Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues

It is apparent from previous posts (Variation in Traditional Tango Venues in Buenos Aires) (Dancing Tango Outdoors in Buenos Aires) (Gay Friendly / Gender Neutral Tango Social Dancing in Buenos Aires ) that some part of the variation that exists in Buenos Aires tango social dance venues is the music that is played for dancing tango. The variation in recorded music that is available to be played for dancing tango at social dance events in Buenos Aires and elsewhere will be explored here. This goal here is not to conduct an exhaustive review of music played for dancing tango at social dances, but rather to identify differences and trends.

Classic Tango Music

In the overwhelming majority of tango dance venues in Buenos Aires that are called ‘milongas’ or ‘bailes’, with few exceptions, all of the music to which people dance tango is the recorded classic tango music of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the golden age of tango. The main orchestras played are those of Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli, Francisco Canaro, Anibal Troilo, Rodolfo Biagi, Ricardo Tanturi, Osvaldo Pugliese, Angel D’agostino, Miguel Calo, Enrique Rodriguez, Edgardo Donato, and Alfredo de Angelis (linkA). The music of other golden age orchestras, such as Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Laurenz, Lucio Demare, Ricardo Malerba, Orquesta Tipica Victor, Francisco Lomuto and Alfredo Gobbi, is also played with some degree of regularity. Excellent reviews of the golden age orchestras are provided by Keith Elshaw (linkB) and Todo Tango (linkC). Actually, for the most part the music played at Buenos Aires milongas is from the decades of the 1930s and 1940s. The only golden age orchestras whose recorded music from the 1950s is played with any degree of regularity is the music of Carlos Di Sarli, Osvaldo Pugliese and Alfredo De Angeles. However, it is not uncommon to attend a milonga in Buenos Aires and not hear any recorded music from the 1950s. During the 1950s, for most tango orchestras there was a change in the style of recorded tango music towards a concert sound that was not suitable for dancing, primarily because of the abandonment of a clear, constant tempo. This change was quite apparent in the music of the Troilo and Fresedo orchestras in the 1950s. The music of Pugliese during the 1950s also evolved towards a less apparent and constant tempo; nevertheless, it was retained as part of the milonga music repertoire, albeit in reduced frequency compared to the Pugliese music of the 1940s, which has a more constant tempo. However, after 1960 the music of Pugliese diverged even further from the basic constant tempo structure of the 1940s and this music is rarely played at milongas in Buenos Aires. The De Angelis orchestra followed a similar trend in the 1960s and thus is also not represented in the milonga music repertoire. It is interesting to note that the music of the D’Arienzo orchestra did not change radically during the 1950s, compared to the late 40s, yet it is rare to hear D’Arienzo’s recordings from the 1950s played at Buenos Aires milongas. D’Arienzo’s recordings from the 1950s and 1960s and Pugliese’s recordings after 1960, generally not heard in most Buenos Aires milongas, may be heard sometimes at tango dance events in North America.

Transitional and Post Golden Age Tango Orchestras

In addition to the orchestras of Troilo, Fresedo, Pugliese, and De Angelis that made a transition from tango music for dancing in the 1940s to a concert sound, there were several musicians who had played in golden age tango dance orchestras that formed their own orchestras that played music that was more suitable for listening in the concert hall than for dancing in the milongas (linkD). This includes the music of the orchestras of Enrique Francini & Armando Pontier (played with Calo), Horacio Salgan (Firpo), Florindo Sassone (Fresedo), and Hector Varela (D’Arienzo). The music of the Francini-Pointier orchestra can be heard on rare occasions in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires. It would be very unusual to hear the music the music of Salgan, Sassone, and Varela in Buenos Aires milongas. The music of all of these orchestras is played on a somewhat irregular and low frequency basis at tango social dance events in North America.

