Orquesta Donato-Zerrillo - Luis Diaz "Se va la vida" 1928 2:55
A DJ's misstep here, with selecting sets solely by memory without listening. I wanted to add a dramatic set after a slow / primal energetic Guardia Vieja tanda, and I picked Canaros recorded nearly a decade later - only to be surprised how similar they felt and how little contrast was there between the two otherwise excellent tandas...
34. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Yo tambien sone" 1936 3:09
35. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Mi noche triste" 1936 2:45
36. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Condena (S.O.S.)" 1937 2:39
"Randona" is an interesting side story in Donato's orchestra, a female voice in a duet with a male voice which they first tried in a pioneering innovation in 1934, before employing Lita's voice for an even greater effect in duets and trios (compare the opening and the closing milongas of the following tanda). Only Randona wasn't a woman - the voice belonged to Armando Julio Piovani, a violinist of the orchestra, one of the original "9 Aces" above. 
37. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Randona "Sácale punta" 1938 2:18
38. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "La mimada" 1939 2:25
39. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales "Repique del corazón" 1940 2:14
A birthday vals for Brian!
40. Francisco Canaro - Charlo "Yo no se que me han hecho tus ojos" 1931 3:11
More rhythmic Tanturi's than my usual selections, but since I am not playing Biagi, or Enrique Rodriguez, tonight, it makes a natural choice!
41. Ricardo Tanturi - Alberto Castillo "La vida es corta" 1941 2:25
42. Ricardo Tanturi - Alberto Castillo "Así Se Baila El Tango" 1942  2:34
43. Ricardo Tanturi - Alberto Castillo "Recuerdo Malevo" 1941 2:33
44. Pedro Laurenz - Hector Farrel  "Abandono" 1937 2:32
45. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podesta "Recien" 1943 2:43
46. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podesta "Garua" 1943 3:09
47. Aníbal Troilo - Instrumental  "Un placer" 1942 2:19
48. Aníbal Troilo - Floreal Ruiz  "Romance de barrio" 1947 2:36
49. Aníbal Troilo - Floreal Ruiz, Alberto Marino  "Palomita blanca" 1944 3:21
50. Lucio Demare - Juan Carlos Miranda  "Manana zarpa un barco" 1942 3:22
51. Lucio Demare - Horacio Quintan  "Torrente" 1944 3:10
52. Lucio Demare - Horacio Quintan  "Solamente ella" 1944 3:15
53. Lucio Demare - Horacio Quintan  "Igual que un bandoneon" 1945 3:02
54. Carlos di Sarli - Roberto Rufino  "Charlemos" 1941 2:30
55. Carlos di Sarli - Roberto Rufino "Tristeza Marina" 1943 3:09
56. Carlos di Sarli - Roberto Rufino  "Adiós te vas" 1943 2:30
57. Edgardo Donato - Romeo Gavioli "La Melodía Del Corazón" 1940 3:18
58. Edgardo Donato - Lita Morales, Romeo Gavioli  "Mi Serenata" 1940 3:02
59. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Romeo Gavioli, Lita Morales "Sinfonía De Arrabal" 1940 3:07
60. Osvaldo Pugliese - Jorge Maciel  "Remembranza" 1956 3:41
61. Osvaldo Pugliese - Roberto Chanel  "Rondando tu esquina" 1945 2:48
62. Osvaldo Pugliese "Recuerdo" 1944 2:39
63. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La cumparsita" 1951 3:49
64. Goran Bregovic  "Maki Maki" 2009 3:33
(64 total)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Salt Lake Tango Fest, Milonga Trasnochanda, April 2015

Call it a baptism by fire if you want. Somehow I ended up DJing a milonga without any homework preparation. And it was a fairly long one. A festival milonga actually, to make the matters more grave. And with several great DJs in attendance, too. It definitely stressed me out at first, but in the end of the day everything worked well (OK, make it "in the end of the night" ;) ).
At the Grand Milonga of the SLTF. Patrick Marsolek's photo.
Before we get to the playlist and the thoughts about it, let me explain how it all transpired. We've been involved in volunteering and co-organizing tango events in Salt Lake for quite some time, but only assumed the roles of principal planners and organizers of a big event last August, with the Mountain Milonga Retreat 2014. 

