The real origins of tango music are as complicated as tango itself. The French colons in "Republica Dominicana" near 18 century made their slaves play for them while they danced "la contre dance", a French type of music, where the origin of the tango's "counterpoint rhythm" started. These slaves played also for their own pleasure, travelled around and received important influences from Cuban music and the Spanish zarzuela, that has similar musical aspects.
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. The first generation of tango player was called "Guardia Vieja". By the end of the 19th century, this blend of salon, European, African and native American music was heard throughout metropolitan Buenos Aires. It took time to move into proper 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 this rich music reflects the habit of men to practice tango together in groups, expressing both machismo and sexual desire, leading to the distinct mix of sensitivity and aggressiveness of the form. 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".
1920s and 1930s, Carlos Gardel
Tango soon became the first of many Latin dance crazes 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
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 helped inaugurate the Golden Age of tango, which ended after his death in a plane crash in Colombia.
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.
The "Golden Age" of tango music and dance is generally agreed to have been the period from
about 1930 to 1945, 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.
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.
The later age of tango has been dominated by Astor Piazzolla, who became famous after appearing in Carlos Gardel's El dia que me quieras was released. During the 1950s, Piazzolla consciously tried to make a pop form of tango, earning the derision of purists and old-time performers. The 1970s saw Buenos Aires developed a fusion of jazz and tango, alongside tango-rock, mixing tango with rock and roll. Litto Nebbia and Siglo XX were especially popular in this development. In recent years is important the work of argentine band 020 (zero2zero), whose epic album "End of Illusions" mixed pop and rock in the british style with nuevo tango.
The so-called post-Piazzolla generation 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.
Current developments: neo-tango
Tango development has not stopped here. The following examples are not filed under "Tango Nuevo" as the filing is usually done in behind-sight rather than when still under 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 albums "La Revancha del Tango" and "Lunático". 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.
It is not hyperbole to say that Astor Piazzolla is the single most important figure in the history of
tango, a towering giant whose shadow looms large over everything that preceded and followed him. Piazzolla's
place in Argentina's greatest cultural export is roughly equivalent to that of Duke Ellington in jazz —
the genius composer who took an earthy, sensual, even disreputable folk music and elevated it into a sophisticated
form of high art. But even more than Ellington, Piazzolla was also a virtuosic performer with a near-unparalleled
mastery of his chosen instrument, the bandoneon, a large button accordion noted for its unwieldy size and difficult
In Piazzolla's hands, tango was no longer ... read more about Astor Piazzolla
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