History and Musicality of
Argentine Tango
A sad thought that can be danced
Bob Barnes, Mandragora Tango Orchestra
http://www.mandragoratango.com
Agenda
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A Quick gloss of Tango History
Telling Tango from Vals from Milonga
Micro-Tango: Tango Beats
Middle-Tango: Texture and Counterpoint
Macro-Tango: Phrasing and Structure
Talking about music is
like dancing about
architecture
Laurie Anderson
A Brief History
of Tango
What Is Tango
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Classical music you can
dance to
A sad thought that can be
danced
A vertical expression of a
horizontal desire
Couple’s dancing where
contact isn’t broken and
hips are not shaken
The only Latin music
without drums
Argentine Melting Pot
Much like the US, but Spanish speaking
Founded by Spanish in 1500s
Country of immigrants.
Most Argentines have Italian names
Most Argentines claim to have one cousin in
New York and one in Italy (it’s a joke!)
 Slavery was not a huge economic factor, so
much less African influence.
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The Origins of
Tango
Cuban
“Habanera”
 Italian Opera &
Neapolitan Songs
 Eastern European
Polka
 Spanish Guitar
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Tangos first appeared in Brothels
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Buenos Aires had twice
as many men as women
in the 1890s
Bars and Brothels were
social spots for working
class men
Taxi dancing for a Tanda
Men would dance with
each other while waiting
for women
Needless to say, tango
was looked down upon by
polite society
La Guardia Vieja (Old Guard)
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Quartets of Flute, Guitar,
Bando & Violin
Pianos and basses added much
later
A-B-A-Trio form, just like a
march or ragtime
Firpo, Maglio, Berdi, Orquesta
Tipica Victor
Here is “Sabado Ingles”
(English Saturday)
Juan “Pacho” Maglio, 1917
Tango goes to Paris
Right after WW1, Tango takes
Europe by Storm
 Huge fad that remains to this day
 All of a sudden, Tango becomes
“respectable” in Buenos Aires
 Finnish Tango starts at this time
but diverges over the 20th Century
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Canaro en Paris
Francisco Canaro took his band to
Paris and became superstars.
When the Scarpino brothers heard
about this, they wrote “Canaro en
Paris” to celebrate
Warning: In 1917,
Pope Benedict XV
Condemned the
Tango, calling it
immoral and
lascivious. Your
mileage may vary.
Garlos Gardel
Born 1887
 Either in France or Uruguay
 Do not mention France to
an Uruguyan. The French
don’t really care, though.
 One of the first Latin megarecording stars
 First Latin matinee idol
 Killed in a plane crash in
Medellln, Columbia in 1935
 They say he sounds better
every day
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Gardel’s grave is
always tended and
he usually has a lit
cigarette in his hand
 Here is “Mi Buenos
Aires querido”
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Epoca de Oro (Golden Age)
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1930-1950 (Roughly)
When someone says they dance “Argentine
Tango”, this is what they mean
Orquesta Tipica: 4 Bandos, 4 Violins, Bass, Piano
and a Singer.
3-4 minutes.
Singer starts half way though.
Chan-chan at the end
Bahia Blanca by Carlos DiSarli
Garua by Anibal Troilo
Transitional Period
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After WW2, Argentina was
very rich from selling food
(mostly beef) to Europe
Political instability
Juan and Eva (Evita) Peron
Tango became more
complex and more for
listening
Osvaldo Pugliese: La
Yumba
Astor Piazzolla and the New Tango
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Born in Mar del Plata in
1921
Moved to New York
when he was 5
Spoke better English
than Spanish!
NY Errand Boy for
Gardel
Cameo in “Rubias de
Nueva York”
Astor Piazzolla, cont.
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Moved to Paris to study
classical composition
Moved back to Buenos
Aires and started playing
tango his way
Merged Tango, Classical
and Jazz.
