I have been asked to describe the way I DJ Tango music. Just in one or two sentences ? This is ridiculous, because I probably can´t do it even in one or two pages.
We dance Tango, but it is not just Tango, it is Argentinean Tango (and we do not want to forget the people of Uruguay, so it is Tango rioplatense). The real one from Buenos Aires ! We call our dance events Milongas. Just like the Argentinean people do.
Understanding this and accepting this, we have at least to keep in mind, that there is a whole bunch of traditions and history behind that. This gives us at least a little bit of a responsibility to understand some of the culture connected to Milongas (the codigo). I am not a traditionalist who wants to run a Milonga exactly the same way the ones in Buenos Aires are, but I personally think we have to be very careful to deal with the traditions of Tango. Today it is expected that Milongueros (those of us who frequently attend Milongas) have at least to know the codigos and the tradition of Tango music. Tango is an improvised dance and not restricted by a syllabus. The only constant factor is the music, and it is expected for a dancer to dance to and with the music. This is not only dancing to the rhythm (compas), but it is also a challenge to interpret the music and its flavour and emotional content. So tango music is the centre of our world for 3 minutes and this is the reason, why music is so important for dancers and for a Milonga to be a success. I can not imagine a Milonga without a DJ (a responsible person for the musical progress of the dance), if just a CD (brought in by anyone) is played, this is not an event I can enjoy. As a dancer, I want to be challenged and surprised by the selection of music, I want to feel a progression and the energy that drives me to dance the next Tanda.
Tango Music has been developed in Argentina (and Uruguay) since the late 19th century and the big orchestras had their golden age in the 30ies to 50ies of the 20iest century. After that, orchestras played the music not for dancing, but for listening. Never again after that, orchestras have played music in a more sophisticated style and well adapted to the dancers like in that time. There is a very simple reason for that. In the golden age (Epoca de Oro or EDO) orchestras have played 6-7 days per week for the dancers, today they meet for a common project and then they part to do their own business. During the EDO more than 200 Orchestras have played in the clubs of Buenos Aires and at least 40-60 of them have recorded discs. Around 20-30 orchestras are still the heart of Tango and they all play different styles and flavours. Some of them are copied by modern orchestras, but they typically can´t compete with the professionalism of the orchestras of the EDO.
If we say Tango music, we mean Tango music of the EDO. The traditional orchestras are the treasure box of Tango and with their music, the heart of Tango beats.
Even if there are other styles of Tango, as a DJ I believe that in a Milonga (way) more than 50% of the music should be music of the EDO, otherwise it is not a Milonga. Fortunately, apart from a core of 100-200 frequently played songs, there are thousands of songs from that age, meticulously collected and carefully restored, so even a 7h Milonga can be played without boring the dancers. EDO music comes in different flavours, there can be music of pure rhythm (like Juan D´Arienzo), there can be music with more simple and grounded rhythm (like Francisco Canaro), there can be music with a playful happy rhythm (like Enrique Rodriguez) or more lyric Music (like Miguel Calo) or even pure romantic music (like Osvaldo Fresedo or Anibal Troilo). On the more heavy side of tango are the dramatic ones (like Osvaldo Pugliese or the late instrumentals of Carlos di Sarli). So a DJ is well able to take you through different flavours and moods just by picking the right orchestra either with a singer (they are all different) or just instrumental songs. DJs play typically Tandas of 3-4 similar songs (same orchestra, same speed and flavour), just to give you the chance to dive into a certain musical style and also to give you security, that the same type of music is constant for this tanda (and for this special dance partner). Tandas are played with a Cortina between them (just a short piece of music indicating that there will be a change in musical style for the next Tanda). Tandas are played in Tanda Cycles. This is the cycle of typically two Tandas of Tango, one of Milonga, another two Tandas Tango and one Tanda Vals music. So especially a short milonga of 3-4 hours will not be sufficient to play at least all the EDO orchestras and rarely to play more than 2 tandas of a certain flavour.
Some people really do like modern Tango music. This is not bad, there are beautiful NonTango (songs not played as a Tango for dancing, sometimes pop music or folk music) or Tango Nuevo pieces (better called Tango electronico). Typically it is expected to place this kind of music at the end of the milonga, because in the beginning this disturbs the development of the Tango experience. I personally like to keep this music at the end of the Milonga in a “hora loca” (crazy hour) where I play dramatic Tango, Non-Tango, Tango Nuevo, World Tango (f.e. Tangos from Japan or Finland), very modern Tango Orchestras and even occasionally a Tanda of Salsa.
Some restrictions always apply. If the dancefloor is crowded, I do not play songs with high energy (because I do not want the dancers to endanger others by doing highly energetic dance moves). I also normally do not play Piazzolla music, because this music is not meant to be danced, and typically I only play danceable music with a clear flavour and a well readable beat. Apart from that, as a DJ, I play for the crowd and not for my personal taste. I believe, a DJ has to do his job and not only start the playlist, so he should be aware, what happens at the dancefloor and always be prepared if a plan does not work.
Apart from that, I have played for small communities (in Cairns) and for bigger ones up to 200 people in Europe and north America. I learned, that you can´t do it right for everyone, so if you do not like my music, please give feedback and try to understand, that we have to be connected in the culture of Tango.
Just a final word on dance styles. There is a huge style discussion going on between friends of Milonguero style, Salon style and Tango Nuevo. Naturally, different styles are danced to different music. Milonguero style is danced to quick beats (TicTicTac rhythm), Salon to more smooth melodic music, and Nuevo can be danced to all music (you don´t need electronic beats). In Europe the community has found solutions. Some events provide two dancefloors (one traditional, one Nuevo) and the Milongueros typically meet in private parties (Encuentros) with strict codigos. I personally believe in the “one tango” philosophy. If the dancefloor is free, I may do Nuevo moves (because it is fun). If the dancefloor is crowded, I do close embrace to show respect and consideration to my fellow dancers and get my pleasure from the depth of the embrace.
So what can you expect, if I DJ a Milonga ? Respect for the traditions but an open mind to the present and future of Tango. Nevertheless, I still believe, that Tango is deeply grounded in the music of the EDO, so it is my commitment and my pleasure to pick the best songs from that time to make your feet move and your heart melt. I like to do diverse Milongas with a “happy hour”, but for me the real challenge is the traditional milonga with 100% EDO music.
-Richard (DJ Ricardo)
P.S.: If you are a beginner in this Tango world, it may feel very confusing. Be patient and try to learn the basics of Tango music. This will open your ear and your heart for the cultural heritage we deal with.
Even for the advanced dancers, in the new century, steps are not important any more. Today, all the really good dancers try to develop their musicality.