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Tango Music at the Milonga (at the dance hall):

What follows is about the structure of the music and types of music that are traditionally played at the dance halls when a tanguero (dancer of tango, aka milonguero) goes out to dance.


First, a side note about tradition and culture when it comes to tango. Tango grows up in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of the 19th century. It grows and develops for over thirty years and arrives at its mature shape in the 1930s. The Golden Age of tango begins in 1935, and when it reached its zenith in popularity, nearly half of the porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires) danced or listened to tango. During the Golden Age, political and economic conditions are stable and flush and bands, composers, lyricists, arrangers, musicians, singers, dance halls, and recording studios all flourished.


The form and structure of the social dance developed during this period. By form and structure, I mean: the character of the music, the flow of the dancers in the room; how dancers behaved on the floor; how people asked others to dance; and the relationship between the dancers and the music. All of this developed and matured during this period.


Then in 1955 things get politically and economically dark and tragic. For a generation tango goes into hibernation. For decades, live music for dancers doesn't happen much and dancers dance mostly to recorded music. The musicians who perform live play for listening audiences. And the music evolves away from dancers.


New generations of dancers both in Buenos Aires and abroad still follow the original patterns of form and codes at the dance halls. This is true of Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Amsterdam, New York City, and world wide. 


Tango dancers go out to the milonga (the dance hall where milongueros go to dance). At the milonga you will hear three types of music: Milonga, Vals, and Tango. The music is played in sets of three or four similar songs called a tanda. Tandas are separated by cortinas (meaning a curtain), a segment of a song about a minute long, decidedly not a tango, that separates one tanda from the next. 


The Three Types of Music Tangueros Dance To

One type of music is milonga. (It can seem confusing at first in that milonga is both a music type and also refers to the place where tango dancers dance.) Milonga is the name for a dance and music type that existed before tango. The tempo is faster than in tango. The music is often more energetic, up-beat, and festive. The beat tells you to go and go and go. 


Here is a slow milonga from Francisco Canaro’s Orchestra. (More than half of all good, danceable, and slower milongas come from his orchestra.) It is called Milonga Sentimental. It  is slow and easy to like. It also has the distinctive habanero rhythm (duh - deduh - duh - duh - deduh - duh). 

Milonga Sentimental

And here is a little faster milonga. This one, also very famous, is by Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra and named Silueta Porteña.  In both cases, the rhythm tells you to keep moving. But also both have strong melodies for the dancers to respond to.

Silueta Porteña

Next up: More about the types of music

Music from Week 3:

Juan D'Arienzo and the Rhythmical Stage of Tango Music

Beginning in 1935, Juan D’Arienzo started to perform and record tango music that had a simple, insistent, and driving beat. It was so easy for people to like, and for dancers to respond to, that it helped move tango into the Golden Age. 


A few things stand out regarding this music. The beat is up-tempo and insistent. The in-between beats of the song are nearly as strong as the down-beats, and the beats are played in a staccato fashion in which the instruments hit the beat sharply and do not stretch or draw out the sound.


D’Arienzo during these years, paired perfectly with Albert Echagüe, a strong singer who could express the new up-rhythm character of the music. His orchestra was also joined by Rodolpho Biagi, a dynamic pianist with an exciting, expressive, and syncopated sound.


Here are two songs that I love from D’Arienzo’s orchestra. The first is Rawson from 1936 with Biagi on piano. And the second is the famous Pensalo Bien (Think It Over) with Biagi on piano and Echagüe singing.

Pensalo Bien

D’Arienzo’s style of music was so popular and successful that he inspired other orchestras to follow suit, changing their style for a time in the direction of a faster and more insistent beat.


Here is a song from this time from Carlos Di Sarli, an orchestra leader famous for his long slow melodies, playing the much more staccato and syncopated instrumental, El Pollo Ricardo. And here is another song from another famous band leader, Anibal Troilo, playing a song from his D’Arienzo inspired up-tempo and rhythmical period called Cachirulo.

El Pollo Ricardo

Music from Week 3:

Non-Tangos to Practice to

Argentine tango had a resurgence across the globe beginning in the 1980s. It was mostly as a result of the traveling tango show, Tango Argentino. Would-be tango dancers in Europe and the US saw the show and sought out people who could teach them tango. Soon after, tango communities grew up around the world.


So many aspects of Argentine tango are foreign to North Americans and Europeans, not the least of which is the music. Because of the challenges in hearing and becoming familiar with the traditional music, Europeans and North Americans often danced to newer music that was easier for them to hear and respond to.


But now, thirty years later, tango dancers from around the world have become familiar with and learned to love the old traditional music. The non-traditional music, while generally not played at the milongas any more, is still sometimes used for practice, especially when a slow and easier to hear beat is needed.


Here are some non-traditional songs that I play for practice. The first is Santa Maria by the Gotan Project, one of the most well known tango electronica band (more songs are on the way).

Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)

Tango Music for Dancers

From the late 1920s to the second half of the 1950s, during the Golden Age of Tango, tens of thousands of dancers in Buenos Aires created a fertile market for tango music in which many tango musicians, composers, lyricists, and orchestras thrived by writing, composing, and playing music for dancers. Over these three decades tango music evolved as it passed through a formative stage, a youthful stage, a mature stage, and a late stage. 


The political, social, and economic environment collapsed after the military coup of 1955. After this the music changed and the markets moved overseas to Europe and Asia. The music became “tango for export” performed for seated concert-goers. 


Over its history, three musical traditions developed within tango: the rhythmical tradition, the melodic tradition, and the experimental tradition.


Here are six songs from the rhythmical tradition recorded in the late 30s and early 40s. Chose one as a favorite for repeated listening, exploration, and analysis. 


La Bruja, an instrumental by Orquesta Juan D’Arienzo.


Pensalo Bien, by Orquesta Juan D’Arienzo with Alberto Echagüe singing.


Cachirulo, an instrumental by Orquesta Anibal Troilo.


Toda Mi Vida, by Orquesta Anibal Troilo with Francisco Fiorentino singing.


El Pollo Ricardo, an instrumental by Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli.


La Pasao Pasó, by Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli with Rodulfo Rufino singing.

La Bruja
Pensalo Bien
Toda mi vida
El Pollo Ricardo
La Pasao Pasó

And here are six songs from the early to mid 40s from the melodic tradition. Please listen to these as well and find one (or more) to explore, listen to, and analyze.


Que Te Importa and Jamás Retornarás, by Orquesta Miguel Caló’s with Raúl Berón singing.


Oigo Tu Vos and Calla Bandoneon by Orquesta Ricardo Tanturi with Enrique Campos singing.


No Está and Nada by Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli with Alberto Podestá singing.

Que Te Importa
Jamás Retornarás
Oigo Tu Voz
Calla Bandoneón
No Está
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