The Three Sorrows of Tango

The soul of tango is cleft from three sorrows: the immigrants from Europe, the slaves from the Ivory Coast and the disenfranchised gauchos from the pampas, so says Robert Thompson, author of “Tango: The Art of Love,”

Each displaced culture brought their own distinctive musical contribution to the sound of tango. But most importantly, they brought the homesick heart that yearned to find beauty, art and familiar strains from the homeland in a strange land. In the words of Carlos Gavito, renown tanguero of the last century, “Tango was immigrant music... it does not have a nationality. It's only passport is feeling.”

Every country has its wash of displaced peoples, every family its tragedy, every lover their heartbreak. This is the role of art, music, dance: to create a home for the heart in the midst of loneliness and despair.

There is a strong strain of melancholia that permeates the music and lyrics of Tango. The sentiments of longing and despondency are similar to what is encountered in the music and lyrics of the Blues and Gospel born in the Southern States.

We Canadians have our our own stories of struggle, failure, injustice, disasters, hardships. Veterans Day, November 11, certainly highlights some of them. Virtually every Canadian family was visited by loss as a result of the first world war and the flu that followed the soldiers home. And war continues to this day to destroy families, displaced peoples, cause famines, droughts and plagues.

It is our pursuit of beauty, meaning, joy in the midst of these atrocities that will transform our soul and the soul of humanity into one of compassion, gentleness, understanding and tolerance: One in which the immigrant is always welcome and those wounded in love and war find solace in a warm embrace and soft turns on the dance floor. This is the alchemy of tango.