WWPD? (What would Pugliese do?)

Facing the budget projections, the interim numbers, or the final balance sheets, I often can't help thinking, "What would Saint Pugliese do?" Our unstated financial goal for the nonprofit club's events, "to be fair to everybody, to net as little money as possible, but not to lose any", sounds quite noble but it is a tough, fine balancing act. When it comes to the questions of money and fairness in tango, nothing can be compared with the legendary experience of Osvaldo Pugliese' coop orchestra. How could Pugliese do it? People insist that everyone in his tango orchestra, including himself, was paid the same amount of money, and that it ensured great loyalty and gratitude of all participants. But the reality was more nuanced. In a recent interview, Pugliese's widow Lydia tells that Osvaldo's share of the profits has been fixed at 16.5%, clearly exceeding his musicians' shares. Was it because of how they accounted for contributed time? I tried modeling different scenarios and couldn't come up with a satisfactory model of fair sharing. But maybe one day?
Lydia Elman de Pugliese at their home at
Av Corrientes 3742 (from El Abasto interview)
A retreat is a very special kind of a tango event, in any case - a weekend of communal living, of preparing meals together, spending free hours together, and of a very strong community spirit and volunteering generosity. The logistics of organizing a retreat may be hard, but once you get it rolling, it sort of acquires its own moment and just keeps rolling. And it's just totally awesome and rewarding for the organizers to watch.

A regular city fest has a subtly different social dynamics. Many guests pick their classes and milongas a la carte, many of them live and eat and socialize separately, and the energy level of the event may ebb and flow. It requires a degree of a more precise energy management to keep it rolling and rolling, to ratchet the excitement level up and up without burning out. It also takes packing the schedule tighter with more activities, because different hours work for different guests. I actually find it harder because there are fewer things which you can take for granted than in a loosely self-organizing atmosphere of a retreat. 

Still I hoped that I can apply some of the same magic which helped us with the Mountain Milonga Retreat - to sign in a core group of truly dedicated guests early with a recruiting campaign and deep, limited discounts; to put together a crew of strongly dedicated and generously rewarded volunteers and hosts; to inject a greater dose of togetherness by housing as many guests as possible in groups and in the Tango House; and to keep the spirit of unwavering generosity no matter what. And then it helps to be lucky, too :)
The Tango House of the Salt Lake Fest
didn't just give the tangueros the
living spaces under one roof, but
also housed the musicians' tango jam -
and even had a dance flor! 
So after Opening and Alternative and Grand and Sunday night milongas, we planned the 5th "milonga element", a smaller-floor late-nighter lasting into Monday morning, which we dubbed Milonga Trasnochanda. Yet I remained prepared to "balance it out of equation" if the $$ or the projected attendance came short. Or prepared to cut the Trasnochanda's hours short if the milonga runs out of energy (the old country's classic line, "the music stops once we have fewer than 3 couples on the floor!"). (We never had Sunday night allnighters in this community before, so who knew how it will fly?)

That's how I kept the Trasnochanda ready-to-be-canceled, with no supplies and no DJ until Sunday morning, when it's become clear that the SLTF has acquired an unstoppable momentum. The energy wave from Felipe's and John's night milongas is about to be powered up by Tommy's DJing on Sunday evening, and to roll strong past midnight! And yet, all DJs I could have called to run the Trasnochanda are working on Monday, and can't stay so late!

