Horacio Ferrer and the artistic flowering of Buenos Aires.
Terry: There are moments in the history of the arts when a group of artists arrives in some particular place, like Paris in the twenties, for example...Hemingway, Richard Wright, the writers...
Horacio: And Picasso and Dali...
Terry: To be sure! Here in San Francisco in the fifties with the...
Horacio: The Beatniks.
Terry: Exactly. And at those times, there's...they're not very frequent in the history of the arts...there's a gigantic and sudden flourishing of artistic activity. New York in the fifties, with Jackson Pollack and Motherwell and Klein. The South American Boom of the sixties and seventies, with the works of Garcia Marquez, Vargas Lllosa, Manuel Puig, Juan Rulfo, Isabel Allende, Borges...the list is very long. Jose Donoso. Eduardo Galeano. Ernesto Sabato. It was an extraordinary advance of ideas and works. It's my theory that that's the way it was also during the Golden Age of the tango.
Horacio: But the Golden Age isn't done with yet, eh?
Terry: (Laughter) I agree. So, how can you explain it, in the case of Buenos Aires?
Horacio: Because there's a circumstance that makes Buenos Aires into the Paris of the Americas, but one which has a much richer root system, I think. Because Paris, which to be sure is a center of Anglo-Latin culture, like the French race itself, doesn't contain anything that the Buenos Aires tango contains in a very powerful way. The tango is a combination of the Indian and the American, which includes the Indian who has now disappeared but who still remains in the gaucho and in the compadrito. And it exists in the very essence itself of the tango and the idea of the city, with its port, and the great abundance of culture from the rest of the world. And that's very strong.
The immigration and the scholars and musicians who came, cultivated musicians who came, too. They all came. I include everyone here in this port city. I mean even the great Nicaraguan poet Rubén Dario got here, too, and all the scholars of that time, and it became a kind of council, because Buenos Aires has that additional attractiveness, that it's an American city, an Indo-American city. Because even though the black people have disappeared from Buenos Aires, the indigenous blood — with all the importance it carries of the national poem Martín Fierro and all the gaucho poetry — has not.
And just so, I was thinking yesterday that if the Cowboy is the equivalent of the Gaucho, the Cowboy doesn't have a literature. He's got the movies, but no literature. The Cowboy doesn't have an epic like Martin Fierro. Gaucho literature is a unique case, and it's the very basis of the tango. And that's where the attractiveness of Buenos Aires comes from, no?, the city with a European aspect and an American content. That's why it seems to me logical that it's such a magnet.
Terry: I have a theory about the tango: the tango is porteño (i.e. from the port city of Buenos Aires), naturally. But there's been a great deal of emigration from Buenos Aires.
Horacio: A lot of political emigration from 1976 on, when many intellectuals who left Buenos Aires arrived elsewhere, to explain the tango. That was a very important instance. It's a great idea, that, that idea of emigration.
Terry: And what was the situation for you in the seventies? During "la guerra sucia" ("the dirty war")? (Interviewer's note: The guerra sucia, when the Argentine military junta discriminated against tango and other arts and, worse, attacked elements of the country's own population, resulting in the disappearance or murder of ten to thirty thousand citizens. The situation was resolved only after The War of The Malvinas against the British in 1982, the subsequent fall of the junta and the election of Raul Alfonsín as president.) What were the effects of it on your work?
Horacio: It was affected...my work...No, no...eh!, they prohibited some of my songs, but through circumstances so stupid that the head on the censor's shoulders appeared to be no head at all. But that's the way it is! Or maybe it's the censor's wife, telling him, "No, don't let that through! Censor it, or I'll slap you!" (Laughter)
Terry: My family is Irish, and I have a friend who's an Irish writer who says that, until a few years ago, if the government in Ireland liked your work, you were no writer at all. (Laughter) You had to go to jail in order to become a writer.
Horacio: How terrific! That's good!
Terry: Well, the Argentine censor in the 1970’s...
Horacio: No, no, that was a horrifying thing. Horrifying. The Spanish philosopher Ortega said, "A military man is a warrior turned into a bureaucrat." And those were bureaucrats, not warriors. They lost all the guts the warrior normally has, and became desk-bound cowards. Sadly, that's the way it is. They were afraid of war, when the warrior is someone who loves war, whether or not it has a valid motive. So they brought their bellicose spirit to the citizenry, to the TV stations, to the ministries, the schools...a very lamentable thing.
What happened then, I hope we never forget it, because that happened in our own beloved country, and it had better not ever happen again! No? It better not happen again! It's an historical instance from which we can learn much, no? so that we can build a present that serves us into the future.
(Interview translation from Spanish by Terence Clarke. He wishes to thank guitarist Guillermo García of Trio Garufa for his invaluable help with the transcription of this interview from recorded to written form.)
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