Nostalgia, from longing to belonging

Jan 26, 2023

© by Cosima Diaz Campos 

Nostalgia is undoubtedly one of the most present sentiments in tango lyrics and culture. The tango was born in a mixture of cultures that all were in a way displaced from their roots, their culture, their homeland and their families. This universal feeling of being displaced, can explain why so many people all over the world can relate to the feelings expressed in tango dance and music.

This common humanity is the understanding that all feelings are part of the human experience, and that suffering is universal. We are connected not only by the joys in our lives, but in our struggles, heartaches, and fears. Common humanity gives us a feeling of belonging, even when we feel lost.

Nostalgia was for centuries considered a medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The word nostalgia is a learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, meaning homecoming, and álgos, meaning sorrow or despair.

Today the meaning of nostalgia is the sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. The modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Nostalgia in the modern meaning has been found to have important psychological functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.

When I started my tango journey at age 17, my mother was a bit worried that I would listen to these very sad and dramatic tangosingers. Was that healthy for a teenage girl? Nostalgic feelings played a role in my life since I was very little. Since very early age missing the time before I was born, and at age 5, I saw a photo of me at age 3, and I was in tears because I missed being 3. So you can imagine, tango with all its nostalgia and melancholy, was my music.

Nostalgia is a feeling of longing or missing. The memories and remembrances that evoke nostalgia can be triggered by a place, by persons, and also by scents, music... by the shape of a cloud, a flower or the sky.

The nostalgic reflections can cause feelings of warmth. One way to improve mood is to effectively cope with problems that hinder one's happiness. Coping strategies that are likely among nostalgia-prone people often lead to benefits during stressful times. Nostalgia can be connected to more focus on coping strategies and implementing them, thus increasing support in challenging times. 

To people who don't dance tango (yet) it often stands out how the tangodancers are not smiling. How can you 'have fun' with all these serious, serene faces? 'Are you all sad?' ' Why so serious?'. Yes, in the western culture smiling and laughing is considered as the proof of having a good time. While in reality we can feel very happy with a serious face, or we can feel very disconnected and lost while we laugh on the outside.

Happiness, in the context of mental or emotional states, is pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Other forms include life satisfaction, well-being, subjective well-being, flourishing and eudaimonia.

And in the case of nostalgia, we can see how we can cope with a feeling of longing and missing, and create a wholesome emotion with our nostalgic reflections. The music, poetry, and dance of tango give us so many wonderful chances to experience these universal feelings in a beneficial and consolatory way.

Below you can listen to two very different musical pieces that both express nostalgia.

Lyrics, translation and music video below.

  • Nocturno de mi Barrio - Anibal Troilo (Bandoneon & Canto)
  • Bajo un Cielo de Estrellas - Miguel Caló

Nocturno de mi Barrio - Anibal Troilo (Bandoneon & Canto) 

 Música y Letra: Anibal Troilo
Interpretación por: Anibal Troilo (bandoneon, canta), Aníbal Arias (guitarra)

Mi barrio era así, Así…así… así.
Es decir, qué se yo si era así.
Pero yo me lo acuerdo así: con Yacumín, el carbuña de la esquina, que tenía las hornallas llenas de hollín y que jugó siempre de jas izquierdo al lado mío, siempre, siempre…
tal vez pa’estar más cerca de mi corazón.

My neighbourhood was like that, like that... like that.
That is, what do I know if it was like that. 
But I remember it like this: with Yacumín, the carbuña from the corner, who had the burners full of soot and who always played left wing next to me, always, always... 
maybe to be closer to my heart.

Alguien dijo una vez que yo me fui de mi barrio.
Cuándo?... Pero cuándo?... si siempre estoy llegando.
Y si una vez me olvidé, las estrellas de la esquina de la casa de mi vieja, titilando como si fueran manos amigas me dijeron: Gordo…Gordo, quedate aquí… quedate aquí.

Someone once said that I left my neighborhood.
When?... But when?... I'm always arriving. 
And if I once forgot, the stars on the corner of my old woman's house, twinkling as if they were friendly hands, told me: Gordo (Fatty, nickname)... Gordo, stay here... stay here.



Bajo un Cielo de Estrellas

Interpretación por: Miguel Caló y su orqesta
Música: Enrique Francini / Héctor Stamponi
Letra: José María Contursi
Ritmo: Vals

Mucho tiempo después de alejarme
Vuelvo al barrio que un día dejé
Con el ansia de ver por sus calles
Mis viejos amigos, el viejo café

Long after leaving
 I come back to my neighbourhood that I left one day
 With the longing to see through its streets 
My old friends, the old cafe

En la noche tranquila y oscura
Hasta el aire parece decir:
"No te olvides que siempre fui tuya
Y sigo esperando que vuelvas a mí"

In the quiet and dark night 
 Even the air seems to say: 
 "Don't forget that I was always yours 
 And I keep waiting for you to come back to me"

En esta noche vuelvo a ser aquel muchacho soñador
Que supo amarte y con sus versos te brindó sus penas
Hay una voz que me dice al oído:
"Yo sé que has venido, por ella, por ella"

On this night I am that dreamy boy again 
 That knew how to love you and with his verses he gave you his sorrows 
 There is a voice that whispers in my ear: 
 "I know that you have come, for her, for her"

Qué amable y qué triste es a la vez, la soledad del arrabal
Con sus casitas y los árboles que pintan sombras
Sentir que todo, que todo la nombra
Qué ganas enormes me dan de llorar

How kind and how sad is at the same time, the loneliness of the suburb 
 With its little houses and the trees that paint shadows 
 To feel that everything, that everything names her 
 What an enormous desire this gives me to cry.