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Tango Festival to Give Fresh Perspective on Old Tradition

Consider this: Everything you thought you knew about the tango may not be real.

Of course, most associate tango, that sensual, fluid dance that brings bodies and faces unspeakably close with intricate footwork and moves that defy gravity, with the South American country of Argentina. But does tango’s history predate that reference? Of course.

The 2013 documentary, “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango,” upended practically everything previously documented about the dance, which has deep roots in African dance and drum rhythms. Documentary filmmaker Dom Pedro, a native of Angola, undertook the meticulously researched film to expose how Africa influenced even the most European of South American nations, whose adaptation of African cultural traditions is often hidden and rarely discussed (the reason behind this is made clear in the film).

Distributed by Artmattan Films and available for download or purchase, the nearly two-hour documentary goes back to the roots of tango — the African-derived dance candombe, which traveled to South America with the enslaved people mainly from the Kingdom of Kongo, and was continued by their descendants. This fascinating story takes the viewer into the milongas (tango salons) of Buenos Aires, and beyond the Argentinian border to Uruguay, where African cultural practices are more obvious and better documented. But candombe, practiced and popular in Uruguay, is still present in Argentinian culture and provided the base for the development of the tango.

Perhaps after seeing the film and absorbing the historical intertwining of the story of Tango, along with the other manifestations of African culture in Latin America, one needs to observe the actual dance.

On May 6, Washington’s own DC Tango Festival will present the “Soul of Tango,” with the 20-piece Pan American Symphony Orchestra (PASO) providing authentic tango music featuring Rodolfo Zanetti and Javier Sanchez on bandoneons (a type of concertina unique to tango music in Argentina, Uruguay and Lithuania), a hallmark of the genre. World-renowned dancers will demonstrate the graceful, complex movements of several varieties of tango.

“Soul of Tango” may not feature the artistry of Juan Carlos Cáceres, the tango music maestro who is prominently featured in the film as the main inquisitor of historians, musicians and candombe dancers who together weave the history of tango from Africa to its present day manifestation. But surely there will be sinuous movement, exquisitely romantic music and passionately felt tango choreography that has made this art form one of the most popular to behold.

“Soul of Tango” will be presented Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium. All seats are reserved. For more information, call 240-242-8032.

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