Nuevo Tango

The history of nuevo tango music is almost entirely represented by the path taken by its creator and primary composer and orchestra leader Astor Piazzolla (linkE). Piazzolla played bandoneon in the orquesta tipica of Anibal Troilo from 1939 to 1944, a period that encompasses most of the tango music of Troilo played at milongas in Buenos Aires. He subsequently formed his own orquesta tipica, in existence from 1944 to 1949, that deviated from the music of the tango dance orchestras of the 1940s in its greater rhythmic and harmonic complexity; the music of the orquesta tipica of Astor Piazzolla is not played at milongas in Buenos Aires (and rarely, if at all, at North American tango dance events as well). Following study of classic music in Paris, Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1955 and began his career of composing and leading ensembles in nuevo tango, a musical creation of Piazzolla combining characteristics of tango, classical music, and jazz. Piazzolla did not intend his music for dancing and very little of it has a constant tempo that facilitates dancing. Until recently the music of Piazzolla was not played in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Even today, it is played rarely, and in only a few locales where tango is danced socially. In contrast, it is not unusual to hear the nuevo tango music of Piazzolla played at tango social dance events in North America; ‘Libertango’ and ‘Oblivion’ are Piazzolla compositions that are heard with some degree of regularity at North American tango social dance events.

Contemporary Tango Orchestras

There are several contemporary tango orchestras that play in the style of golden age orchestras – Color Tango (Pugliese), Los Reyes del Tango (D’Arienzo), Gente de Tango (Di Sarli) and San Souci (Calo) – and these orchestras will occasionally play ‘en vivo’ at Buenos Aires milongas today. However, the recorded music of these orchestras is rarely played at traditional milongas in Buenos Aires. The music of Color Tango is played regularly at many milongas in North America, the other orchestras much less frequently.

There are also several popular contemporary tango orchestras that play in a more contemporary style. Highly regarded among these are the orchestras El Arranque and Fernandez Fierro, both of which have been influenced in part by the music of Osvaldo Pugliese, but each has charted a unique path in creating tango concert music. The music of the orchestras of El Arranque and Fernandez Fierro is not heard in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires. Some of the recordings of these orchestras with a somewhat regular tempo may be heard at times at milongas in North America.

Neo-tango, Tango Fusion and Non-tango Music for Dancing Tango

In the first decade of the 21st century a new genre of music labeled ‘neotango’ has appeared at tango social dance venues around the world. Neotango (linkF) is represented by two subgroups of music, ‘tango fusion’ and ‘alternative tango’.

‘Tango fusion’ is a mix of tango elements with elements from other types of music, particularly electronic music, jazz, and ethnic music from various parts of the world. Electronic music is the strongest identifying component of tango fusion and thus most tango fusion is also classified as ‘electrotango’. Electrotango encompasses musical influences and rhythms from such musical genres that have been classified as ‘disco’, ‘techno’, ‘house’, ‘trance’ and ‘new age’. Included among the most popular musical groups / bandleaders playing electrotango are Gotan Project, Tanghetto, Narcotango (Carlos Libedinsky), Jaime Wilensky, Bajofondo, and Otros Aires (linkG). The main contributions of tango musical elements to electrontango are the use of the bandoneon and occasionally tango melodies. Some elements of tango rhythm may be found at times in some electrotango recordings, but these tend to be less prominent than the dominant dance club beat created by an electronic drum machine. Electronic sound synthesizers also create a prominent part of the atmosphere of electrotango music.

Along somewhat different lines, tango fusion is considered to include the contemporary music of musicians who fuse tango elements with elements of music from other cultures. A prime example of this is the music of Juan Carlos Caceres from Uruguay, who creates a mixture of jazz and various African and other Latin American influences with some tango (mostly milonga) elements (linkH). In recent years the Cacerers compositions ‘Tango Negro’ and ‘Toca Tango’, which have a milonga rhythm, have been popular at milongas in North America. These Caceres compositions may also be heard occasionally at tango social dance events in Buenos Aires, even at those considered to be traditional milongas.

‘Alternative tango’ is a term used for tango music from other cultures (e.g., Finnish tango, Turkish tango, but apparently not ballroom tango), as well as for non-tango music (e.g., blues, jazz, rock, hip-hop, world music) that is played for dancing tango at social dance events.

There are several websites that make recommendations on neo-tango music that a DJ can select for dancing at tango social dance venues (linkI) (linkJ) (linkK).

