The man who would change the world through tango
Simón Riestra Aedo is organising a tango festival, as he regards it as his duty towards society
Simón Riestra Aedo
By Hanna Romppainen
It is abundantly clear from the outset that when it comes to this man, one cannot put aside politics.
The purpose is to discuss a tango festival, but Simón Riestra Aedo is speaking about the bourgeoisie, the people, and about his bounden duty towards the society.
”I believe with all my heart that we are working for the people - not for ourselves or some companies and their coffers”, Aedo says.
Aedo's talk sounds lofty, but gradually he also begins to sound pretty damn serious. He is organising the World of Tango Festival in Tampere. It is his way of life.
”Everything is getting nicely mixed up: my free time and work are all the same. I relax by doing work. I do not get tired, as I am the master of my own time”, Aedo notes.
A typical example of this confusion is the fact that for Aedo going to a bar is the same as doing anthropological research: he listens to people.
”The three-ring circus is going full swing. They are shouting ’fucking foreigner’ and I respond ‘bloody native’. Eventually we sit and drink together: they tell me about their problems and I listen. It is a creative process. When we begin to build a programme for the festival, we channel the inspiration given by people into it”, Aedo explains.
Aedo became firmly embedded in tango already when he was a child.
Life in the workers’ quarter of Santiago was tough. Aedo’s parents were fighting on behalf of the leftists, and he was living with his grandmother and great-grandmother almost his entire childhood.
Despite the austerity, Aedo remembers that his childhood was bright, for which he has to thank most of all his grandmother.
”Granny was wise. She created an imaginary world. It was like nothing ever happened outside it. I was never afraid for my parents”, Aedo explains.
When Aedo was playing with other children, his grandmother often turned up in the midst of everything, asking:”Simón, go and play the record”. Aedo put the tango record on the turntable, and Granny began to tell family stories. Aedo felt like he was in a time machine.
Aedo moved to Finland at the age of 22.
His mother, father, and younger siblings had left for Finland already earlier, but Aedo had stayed behind in Chile in order to study law.
Aedo was supposed to specialise in criminology at the University of Rome, but instead he decided to move to his family in Finland.
Once he had arrived in this country, he started to study at the College of Crafts and Design in Varkaus without speaking a single word of Finnish - and he learned the language.
”I have not settled anywhere, and neither do I plan to do so. It is all the same for me as long as there is wine, good company, and something to do. And there has always been something to do”, Aedo notes.
When Aedo heard Finnish tango for the first time, he almost got angry.
”This is no tango, this is just entertainment”, Aedo thought, and he started to study Finnish music in more depth. And there he found the real tango: M.A. Numminen, Olavi Virta, Reijo Taipale, and Annikki Tähti.
”Entertainment makes idiots of the people. Commercialism and entertainment make people empty and cold”, Aedo argues.
According to Aedo, the mission of art is not to entertain, but to summon forth the emotions: therein lies its social strength.
”The mission of art and culture is to cultivate an individual so that he or she could become a good human being. It should call up empathy. It is the finest and most beautiful human emotion”, Aedo feels.
After moving from Varkaus to Tampere, Aedo immediately began to think to himself what was lacking in the city. He wanted to bring together immigrants and the original population in order that they could to communicate with each other.
”People are focusing on the differences all the time. It's bullshit, we should lay stress on those matters that connect people”, Aedo says.
Aedo found the answer in tango. Tango brings people together, as so many cultures are assimilated to it: German marches, Parisian rhythms, Spanish pasodoble, and Russian romances.
Aedo decided to organise ”an urban folk culture festival”.
The purpose was to attract ordinary people, not only the elite, but without the entertainment frills.
Over the first five years, the festival received no major grants, but Aedo was not fazed by the lack of support.
”Money is a minor point: people have children for the sake of love, not because of the child benefit. The main thing is that people can express themselves as human beings and culture workers. And that they can leave something to others”, Aedo contemplates.
Aedo says that people have gradually found the festival since it was launched in 2007. The spectrum of the audience is vast: yuppies and punks are celebrating side by side.
”It is gratifying when a native man-in-the-street Finn comes up this kind of a special Finn to say: 'Hey, you have done a good job'. Or when a festival visitor says: 'Thank you, you made me feel like a human being again'", Aedo adds.
The 6th World of Tango Festival was arranged in Tampere between September 14th and 16th, 2012.
FACTFILE: Simón Riestra Aedo
Aedo was born in Santiago, Chile in 1975.
He was living with his grandmother and great-grandmother almost all his childhood, while his parents were fighting in the leftist movement.
He studied law in Chile, but did not graduate.
He moved to Finland in 1998, living first in Varkaus, but settled in Tampere in 2007.
Aedo has been working for example as a teacher, tomato picker, and cleaner.
He studied at the University of Tampere in order to become a producer of culture and art events.
He has organised the annual World of Tango Festival in Tampere six times.
Aedo lives in Tampere with his common-law wife.
He travels a lot, and declares a particular fondness for the Masquerade Carnival in Venice.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.9.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish tango meets its Argentine sibling at the National Theatre (2.8.2011)
World of Tango Festival 2012