Pedacito de BsAs :)
But I'm, like, oh, it's gonna be two hours of music tops. Surely I can find a spare hour between the class studio cleanup and the evening milonga to do some DJ homework & to play the music myself? (Ever practiced wishful thinking, guys?)  But first it's off to a certain hip grocery store to get my secret ingredient for the Trasnochanda, what will become our "2 AM medialunas" :) They are frozen, about $4.50 a pack of four. I set them to rise on countless buttered trays in the back of the van, fix a lunch for our house guests and ourselves, grab a laptop and head off. But the final day of the Fest, which already started out in a time warp, isn't about the change its frenzied pace. Mopping and packing at the studios runs behind the schedule, and then reconciling the balance sheets takes surprisingly long time. Milonga del Centro is in full swing and I haven't opened the laptop yet. Too few tandas later, I get a frantic call: at the studios, we must have accidentally thrown away some rental goods into a dumpster. Who's got this fantastic idea to put the stuff into a black garbage bag anyway?
... too few tandas but mmm good ones ... (Patrick Marsolek's photo)
So I return to the dark desolate lot behind the studio, don a headlight and dive into the dumpster full of identical black bags. An hour later, having fished out the one right bag, I briefly stop at the milonga again, just to give a thank-you speech to the teachers, DJs, and volunteers. It leaves me with exactly 15 minutes to "prime the DJ's pump" with the first 10 tandas - the rest to be added on the fly as the medialunas sit in the stove, and mate is being brewed. The guests arrive en masse by quarter to midnight, and Milonga Trasnochanda is on!

01. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Derecho viejo" 1941 2:31
02. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Pimienta" 1939 2:52
03. Osvaldo Fresedo - Instrumental  "Arrabalero" 1939 2:32
some of the cortinas didn't get properly saved but I'm sure the first one was from Million Scarlet Roses.
04. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La viruta" 1936 2:20
05. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Champagne tango" 1938 2:26
06. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Sabado Ingles" 1946 2:38
I'm afraid Jose Luis will kill me if I ever play this short but rousing cortina again :/
07. Canaro - Hugo del Carril  "Marcha Peronista cortina"  0:16
08. Pedro Láurenz - Alberto Podestá  "Paisaje" 1943 2:51
09. Pedro Láurenz -  C. Bermudez y J. Linares "Mendocina" 1944 2:35
10. Pedro Láurenz -  Juan Carlos Casas "Mascarita"  2:53
11. Carmen Piculeata  "Egy kis cigainy dal" 2013 0:29
12. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "La Capilla Blanca"  2:55
13. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "Junto a tu corazon"  3:00
14. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "Tu!...El cielo y tu!"  2:59
15. Carlos Di Sarli Alberto Podesta "Al compas del Corazon"  3:19
16. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino  "Yo soy el tango" 1941 2:26
17. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino  "El bulín de la calle Ayacucho" 1941 2:30
18. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino  "Una carta" 1941 2:50
19. Leonid Utesov  "S Odesskogo kichmana (cortina)" 1935 0:22
Three things impacted my DJing experince the most because of the lack of prep time. First of all, of course I had to stick, mostly, to the well-trodden terrain (and to easier-to-assemble 3-song sets too). But I also worried that the sequence of the songs within the tanda may be imperfect - normally I play quite a bit with this factor to make sure the opening bars pull you into the floor, the middle transitions are smooth, and the closing bars are like a crescendo). And order of the tandas in the "meta-tandas" of the undulating energy waves worried me too - like I already decided to put Di Sarli's super-rhythmics next to Pirincho's mid-paced milongas, but which one should come first? Normally I might listen to the songs and transitions a few times before making my choice.
20. Quinteto Pirincho - Instrumental "La cara de la luna (milonga)" 1959 2:29
21. Quinteto Pirincho - Instrumental "Corralera" 1956 2:05
22. Quinteto Pirincho - Instrumental "Milongon" 1952 2:29
23. Lidiya Ruslanova  "Valenki 3 (cortina)"  0:24
24. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "Shusheta" 1940 2:22
25. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "Catamarca" 1940 2:23
26. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "La trilla" 1940 2:21
27. Goran Bregovic  "Old Home Movie" 1993 0:25
28. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón "Que te importa que te llore" 1942 2:44
29. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón "Corazon No Le Hagas Caso" 1942 3:00
30. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón "Jamas Retornaras" 2:31
31. Lidiya Ruslanova  "Valenki 4 (cortina)"  0:24
32. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "En el volga yo te espero" 1943 2:40
33. Enrique Rodriguez - Roberto Flores "Las Espigadoras (vals)"  2:47
34. Enrique Rodriguez - Roberto Flores "Los Piconeros (vals)"  2:47
35. Donato Racciatti Nina Miranda "Gloria " 1952 2:44
36. Donato Racciatti - Olga Delgrossi "Sus Ojos Se Cerraron" 1956 2:47
37. Donato Racciatti - Nina Miranda "Tu corazón" 1960 2:32
38. Maya Kristalinskaya  "Nezhnost (Tenderness)"  0:17
Alfredo Gobbi (May 14, 1912 - May 21, 1965)

