Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kumi's Journal: BA 2009 - 2

Each time I come to Buenos Aires, I feel the city is getting cleaner and healthier.  I feel more joy in the air.  My first trip to Buenos Aires was in February of 2000.  I was with my husband Yuki, BF at that time.  It was before the crisis (December of 2001), and the city was dark.  I felt the city had some kind of deep stagnation, ready to be explored. When I got back in 2005, I was so surprised that the city was filled with happiness, such a healthy energy.  Since then each time I go back the city looks cleaner and nicer.  I feel people are getting more jobs and making money. Things are circulating well and people are happy.  But I don’t know how much that is true.  I heard the economy and government is not doing well (“but that’s all the time, it has always been…” that’s what foreigners said but not the Argentines) and it’s getting very dangerous, but I didn’t particularly feel that this time.

When we went to Sin Rumbo (one of the historical Milongas in Villa Urquiza, north of capital) back in 2000, we didn’t know it would be so far away from the central area, we started to feel very insecure in the cab, because we felt the cab driver was taking us to out of nowhere.  I started to feel “Maybe we are going to be robbed… but at least I am with Yuki, I am not alone.”  The taxi came into a residential neighborhood, and the driver stopped couple of times to ask for the direction and finally, we safely arrived to Sin Rumbo.  The place was very dark and empty.  There were only two couples sitting at the tables and three guys were standing at the back talking.  After we danced a few tandas, I danced with one of the guys from the back corner.  The dance was incredibly wonderful…!  When I went to Sin Rumbo this time, I noticed that the Sin Rumbo we went in 2000 was not Sin Rumbo!  Because the real Sin Rumbo I went this time looked completely different.  I guess the cab driver couldn’t find the place, we were taken to a different Milonga!  No wonder I felt strange not recognizing the place when I watched videos from Sin Rumbo.  I can’t believe after all these years until now, we always believed we danced in Sin Rumbo (LOL).  But the dance I had with the guy from the back corner was the BEST DANCE I’ve ever had even ‘til today.  I wonder what milonga we were taken?

When I went into the real Sin Rumbo this time, I saw Oliver Kolker and Silvina Vals dancing rock’n roll.  Nice to see dancers from New York J  Close to the entrance, Natacha Poberaj one of my favorite female dancers was sitting, and Carlos Rivarola was sitting behind our table.  Daniel who was escorting me that night seemed excited to find Rivarola, and asked me if I wanted to ask Rivarola for an interview. Carlos Rivarola is a very important historical dancer.  He was in the movie “Tango” dancing with Julio Boca.  I know he has a very important position in the tango industry, but I don’t know why he is so important and I don’t know about him well enough to interview.  I quietly looked back, and saw his face.  He had a very serious face…. hmmm, well, I want to interview him but maybe next time, I told Daniel.  We found Osvaldo and Coca, very happy to see them again.  I didn’t expect to dance in this Milonga since this is a neighborhood milonga, they all come in couples.  That is why I asked Daniel to accompany me.  But I was asked to dance!  Very happy!!  As we were leaving the place I was introduced to Julio Duplaa, the organizer of Sin Rumbo and talked about interviewing Sin Rumbo when I visit next time. 


Taking the subways in the city, I saw many young gay couples.  I didn’t see lesbians, maybe there were but guys looked more obvious, and I felt they were really addressing it.  I thought it is like in the 80’s in New York.  Gay people really acting for their rights. Once I was in a crowded subway, one gay couple started to show affections to each other, people around them especially guys looked not comfortable (still it’s a very machito country), then they became more aggressive and started to kiss.  People around tried not to pay attention.  Then a young couple  (a guy and a girl) standing next to them started to kiss as they were competing or to stop them. The gay couple slowed down, and got off at the next stop.  Soon after that on December 28th,  gay marriage became legal in Argentina.  The first country approved in Latin America.  

