The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

February 18: Inna Naroditskya

This week’s workshop features Inna Naroditskaya, Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Northwestern University. She will be presenting a paper on tango entitled “. . . now I’m here, I’m dancing a tango” (L. Bernstein, Candide). The abstract is posted below.


We will meet in our regular place at our regular time: Thursday, Feb 18, 4:30-6:00pm in Godspeed Hall, Room 205. As always, our workshop is open to the public, and all are welcome.



When tango, fenced off as a hobby from my occupation as an ethnomusicologist, gradually turns into fieldwork, when ethnographic research begins not as a study of others, but as an ethnography of self, the dance steps become a metaphor of migration, head-spinning pivots, dislocating sacadas, and desired axis linked with diasporic transition and craving for stability. The pleasure of dance links my personal story, with Russian and Jewish immigration sagas in Chicago, Odessa, Buenos Aires, elsewhere.

Attempting to make sense of the sizable presence of Soviet immigrants in the Chicago tango scene brings me hundred years back – in Russia, where during the turbulent march towards WWI, twentieth century futurism, cubism, suprematism had a “rendezvous with tango.” The tango craze spun across Russian classical repertoire (Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev), operettas, cinematography (Dunaevsky), popular music, and dance. While tango plied the ocean from South America to Europe and Russia, Russian Jews at approximately the same time migrated to Americas.

The tango scene, populated by Jewish musicians, entrepreneurs, and dancers, seems inherently related to Jewish musical sensibilities; tango’s nostalgic, often heartbreaking tone resonates with the tragedy of pogroms, exiles, and the Holocaust. Tango songs map the patterns of Jewish immigration: “El Choclo” lived a double life as an early Argentine tango tune and a Jewish drinking song in Odessa. The melody of “Papirosen,” a tango song premiered on the New York stage, was sang decades before in Russia. Its reincarnation in the first Soviet musical film attained mass popularity, while “Papirosen” itself was reintroduced to the Jewish Soviet crowd by the Israeli Sisters Barry. Whether or not conscious of cultural links between tango, Russian modernism, and Yiddish culture, Russian Jewish immigrants in Chicago and elsewhere are attuned to tango songs and challenging tango movement.

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