Since the late 19th century, Jewish immigrants in Argentina have had a love affair with the tango.
From playing guitar, piano and accordion to writing music, singing and dancing, Jews have had a close tie to the tango music that was then emerging in the Buenos Aires area. For many, tango simply provided the possibility of work.
The Jewish contribution to tango’s development was so rich that tango researchers wrote a book entitled, “Tango, a History with Jews.”
Now, nine Argentine Jews have formed a new tango group to honor these roots. The group, Inspiracion, the first Argentine Jewish tango orchestra, made their debut at an April 30 concert in Buenos Aires sponsored by B’nai B’rith and the Holocaust Foundation.
Businessman Segismundo Holzman came up with the idea of creating a group of Argentine Jewish musicians to perform tango around the world.
“The purpose of this orchestra now is to give something back to the community,” said Veronica Holzman, Holzman’s daughter, who also is involved in the project.
Not everyone welcomed the idea. One Jewish grandmother of 63 — who preferred not to publish her name — said she saw nothing inherently Jewish about the group, except for one instrumental song called “Zeide.”
“This is purely commercial and discriminatory,” she said. “They perform tango; the show has nothing related to Judaism. It’s like creating a group of Jewish dentists.”
In addition to making money, Inspiracion’s musicians hope to provide some charitable funds to help impoverished Argentines, Jews and non-Jews, affected by the country’s economic crisis.
The seven men and two women in Inspiracion used to meet on occasion at tango shows and on concert tours in downtown Buenos Aires and Europe, even sometimes at a Jewish center where they were members.
Now they see each other regularly.
For Andres Linetzky, the orchestra’s director and pianist, Inspiracion holds special meaning: A month after violinist Jose Linetzky, 87, Andres’ grandfather, arrived in Argentina from Eastern Europe in the early 1920’s, he found work in a traditional tango orchestra.
Musicians used to playing klezmer music “adapted fast to tango,” said Andres Linetzky, 28. “This project is to honor those people and to give back to Argentina what the country gave to immigrants.”
As the pianist for the municipal city orchestra and a member of the group Vale Tango, Linetzky spends long periods traveling.
Linetzky started studying music at age 6. He was almost an adult — he was a student at the Popular Music Conservatory — when he changed from studying jazz to tango.
“My soul is tango, I am tango,” Linetzky said.
For him, the success of tango abroad is not due only to the music’s rich, captivating quality.
“People just love to see tango dancing. It is so sensual,” and “shows a contact that is missing in the world,” he said.
Guillermo Galve, the grandson of Russian immigrants, spent his early childhood in the picturesque neighborhood of La Boca, but then moved several times as his parents bought new pharmacies.
“My mother used to play piano. My father loved tango,” Galve said. “I remember the weekends, when the pharmacy was closed and we would spend hours singing with family and friends.”
Once, the family bet on a new business and bought a hotel in the coastal town of Mar del Plata. A worker listening to Galve sing while he was painting the walls invited the family to meet an orchestra director friend.
Enchanted with Galve’s strong, deep voice, the friend invited Galve to perform. He was only 14.
Now 57 and a member of the Tango Passion company, Galve tours all over the world.
“This project has special meaning for me, for my roots,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.