I hear gay night clubs has been very popular including gay milongas. It sounded like a hip place to be. I heard many women get to practice leading there.  I didn’t have a chance to go, but I saw a lot of women leading in regular milongas also, especially end of the night.  I lead a lot in New York, but I stayed conservative.  Well, I have so many lovely locals to dance with, and I love dancing with 70, 80 year old dancers, why should I lead?!  In some milongas, many milongueros came walked in front of me to ask if I wanted to dance.  This never happened before, what happened to cabeseo (eye-to-eye contact)?  Maybe they do it only to tourists?  This is different from before.  But I see this is how codes and traditions change. 

Many of the dancers that I interviewed talked sadly about not having the codes any more.  First I didn’t really understand what code meant.  But I guess “codes” are not just about rules, I think it comes from being thoughtful to one another.  A guy comes in front of you asking to dance.  What if you didn’t want to dance with him?  So they have eye-to-eye contact asking yes or no.  But maybe, because of many of us foreigners don’t know about this system, locals started to walk up to us?  I guess the shape of thoughtfulness changes by the changes of people. 


When I go to milongas the crowd is mostly made by older people who are retired, people younger than that are foreigners, and if I see younger Argentines, they are all professionals.  I see very few regular Argentines.  Maybe I am wrong. Or maybe the places I went happen to be that way.  But it is very obvious that there are so many foreigners in milongas and the tango businesses are very much supported by foreigners.  For me, it looks something not natural.  I think the culture won’t grow if there are no regular Argentine people.  And I feel this increase of foreigners is changing the shape of Milongas.  In a few decades we will loose all these elderly people who created the tango scene today, and the new generation and foreigners will take over the milongas.  What I am afraid is in the future, tango might loose its authenticity, and will become like “Dancing with the stars”. 

It is wonderful that tango is expanding broad to the world and creating more dancers and those dancers from all over the world come to join the dance floors of Buenos Aires.  But I think foreigners should learn more about the culture of this dance and the professionals should give more opportunities to teach the culture of this dance and explain the meanings behind the steps.  Because even you dance the shape of tango, if there is no essence, it is not tango any more.  And Tango will die if the majorities dance without its essence.

Many of the dancers who I interviewed said “It doesn’t have to be Argentinean.  There are so many bad Argentine dancers too and there are many good dancers who are non Argentines.”  They were particularly upset with young dancers.  They said, “ Foreigners can transmit our dance.”   … I don’t know.  Maybe because I am Japanese, I have a different way of  seeing things.  I want regular non professional Argentine people to carry on this dance.  But what can I do…. 

But by the end of this trip, I started to find out there is a new movement happening in Buenos Aires, to keep the tradition of tango.  I read somewhere that there was a tango festivals focusing in tradition.  El Tangauta was featuring interview with Chicho (pioneer of Tango Nuevo dancer) saying that he regrets he didn’t teach the tradition that he learned from his masters now he wants to emphasis the importance of understanding the essence of  tango.  Pablo Veron was also talking about the importance of traditions too.  And I slowly started to find out that there are actually many regular Argentine people started to take lessons to learn tango just for their joy.

So, I guess I don’t need to worry so much.  The locals are starting to put efforts in keeping the tradition, the movement is starting.  That means it will come to us very soon.

Kumi's Journal: BA 2009 - 1

This is a journal of my interview trip to Buenos Aires December 8th to 20th, 2009.  From this trip I interviewed Osvaldo y Coca, the organizers and the DJ of Sunderland club, El Flaco Dani, and Nito y Elba.  Since I don’t speak the language, theses interviews were held with help of translators, which are my friends from NY, and recorded to tapes.  It will need a lot of time to put together them in writing, so I am going to write my experience what I saw, what I felt, whom I met, what I found out….. all about Argentine Tango from this trip.

A lot of people ask me if I want to publish a book by this.  Well, that sounds good to me, but that is not the purpose I am doing this.  I want to do this, I want to keep this in more pure way.  I want to do this for the history, for the culture, for the people, and for us, us who once fell in love with tango and for the future of Argentine Tango.