Violinist and occasionally a piano player, Alfredo Gobbi was born in France to a couple of Uruguayan singers during the antebellum blooming of tango in Paris. The WWI struck soon, and the young family had to return to South America. Alfredo grew up in poverty in Buenos Aires, starting his violin studies at 6. In his late teens, he played tango with then-also young and still unknown Troilo and Pugliese, before rising to the first violin position with the orchestra of Pedro Laurenz. In 1942, Alfredo Gobbi started his own orchestra, which rose to its greatest fame in the late 1940s and 1950s, when they recorded for Victor. Tango music historians often describe Gobbi's style as "Decaroist" but to me he sounds very differently!
Possibly the most exploratory tanda for the night - I never played Gobbi before, but I sensed that his romantic and beautifully complex pieces may hit the spot for the tango crowd which was primed by the three nights of dancing, and full of energy at two in the morning! Felipe stopped by after the Gobbi tanda to say that it did work. What do you think?
39. Alfredo Gobbi  "Jueves" 2:43
40. Alfredo Gobbi  "Independiente Club" 3:12
41. Alfredo Gobbi  "Sin vuelta de hoja" 3:16
42. Bravo - Zhanna Aguzarova  "Space Rock-n-Roll" 1993 0:12
Time to add the set's only two alt tandas. By the way my guess that the music will last for just couple hours was clearly way, way wrong!
43. Otros Aires dos  "Los Vino"  2:41
44. Otros Aires  "Un Baile De Beneficio" 2010 3:42
45. Otros Aires  "Rotos en el Raval" 2005 3:53
46. The Blues Brothers  "Theme From Rawhide 3" 1980 0:20
47. Fool's Garden  "Lemon tree" 1995 3:09
48. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole  "Over The Rainbow" 2001 3:32
49. Souad Massi  "Ghir Enta" 2008 5:06
50. "Lady Be Good - Sol Hoopii Trio" 0:23
51. Carlos di Sarli - Jorge Durán  "Sonatina" 1956 3:11
52. Carlos di Sarli - Argentino Ledesma  "Fumando espero" 1956 4:02
53. Carlos di Sarli - Oscar Serpa  "Verdemar" 1955 3:01
54. Carrapicho  "Tic Tic Tac cortina 1" 2007 0:17
55. Angel D'Agostino Angel Vargas "Esquinas porteñas" 1942 2:51
56. Angel D'Agostino Angel Vargas "Tristeza Criolla" 1945 2:27
57. Angel D'Agostino Angel Vargas "Que me pasara (vals)" 1941 2:29
58. Goran Bregovic  "Old Home Movie" 1993 0:25
59. Lucio Demare - Raúl Berón  "Canta pajarito" 1943 3:33
60. Lucio Demare - Raúl Berón "Como se hace un tango" 1943 3:14
61. Lucio Demare - Raúl Berón "Una emocion" 1943 2:42
62. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Recuerdos De Paris" 1937 3:12
63. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Ciego" 1935 2:57
64. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Invierno" 1937 3:26
The final (I suppose) milonga tanda for the night is the aces of candombe. John stopped by to ask about the final track in this set, IMVHO the best milonga candombe ever. Gotta give it to the Uruguay's natives!