The Alternative Milonga

A tango social dance event where a high proportion of neotango and possibly some nuevo tango and contemporary tango music are played may be called an ‘alternative milonga’. However, in North America a social dance venue that plays a high proportion of neotango and nuevo tango may not always be advertised as an ‘alternative’ milonga, but only as a ‘milonga’. Many North American tango festivals include at least one alternative milonga in their programs. It is possible that at an alternative milonga, no classic tango music will be played.

Although there are some tango social dance venues in Buenos Aires where neotango and nuevo tango music may be played (Dancing Tango Outdoors in Buenos Aires) (Gay Friendly / Gender Neutral Tango Social Dancing in Buenos Aires ) (more to be discussed in later posts), there appear to be only two social dance venues – Milonga Otros Buenos Aires in San Telmo (linkL) and occasionally Villa Malcolm in Palermo (linkM) where most of the music played for dancing tango is neotango and nuevo tango.

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6 Responses to Music Played at Milongas / Tango Social Dance Venues

  1. tangobob says:

    An enjoyable and complete summary. One thing that I find constantly annoying is that people who come to Buenos Aires, rave about the music in the Milongas, the Golden age stuff. Yet when they return home (I have tango friends in South Africa The States as well as in the UK) they insist on playing, listening, and dancing to utter rubbish.
    The later music of Piazzolla and other neo tango music is passed off as milonga music in Europe along with just about anything that the DJs think we should be able to dance to.
    Keep telling the world what they really play in Buenos Aires, between us maybe we can convince them, and then perhaps I will never again hear “you should be able to dance to anything”

  2. jantango says:

    I enjoyed reading your summary of the music for social tango venues.

    I wouldn’t include Alfredo De Angeles in the list of orquestas for the milonga from what I’ve been told by the late Ricardo Vidort and his good friend Mario Alan “Alito” Candamil. Ricardo said that De Angeles was used for the carousels around the city. Alito once told me that if a deejay in his time played De Angeles at a milonga, he would be taken to the street and shot. That’s enough basis for me to take De Angeles off the official list of orquestas for the milonga (and milongueros).

    • Chris, UK says:

      Janis wrote: “I wouldn’t include Alfredo De Angeles in the list of orquestas for the milonga…

      You have done already Janis, e.g. in your report here.

      And the DJ you rate as BsAs’ top, Dany Borelli, often plays De Angelis tango and vals, including La Cumparsita 1961.

      Budding DJs, here is a sample tanda from DJ Antti Suniala, writing:

      this is music that will grow on you and now during my second stay in Buenos Aires I’ve really fallen for De Angelis for good. While tangos from De Angelis (the valses are more popular) … are played less in milongas in Europe, they are a necessary main ingredient of milongas in Buenos Aires.

  3. tangovoice says:

    De Angelis may not be everyone’s favorite music for playing at the milongas in Buenos Aires, but the fact is that it is played regularly – the instrumentals from the 50s, the Dante-Martel vals duos, and even some vocal tangos from the 40s.

  4. Evaldas says:

    @jantango.
    Funny to hear that about De Angelis… Because one BsAs milonguero said me approximately the same about orquesta de Enrique Rodriguez (something like “he was allowed to play only when serious orquestas made breaks for their natural needs”…).
    For me then it was “enough basis” to stop playing Rodriguez in my milongas :)) Only later I started play it again, little by little. But I never heard that about De Angelis.
    It seems that some of famous tango names made really bad PR among at least some of their audience …

  5. tangovoice says:

    The Rodriguez orquesta was not among the more popular orquestas for dancing tango within Buenos Aires in the Golden Age, but was more popular in the provinces where other rhythms for dancing were more popular. There are number of CDs of this orquesta playing in rhythms other than tango (polkas, pasodobles, fox trots, corridos). See EMI Reliquias series ‘Bailando todos los ritmos’ and ‘Recordando sus exitos’. Rodriguez may not have been popular among tango enthusiasts in the Golden Age, but his tango music is played regularly in the milongas of Buenos Aires today.

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