By Jean-Pierre Sighé
The great journey Tango is, progressively reveals its riches to the lucky pilgrims Tango dancers are. Suddenly a word comes up, culturally charged and yet mysterious enough to discourage any undeserving inquiry; undeserving if it didn’t espouse a wider angle of perception into the heart of Tango. That word is Candombe.
The Complexity of its rhythmic structure reveals to the musician and to the dancer the rich possibilities it could bring out, when put in contact with another rhythmic structure. No wonder simple structures such as the Waltz or the Fox-trot could perfectly blend with the Candombe spirit, as the descendants of African slaves in Buenos Aires, started experimenting with the cultural mixture. Candombe! Meaning: “the people we are”, would they say, as if to soften the pain of their rough living conditions in a foreign land, while their souls found refuge in the circle they would form to dance… Tango.
Those of us who enjoy the Milonga rhythm, have experimented with the pleasant “floating” quarter of the beat ending the phrase that creates the irresistible upbeat feeling. Whether simply hearing it or actually stepping on it, the syncopation is very recognizable, although very difficult to hear, to the non-initiate. Perhaps it is for this very reason that Milonga is often taught in the boring square where a set of patterns are repeated over and over. It is a truism to say that the Candombe sense or color has to be present into the Milonga to make it sound or look good. Any watering down or simplification of its rhythmic structure breaks the magic of the quarter of the beat. The Candombe in the Milonga-Candombera enriches what would have been reduced to a simple version of Merengue or Cumbia.
The beauty about dancing is that one doesn’t need to be a musician to be able to sense the complexities of the Milonga-Candombera. Feeling it alone would suffice. There might be at first a certain imprecision in the counting of the beat. So be it! But as they say in French “ L’appétit vient en mangeant” ( appetite comes with eating). The mind would soon capture the repeating pulse as the embellishing syncopations inspire total pleasure.
Very few teachers in the Tango arena venture into the Milonga-Candombera subject. In fact, Tango is always taught as some strange phenomenon that just fell off the sky and materialized on its own, in Buenos Aires. To teach the Milonga-Candombera is to effectively point to the substantial historical link that exists between Candombe and Tango. One could not speak of Candombe or Milonga-Candombera and be silent about the African descendants in Buenos Aires, or the Afro-Argentines. I know, hélas! That he simple mention of the name “Afro-Argentines” provokes an eruption of terrible passions. This is why it might hurt to freely talk about Candombe or the Milonga-Candombera! Some will resist to their graves, the idea of making such evidence common knowledge. To continuously muddying up the waters in order to disconnect the original cultural mixture that I mentioned, from the birth of Tango, has been the modus vivendi of these very twisted and dishonest characters. It is a regrettable reality we must deal with. Few people realize, of course, that words such as Milonga, Samba, Mambo, Rumba…etc are all words coming straight from the African Bantu languages.
Going back to the Milonga-Candombera, it is my contention that learning it would undoubtedly enrich the improvisational ability of the Tango dancer. No matter how challenging the course might be. After all, it is simply a matter of spiritual connection; isn’t it? The reason is simple: one cannot sense the Milonga-Candombera without immediately sense the infinity of possibilities that the rhythm offers. A good friend of mine in Paris (of a French descent) once said to me: “Harmony is to my soul the “mathematics” of Music and the African rhythms are the “quantum physics” of Music”. We all laughed of a good feeling the comment brought to us. As musicians, we were grateful at appreciating the beauty of the artistic alchemy of musical notes infusion to rhythmic structures.
You too can feel the power of the Candombe, by seeking out information about it. As a Tango dancer, you are as closer to it already as you could ever imagine. The Milonga-Candombera is the door to the fantastic meadows of the free soul, in touch with the pulse of the Creation. Ah! The rhythm! You too can invoke the spirit… Candombe!
© January 2008