65. Miguel Caló - Raúl Berón  "Azabache" 1942-09-29 3:05
66. Alberto Castillo  "El Gatito en el Tejado" 2:37
67. Romeo Gavioli y su orquesta típica  "Tamboriles" 1956 2:56
68. Orquesta Típica Víctor (dir. Adolfo Carabelli) - Instrumental  "El chamuyo" 1930 2:46
69. Orquesta Tipica Victor (dir. Adolfo Carabelli) - "Nino bien" 1928 2:43
70. Orquesta Tipica Victor, A. Gomez  "Ventarron" 1933 3:03
71. Victor Tsoy  "Gruppa Krovi (cortina)"  0:36
Three in the morning, and lots more then 3 couple on the floor ... I sheepishly ask people if we can wrap it after a few more tandas, but the answer is a resounding "No", "Where is our Pugliese??", "Mas D'Arienzo!!"...
72. Alfredo de Angelis - Instrumental  "Mi dolor" 1957 2:51
73. Alfredo De Angelis  "Felicia" 1969 2:48
74. Alfredo De Angelis  "Pavadita" 1958 2:53
75. Olga Voronets  "Ya - Zemlya (I am Planet Earth)" 1977 0:18
76. Orquesta Tipica Victor - Lita Morales "Noches de invierno" 1937 2:47
77. Orquesta Típica Víctor - Ángel Vargas "Sin Rumbo Fijo (vals)" 1938 2:18
78. Orquesta Tipica Victor, M. Pomar  "Temo" 1940 2:55
79. Osvaldo Fresedo - Roberto Ray "Nieblas del riachuelo" 1937 2:25
80. Osvaldo Fresedo - Roberto Ray  "En la huella del dolor" 1934 2:48
81. Osvaldo Fresedo - Roberto Ray "Sollosos" 1937 3:27
Felipe spotted a mistake in the assembly of this tanda - "Recuerdo" actually belonged to Lalo Schifrin's soundrack to Saura's "Tango" rather than to the Pugliese's orchestra. The sparse annotation wasn't really wrong - it is Pugliese's composition and it is instrumental - just woefully incomplete. Uh oh.
82. Osvaldo Pugliese - Instrumental "Recuerdo" 2:54
83. Osváldo Pugliese Osvaldo Pugliese "Farol" 1943 3:22
84. Pugliese, Osvaldo Various Artists "Rondando Tu Esquina" 1945 2:49
85. Russian Folk  "Gypsy Girl (cortina)"  0:22
Edgardo Donato's birthday fell on the opening day of the Salt Lake Tango Fest & I hope to find a chance to celebrate it before the months is over!
86. Donato, Edgardo - Romeo Gavioli, Lita Morales  "Mi Serenata" 1940 3:02
87. Donato, Edgardo  "El Adios" 1938 3:09
88. Donato, Edgardo- Horacio Lagos, Romeo Gavioli, Lita Morales "Sinfonía De Arrabal" 1940 3:07
And at last I find an excuse, however lame, to play the last tanda by 4 AM: it's time for Joni and Val to leave for their early-morning flights home, and we shoulsn't deny them the Cumparsita. Wow, that's been a crazy night!!
89. Maya Kristalinskaya  "Nezhnost (Tenderness)"  0:17
90. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La torcacita" 1971- 2:31
91. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Bar Exposición" 1973 2:33
92. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Zorro gris" 1973 2:03
93. Alfredo de Angelis - Instrumental "La cumparsita (Matos Rodriguez" 1961 3:33

