Tango in el Subte – Buenos Aires’ subway breaths tango

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

What does tango have to do with Buenos Aires’s subway you might ask? Actually a lot more than you think!

In connection with the annual Buenos Aires's tango festival, which ended last week, BA tours offered a special edition of one of their tango walks with the promise of a show in the end of the tour… How could I not, not want to see that!?

It turned out that it was not a normal walking tour. Not only were there more than just one tango show by highly professional performers, the whole guided tour took place underground… In Buenos Aires’ subway system!

Keep on reading and learn more about tango, Buenos Aires’ subway and how these two quite distinct porteño elements have been merged.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
Tango

So, let’s get our history straight first of all: What is tango, and when did it emerge?

What?

Tango is both used to refer to a special kind of music and a dance style. The dance is an intimate and highly sensual dance performed by couples, and the music which accompanies it tends to be low key with elements of nostalgia, desperation and sadness.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

The huge breakthrough of tango as we know it today, is said to be in 1917 with the song “Mi noche trist” (e.g. my sad night) written by Pascual Contursi and sung by Carlos Gardel.

According to the guide on the tour, this title includes the main themes of the tango which during the 1920s to 1940s became world famous: individualism (my sad night), sadness (my sad night), and nocturnal (my sad night). Hence, the focus is on the individual’s sadness and frustration, and must take place in a nightly environment. I’m not an expert in neither dance nor music, so I will leave the technical explanations here.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
When?

There is still unclarity on how and when exactly tango emerged. However, most sources agree on the fact that the tango spread during the 1800s in the economic lower communities of Buenos Aires. These communities included both people of African and Caribbean heritage and indigenous Argentines.

Towards the end of the 1880s, a huge wave of European immigrants was added to this cultural melting pot of lower-end Buenos Aires. These immigrants were mostly poor European men in the search for success in Argentina.

The tango is assumed to be the result of all these diverse cultural backgrounds intermixing their musical heritages with each other, and sharing their desperate and homesick lives of being immigrants. At first, it was not accepted in the higher classes of the Argentine society but as the success grew, tango became widely accepted.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

Through the 1920s and 1930s, tango became world famous with tango singers such as Carlos Gardel travelling the world to perform. Gardel himself had arrived in Buenos Aires as the child of a French immigrant.

He died under tragic circumstances in 1935 in an airplane crash in Colombia – only 44 years old. His career was at this height by when, and by many he has ever since been considered for being the soul of tango.

However, the guide on BA tours clearly highlighted that Gardel’s success and memory is not just based in this tragic death – he was the biggest of the big stars!

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

The golden days of tango ended with a coup against Juan Perón in 1955. Tango got banned, and went underground until the 1980s where it was “rediscovered”. Read more on this dark age of tango here at History of Tango.

Read more about tango at Don Quijote or Tango Argentino de Tejas.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
Tango at the Subte’s H line

I frequently change subway lines at the station Corrientes which connects the B-line with the H-line, and there you can’t miss the tango references. A huge mural of Carlos Gardel and another tango star, Enrique Santos Discépolo, completely covers a wall. From time to time, there is a couple dancing tango in front of the mural while tango beat fills the station.

Thus, it was not before I went on the tour that I realized that every station on the H-line is decorated in memory of different tango personalities.

According to the guide from BA tour, none of the big tango stars of a past left any remarkable graves or memorials… Simply because there was nothing left in their bank accounts by the time of their death. They lived the sweet life all the way through. Not even Carlos Gardel - the biggest of them all – left enough money for a memorial.

In 2003, the local government of Buenos Aires gave the past-century tango stars a helping hand. They passed a law which indicated that the to-be-established new H-line in the subway system should be created as a “culturally tango tour of the subway”. Each station should be decorated with images and art works referring to different personalities within tango.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

Luckily, the BA tours are some of the many free activities in Buenos Aires - check out more here! But, on the other hand, unfortunately for non-Spanish speakers, BA tours only offers this tango tours in the subway in Spanish. However, they do offer another tango tour in English (link), which I’m still to try out! 

