Two to tango

3 August 2012 | This 'n' that

Tango: less romantic up north? Finns love it anyway. Photo: Orfeuz, Wikimedia

Picture the scene: it’s August, and the nightless days of midsummer have given way to darkening evenings. Candles are lit, and minds turn to the winter ahead.

The berries of the rowan trees are already turning bright scarlet and the purple rosebay willow herb catches the last of the sunset. From an outdoor dance floor across the meadow drift the melancholy strains of… the Finnish tango.

(The YouTube insert is from the film Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö [‘The matchbox factory girl’, 1990], by Aki Kaurismäki,  featuring the actress Kati Outinen. Satumaa [‘Wonderland’ by Unto Mononen] is sung by Reijo Taipale.)

Cheesy as it is, we confess we have a liking for this most northerly cousin of the fiery Argentine original. So, it seems, does the BBC Magazine, in a recent article, Mark Bosworth goes to witness the traditional Tango Festival in Seinäjoki. Check it out.

And take a look, too, at an exceptionally ardent Finnish tango fan’s blog: John from Bristol, UK, who has loved dancing since the early 1960s, decided to go to Finland instead of Argentina in 2001. He’s been back to Finland several times every year since, learnt Finnish, is an devoted fan of the singer Arja Koriseva (a former Seinäjoki Tango Queen), and if you read his posts you will learn more about Finns and the tango than you could ever imagine…. So, John went to Seinäjoki for the first time in August 2001:

‘All music was live, the bands being small, usually consisting of electric guitar, bass, synthesiser, percussion and harmonikka, a reed instrument similar but not identical to the bandoneon. There was always an attractive young male or female singer. I only recognised 6 foreign tangos the whole time I was there: La Cumparsita, Jealousy (these two only in shows, not in public dances), El Choclo (only in a competition), Hernando’s Hideaway, and Ecstasy. All the numbers were vocals, the words beautifully enunciated and utterly incomprehensible except for the odd English word that seemed to sound out clear as a bell. I heard enema, laxative and custard water, this last proving that my subconscious is not entirely filthy. The style of tango dancing is smooth and flowing, with few or no figures.’

He spent an emotional week there, dancing:

‘And the tangos! We would gaze into one another’s eyes as we picked up the rhythm. We exchanged a soft kiss, then melted into one another’s arms and entered tango heaven. I wasn’t leading Liisa – the music was leading both of us. Every beat, every step was perfect. Of course it had to end. At 2.30 we said our tearful farewells, making all sorts of promises we would probably never keep. Slowly I made my way back to the apartment. The sky was cobalt blue, brightening in the north-east. Soon it would be dawn. Liisa had burst into my life 102 hours ago, brightening it up like the Northern Lights, and now she had vanished as suddenly as she had appeared. It had been beautiful, passionate, happy – and very very sad. Just like the tango.’

So there you are. Some southern fire to keep the northern soul alive during the cold months of winter, arriving soon but not yet, not quite yet…

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