From San Luis to Poznan, the adventures of José Torres Duval

Singer, guitar player and creator of La San Luis Tango, Jose Torres Duval shared with Milonga two fascinating talks with stories about his travels and music. As the fifth man who bears the name José in his family, a Cancerian, first-born, with a calm voice and slow pace, this Argentine artist has been stranded in Poland since the beginning of the year due to the pandemic.

By Jose Torres Duval

Here in Krakow it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and it’s sunny, but it’s cool. Usually, we (his family and him) come every year for three months and do a tour in Europe. We arrived in February, we had a couple of performances and on March 15th, when the pandemic broke out, it caught us here in Poznan, Poland. Fortunately, some Polish dancers took us in at their tango academy. We said to ourselves:”Thank goodness we were caught in Poland” because we already knew these people and they hosted us there. If it had happened to us in another country, I don’t know what we would have done because everything is very expensive here in Europe. We feel lucky the pandemic broke up while we were here.

Until last month we were in the city of Poznan. Our friends hosting us there had to close the academy because everything had been cancelled. We came to Krakow last month to stay at the home of a singer who organizes our shows every year.

Here in Poland, everything is more relaxed than what is happening in Argentina. People don’t wear masks to walk down the street. Last week we went downtown and it was full, lots of people doing tourism. Everything is more flexible both here in Krakow and in Poznan. They use the mask only to enter a shopping mall or a bar, mostly in closed places. Over here it is summer, pubs are crowded and you can walk freely in the streets.

Last Friday we had a show in Warsaw. We had contacted the people of the Argentine Embassy and invited them to go to that milonga. The atmosphere was great. A week and a half ago we played in Oborniki, that show was in the open air and the people were more separated and with masks.

People in Poznan were kind and friendly. It is a city where foreigners do not go because it is further away. Here in Krakow, on the other hand, there are more Latinos. While we were in Poznan, my nephew Felipe turned three years old and the friends we made there (students from the tango academy that hosted us) gave him many gifts on his birthday. It was July 11th, which coincides with the birth anniversary of Aníbal Troilo. The funny thing is that both my brother Luciano and his son’s birthday fall on the same day.

As kids, my brother and I had a cumbia and cuarteto band, then we started a rock band but dad used to tell us we weren’t going to get anywhere with rock.I guess I started listening to him because I took up guitar lessons and started learning tangos. What I liked about tango was the complexity of the chords.

How we reached Panama

Our beginnings were in 2008 when we decided to travel and explore beyond our country. In those days we had a colectivo; it was an old model of the 60s, we had refurbished it and it was like a motorhome for us. We started touring in Chile. and then we got contacted from Peru to do a show. Until then, we had never gone beyond Argentina. We were concerned that the motorhome might break down and not make it to our destination. But the organizer in Peru lifted our spirits, he said to my father: “How come you don’t dare come by motorhome? Remember that San Martín (Latin American founding father of Independence) crossed the Andes on horseback, you will do the same feat by bus and with so much more horsepower! ”. And with that pep talk we took courage and went on the bus (laughs). We reached Peru and got as far as Mexico by land.

That trip lasted two years, from 2008 to 2010. We did everything by land. I brought the motorhome back to Argentina after Peru, and rejoined my family to keep travelling by bus to Ecuador and Colombia. Colombia has a route that stops where a jungle called the Darién Gap begins (an impenetrable and dangerous region that cuts the Pan-American route in two) this forces travellers to cross by air or water. When we arrived, we had to wait three days for the ship to get in and cross us to Panama. We were lucky to be approached by boat with two black people who were something like naval freight forwarders, transporting things from one country to another. They arrived at the pier and asked us if we wanted them to cross us for ten dollars to Panama. We all got on the boat and sailed straight into the Atlantic Ocean. At one point we no longer saw the land, we were in the middle of the ocean with a surge of 20 to 30 meters. You must take into account that we come from a mediterranean province, we had never been in the middle of the ocean! We felt so little in the immensity of the sea. We prayed the whole journey. After five hours on the boat, we had to stop on the island of Capurganá because it was forbidden to navigate at night. When we arrived there was no dock or anything and a local from the Kuna community approached us, grabbed our suitcases and carried them to the huts. I said to myself: «What now?» The local guy came back and spoke to us in Spanish. He kindly offered to host us at his house. We accepted and ate the typical food of the Kuna indians. After dinner we took out the instruments and started playing. The Kunas had never heard the sound of the bandoneon and they would peek between the huts and look at us like very odd creatures. The next morning we went out to sea again.

Half an hour after leaving rain began. By then,we were back in the middle of the ocean, and we thought: «When will we get to Panama?» Suddenly, with the rain, water started to get into the boat. Two guys steered the motorboat, one in front and the other behind. The one in front steered with the grip of the engine in one hand and with the other hand he drew water from the boat with a tin jar. To make matters worse, none of us were wearing a life jacket. The motorboat was going quite fast and what the guys tried to do was face the waves head-on, on the side he had a small bin full of sachets with fresh water. So, when salty water got into his eyes, the guy would take out the little sachets, poke them with his teeth, and squeeze them until a trickle came out to his eyes. That’s how he kept his eyes clean from the salty water. This is how we got to Panama!

Tango in Poland

Last September we played in a milonga in Warsaw, and got great feedback from the audience and the organizers so we are back in October. The milonga was quite crowded, there were about 80 people and after the concert we met the Argentinian Ambassador in Poland.

Our repertoire includes some Polish tangos which people love to dance to. These three tangos are sung by Magdalena Lechowska who is also our producer here in Poland. Magdalena speaks Spanish and Polish very well because her parents are Polish but she grew up in Colombia.

Już nigdy / Never again (1930)
Słowa/ lyrics: Andrzej Włast Patrzę
Muzyka/ musicc: Jerzy Petersburski

To ostatnia niedziela / It is the last Sunday (1935)
Słowa/ lyrics: Zenon Friedwald
Muzyka/ music: Jerzy Petersburski

Getting drunk is what counts – Upić się warto (1934)
Słowa/ lyrics: Marian Hemar
Muzyka/ music: Marian Hemar, Paweł Asłanowicz

People dance and sing to these pieces of music here in Poland, they simply go crazy when we start playing these tangos.

Members of La San Luis Tango Orchestra:
Javier José Torres Duval, singer
José Torres Duval, guitar and singer
Luciano Torres Duval, bandoneon
Lina Torres Duval, transverse flute