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

San Miguel Tango Festival, March 2015

The festival

A tango festival in San Miguel, Mexico, is to a large degree a brainchild of "Tango Clay" Nelson who has a penchant for out-of-the way locations with a special vibe. Clay started the Thanksgiving tango gathering in Ashland OR (presently known as Tango Connect), and he continues to run a retreat in a tiny Mt Shasta hamlet of McCloud CA (pop 1,000) called Burning Tango. We've been privileged to attend both, and it gave us a lot of inspiration for turning Wasatch Mountain Club's traditional Mountain Milonga into a multi-day retreat. And, at last, we also got to visit San Miguel Tango Festival (which is now run by the co-founder of the festival, Nancy Roberts)!

Toasting tango at the balcony
of the rustic McCloud ballroom.
Oh the events Clay Nelson does!
Last year some of our friends visited Nancy's festival, and told great exciting stories about San Miguel, but we were also alarmed by the difficult logistics of getting there, and generally by fears of travel in Mexico. But then Nancy came to our Mountain Milonga Retreat 2014, and stayed for Mystic Milonga afterparty ... much talk, much dance, a good deal of good wine ... anyway she insisted that we must, absolutely must join San Miguel tangofest the following year :). And here we come, to return as true believers!

But before I start talking about the festival, I think I need to talk about the town:

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
San Miguel de Allende is a very special oasis of preserved colonial history and tranquility less than 150 miles from the bustling and chaotic mega-metropolis of Mexico City. One of the largest cities of North America during its XVIII century heyday, when it had greater population than either Boston or New York, SMA (as it is universally known) hasn't gained much population by the XXI century. But over 10% of its residents are the expats now!
Cobblestone lanes, ornate doors, wrought-iron balconies, traditional tin star lamps,
and throngs of foreigners day and night
San Miguel de Allende is the cradle of Mexican independence. The 1810 Insurgency began in the nearby hamlet of Dolores Hidalgo, and San Miguel became the first liberated town (and earned the second half of its name, "de Allende", after a leader of the independence fight). But the independence disrupted the same colonial silver mine supply routes which propelled the town to its prominence under the Spanish rule. Decades of the economic downturn turned SMA into a virtual ghost town. The nearly-deserted town has been given a new license to life after the revolution of the 1910s, when the narrative of the Insurgency has become one of the key ideological threads of the new regime. San Miguel de Allende has been declared a historic and protected landmark, a living museum of the Insurgency, with its famous cobblestone streets ordered to remain unpaved in perpetuity. Gradually, the protected town started turning into a holiday destination for the capital city residents, and a magnet for the history aficionados.

Then, starting from the 1930s on, came the foreign artists, and San Miguel's art schools reached international fame. David Siqueiros taught in SMA; many Americans on GI bill studied arts there in the 40s and 50s. Then, in the '60s and '70s came hippies, backpackers, and New Age wanderers retracing the footsteps of Carlos Castaneda. 1980s are remembered as a decade of rowdiness and drinking on the cheap. And then all along a steady stream of retirees from the North, especially women, poured into the town. The XXI century with the internet and ever-shrinking size of the globe brought more people there, and San Miguel is now pretty expensive by the Mexican provincial standards. No paved streets allowed there - only cobblestone. No traffic lights, nor fast food chains and neon signs. New construction has to fit in architecturally. The town remains remarkably safe and tranquil. UNESCO declared it World Heritage site in 2008.

The experience
We arrived from Mexico City airport on Bajio shuttle the night before the festival, to the usual welcome hugs from tango friends in hotel lobby - and the less usual tango hugs at the town streets (in fact we bumped into Alexei the DJ on a quiet dark lane off the beaten path!). Had a fantastic Mazatlan-style seafood dinner at Mario's just steps from the hotel, stocked up on ripe guavas and mangos at a little bodega at a side of San Antonio church, and walked through the heart of town. Wow! In the morning we took a cab to La Gruta (~~ the Grotto) hot springs (some 6 miles and USD 15 round trip North of town) and to Galeria Atotonilco with its halls and halls of folk crafts.
San Antonio parish, octopus, lobster, and marlin at Mario's, and bright blue waters of The Grotto

