Cucuza Castiello singing with El Cachivache Quinteto during Carnaval. Feb 2017
Within tango there is the enduring image of Carlos Gardel standing on the sidewalk singing to his fans. He would leave the theater and his fans would follow. They would surround him, close but respectful, walking leisurely beside him through the night streets of Buenos Aires until he gave them what they wanted and what he wanted to give: a song.
A song on a sidewalk is different than a song sung inside a theater.
These stories carry extra weight in a city as nostalgic as Buenos Aires. It is no wonder that events from the past repeat themselves in the future, which is now. In tango, there is such a deep affection for what happened before that over and over we seek to recreate those lost moments.
It is a treacherous endeavor. As we all know, “There is no there there.” Those who are lost in the past will get stuck and won’t be able to find their way back while those who shun the past and leap blindly into the future will find themselves naked and rootless, praying to false gods. However, those who love the past but love the present just as much may be blessed to create something of new beauty in their time.
It is Saturday night. Summer in Buenos Aires. People are dancing in the streets, sweating, laughing, playing. From tables on the sidewalk women dangle their sparkling tango shoes like bait – though this asphalt milonga is better served by sneakers. There are not enough chairs; most people are standing. Beer bottles are sweating on the ground, regularly getting knocked over.
But everyone is happy, greeting old friends, some of whom they saw just the night before. Buenos Aires is like that.
The tango embrace is wider today. While most couples on the street tonight are formed of men with women, there are also women dancing with women, men dancing with men and dancers changing roles back and forth. Gone is the stodgy, macho tango of the past. In its place is growing a freer and more playful thing.
The band is shaggy and tattooed but they play tango. Cucuza takes the stage – which is the sidewalk – in his sneakers. He wears a broad tie but no jacket and his shirt bears the patch of his favorite soccer team sown, where it should be, over his heart. He sings the music of Buenos Aires in his high-pitched voice like a good-natured kid from the neighborhood singing favorite songs among friends.
It is incredible but we got here. We – all of us who love tango deeply – have created this moment. It is an act of collective dreaming that today tango which by all rights should be lying quietly in its grave or in a museum is instead throbbing in the night, creating moments of unspeakable beauty and changing lives.
Of course there are protagonists whose names while be written in books but their role is no more or less important than a solitary tango lover in Portland or Shanghai dreaming of one day getting to Buenos Aires.
Somehow, together and against all odds, we did this.