Marcelo Rojas – The milonga reflects society – 3/3

« The tango and the milonga reflect what we are and the society we live in. If the society changes, the milonga changes. »

Read the first part of the interview here, and the second part there.

The milonga reflects society
« When I started to “musicalize”, I was 25 years old and most of the people in the milonga were quite old. Many of them wanted to share their music knowledge with the young. There was a whole learning and sharing process. The milonguero was generous. I have always considered myself as being an apprentice. The milonga was a place where you learned a lot and where you maintained the codes of the tango. The milonguero used to be well-dressed and the women prepared themselves well. The traditional codes were 100% respected. When a younger and foreign public arrived in the milonga, many things changed and evolved.

The tango and the milonga reflect who we are and the society that we live in. If society changes, the milonga changes. If I happen to be in a very structured society, the milonga will be structured as well. So if I want to understand a society, I visit the milonga and I can say, “The society is that”. It’s incredible! I have had the chance to travel a lot but not always visit the places as I would have liked but the milongas have always given me a glimpse of each society. In Europe, you see a lot of differences between places that are quite close to each other: Russia, Portugal, France, Italy, Switzerland… There are different people and cultures. This is what the milonga reflects.

There are things that one has to respect, even today, so that everyone has a good time. Things like respecting the direction of the dance floor so that no one gets hurt, respecting the cabeceo so that no one feels pressure or the need to compromise oneself. You want to, you don’t want to… it is a way of being free. Something imposed is never a good thing. So the first contact is made with the eyes. It is pretty intense because sometimes it is much stronger than physical contact. We want traditions to be maintained and perpetuated. For instance, the Chacarera is danced uniquely with the eyes, you never physically touch the other person. It is intense and nice to act as a gentleman, to be subtle in order to say to the other that you want to dance with her. You don’t put anyone to be in an uncomfortable situation with a look. You protect yourself with the cabeceo. There are some men who treat women like they were shopping in a supermarket: “You dance?” “No” and they ask the woman next to her. If I were rejected like that, so brutally, I would go back home immediately! This is quite shocking, for both parties. The woman wants to feel unique, not one amongst several. I think that little by little people understand this. Of course, if we are friends chatting, we can directly refuse without hurting the person. I am deeply in favour of using subtlety to protect one’s self, to not bother the other one or feel bad. There are women who think that if they refuse a man, he will never invite them again. Europe is currently building its own history with the tango, for the time being quite intellectualized. But it will come. I always say that the tango is part of our culture, not just a style of music. It is a cultural expression that contains rich values, not just about dancing either. There are many aspects to it. A lot of people are alone in their lives, each with his work, his family, his responsibilities, forgetting what they really love. The tango helps people who are alone. Getting dressed, feeling someone’s embrace or someone’s look… Who doesn’t need to be embraced? A different communication is created to assert one’s existence. The music is very rich and from all of this, histories are created. It can be fabulous. There are so many sensations that you have to be attentive.»

The tango has to embrace all cultures.

Do you feel like the tango has evolved during these 20 years of “musicalizing”?
« In the beginning, for me, the tango was just “old people dancing”. Now I see the tango as something dynamic and to be listened to, and not only danced to. I also know that there is a huge difference between the tango for the radio and the tango for a festival. The tango is like a whole history of the past and the present. When I have to play music, I size up if people prefer contemporary or traditional tango. It really depends upon the place! I adapt myself and do everything live. When I travel outside of Argentina, I come with my 20 years of experience and propose the music of Buenos Aires nights. When I travel to Brazil, I can play a samba or a forro, typical Brazilian sounds, trying at the same time to infuse the soul of Buenos Aires because my culture embraces theirs. This interests me a lot. The tango and the milonga are not “exclusive ghettos”. Before, when there was no musical support, the orchestra used to play live for an hour. The tango orchestra left the stage and another orchestra appeared to play the fox-trot, paso doble, rumba, mambo… And people also danced! There were not only waltzes, tangos and milongas. It seems to me that we should support this cultural mix. We bring our culture to the world, so for me it is like embracing the other’s culture. Wherever I am, I try to find a way to create a musical coming together between local culture and Argentinian culture to have something common to share. For instance, in Napoli (Italy) there is a very specific rhythm, a kind of waltz that they dance to with arms more open. If I can manage to play this rhythm for the milonga, I’ll do it! Culture is something wonderful, like a tango or an embrace. Sometimes I arrive in a place without knowing anything about it and I see people dancing, cultures meeting one another.

Of course, there are more globalized things such as jazz that help bring people together all over the world. The Buenos Aires milongas are at once the same and different. Here you can meet people from everywhere. For most of the people who are not originally from Buenos Aires, the rhythm is different from the tango, more folkloric. I am from Tucuman, in the North, and if someday my parents come to Buenos Aires and listen to Chacarera or Zamba in a milonga, they will feel like home! The milonga has to be inclusive and not exclusive. For me the tango is a whole. There are marvellous orchestras but the tango is not only about that.»

What is your contribution, source of pride?
« Thanks to the music and the culture I love, I can make a living for my family who support me a lot while I work and travel. This is a pride of passion!
My professional pride is to be able to work for this radio station, which is so emblematic of the tango and so listened to globally. Being able to play music here is huge! I travel to “musicalize” and this is also a source of pride. Being far away from home, taking the tango with me to very tiny and remote places where people dance to our music… it is something that makes me proud and thank goodness as otherwise I simply couldn’t do what I do. I would just stay home! »

What is your greatest hope for the tango?
« I wish that young people would get closer to the tango and that we ourselves act like ambassadors of this Argentinian culture. It would be great if the State did more to protect it. I want it to keep growing without suffering from anymore ostracism. I am in favour of the tango being embraced by the majority. That it never stops. I wish that there would always be more dancers. I don’t want to classify dancers as “good” or “bad”. I want people to have fun and to be entertained. The tango has passed through many things… Now it is time to enjoy it!»

Sensitive, attentive to everyone’s well-being, Marcelo Rojas is a lover of music and of cultures coming together. His experience all around the world has made him a DJ recognized and appreciated for his expert work. Thank you, Marcelo, for this extraordinary music that you share with us!

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Photo By: Marcelo Rojas

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