I am Japanese and we have a long history and we have many old cultures and traditions.  Somehow in my own way, I feel tango is very similar to Japanese Tea Ceremony.   Japanese tea ceremony looks very up tight, and nothing about man and woman, but the bottom line of the ceremony is about  “I am making this tea for you, for this meeting, for this moment”.  We do everything very beautifully to make one cup of tea to make this meeting a wonderful one. 

The tea ceremony was started somewhere in 1400.  It took one hundred years to make the basic shape by Rikyu, and it took another 200 years to come up with the shape of today.  It says that the basic shape which Rikyu created had changed tremendously after Rikyu died and, and many different styles were created.  Taking another 200 years it came back to the basic shape of Rikyu style, and it is the basic style of today.  Tango has been danced about 100 years now, and I think the basic shape was made by the ones who have been dancing since the 40’s and the 50’s.  I feel tango has been changing and, I think it will change more after we loose these dancers from the golden age.  So I want to keep the voices of the pioneers for the dancers in the future.  To know where tango came from, to know the roots and to transmit the tradition of Argentine Tango made by their people, and ancestors.

When I asked questions to the dancers “I feel tango is changing, and what is your wish for the future of tango?”  I felt they were not quite ready for this question.  Usually they answered “If you are talking about Nuevo, Nuevo doesn’t bather me.  For me Tango Nuevo does not exist . Tango will not change”.  I felt for Argentine people, dancing tango is such a daily thing, I guess they never thought about this dance in a cultural historical way.  But when they hear “future of tango” they all stop once and tear their eyes.

For this trip, I started to write proposal letters for interviewing about a month ago.  I wanted to interview Suzuki Avellanda (wife of Pepito Avellaneda), El Chino Perico also, but we found out Suzuki moved to south of Argentina, and El Chino, we couldn’t get in touch.  I was very fortunate to get an interview the 2004 World Salon Champions, Coca y Osvaldo, by arrangements of Annatina Luck from New York and Daniel Aranda from Buenos Aires.  And Osvaldo and Coca happen to live in Avellaneda!  I was excited to hear Avellaneda, because Pepito was named because he was from this area.  Avellaneda is located south of Buenos Aires, it is a rather humble neighborhood.   

We took a train from the constitution. Beautiful train station!  Like the ones I see in the old European movies.  

Arrived to the Olvaldo’s town, we got off the train, I smelled grass.  Kids were playing on the field.  It’s countryside. Cross the bridge, by looking at the big map, and asking people, we found Osvaldo’s house.  While we are walking I was told many of the famous dancers came from this neighborhood.  Pepito Avellaneda of course, Carlos Gavito, Nito Garcia, Pibe Avellaneda and Pibe Sarandi.  Many good dancers… it is hard to imagine this place (simple, nothing fancy neighborhood) created so many world famous dancers.  So happy to be here!!

Daniel rings the doorbell, Coca and a happy dog invite us in.  There is a big painting of Coca and Osvaldo in the room, and many photos of them on the walls.  The painting was done by a friend from many years, a teacher of painting and it was given to them when they won the world championship as a present.  I saw photos of Osvaldo on a horse and ornaments of a carriage with a horse.  Coca said Osvaldo loves horses and he used to join horse shows and the ornaments were all made by him.  As soon an I saw the ornaments, I said to myself “ahhh, Mano Blanca!”  Mano Blanca is one of my very favorite songs, and I have many personal stories with this song.  It is about a guy who rides a carriage with horses.  I wanted to see something related with this song in this trip.  I found it in Osvaldo’s home!  Perfect :) Osvaldo says when he lost his mother, he went into heavy depression, and he made many of these, which helped him a lot.