We now think of the bandoneon as of the quintessential sound of tango, but the 1800s and the early 1900s tangos didn't have this sound yet - they relied on guitar, violin, flute, occasionally piano. Vincente Loduca (who, like "El Tano" Esposito, also started playing bandoneon in tango duets and trios in 1908) recalled in 1913 that the instrument was at first perceived as vulgar and inappropriate for the dancing salons. It really started to catch on only around 1910, at the same time as the tempo of tangos slowed down and legato supplanted sharp staccato of Loduca's bandoneon. Genaro "El Tano" Esposito has become one of tango's most talented bando pioneers, even recording solo bandoneon tangos as early as in 1912-1913.
"El Tano" with his Parisian orchestra in the 1920s.
His work permit was issued for the "folklore genre",
requiring them to dress in faux gaucho costumes
In 1920 "El Tano" moved to France with the fellow bandoneon player Manuel Pizarro, first playing in Marseilles for pennies, then gradually moving "up the food chain" in Paris, organizing ever-more professional and renown orchestras. In the beginning of WWII Pizarro managed to escape to Argentina on a roundabout way through Egypt, losing all his life's savings. Genaro Esposito had two little sons by his recently deceased French wife, and her grave at the Cimetière de Thiais near Paris, and his French citizenship and misplaced faith in the strength of the Allied troops - so he stayed put, and as the Nazi occupation dragged on, he was forced to sell his possessions to feed his kids, and to play music for scraps of food. In winter 1943 he managed to get on a tour but came down with pneumonia on the trip, and returned home to his sons to die just months before the D-day.

His younger son, Claude R. Esposito, grew to be an avid dancer - but with only a faint memory of tango - until he finally rediscovered tango half a century later, and then reconnected to the music of his father with the help of the French music collectors. Please visit Claude's website for more twists of this story, pictures, and records!

John Gair played the following selection of Genaro Esposito's Parisian songs at San Miguel:
Viejo amor (1931) - Borrachita (1935) - Ninita - Mi pobre corazon (1935)
A bit more wandering around town and it's time for the opening milonga. The DJ played an unusual and captivating selection of records and I instantly jumped to a conclusion that we must be listening to an old Argentine. Only to find out that he was John Gair from Port Townsend WA, the home of an Encuentro I hope to visit one day, and to learn more about organizing retreats from the experience! So nice to meet you, John! One of the milonga's musical highlights was a tanda old records of a pre-WWII tango orchestra from Paris, introduced by the son of the bandoneonist and the leader of the orchestra who was in attendance. It was a great story of tango's formative years and indeed of the arrival of bandoneon into tango - please check the inset for "El Tano" Esposito's story!
Just like the local North American expat community at large, el gente was noticeably gender imbalanced. And as it is often the case in the places South, cabeceo sort of worked, but it works a lot better once you get acquainted and accepted in the group, once you rub shoulders and engage in small talk, It takes a bit of time, and do not hesitate to spend this time, it really pays. Just like in the town at large, there are even more non-local Mexicans than gringos at the milonga, first of all the Mexico City residents known as chilangos, but also better-off city folk from all other centers of commerce and culture around the Bajio (~~ the Lowlands, as the grand swath of Mexico North of the capital city is known - from Querétaro, Guadalajara, Morelia etc.). (And not to forget, half-dozen more Latin American nations were represented as well). Keep in mind that even the remarkably sophisticated chilango weekenders may be prone to look down at the gringos, at least at the first glance - spoiled, lazy Americans, unable and unwilling to respect social proprieties to the verge of indecency, generally far too free-spirited for their own good. And conversely, we often perceive them as too concerned with the outward proprieties, too preoccupied by the matters of class and decorum, maybe even too hard-working. So be nice, dress nice, play along. Once we get on the dance floor, every facet of cultural differences fades away, and the language of tango is spoken and understood by us all. (Speaking of which, at least 2/3rds of the guests speak English well). Attending classes together is also a great way to get to know people (and when you get to know them, then cabeceo starts working even if you don't share any other language other than the body language of tango). And as the last resort for the impatient ones, there were half-dozen taxi dancers from a tango school in Querétaro, some of them really great dancers, charging about as much as a taxi ride downtown, like 2 or 3 US dollars!
The weather forecast promises rainstorms, absolutely unusual for this time of the year - probably the same unusual weather pattern which also brought freak snowstorms to the US North-East and equally unusual endless rains to Puerto Rico where we tangoed in February. So while the weather s still nice, we skip all the classes and go wandering around town.
A panorama of the pastel-hued town from the hills of Chorro,
with the white egrets nesting on the tallest trees

