It is Monday 11 December, and you will immediately realise the significance - it is ‘International Tango Day’ here in Argentina and across the tango world.
Why 11 December? Well it is, of course, the birthday of Carlos Gardel, who had he survived an airplane crash in 1935, aged then 44, would have been 127 years old today. Julio De Caro, tango composer and band leader, was also born on this day in 1899. Luckier in life and death than Gardel, Caro remarried aged 60 and died at the age of 80.
For tango dancers, their legacy is about equal. Without Gardel the singer and movie actor, we may not know tango today. It was Gardel that breathed romance into the music and gave it immortality. In 1928, his sales of 70,000 records in Paris in the first 3 months of his visit, paved the way for his films ‘Cuesta abajo’ and ‘El dia que me quieras’ six years later. Through them and him tango reached an international audience of film-goers and music lovers, where it has remained since.
Isabel del Valle
Carlos Gardel’s widowed mother, to whom he was devoted
Romance came at a cost for Gardel. His long-term ‘lover’ Isabel (pictured with him above) was kept secret to preserve his eligibility as a heart-throb. Carlos’ actual sexuality however remained slightly opaque. Later in life he and Isabel separated: she found the love she craved; he remained single to his death.
Julio de Caro was a colossus amongst band leaders, and dancers throughout the world count him as one of their favourites. Without Caro, Argentine tango music would have lost a critical peg that changed and matured the music through the 1920’s and 30’s, and made it accessible to high society.
I am the grandchild of Caro (and maybe Gardel). You, my dear reader possibly the great-grandchild. As such, we remember both this day, and this dance. Later, as the temperature drops at dusk, the streets of San Telmo - and other barios throughout the city - will fill with tangueros. There will be music and embrace. Argentine tango, cherished daily, will receive its annual and deserved celebration.