Introduction to Tango Music

Tango soon began to gain popularity in Europe, beginning in France. Superstar Rudolph Valentino soon became a sex symbol who brought the tango to new audiences, especially in the United States, due to his sensual depictions of the dance on film.

In the 1920s, tango moved out of the lower-class brothels and became a more respectable form of music and dance. Bandleaders like Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro dropped the flute and added a double bass in its place. Lyrics were still typically macho, blaming women for countless heartaches, and the dance moves were still sexual and aggressive.

Carlos Gardel became especially associated with the transition from a lower-class “gangster” music to a respectable middle-class dance. He helped develop tango-canción in the 1920s and became one of the most popular tango artists of all time. He was also one of the precursors of the Golden Age of tango.

Gardel’s death was followed by a division into movements within tango. Evolutionists like Aníbal Troilo and Carlos di Sarli were opposed to traditionalists like Rodolfo Biagi and Juan D’Arienzo.

Golden Age

The “Golden Age” of tango music and dance is generally agreed to have been the period from about 1935 to 1952, roughly contemporaneous with the big band era in the United States.

Some of the many popular and influential orchestras included the orchestras of Juan D’Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, and Aníbal Troilo. D’Arienzo was called the “Rey del compás” or “King of the beat” for the insistent, driving rhythm which can be heard on many of his recordings. “El flete” is an excellent example of D’Arienzo’s approach. Canaro’s early milongas are generally the slowest and easiest to dance to; and for that reason, they are the most frequently played at tango dances (milongas); “Milonga Sentimental” is a classic example.

Beginning in the Golden Age and continuing afterwards, the orchestras of Osvaldo Pugliese and Carlos di Sarli made many recordings. Di Sarli had a lush, grandiose sound, and emphasized strings and piano over the bandoneon, which is heard in “A la gran muñeca” and “Bahía Blanca” (the name of his home town).

Pugliese’s first recordings were not too different from those of other dance orchestras, but he developed a complex, rich, and sometimes discordant sound, which is heard in his signature pieces, “Gallo ciego”, “Emancipación”, and “La yumba”. Pugliese’s later music was played for an audience and not intended for dancing, although it is often used for stage choreography for its dramatic potential, and sometimes played late at night at milongas.

Tango nuevo

The later age of tango has been dominated by Ástor Piazzolla, who became famous after Carlos Gardel’s El día que me quieras was released. During the 1950s, Piazzolla consciously tried to create a more pop-oriented form of tango, earning the derision of purists and old-time performers. The 1970s saw Buenos Aires developing a fusion of jazz and tango, alongside tango-rock, mixing tango with rock and roll. Litto Nebbia and Siglo XX were especially popular within this movement. In recent years is important the work of argentine band 020 (zero2zero), whose epic album “End of Illusions” mixed British style pop-rock with nuevo tango.

The so-called post-Piazzolla generation (1980-) includes musicians such as Dino Saluzzi, Rodolfo Mederos, Enrique Martin Entenza and Juan María Solare. Piazzolla and his followers developed Nuevo Tango, which incorporated jazz and classical influences into a more experimental style.


Tango development has not stopped here. The following examples are not filed under “Tango Nuevo” since such classification is usually done with hindsight rather than when still undergoing development… These recent trends can be described as “electro tango” or “tango fusion”, where the electronic influences are available in multiple ranges: from very subtle to rather dominant.

Tanghetto and Carlos Libedinsky are good examples of the subtle use of electronic elements. The music still has its tango feeling, the complex rhythmic and melodious entanglement that makes tango so unique. Gotan Project is a group based in Paris, consisting of musicians Philippe Cohen Solal, Edouardo Makaroff and Christoph H Muller. They formed in 1999. Their first release was “Vuelvo al Sur/El capitalismo foráneo” in 2000, followed by the album La Revancha del Tango and in 2004, Inspiración-Espiración. Its sound features electronic elements like samples, beats and sounds on top of a tango groove. Tango dancers around the world enjoy dancing to this music, although many more traditional dancers regard it as a definite break in style and tradition. Still, the rhythmic elements in Gotan Project’s music are more complex than in some of the other “electro tango” songs that were created afterwards. Gotan Project is currently (June 2004) back in the studio creating a new album. Out-takes were aired on Gilles Peterson’s show “Worldwide” aired on BBC one in May 2004.

The collection album Bajofondo Tango Club (Underground tango club) and its follower “Supervielle” is another recent example which has a much more electro feeling than Gotan. Its beats are more regular, more dominant. The rhythms are less complex – but the tango feeling is still there. Other examples can be found on the CDs Tango?, Hybrid Tango, Tangophobia Vol. 1, Tango Crash (with a major jazz influence), NuTango. Tango Fusion Club Vol. 1 by the creator of the milonga called “Tango Fusion Club” in Munich, Germany, “Felino” by the Norwegian group “Electrocutango” and “Electronic Tango”, a various artists’ CD.

Kevin Johansen is another new tango artist who has a number of songs that combine folkloric and pop music with a milonga rhythm in such a way that it is barely unrecognizable until trying to dance tango to the music.

Argentina: A short History

The first settlers
A long time ago, thousands of years back in the past, hunting tribes arrived from the north of the American continent in search of a land to settle down. When they found it, they did not imagine they were laying the foundations of a country that would eventually be named Argentina.

The indigenous peoples
The tribes inhabiting the Argentine territory were essentially nomadic and generally lived by hunting, fishing and gathering. In the 16th century, the confrontation with the Spanish conqueror curtailed their chances of cultural development. Nevertheless, in spite of this blow, they managed to survive in time and history. Today they constitute an important segment of the Argentine population.

The Spanish conquest
The infinity of the immense uninhabited territory started to find its boundaries in the 16th century, when ships brought white men from a different world. The understanding between natives and Spanish conquerors was not easy. A new generation of men was born with violence, pain and blood, thus giving rise to a new country.

The immigrants’ arrival
From the 19th century onwards, men seeking their place in the world arrived from Europe with their suitcases packed with illusions. With rejections, coincidences and the search for a unitary thought between European immigrants and the natives inhabiting the new country began writing a new history. The Plata River region received different immigratory waves which brought the spirit and habits of Spaniards and Italians, with the basic addition of Swiss, French, German and also Paraguayan people, all of these to a lesser extent.

The present of Argentine people
The 20th century Argentina thus became an alloyance of races and cultures producing the interweaving of a complex identity that progressively became a feature of the Argentine people. Tango, soccer, political passions were only some of the cultural productions which spoke of a project worked out within a sea of conflicting ideologies and habits, but with the will to create a country as stated by the preamble of the National Constitution: “for all the honorable men who wish to inhabit the Argentine land”.

Tango Music

The dates and facts surrounding the birth of Carlos Gardel, even his real name and nationality, are still argued about–more than 60 years after his death in a plane crash. But his place as the greatest singer in the history of tango is indisputable. Gardel not only nearly singlehandedly defined the tango-cancion (sung tango) and set the standards of interpretation. For many, he embodied the very spirit of tango–urbane yet streetwise, romantic but also tough, sensual but oh-so-cool.

Ástor Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata – July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires) is widely considered the most important tango composer of the latter half of the twentieth century. His compositions revolutionized the traditional tango with a modern style – incorporating elements from jazz and classical music in a style termed nuevo tango. He was also a formidable bandoneón player, and often performed his own compositions with different ensembles. He is known in his native land of Argentina as “El Gran Ástor” (“The Great Astor”).