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Review: ‘Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango’

Review: 'Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango'

For anyone who loves music, “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” by Angolan filmmaker Dom Pedro,
will inspire you to explore more deeply the African roots of almost all
of the Western Hemisphere’s music. We know
jazz and we know salsa both owe much to the African slaves and freed
people in the Americas. But I never quite thought about Tango beyond
hearing the
klezmer sounds of the accordion and associating tango with the
“apache” dancers of Paris.

Moreover, as the renowned Argentinean pianist Juan Carlos Caceres,
a passionate tango aficionado and spokesman, makes clear, if you ask an
Argentinean, he
or she will tell you there are no blacks in Argentina. Why that is,
as Juan Carlos explains in this film, is that during Argentina’s wars
against Spain,
serving in the front lines and as cannon fodder for Argentina
generals were the former slaves and almost (but not quite) entirely, the
entire African
population was wiped out. However invisible they seem to be today,
they do exist if you look carefully and they continue to influence music
today.

When the film switches over to Uruguay where the African roots are
much more visible, the viewer gets a full picture of the evolution of
tango’s African
culture and the contribution of African cultures in the creation of
the music of El Rio de la Plata. Tango was a reflection of the social
life of the
slaves that were taken to South America, particularly from the
former Congo Kingdom. The white population alternated between forbidding
their music and
adapting their music, and so it is alive today.

This treat of a movie combines musical performances and interviews
from many tango fans and historians in Latin America and Europe.

Director –writer Dom Pedro is a director with many documentaries to
his name. He came to the idea of this particular film after watching
the football
victory of the Cameroonians over Argentina and then during the World
Cup games of 1990 when he saw how many black players were on the Latin
American teams
except for Argentina and Chile. While he was making another
documentary on Rhumba, in Paris he came to know Efuka Lontange, a
dancer-choreographer known in
Paris as “Nono” His research also brought him to Andrée Navarro, a
friend of Nono, and a journalist with Radio France International. They
in turn
introduced him to Juan Carlos Caceres, an Argentinean painter,
musician and researcher who was interested in the introduction of the
drum in tango. Where
there is a drum, there is Africa. And so the story unfolded for Dom
Pedro.

I feel lucky to have discovered this jewel. ArtMattan’s Diarah N’Daw-Spech and I met at the Arthouse Convergence held in Midway Utah just before the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year. When we watched “What Happened, Miss Simone” at Sundance together, we found our interest in music was quite similar. Artmattan also hosts the yearly African Diaspora International Film Festival based in New York which shows films from Africa and the African Diaspora. This film merits a theatrical release. 

Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” will be released
selectively in art houses beginning March 5 by ArtMattan Productions, a
New York based
distributor, which releases one to five films a year with
Afrocentric origins and themes.

But if you miss it in the theaters, it will be
available on VOD, DVD and streaming. It is worth watching!

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