BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Osvaldo Pugliese, one of Argentina’s most famous composers, used to say that tango doesn’t start to make sense until you are in your thirties.
But a young generation of musicians, lyricists and composers are proving him wrong.
Moving away both from purist rhythms and the electronic fusions of the late 1990s, the new generation fills up venues playing compositions with contemporary themes that aim to put tango back in the spotlight on the national scene.
“They’re recovering tango’s history, not just the golden age but its grittier origins,” said Sergio Pujol, a historian and author of “Argentine Songs: 1910-2010.”
“They’re going back to compositions that speak to a cruder, more complex social reality. It’s an interesting, less traveled road.”
Instead of an older man in a suit, slouched hat and slicked back hair, Julian Bruno, 27, walked on stage recently wearing a plaid shirt, his hair in a pony tail, looking more like a grunge band member than a tango singer.
“It’s a myth that tango doesn’t make sense to you until you’re older,” said Bruno, a singer with the 12-member Ciudad Baigon Orchestra. “We’re making new tango that speaks about today’s reality using a current language.”
The tango — born in 19th century in the ports of Buenos Aires and danced in the early morning hours after work by prostitutes and dockworkers — originally spoke about a cruder reality often using a slang known as “lunfardo”.
But tango’s grittier origin and social conscience was hidden when the music lived its golden age in the 1940’s and big orchestras played sentimental and commercial versions.
“Tango used to deal more with trivialities and not social issues,” said Gabriel Gowezniansky, 26, a lyricist for Ciudad Baigon. “Now tango is taking on themes that are more social just like rock did at a time.”
When rock struck a chord among young Argentines in the 1960’s and later during a military dictatorship as a way to bring about social change, tango, with its nostalgic lyrics about loneliness, was seen as grandpa’s music.
“My parents wanted to listen to the Beatles and do the revolution. Now we want to do the revolution but through Tango,” said Hernan Cabrera, 30, director of Ciudad Baigon, which released its album “Destierro” (Exile) this year.
Tango gradually recovered its global significance after a long hiatus through its stylish depiction in movies and Broadway shows such as “Tango Argentino”.
It also came back slowly through the music of Astor Piazzolla, Argentina’s best-known bandoneon player, who revolutionized the genre from the 1950s to the 1980s.
But traditionalists were angered by Piazzolla’s greatest sin: the merging of the tango with classical music, jazz and electric guitar. This blasphemy, they say, in time turned tango into a free-for-all for modernizers such as the Gotan Project, which mixed it with everything from Jamaican dub to hip-hop.
“The importance of what the new young lyricists and composers are doing is trying to make something that cannot be cloned like electronic tango,” said Pujol.
At Zona Tango — a typical milonga, or tango club — in the working class neighborhood of Boedo, young couples embrace cheek-to-cheek, gliding and pausing across the crowded tile floor. The mournful chords of the bandoneon, a type of concertina, and the syncopated beats of Orquesta Tipica Vidu flow over them.
“I listen to Metallica but the Tango is ours, it’s from our country and it runs through our veins,” Ismael Bartolomei, 15, a violinist for Vidu, said during a break.
On another side of the city, under the dim lights of a club in Bohemian San Telmo, the tango had less working-class flavor but the same young essence and original lyrics.
“When I started studying the genre I realized that Tango is a feeling that anyone can share regardless of the age,” said Josefina Rozenwasser, 24, a singer who released her album “Proyeccion” this year. “I’m sure you can get the tango even when you’re not in your thirties.”
Reporting by Luis Andres Henao