Tango is a style of ballroom dance music in 2/4 or 4/4 time that originated among European immigrant populations of Argentina and Uruguay (collectively, the "Rioplatenses"). It is traditionally played by a sextet, known as the orquesta típica, which includes two violins, piano, double bass, and two bandoneóns. Earlier forms of this ensemble sometimes included flute, clarinet and guitar. Tango may be purely instrumental or may include a vocalist. Tango music and dance have become popular throughout the world.


Even though the present forms developed in Argentina and Uruguay from the mid 19th century, there are records of 18th and early 20th century Tango styles in Cuba and Spain, while there is a flamenco Tangos dance that may share a common ancestor in a minuet-style European dance. All sources stress the influence of the African communities and their rhythms, while the instruments and techniques brought in by European immigrants in the 20th century played a major role in its final definition, relating it to the Salon music styles to which Tango would contribute back at a later stage.

The first Tango ever recorded was made by Angel Villoldo and played by the French national guard in Paris. Villoldo had to record in Paris because in Argentina at the time there was no recording studio.

Early tango was played by immigrants in Buenos Aires, where many argue the tango was born. The first generation of tango players was called "Guardia Vieja" (the Old Guard). By the end of the 19th century, this blend of salon, European and African music was heard throughout metropolitan Buenos Aires. It took time to move into wider circles: in the early 20th century it was the favorite music of thugs and gangsters who visited the brothels, in a city with 100,000 more men than women (in 1914). The complex dances that arose from such rich music reflects how the men would practice the dance in groups, demonstrating male sexuality and causing a blending of emotion and aggressiveness. The music was played on portable instruments: flute, guitar and violin trios, with bandoneón arriving at the end of the 19th century. The organito, a portable player-organ, broadened the popularity of certain songs. Eduardo Arolas was the major instrument of the bandoneón's popularization, with Vicente Greco soon standardizing the tango sextet as consisting of piano, double bass, two violins and two bandoneóns.

Like many forms of popular music, the tango was associated with the underclass, and the better-off Argentines tried to restrict its influence. In spite of the scorn, some, like writer Ricardo Güiraldes, were fans. Güiraldes played a part in the international popularization of the tango, which had conquered the world by the end of World War I, and wrote a poem ("Tango") which describes the music as the "all-absorbing love of a tyrant, jealously guarding his dominion, over women who have surrendered submissively, like obedient beasts".

One song that would become the most widely known of all tango melodies also dates from this time. The first two sections of La Cumparsita were composed as a march instrumental in 1916 by teen-aged Gerardo Matos Rodríguez of Uruguay.

Argentine roots of Tango

Besides the global influences mentioned above, early Tango was locally influenced by Payada, the Milonga from Argentine Pampas, and Argentine Candombe. In Argentina there was Milonga "from the country" since the mid eighteenth century. The first "payador" remembered is Santos Vega. The origins of Milonga seem to be in the Pampa with strong African influences, especially though the local Candombe (which would be related to its contemporary Candombe in Buenos Aires). It is believed that this candombe existed and was practised in Argentina since the first slaves were brought into the country.

Although the word "tango" to describe a music/dance style had been printed as early as 1823 in Havana, Cuba, the first Argentinian written reference is from a 1866 newspaper, that quotes the song "La Coqueta" (an Argentine tango). In 1876 a tango-candombe called "El Merenguengué" became very popular, after its success in the Afro-Argentines carnival held in February of that year. It is played with guitar, violin and flute in addition to the Afro-Argentine Candombe drums ("Llamador" and "Repicador"). This has been seriously considered as one of the strong points of departure for the birth and development of the Tango.

The first "group" of tango, was composed of two Afro-Argentines, "the black" Casimiro Alcorta (violin) and "the mulatto" Sinforoso (clarinet). They did small concerts in Buenos Aires since the early 1870s until the early 1890s. "The black Casimiro" is author of "Entrada Prohibida" ("Entry Forbidden"), then signed by the brothers Teisseire, and "la yapa"; in turn, is credited with the tango "Concha sucia", which was later amended and signed by F. Canaro as "Cara sucia" ("dirty face"). It must be said, thought that this duo was the author and performer of many of the early tangos now listed as "anonymous", since at that time were not used to signing works.

Before the 1900s, the following tangos were being played: "El queco" (anonymous, attributed to clarinetist Lino Galeano in 1885), "Señora casera" (anonymous 1880), "Andate a la recoleta" (anonymous 1880), "El Porteñito" (by the Spaniard Gabriel Diez in 1880), "Tango Nº1" (Jose Machado - 1883), "Dame la lata" (Juan Perez, 1888), "Que polvo con tanto viento" (anonymous 1890), "No me tires con la tapa de la olla" (A.A. 1893), "El Talar" (Prudencio Aragon - 1895).

