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date: 06 June 2020


  • Gerard Béhague


A Latin American song and dance genre. The etymology of the word ‘tango’ is still much debated. During the 19th century in Spain and several Latin American countries the term designated various types of dances, songs and communal festivities. Fernando Ortíz and others claim the word is of African origin with the general meaning ‘African dance’. Others believe it is of Castilian origin, derived from the old Spanish word tañer (taño; ‘to play’ an instrument). Rossi and Vega stated that the term ‘tango’ was used by black slaves in the La Plata area (Argentina and Uruguay) from colonial times to designate their percussion instruments (particularly drums), the locale of the dance and the dance itself. By the first decades of the 19th century the meaning was extended to black comparsas, festive carnival groups in Montevideo also known as candombe. As late as 1900 the Cuban comparsas (a type of carnival parade) were designated as tangos. From the mid-19th century there are references to the Spanish Andalusian or gypsy (‘flamenco’) tango. From a musical viewpoint (particularly as regards rhythm), however, there is little doubt that the internationally known tango – the foremost Argentine and Uruguayan urban popular song and dance – is related to the Cuban ...

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