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
A bit about more the H line

The H-line of the Subte is the first subway line to be built since the 1960’s. The line eased the connection between the south and north part of Buenos Aires. Furthermore, it connects with all the existing subway lines, and therefore improves the infrastructure for a huge amount of porteños.

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
The tango heritage in Buenos Aires today

According to some porteños tango has sat its mark on everyday life in Buenos Aires. Are the porteños, for example, more nostalgic than others because of the homesick and sad lyrics of the tango?

Or, as an Uber driver once told me, does the porteños’ special way of speaking date back to the way the tangeros sang?

It is up to you to decide what you believe! However, there is no doubt that tango has been and is part of what has put Buenos Aires and Argentina on the world map!

What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad
So, Buenos Aires' subway system has more to do with tango than one would have thought! Have you maybe had a similiar experience elsewhere? Please, feel free to share your thoughts below! I would love to hear from you! 
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What does tango have to do with a subway system? In Buenos Aires quite a lot actually - Becci Abroad

13 comments

  1. OnTrip.dk

    Spændende indlæg, Rebecca 🙂 Elsker tango, det er sådan en smuk dans. Tak fordi du tog mig med og sikke lækre billeder 😉 Godt arbejde!

    /Annette
    OnTrip.dk recently posted…Anmeldelse af Queen A Antwerp – Antwerpen, BelgienMy Profile

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hej Annette!

      Tusind tak for besøget! Glad for at høre, at du syntes om indlægget og billederne! Ja, tango er virkelig en smuk dans! Fik du set videoer også? 😀 (nyeste tiltag på bloggen – og udfordring til mig selv 😉 ).

      //Rebecca

      Reply

  2. OnTrip.dk

    Ja der var rigtig fin, Rebecca. Tillykke med det – godt arbejde 🙂
    Vi er også begyndt lidt i det små og øver os stadig så måske en dag bliver det godt.

    /Annette
    OnTrip.dk recently posted…Anmeldelse af Queen A Antwerp – Antwerpen, BelgienMy Profile

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  3. Sierra

    What an incredible thing to stumble upon! Argentinians are so much cooler than we’ll ever be. I’ve been to several tango performances in my life, but none quite as fascinating as this one!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for your visit Sierra! So happy to hear that you enjoyed the read! Yeah, they are pretty cool over here! Who else would have thought about making a subway line for tango… Other than the Argentines? 😉

      Reply

  4. Deea

    There’s something fascinating about tango that leaves me in awe each time I have the occasion to see people perform it live. So much emotion going on! I have no idea to dance it, neither have known all the history behind it (thank you for sharing!), but it’s still impressing to watch it 🙂 How cool they perform it in the subway too!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for the visit, Deea! Yes, tango is truly fascinating and very emotional! For it just adds an extra “touch” when seeing a performance to know the history behind. So impressing to watch!

      Reply

  5. Sylvia

    I know of tango but not in such details. Never heard of walking tours in subway before but i find the concept quite interesting. Fascinating!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Sylvia,
      Thank you for dropping by the blog!
      Yeah, it is a funny idea to go walking tours in the subway, right? But actually, there must be a lot of interesting stories to tell in the world’s subways 🙂 Happy to hear that you learned something new about tango!

      Reply

  6. Miranda Menelaws

    I really appreciated how you shared about the history of Tango, it sounds very interesting! I also love the idea of the Tango tour taking place in the subway, that’s so unique

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Miranda,
      Thank you so much for dropping by the blog!
      I’m so happy to hear that you felt that you learned something new! Yes, it is so unique an idea to do walking tours in the subway. They thought it out well those latinos 😉

      Reply

  7. Miranda Menelaws

    I found the history behind the Tango to be so interesting, I’ve never heard before how it all started. Also, what a cool idea for the tango tours in the subway, I love that!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thank you, Miranda! Definitely, a funny idea to have the walking tours in the subway! 🙂

      Reply

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