Highlighting research | 08/12/2016

Tango from Río de la Plata to Lemmenjoki river

“The tango was born in bordellos. The tango used to be thought unsuitable for women, so men danced it together while women practised it in secret,” musicologist Alfonso Padilla relates on his subject of research, the birth of the tango. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen

Docent Alfonso Padilla, Ph.D, intends to write a book about the history of the Finnish tango. The purpose of his research is to create a comprehensive picture of the Finnish tango.

“The subject of Toivo Kärki tends to arise in discussions of Finnish tango. In my research, I want to expand the tango landscape, because a lot of tango is used in modern folk music as well as in jazz and fusion.”

The core of the book concentrates on the history of the tango together with its social and cultural dimensions, textual analyses, and the development of the related musical style. For this purpose, Alfonso Padilla intends to listen analytically and follow the time-line of all of the Finnish tangos ever recorded.  This project is formidable, since it is estimated that the recordings total 3,500–4,000 pieces of music. Dr Padilla is investigating the tango’s manifestations in Finnish music, in addition to its role in the theatre and cinematic arts and in YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) programme policies.

Dr Padilla is writing the book in both Spanish and Finnish. He wants to write in a generally understandable manner, so that everyone can understand what the book is discussing.

“The tango is close to people’s hearts as a subject. So why would I write in a style that’s difficult to understand? Writing for general consumption does not, however, reduce the acedemic validity of the research,” Dr Alfonso reminds us.

The study also involves providing a new perspective on the tango as a form of national and cultural identity. The book includes a comparison-based exploration of the history of the Finnish versus the ‘Argentinian’, or actually the Río de la Plata, tango. Since the tango was born in both Bueno Aires and in Montevideo, the term Río de la Plata (River of Silver) tango is applied in research circles.

The current milieu and rise of populism worry Alfonso, who arrived in Finland in 1975 as a political refugee from Chile.

“I arrived in Finland straight from prison. I spent almost two years in a concentration camp and various prisons. Finland gave me the chance to study as well as work as a researcher and teacher, and in other jobs. But more than anything, Finland saved my life. This book is my token of gratitude to Finland and the Finnish people.”

Alfonso Padilla received EUR 100.000 grant in 2016 for his project The Finnish Tango: Its History, Style Development and Significance.