The interview was done in their dining room.  Osvaldo and Coca acts like teenage kids in love, so cute.   Osvaldo says he’s been living here since he was 8 years old.  There used to be many milongas around here in the 50’s.  They went to milongas on the weekends and practiced on the weekdays.  I asked if they danced in this room, and had parties on the weekends in the 70’s (when the country was in the dictatorship and tango was not danced much in dancehalls)  “No, no,” He says, they stopped dancing after they got married and didn’t danced until the 90’s.  I hear many old milongueros say “I’ve been dancing all my life” but he doesn’t say that.  He is very honest.  And  he continues, “but Pepito used to come here all the time and we practiced together in this room since we were kids.”   He said “if you like Pepito, he lived a few blocks from here, do you want to go see?”  Of course, I said “Yes!!”  Three of us got on Osvaldo’s beautiful black Fiat Ombu, (I thought it’s so  Salon “simple beauty”) while he’s driving, he pointed, “this was a milonga”, 

and pointed other way, “there was one too”.  Sounds like in ten blocks there were about 5~6 Milongas plus many small practicas in the 50’s.  In that time, people danced on the street too.  In the Carnival, (they say it’s like Halloween in America, and I think it’s like a street fair or Fiesta in little Italy), they had a Pasa Disco (Music player, the DJ for nowadays) came to play music on the street and people in the neighborhood gathered and danced.  It happened right in front of Pepito’s house.

This is Pepito’s house.  While I was taking photos of his house, one elderly man came out,
looking “not understanding what’s going on at all”, probably Coca gave him a phone call that we headed there.  He was Pepito’s brother, he still lives there.  Osvaldo explains the situation, then he went back into the house and brought one photo with Pepito and a paper looks like a certificate. (later on I asked Annatina about this paper, it is a certificate given to Pepito by the municipal because he is exceptional in the tango world).  Mosquitoes were flying all around us, maybe there were like 20, I couldn’t think very well from trying 
to avoid mosquitoes.  And looks like these mosquitoes don’t bite the locals.  I was told this house has an oven from Italy, a special oven to make pizza.  Then I remembered that YES! I read it in Todo Tango, Pepito’s father had a pizza shop and Pepito delivered Pizza.  When he delivered pizzas to dancing places and he didn’t come home ‘til 6 in the morning, then he continued to work without any sleep.  He was crazy with dancing.  I couldn't believe myself I was actually looking at the real place with my eyes, in front of me.  Pepito’s brother kindly told us to come back anytime to visit. 

Osvaldo took us back to his house, while he was driving he said Suzuki comes back every year. When she comes back next year, I should come back here, he will introduce her to me.  Inside the car, he was playing “Poema”.  What a pleasure listening to “Poema” in Osvaldo’s car! Played by Osvaldo, in Avellaneda, returning from Pepito’s home....nmmmm I am happy.  Of course I got bitten by many mosquitoes all over my legs and arms.  They are still itching today, even in this freezing weather in New York, after 3 weeks.

The following day we went to Sin Rumbo.  Osvaldo and Coca were there.  We didn’t know they were performing that night.  It was a very nice coincidence, meeting them again! When they were leaving, they kindly asked us if we would like to leave together, and Osvaldo offered us for a ride.  It was a cold night.  It was pretty hot in daytime, but at night it gets cold.  Annatina said this is so strange getting this cold in this season.  I wanted a jacket.  While driving on Corrientes, Annatina pointed out “this is Chacarita, where Carlos Gardel’s grave is”.  When I was here last time I tried to visit the grave of Gardel, but couldn’t find.  Instead I went to Abasto, did shopping at Carlos Gardel street.  How nice to be with the locals!  Makes everything so easy!  I have to visit this time, and it’s right in front of the subway. While we were talking, now Osvaldo says, “Do you know this statue of Pugliese?”  I said “no?”  then he stops the cars and told us to get out, started to show us the statue.  Buenos Aires tour, 2:30 am in the morning!  He took my arm and made me stand in one place, then handed my camera to Annatina and took her to the middle of the street, saying “take her from here”. We took many photos by Osvaldo’s directions.

I told this story to my friend after I came back to New York, then she told me that once  this Puguliese’s statue was stolen one night and it became a national news.  When I was there, the statue Pugliese was there.  They put a new a one.  Pugliese was a communist and he got arrested many times while he was performing.  A red rose was placed on his piano while he was taken away, and his orchestra continued to play.  

For the actual interview with Osvaldo y Coca, I will post it when I am ready.  I need a lot of help with translation.  If there’s anybody in New York area who would be interested in helping me, please let me know.  My e-mail is