Dancers and
traditionalists hated it
Now a national hero
Most played classical
composer of second half
of 20th. century
“Muerte del Angel”
Near Death Experience of Tango
Went out of fashion
 Urban vs. Rural tension w/ Juntas
 Rock and Folklorico
 In BsAs, there are many more places to
dance Salsa than Tango
 Tango became a listening genre
 Dramatic singers and big orchestras
 “Tango for Export”
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Rebirth of Tango
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End of military Juntas in 1982
Luis Bravo’s “Forever Tango” in 1985
popularized it in Europe and N. America
Popularity of Piazzolla
Collapse of Argentine economy
Tourism
Danced all over the planet. Extremely popular in
France, Finland, Germany, Turkey, and Japan
About 300 tango dancers in Mpls.
Check out mntango.com to learn more
Furrow ed B row S cale
C anaro
Fresedo
G uardia V ieja
B allroom Tango
Less
Intense
D eC aro
Laurenz
D ’A rienzo
B iaggi
Troilo
C alo
Tanturi
P ugliese
P iazzolla
D e A ngelis
(Fernandez Fierro )
M ore
Intense
Tango S ong
C arlos G ardel
G olden A ge
Lyrical
G uardia V ieja
(O ld G uard )
E pocha D ecarana
(“N ew G uard”)
C anaro
Firpo
M aglio
O .T.V .
D eC aro
Laurenz
B iaggi
Fresedo
C alo
E arly Troilo
Tanturi
E volutionary
Tango (“Tango
for E xport” )
S assone
D e A ngelis
Late Troilo
Tango R ebirth
C olor Tango
E l A rranque
Fernandez Fierro
E squela de Tango
W hat D ancers in
B uenos A ires
A ctually D ance To
G olden A ge
R hythm ic
R evolutionary
Tango
D ’A rienzo
D iS arli
E arly P ugliese
P iazzolla
S algan / Q uinteto R eal
Late P ugliese
P iazzolla
G arello
1950
1965
Tango N uevo
International
(B allroom )
Tango
R ussian / French /
Turkish / Finnish /
Japanese /
A m erican
1900
1920
1935
1985
S u b je ctive M e a su re o f T a n g o P o p u la rity
M o st A rg e n tin e s
N o n -W h o rin g
A rg e n tin e s
& G a rd e l
Fans
A m e rica n ,
F in n ish ,
R u ssia n ,
Ja p a n e se ,
T u rkish
P a le o -H ip ste rs
F re n ch
D a n d ie s
G o ld e n A g e
(E p o c h a d e o ro )
A rg e n tin e s w h o
d o n ’t like
E lvis o r
th e B e a tle s
G u a rd ia N e u v a
(N e w G u a rd )
You
a re
h e re
“T a n g o fo r
E x p o rt”
P ro stitu te s
a n d Jo h n s
H a rd -co re o ld -tim e
M ilo n g u e ro s a n d
E u ro p e a n M u sic F a n s
G u a rd ia V ie ja
(O ld G u a rd )
1895
F o lks w h o
g o t in to
T a n g o a fte r
it’s re b irth
1910
1917
WW1
1935
1946
WW2
1955
P e ro n
1982
L o n g d e clin e in to
C u ltu ra l irre la va n cy
1986
“T a n g o
F o re ve r”
Tango
R e b irth
2001
F o u n d in g o f
M a n d ra g o ra
Tango
Tango
Musicality
Telling Tango from Vals from Milonga
Vals is easy: Can you say Oom-pah-pah to
the beat (i.e. count 1-2-3, 1-2-3…)
 Milonga: Can you say “Pan y Vino” (“Bread
and wine”)? Is the beat a bit fast to walk?
You can say “Bread and Chocolate” in
English.
 Tango: Walking tempo. Count 1-2-3-4.
Not a vals or milonga.
 (except with drums, electronic instruments
or live music)
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Micro-Tango:
Beat
Micro-Tango:
Beat
A bar (compas) is 4 equal steps
1
2
3
4
4 quarter notes in a bar is called
4/4 time.
“Nothing Swings
like 4/4 Time”
A band will put different weights on
different beats. This is “En 4”
1
2
3
4
If you have 4 beats and play them with
the same weight, 3 of them will be wrong
1
2
3
4
This is “En 2”. Note how there is
just the slightest hint of 2 & 4
1
3
2
4
This is the opposite of Rock and Swing!
