By Tine Herreman the first Yale Tango Club DJ
If you go to the neighborhood CD store and locate the tango section (usually under World Music), you will find CDs by Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel.
Carlos Gardel was a very famous Argentine singer and movie star whose effect on the ladies was comparable to that of Elvis Presley. He is the national hero of Argentina (together with Maradona). He died a tragic death in a plane crash in 1937. His music goes more in the “tango chanson” genre. It is not danceable. In fact in Argentina people consider it insulting to dance to rather than listen to his music. It’s not worth the bother. Carlos Gardel’s music is armchair tango. Better have some kleenex handy. It’s very beautiful and unspeakably sad.
Astor Piazzolla came of age during the 30s and 40s, and first did what the established guys were doing (but not as well), and then, in true contrary fashion, decided to go do something completely different. Dancing, he decided, was Out, and big drama brain trip tango was In. People have to sit down and listen to the guys playing. He produced a lot of recordings and it is very powerful and inspiring music, but dancing to it is a lot like dancing the hussle to classical music. It is a difficult challenge, and for most people other than professional tango dancers, the result looks and feels inadequate.
Astor Piazzolla’s music is armchair tango. If you are really into both Piazzolla and dancing, I suggest you explore Osvaldo Pugliese’s recordings from the 1950s-60s (see below), it is equally dramatic but a lot more danceable.
Tango music for dancing
Orquesta Tipica: Juan D’Arienzo conducting his Orchestra. Tango music for dancing was produced in large quantities and high quality and variety from the mid-30s to the late 50s. These years are known as the Golden Age. A tango orchestra (called an Orquesta Típica) generally had about 10 musicians: a piano, a bass, 3 or 4 bandoneons, 4 violins, sometimes a viola or a guitar, and often a singer.
The orchestras are named after the orchestra leader. The orchestra leader was in charge of deciding what everything would sound like, and all the orchestras sound distinctive and recognizable. So if the DJ tells you you were just listening to Juan D’Arienzo, you were listening to Juan’s orchestra, in which Juan was most likely not handling an instrument, and whoever was singing, that was also not Juan himself. The singers are male in about 99% of cases; in those days it was considered unseemly for women to sing in tango orchestras for dancing.
Tango is still being played and recorded now. Mostly though, it is the same classic compositions played by contemporary bands and for some reason nobody ever really explained satisfactorily, the vast majority of these sound very similar to each other and not as fresh and exciting as the orchestras of the Golden Age. Some people like the fact that contemporary recordings sound bigger and less scratchy and, well, less old. There are a few real innovators on the tango scene, producing jazzy-sounding tango, or tango with pop, electro and techno influences. More about that another time.
Tango, vals and milonga
When you go to a tango dance, also called a milonga, about two thirds of the time you will hear actual tangos, one sixth of the time it will be vals (tango vals, waltz), and one sixth of the time you will hear milonga music, in repeating cycles. Tango vals is in 3/4, like the waltz you know, but faster; you step on the first of the 3 beats, and optionally on either the 2nd or the 3rd beat. Milonga is often but not always faster than tango, and generally you will step on every beat and also do doubletime steps. Tango is nostalgic music, often with male singers going on about how they were driven to the depths of despair by beautiful women with dark liquid eyes. Vals lyrics are often about new love, or about flowers or one’s mother. Vals and milonga are happy music and brighten the mood of the party. Most CDs have primarily tangos with a few valses and milongas.
The Big Orchestras
DJs at tango dances will generally play music by the Golden Age orchestras listed below. If they know their stuff, they might also bring in some minor orchestras which you don’t have to worry about unless you are a DJ. These big orchestras are listed below, in some vague (and somewhat biased) order of importance. The period in which they produced their most danceable material is listed. Singers would remain with an orchestra for a while, generally several years. If you like songs by a particular orchestra with a particular singer, you can confidently shop for more knowing you’ll probably like that too. The list below is not at all exhaustive: there are thousands of tango CDs in print. Some of the albums are in bold larger font, these are especially recommended if you want to buy your first albums.
General guidelines include, when buying music from the fifties, better buy instrumental.
Several series are available, some new, which are a good basis for a collection, no matter how small. These include the series “Colección 78 rpm”, “Reliquias”, “RCA Victor 100 Años”, “Solo Tango”, and for Juan D’Arienzo, “El Rey Del Compas/70 Años”. If you buy more than one CD by the same artist in the same series, you will get little or no duplication. Plus, the sound quality of these releases is superior to other series not listed.