The first recorded musical score (though no author) is "La Canguela" (1889) and is in the Museum of the City Score Rosario. On the other hand, the first copyrighted tango score is "El entrerriano", released in 1896 and printed in 1898 - by Rosendo Mendizabal, an Afro-Argentine. As for the transition between the old "Tango criollo" (Milonga from the Pampas, evolved with touches of Afro-Argentine Candombe, and some of Habanera), and the Tango of the Old Guard, there are the next songs: Ángel Villoldo ("El choclo", 1903) ("El Pimpolla", 1904), ("La Vida del Carretero", 1905) y ("El Negro Alegre", 1907), de Gabino Ezeiza ("El Tango Patagones", 1905), y de Higinio Cazón ("El Taita", 1905). Moreover, the first tango recorded by an orchestra was "Don Juan", whose author is Ernesto Ponzio. It was recorded by the orchestra of Vicente Greco.

1920s and 1930s, Carlos Gardel

Tango soon began to gain popularity in Europe, beginning in France. Superstar Carlos Gardel 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 bandoneón, 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, whose Adiós nonino became the most influential work of tango since Carlos Gardel's El día que me quieras was released in 1935. During the 1950s, Piazzolla consciously tried to create a more academic form with new sounds breaking the classic forms of tango, drawing the derision of purists and old-time performers. The 1970s saw Buenos Aires developing a fusion of jazz and tango. Litto Nebbia and Siglo XX were especially popular within this movement. In the 1970s and 1980s, the vocal octet Buenos Aires 8 recorded classic tangos in elaborate arrangements, with complex harmonies and jazz influence, and also recorded an album with compositions by Piazzolla.

The so-called post-Piazzolla generation (1980-) includes musicians such as Dino Saluzzi, Rodolfo Mederos, Gustavo Beytelmann and Juan Jose Mosalini. 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, Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H Muller. They formed in 1999. Their releases include Vuelvo al Sur/El capitalismo foráneo (2000), La Revancha del Tango (2001), Inspiración Espiración (2004), and Lunático (2006). Their sound features electronic elements like samples, beats and sounds on top of a tango groove. Some dancers enjoy dancing to this music, although many more traditional dancers regard it as a definite break in style and tradition.

Bajofondo Tango Club (Underground tango club) is another example of electro tango. Further examples can be found on the CDs Tango?, Hybrid Tango, Tangophobia Vol. 1, Tango Crash (with a major jazz influence), Latin Tango by Rodrigo Favela (featuring classic and modern elements), 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. In 2004, a music label, World Music Network, released a collection under the title The Rough Guide to Tango Nuevo.

Musical impact and classical interpreters

Allthough tango music was strictly circumscribed to the tango interpreters it was the classically trained Argentinian pianist Arminda Canteros (1911-2002) who used to play tangos to satisfy the requests of her father who could not understand Classical music. She developed her own style and had a weekly program of tango music for a radio station in Rosario, Argentina in the 1930s and 1940s. Since tango playing was considered the epitome of machismo, she had to take the masculine pseudonym, "Juancho" for the broadcasts.

Ms. Canteros settled in New York in 1970 where she recorded later in 1989 her CD "Tangos" when she was 78 years old. Following Ms. Cantero’s example, another Argentinian female pianist brought tango music to the concert halls: Cecilia Pillado played a complete tango recital at the Berliner Philharmonie in 1997 and recorded that program for her CD "Cexilia’s Tangos".

Since then tango has become part of the repertoire for great classical musicians like the baritone Jorge Chaminé with his Tangos recording with bandoneónist Olivier Manoury. Also al Tango, Yo-Yo Ma, Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Gidon Kremer, Plácido Domingo and Marcelo Alvarez have performed and recorded Tangos.

Some classical composers have written tangos, such as Isaac Albéniz in España (1890), Erik Satie in Le Tango perpétuel (1914), Igor Stravinsky in Histoire du Soldat (1918). The list of composers who wrote inspired by tango music also includes John Cage in Perpetual Tango (1984), John Harbison in "Tango Seen from Ground Level" (1991), and Milton Babbitt in "It Takes Twelve to Tango" (1984). The influence of Piazzolla has fallen on a number of contemporary composers. The "Tango Mortale" in Arcadiana by Thomas Adès is a striking example as is the orchestral Totentango by Matthew King.

Many popular songs in the United States have borrowed melodies from tango: the earliest published tango, El Choclo, lent its melody to the fifties hit Kiss of Fire. Similarly Adiós Muchachos became I Get Ideas, and Strange Sensation was based on La Cumparsita.

(from the article Tango (music) of Wikipedia)

Selected examples

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Video B


Video C


Video D


List of tango musicians

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