Tango haven Argentina laments accordion shortage
The bandoneon, a type of concertina and symbol of tango’s nostalgic soul, is vanishing from Argentina, as foreign tourists with bulging wallets buy up the instruments as coveted collectibles.
“In a few years, there will be no more bandoneons in our country,” said Oscar Fischer, who heads La Casa del Bandoneon. A specialist in these accordion-like instruments, he keeps a workshop in Buenos Aires’s old quarter of San Telmo.
The instrument that is part of Argentina’s cultural pedigree is made in Europe and is growing rarer and rarer, to the detriment of Argentine players, as it becomes too expensive to import into the country.
Some of the most exquisite instruments were created between the two world wars, with European workshops in full swing as they exported their products en masse to Argentina.
“When the Second World War began, we had 60,000 bandoneons in Argentina. But there are now only 20,000 of them left,” Fischer told AFP. “Among those, only 2,000 remain in very good shape and with their original pieces.”
As the instrument has become such a rare commodity, the cost of buying a bandoneon has also grown prohibitive for many young Argentines. A new instrument from Germany, Belgium or Italy costs 7,000 euros (over $10,000).
While a used bandoneon can fetch 2,800 euros (over $4,000), with another 400 euros ($570) needed to restore and tune it.
But young people are beginning to see some hope, as the National University of Lanus, in a southern suburb of the capital, is proposing to make bandoneons at an affordable price.
“We are preparing a bandoneon prototype that we will soon test with an orchestra,” said Heraldo Roberto De Rose, design chief at the university.
The production will not seek to make a profit and the instrument will be nicknamed Pichuco in honor of Anibal Troilo, one of Argentina’s greatest bandoneonists.