For anyone who loves music, "Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango" by Angolan filmmaker Dom Pedro, will inspire you to explore more deeply the African roots of almost all of the Western Hemisphere’s music. We know jazz and we know salsa both owe much to the African slaves and freed people in the Americas. But I never quite thought about Tango beyond hearing the klezmer sounds of the accordion and associating tango with the “apache” dancers of Paris.
When the film switches over to Uruguay where the African roots are much more visible, the viewer gets a full picture of the evolution of tango’s African culture and the contribution of African cultures in the creation of the music of El Rio de la Plata. Tango was a reflection of the social life of the slaves that were taken to South America, particularly from the former Congo Kingdom. The white population alternated between forbidding their music and adapting their music, and so it is alive today.
This treat of a movie combines musical performances and interviews from many tango fans and historians in Latin America and Europe. Director –writer Dom Pedro is a director with many documentaries to his name. He came to the idea of this particular film after watching the football victory of the Cameroonians over Argentina and then during the World Cup games of 1990 when he saw how many black players were on the Latin American teams except for Argentina and Chile. While he was making another documentary on Rhumba, in Paris he came to know Efuka Lontange, a dancer-choreographer known in Paris as "Nono" His research also brought him to Andrée Navarro, a friend of Nono, and a journalist with Radio France International. They in turn introduced him to Juan Carlos Caceres, an Argentinean painter, musician and researcher who was interested in the introduction of the drum in tango. Where there is a drum, there is Africa. And so the story unfolded for Dom Pedro.
I feel lucky to have discovered this jewel. ArtMattan’s Diarah N’Daw-Spech and I met at the Arthouse Convergence held in Midway Utah just before the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year. When we watched “What Happened, Miss Simone” at Sundance together, we found our interest in music was quite similar. Artmattan also hosts the yearly African Diaspora International Film Festival based in New York which shows films from Africa and the African Diaspora. This film merits a theatrical release. "Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango" will be released selectively in art houses beginning March 5 by ArtMattan Productions, a New York based distributor, which releases one to five films a year with Afrocentric origins and themes. But if you miss it in the theaters, it will be available on VOD, DVD and streaming. It is worth watching!