At 85, the kidneys of the Uruguayan Olga Diaz are failing. She was beginning to despair of her bleak future, kept alive by 12 hours of dialysis a week.
But at the clinic where she receives her care, Diaz has found a new “will to live” thanks to live performances of tango and milonga.
“It’s more than medicine,” Diaz told AFP from the Diaverum clinic in Montevideo.
It’s 9 a.m. and Diaz is one of 20 patients sitting in chairs, all hooked up to “artificial kidneys” that purify their blood.
Suddenly, the noise of the machines and the chatter of the nurses are drowned out by the music of the bandoneon and a voice singing the classic tango piece “Naranjo en flor”.
Smiles break out on the faces of patients, including Diaz, who visits the clinic three times a week to spend four hours hooked up to a machine.
“I had fallen into a routine. I did things but without my old enthusiasm,” she said.
“Music gave life to my soul and gave me the urge to live, the joy, the enthusiasm, those things that were fading.”
Other patients agree that these mini-concerts have improved their quality of life.
Rafael Gutierrez, 46, says music “makes the time go by faster” and makes dialysis treatment “much more bearable”.
The show lasts 40 minutes and each patient is in the front row.
Scientific research shows that listening to music reduces anxiety and stress and stabilizes heart rate and pulse.
It also affects areas of the brain related to pleasure by stimulating dopamine.
The therapeutic benefits of music have been “amply demonstrated”, says nephrologist Gerardo Perez, 68, adding that the World Health Organization (WHO) has “for years” recommended integrating art and culture into health systems.
That’s why he spent two decades playing tango on his bandoneon to dialysis patients.
But last year, his personal initiative turned into the “Hospital Tango” project, which organizes mini-concerts in health centers and hospitals.
The idea is to temporarily take people away from their “worry, illness, uncertainty, suffering”.
“A lot of times they don’t know what their diagnosis is or what’s going to happen in their life,” Perez said.
At the hospital, “they have a lot of time to be alone, often worried”.
Other bandoneon players, singers and guitarists came on board to perform all over Montevideo.
Inspired by the Spanish NGO Musicians for Health, the group is now trying to set itself up as a charity, expand its activities and expand nationally.
For now, the group’s focus is on tango, which Perez touts as “world cultural heritage,” but its mission could expand to include other forms of music or even theater.
In fact “all artistic expression” is off the table, according to Perez.
“Much more than a respite”
In a small room, bandoneon players Abril Farolini, 22, and Ramiro Hernandez, 35, and singer Paola Larrama, 37, donned protective gowns and face masks.
It’s an unusual experience for musicians, as is the early hour and audience of hospital patients hooked up to dialysis machines.
But adapting to such a strange environment pays dividends: namely the satisfaction of giving “much more than a respite,” said Hernandez, who was one of the founding members of Tango Hospital.
“It also generates happiness and good humor,” he added.
For Larrama, it’s a “very moving” experience, especially given the patients’ “willingness to connect”.
“It’s not the same as playing somewhere where people have come to see you,” she said.
“Here we bring something to them, while people have a different experience.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)