Tango strides into world heritage list

Tango, the sensual dance born in the working class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo that has become a global byword for Latin passion, is now part of humanity's "intangible cultural heritage", UNESCO has announced.


AFP- The United Nations on Wednesday declared the tango tradition of Argentina and Uruguay a world cultural treasure, adding its sultry dance steps and melancholy song lyrics to UNESCO's heritage list.

The United Nations cultural organisation is holding a meeting of 400 experts in the Gulf state of Abu Dhabi to agree on a list of world arts and traditions that should be safeguarded as humanity's "intangible cultural heritage".

Born in the working class dance halls of Buenos Aires and Montevideo at the start of the 20th century, the sensual cheek-to-cheek stride of a tango dancer, rose clenched between the teeth, has become a global byword for Latin passion.

But in Argentina and Uruguay, tango is a proud and deep-rooted tradition of dance, poetry and song, closely bound up with the history of the region and kept alive by aficionados young and old in dozens of "milongas" or dance halls.

The two Latin American capitals jointly submitted the "symbolic universe" of tango to UNESCO's list of cultural treasures. It was the first of 76 submissions examined and approved by the Abu Dhabi meeting.

Tango is intimately linked to the history of the Rio de la Plata, the natural border between the countries, and the melting pot of poor immigrants and former slaves who settled in the river basin late in the 19th century.

"Among this mix of European immigrants to the region, descendants of African slaves and the natives of the region known as criollos, a wide range of customs, beliefs and rituals were merged and transformed into a distinctive cultural identity," said UNESCO on its website.

Accompanied by a small accordion known as a "bandoneon", many tango songs were written in a distinctive slang called "lunfardo", forged in the region's "milongas".

Tango's plaintive lyrics tell of heartache and homesickness, of family ties and life in the city suburbs, known as the "arrabal".

UNESCO said that tango "both embodies and encourages diversity and cultural dialogue."

Hernan Lombardi, the top cultural official in Buenos Aires and his Montevideo counterpart Eduardo Leon Duter, both announced huge tango parties at the weekend to celebrate, with singers from the 1940s invited as star guests.

"This is a tribute to all those who have supported the tradition over the years, who passed the poetry and dance down through the generations, as part of their oral tradition," Lombardi said.

Argentina's embassy in Abu Dhabi said UNESCO had recognised "the deepest and most vibrant expression of Rio de la Plata."

It said Argentina and Uruguay had "shared in the birth, the tradition and the passion for tango" but that tango had a long time ago reached "universal transcendence."

According to Buenos Aires tango teacher Anita Monteagudo, tango today has a vigorous following worldwide among a new generation of dancers eager to master its sensual steps.

A Japanese couple, Kyoko and Hiroshi Yamao, aged 33 and 36, last month won the tango World Championships in Buenos Aires, dethroning Argentina whose dancers have dominated the contest for years.

"The Germans and Japanese are the biggest fans -- and the fastest learners," Monteagudo told AFP.

Paris alone has more than 20 milongas, while in New York mythical tango spots such as "la Nacional" draw a packed crowd of aficionados each weekend until dawn.

Tango was one of more than 60 arts and practices added to the UNESCO list on Wednesday, from an ancient Malian constitution, the Manden Charter, to the lacework of Croatia and Cyprus, to the Maloya songs and dances on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

No fewer than 22 Chinese customs were honoured, from block-printing and paper-cutting techniques to silk crafstmanship, Tibetan opera or Mongolia's tradition of ritual polyphonic singing.

Japan also saw 13 additions, mostly folk dances and processions, from an annual float-ceremony tradition in Kyoto, to a seventh-century rice harvest ritual from Akiu in northern Japan.

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