Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tango Mexicano, ¿Rancheras Argentinas?

One of my most incongruous memories is the sight of a band of mariachis, in full regalia including elaborate wide sombreros, spilling out of a Buenos Aires taxi at 3 a.m. on downtown Avenida Callao. In an urbane city whose Mexican restaurants start at mediocre and headed downward, the vision of a rural brass band with multiple violins, guitars and guitarrón felt hallucinatory, to say the least.
Still, it’s not so implausible as it might seem at first glance. I’ve worked in southernmost South America by preference but, before starting Moon a decade-plus ago, I wrote three editions of a guidebook to Baja California for another publisher best not named. In the process, I acquired a taste for Norteño music, primarily corridos and rancheras, but also the occasional mariachi, to complement the Tex-Mex conjunto I had always enjoyed from artists like Flaco Jiménez and Mingo Saldívar. On moving to Moon, I gave up Baja California (which, at Moon, was then in the hands of the legendary Joe Cummings), though I did produce one edition of Moon Handbooks Guatemala (since totally redone by Al Argueta).

My ties with South America, particularly those with my Argentine family and Chilean friends, have always been stronger than those with Mexico, but Mexican music still emanates from my iPod as I drive through Argentina and Chile. Musically speaking, of course, Argentine tango would appear to be a world apart from Mexican borderlands music in its suave urbanity – even granting the fact that tango originated in working-class neighborhoods with a strong Afro-Argentine influence (Indeed, the tango had to go to Paris and back before the Argentine elite would accept it).

That said, there’s more compatibility between Norteño and tango than one might expect – Mexican music is suitable for tango arrangements and many arrangers have done so. In 1933, Rosita Barrios and Luis Mandarino adapted a version of Mexican composer Alfonso Esparza Oteo’s classic 1920s bolero “Un Viejo Amor,” which is a mainstay for Flaco. Though he’s not a tango musician, Argentine chamamé accordionist Chango Spasiuk – whose music traces its origins to the Ukraine - once told me he feels a real kinship with North American borderlands music that, in part, stems from Central Europe.
All that’s an introduction to the video clip at top, in which Argentine rock star Andrés Calamaro accompanied by the Norteño legends Los Tigres del Norte, sings “En La Mesa del Rincón” (“At the Table in the Corner”) as a credible tango and then, mid-song, switches to ranchera style.  Here’s to musical fusion and versatility!

1 comment:

dbuck said...

Bumbling through southern Chile some decades ago, we were surprised to find a norteno band in full tilt at bar in Puerto Montt (or thereabouts). During a break I asked one of the players how this indelibly Mexican art form came to roost in southern Chile. He said they learned it from Mexican movies on Chilean television.

The world is a small place. Dan

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