Perhaps no Latin American country is as proud of their European heritage as Argentina, which is why the country’s African influence can be a touchy subject. But the fact of the matter is that the great port of Buenos Aires and other provinces of Argentina had a well-documented African presence that even surpassed 50 percent of the population during the 19th century. So it’s no surprise that Argentina’s most enduring and globally recognized cultural expression is actually deeply rooted in the Afro-Argentine tradition. Of course, we’re talking about tango.
Many may dispute the claims, but tango is widely believed to have originated in mid-19th century Argentine slave societies. To boot, the man widely recognized as the country’s first tango musician, Rosendo Mendizábal, was Afro-Argentine. In the absence of any clear cultural acceptance of this fact, an Angolan filmmaker by the name of Dom Pedro took to the streets of Buenos Aires and beyond to get the lowdown on tango’s African roots. Along the way, he discovered a nation deeply ambivalent about its African heritage.
Titled Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango, Pedro’s documentary is currently making rounds across the United States before its DVD and VOD release in September. In addition to upcoming theatrical runs in Chicago and Washington, D.C., New Yorkers will be able to catch a special screening on August 14 at MIST in Harlem. The feature is also screening as part of the 9th Annual African Diaspora Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
In the meantime, the film’s trailer gives us a dose of tango with a markedly rumba edge, as we see Afro-Rioplatenses gettin’ down. Incorporating live concert footage, interviews, and archival material, we can expect Tango Negro to be an invaluable addition to the re-examination of our broader Latino cultural heritage and the many transatlantic connections that make us who we are.
Visit the Tango Negro website for screening information.