Chorro views, with the jacaranda-ringed Parquia San Miguel in the center pane. 
We go to its oldest neighborhood, Chorro, near the hillside springs which gave birth to the town in the XVI c., and which continued to provide SMA with all its drinking water until recently. We pass Parque Juarez where the town's famous white egrets used to nest on tall cedars - until a few years ago the city government tried to expel them to make the park quieter and cleaner, and cut down some of the largest old trees in the park. The remaining egrets are tightly packed on a few remaining tall trees further upslope in Chorro,
Doors of San Miguel
We wander across the town center, check La Esquina Toy Museum, grab freshest fruit liquados and seafood tostadas at the vegetable market stands at the Colegio entrance to Mercado de Artesanias, and then of course spend all the rest of the time in the artisans' shops there... Time to retreat to the hotel and to stay put for couple nights, until the rain's over! (A least, now I feel vindicated for my decision to stay right at the festival hotel, instead of potentially far cheaper AirBnB places around: this way we don't have to have our feet wet to get to the classes and milongas!).
Pretty cool floor solution BTW - a regular
laminate floor assembled on the spot with
the edges held down by duct tape!
Most of the rest of the milongas are DJ'd by our old dear friends, Alexei from the Bay Area (a few memorable unusual jewels of records there!), and Tara and Dean from Colorado (Dean's alternative milonga had a superb  variety and quality of the music, yet, anyhow, fewer dancers than needed to fill the floor... perhaps it was the way it has been scheduled, wedged tightly between 3 (!) classes and the late night milonga ... or, perhaps, since many folks down there are indeed more formal and more concerned about "decorum and propriety", they just won't dance to alternative? Tara's was truly a DJ revelation, building up a perfect wave of tango bliss ... and the way she solves one of the most classic tango DJ quandaries of tinkering with the beloved-yet-sorely-overplayed milonga tanda of Cacareando-Fortines-Vieja Linda is totally spectacular). And the Grand Saturday Ball with performances, DJ'd by Santa Fe's Fer, had a palpable vibe of a Latin American festival milonga tinged with the later-period music, the drama, and the beautiful vocals. More friends found with every class, with every milonga. Better and better tandas. How I wish now that it lasted longer! Next time, maybe? Back up North, I just watch the amazing vids and break into a warm smile. Muchas gracias, Nancy!!

Hot spring "caves" along the highway to
Dolores Hidealgo, ca, km 10:
Red - La Gruta, Blue - Escondido (Black - Galeria Atotonilco)
ATMs: there is one at the hotel, also Azteca on the main drag just past the sharp corner with Codo on the right (we needed it when the hotel ATM was out of order)
Money exchanges: abound around Correo - but a passport is required
Booze: occasion retail blue-law restrictions apply, like on national holidays ... but you can talk eateries into serving it "out".
Cabs: 35 pesos across downtown. When going to a more remote location, ask the driver about picking you up for a return trip (regreso). You may also ask for driver's business card with the phone number for your piece of mind.
Old town SMA. Red - Mario's Seafood; Blue - artisans passages:
Black - El Jardin; Green - El Chorro egrets
Businesses locations on Google maps: they are in an unbelievable disarray! If I ever find myself on a lazy vacation in SMA, then I'll spend a lot of time fixing the Google maps craze.
Clothes optional hot springs: few if any options ... reportedly Escondido hosted some women-only nights, and possibly Mayan offers it with its private bookings but one needs to set an appointment like months in advance!
Fruit juices and fresh local food in the airport: Mexicans tend to be crazy about pizzas, fried chicken, hamburguesas, sweet pastries, and sweetened drinks, and that's what you find at the rest stops etc. But we were pleasantly surprised to find a good selection of more appealing foods in the giant food court of Terminal 2 of MEX.