The interviews transcribed by the anthropologist María Susana Azzi in this book (the first of two, the second to contain her reflections on this material) illustrate just how profoundly important the tango has been both in and for the modern popular culture of Argentina. In my own view, no richer form of popular music (it may seem tactless to think this thought in Nashville) has crystallized on the American continent in this century. The collected interviews give us fascinating insights into the tango’s role in Buenos Aires—and also in the pampa town of Olavarría, the focus of Azzi’s early research. I for one can hardly wait for the second volume.
In the meantime, what can we get from the “raw data” presented here? For the true tangophile—for anyone seriously interested in Argentine hearts and minds— it is bound to be an enthralling read. Azzi’s 70 or 80 informants include dancers, instrumentalists, singers, songwriters, bandleaders, and numerous miscellaneous tangueros, that is, the devoted camp followers of the great tradition. All of them see their beloved dos por cuatro as the quintessential musical expression of Buenos Aires, as it is. Some are mildly uncertain about its future. Only the older informants (some are into their eighties) can really remember the “golden age” of this music (roughly 1920 to 1950). Those days cannot return; the tango belonged to the city’s heyday, and that lies in the past. Brazilian popular music is currently making deeper inroads into the world’s record stores, but the tango is holding up better than I expected in the era of the compact disc. (Several hundred of Carlos Gardel’s recordings are now available in this medium.) Will there ever be a last tango in Buenos Aires? Not while Buenos Aires is still there.