San Telmo’s Sunday street market is a mosaic of kitschy tango paraphernalia, rainbow-colored knickknacks, and captivating music makers. The body of the market runs down Defensa street, but its heart, which pulses with tango, is in Plaza Dorrego. Crowds of gawking onlookers stand frozen, entranced by the seductive dance playing out before their eyes. The surrounding kiosks are supplied with stereotypical Argentine memorabilia, including tango dancer keychains, Carlos Gardel on vinyl, and cow-hoof mate gourds. During my time in Buenos Aires, I’ve made a conscious effort not to focus my recordings on tango, but I’m quickly becoming an expert in failing to do this.
Last week, my brother came all the way from occasionally-sunny Northern California to visit me in Buenos Aires, which meant an opportunity to play shameless tourist. On Sunday, we made our way to San Telmo to pay our respects to the market. While my brother was browsing through a variety of Che Guevara hats—the military-style ones with an embroidered red star—I became distracted by a band of drummers, who were surrounded by a cluster of dancers, moving like celestial bodies in, out, and among the market-goers. A mass of people collected around them.
I followed the hypnotic beat through the market, dodging fresh-squeezed orange juice vendors and precariously-stacked artisanal jewelry displays, as I wove through the throng to get a closer view. At the front of the procession was this man, a de facto leader with a practiced sway:
Attempting to ignore how sound pushes movement in this city would be like trying not to breathe.