2
1
4
3
A heavy 2 & 4 is called a “Backbeat” and does not exist in tango.
Hips should not sway with the music.
Example: “Hit the Road, Jack”
Tangos mix up “En Dos” and “En Quattro”
1 2 3 4
1
2
1 2 3 4
1
2
To subdivide a beat, musicians say “and”:
1
&
2
&
3
&
4
&
A Sincopa (syncopation) is when the accent shifts by
½ beat. Notice that there is no 2nd or 4th beat.
1
&
&
3
This can be used to go from
parallel to cross system!
A Sincopa can be used to move between beats
1 2 3 4
1
& &
3
1
2
1
& &
3
A series of bars will end with a “Chan-chan”
1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4
1
C
H
A
N
C
H
A
N
We will spend a lot of time learning to stop on these beats
An “arrastre” (drag) is sometimes used to accent the
first beat of a bar (but not in every bar!)
It can sound like a growl
1
2
3
1
4
&
1
2
3
4
Here is an example of a break in the music. This
pause is like storing up potential energy that the
arrastre can be used to dissipate
Middle-Tango:
Phrasing
Phrasing
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Basic building blocks of musical form
Traditionally, a phrase is how much a person can
sing on one breath.
Usually 4 bars
Phrases can leave you in the air (Antecedent)
Phrases can ground you (Consequent)
In Tango a “Chan-chan” ends each Consequent
phrase
Antecedent (Lifting) and
Consequent (Grounding) Phrases
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
Stop
Benjamin Zander on Phrasing
From his 2010 TED talk, “The Transcormative Power of Classical Music”
Windows are the spaces between
phrases.
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Some windows pause time. At the end of an
antecedant. A good place for a showy figure or a
dramatic pause
Some windows mark time: the end of a consequent
phrase. A good place to collect your feet and relax for
a split second.
Windows are a place where a solo instrument can fill in
or the orchestra can leave a space for the dancer’s
imagination
As an exercise, listen for windows in every tango you
hear. Shout out if you hear one!
Macro-Tango:
Structure
Tango Form
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Several phrases together make a section
A section has a “Chan-chan” at the end.
Each section will have a different affect
Sections are usually called “A” and “B” and “Trio”
If one section is major (happy) the next one will be
minor (sad)
You should dance each section distinctly.
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent Consequent
Rhythmic vs. Lyrical
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Murat Erdemsel’s big thing: bouba vs. kiki
Rhythmic vs. Lyrical
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Tango is always somewhere on this continuum.
Easy to hear, but takes a long time to learn to
dance to it.
Lois will talk a lot about this in her part later.
More Structure
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In BsAs, no one dances at the start of a song.
Folks stand around and flirt (dar priopos) for 30
seconds or so
The band can play an intro (top) that is out of
rhythm
The coda (tail) usually restates a main theme.
Many instrumental Tangos end with a
bandoneon variacion
Vocal tangos often have the singer drop out and
come back in. The return of the singing is your
40-second warning!
Applying Structure to Dance
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Psychological theory that states that people best
remember the first few items and the last few
items in a list. (Primacy and Recency)
Allevare: the first move in a tango. Make it
count! Make it with authority and gravitas!
Buena Pinatura: paint a “good picture” with
your last move. Followers dig it when the leader
ends on the last beat
Most likely to forget stuff in the middle. Save
your crappy moves for here.
Example 1:
Carlos DiSarli’s
Bahia Blanca
Form Carlos DiSarli’s Bahia Blanca
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
Example 2:
Juan D’Arienzo’s
version of
Canaro en Paris
Form of D’arienzo’s Canaro en Paris
Intro / Bridge
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
Intro / Bridge
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
C:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
Intro / Bridge
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
C:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
With a fast variation in the Bandoneons
Example 3:
Anibal Troilo’s
Garua
Sung by Fiorentino
Form of Troilo’s Garua
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent-ish
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
A:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent-ish
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
B:
Antecedent
Antecedent
Antecedent
Consequent
Sung by Fiorentino
Consequent
A short break
and on to
the dancing!
Thank You
Bob Barnes, Mandrágora Tango Orchestra
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Antecedent - Mandrágora Tango