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A tale of two tangos

By Laura Waris, March 2011

Photo: Osvaldo PonceArgentinean band Violentango has brought its tango visions to concert halls all over the world, and appears in Gabriela Aparici’s film Tango Suomi.

You wouldn’t expect Finland and Argentina to share much in common, separated as they are by an ocean, the equator and thousands of kilometres. But one film director is exploring the groove that unites both sides of the Atlantic: tango.

How would an Argentine film director come across, much less become keenly interested in, such a distant country like Finland – enough to travel there, and enough to make a documentary there? The answer lies within the rhythms of tango music.

“I watched the films of the Finnish Kaurismäki brothers,” says documentary director Gabriela Aparici, who has long been interested in learning more about the presence of tango in Europe. In the Kaurismäki films she noted the familiar strains of tango music, and soon learned that Finland has had a tradition of composing tango since the beginning of the last century.

Few people in Argentina know of this vibrant tradition in Finland, and in an effort to fill the information gap, Aparici found the opportunity to transform her interest into a film.

Director’s work

Photo: Osvaldo Ponce
Click to enlarge the picture
In Tango Suomi, director Gabriela Aparici delves into the history and transformations of tango in Finland and Argentina.

Aparici, whose “alternative job” is teaching film classes at three different film schools and a university in Argentina, focuses mainly on producing documentaries.

In September 2010 she participated in the Love and Anarchy Film Festival in Helsinki, where she presented her first full-length documentary made in cooperation with an Italian director, We Who Are Still Alive. Reflecting her interest in human rights and social issues, the documentary deals with a court case in Rome in 2006 that condemned various military personnel who were active during the last military dictatorship in Argentina.

Together with other Argentine film producers from the CREAAR group interested in exportation, she participated in Film Point, a meeting with Finnish counterparts, as a follow up to a similar visit made by Finns to Argentina in 2009. But the trip to Finland also provided the opportunity to learn more about the tradition of tango in Finland and to gather material for the documentary she is making, Tango Suomi. [Suomi is, of course, the Finnish word for “Finland.”]

“The documentary is not only about the history of tango,” she says, “but also on the transformations of it.” It will function as a comparison of what has happened to the music in both places. Examples of transformations include the renewed interest of Argentine youth in listening to tango, and the deep influence of Argentinean composer Ástor Piazzolla in Finnish tango.

Two tangos

The differences between Argentine and Finnish tango are clear to Aparici. “Finnish tango has humorous lyrics and the musical structure is different. It has Russian influences.” Argentine tango, on the other hand, is melancholy.

Photo: Gabriela Aparici
Click to enlarge the picture
Accordionist and composer Johanna Juhola comments on the nature of tango in Aparici’s documentary.

“M.A. Numminen puts a very rich and ironic humour into the tango,” Aparici says, discussing the artists she interviewed at the World of Tango Festival in Tampere, Finland for her documentary. “Tuomari Nurmio links to rock music, and is also humorous.” Other key Finns in the documentary include filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki and composer Johanna Juhola.

“Classic Finnish tango was similar to Argentine tango,” says Aparici. “But in the 1930s and ’40s, with the advent of radio and the birth of tango ‘stars,’ Argentine tango became more complex. Musical scores for tango were written in the 1930s and ’40s.” Until then, tango had been interpreted through the musicians’ memory of previous performances.

But what is the same? The attitude with which the music is enjoyed, how it is lived and how it is heard are similar: “It is the dream of another place and another time.” In Argentina, during the Golden Era of tango, it flourished among the immigrants and their children, perhaps awakening nostalgia for the country they had left.

But the scent of nostalgia no longer clings to those who dance or listen to tango. For the new generations it is a return to one’s own. “It is the need to find your own identity instead of nostalgia,” says Aparici. So regardless of their distance on the map, Argentina and Finland share a rhythm of the soul – and sole!

With a sneak preview planned for the Seinäjoki Tango Festival in summer 2011, the documentary premier in Finnish movie theatres is slated for October 2011. Before that date, Aparici has much to do, including another visit to Finland to learn more about the development of tango through dance, as the two are closely associated in Finland.

See also:

Northern twist in Argentinean tango (about As2wrists Dance Company)


World of Tango Festival, Tampere

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