I include links to the CDs at http://www.tangostore.com in Buenos Aires. Ordering from tangostore.com is as painless as ordering from a domestic source, but it feels more exotic and exciting! If you buy 5 or more CDs, the shipping costs (from Argentina, 3-day shipping) are compensated by the great price of the CDs, US$ 6-8 a piece, compared to US$13 and up from online stores like Towerrecords.com and Amazon.com; at these latter stores the CDs are often on special order so you may have to wait several weeks before they can even tell you if they are available. You can also try http://www.classictango.com in California, they have good prices and usually ship immediately. Also check out www.thetangocatalogue.com
Tangostore.com has 45 seconds of each song available to listen. You will rarely hear the singer in these snippets, as in those days, at least for dance music, the singer did not get to do his thing until halfway through the song. A tango CD is great value, because you usually get 20 songs on it.
Where to start: some recommendations
Recommendations for university tango club DJs
Starter CD collection (60 CDs) recommended by Tine Herreman. They could be all you ever need! They are the CDs in the Yale Tango DJ collection.
For practicing, or rudimentary DJing on the cheap
If you are going to buy less than 10 CDs, I suggest you select the CDs listed in bold in the table below, plus a subset of the others listed.
|Favorite singers||Recommended CDs|
|Carlos Di Sarli||40s-50s||Roberto Rufino, Alberto Podesta, Jorge Duran, 50s: instrumental||1950s: RCA Victor 100 Años or Instrumentales Vol 2
1940s: any of the Coleccion 78rpm
|Francisco Canaro||30s||Roberto Maida, Ernesto Fama, instrumentals||Roberto Maida Canta Sus Exitos,
Sus Éxitos Con Ernesto Famá,
Instrumentales de Colección
Bailando Tangos, Valses Y Milongas
– all in the series Reliquias
|Juan D’Arienzo||late 30s
|instrumentals||Series El Rey Del Compas/70 Años, several covering the late 1930s;
De Pura Cepa and El Esquinazo are excellent.
Also for the 40s and 50s, any of the Coleccion 78rpm
|Osvaldo Pugliese||40s-60s||Roberto Chanel, instrumentals (40s),
Big dramatic instrumentals only (50s and later)
|Instrumentales inolvidables Vol 1, Exitos con Roberto Chanel (both 1940s, series Reliquias)
From Argentina to the World (1950s-60s)
|Anibal Troilo||40s||Francisco Fiorentino||Solo Tango Vol 2|
|Rodolfo Biagi||late 30s –
|instrumentals, Jorge Ortiz, Alberto Amor||Solos de orquesta – Reliquias,
Sus Éxitos con Alberto Amor – Reliquias
Sus Éxitos con Jorge Ortiz Vol. 1 – Reliquias
|Miguel Caló||40s||Raul Beron, Alberto Podesta||Al Compás Del Corazón – Reliquias
Sus Exitos Con A. Podesta, J. Ortiz Y R. Beron – Reliquias
|Osvaldo Fresedo||late 30s||Roberto Ray, Ricardo Ruiz||Solo Tango: Osvaldo Fresedo con cantores,
or any of the Coleccion 78rpm
|Angel D’Agostino||40s||Angel Vargas||any of the Coleccion 78rpm|
|Edgardo Donato||30s||everything||any of the Coleccion 78rpm|
|Lucio Demare||40s||Raul Beron, others||Sus Exitos con Raul Beron|
|Pedro Laurenz||40s||Alberto Podesta, others||Creaciones Inolvidables Con Podestá Y Bermúdez – Reliquias|
|Francisco Lomuto||30s – 40s||everything||any of the Coleccion 78rpm|
|Orquesta Típica Victor||30s||everything||any of the Coleccion 78rpm|
|Enrique Rodriguez||40s||Armando Moreno||Tangos Con Armando Moreno – Reliquias|
|Ricardo Tanturi||40s||Alberto Castillo, Enrique Campos||Coleccion 78rpm 1940-48|
|Julio De Caro||30s-40s||everything, most are instrumental||RCA Victor 100 Años,|
|Alfredo Gobbi||late 40s||instrumentals||Solo Tango|
|Alfredo De Angelis||40s||Carlos Dante, Julio Martel, + 50s instrumentals||From Argentina To The World|
|40s||all vals, most vocal, by various artists||Valses Inolvidables|