The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Tango DJing 3.0: Music at a Milonga (Introduction)


As a DJ you play music. If you are a Tango DJ, you play Tango music. Music may be of different origin and quality and the structure of your music mix will differ for different events. Music is always a matter of personal taste, so we will have to search for some common ground and some way to address that. The good thing is, usually there are no rules and if there are rules, it is no problem to break them. So which kind of music is played at our dance events ?

Most people love the music from the EDO (Epoca De Oro = Golden Age), the period between 1925 and 1955, where tango music and dancing was popular in Argentina and the quality of music was at it´s best. Unfortunately, the sound quality of music from that time is not always perfect, so some people do not like it. Other people (like me) are addicted and without some scratches from the shellac disc, it is not a real tango for them.

Modern Tango since 1960 has a much better technical quality, but unfortunately orchestras changed after the EDO in a way that they played music mainly for listening and not for dancing. A good example here is the Tango Nuevo by Astor Piazzolla, who particularly wanted his Tangos not to be danced to.

Contemporary Tango orchestras (since 2000) play either just for listening (like OT Fernandez Fierro) or for todays dancers (like Sexteto Milonguero). Other orchestras try to find a synthesis of Tango with modern electronic music which is called Tango Fusion or Neotango (like Gotan Project or Otros Aires). Some people call it “Tango Nuevo” as well, confusing that with the music of Astor Piazzolla.

Many dancers also dance to music not specifically written as a Tango. This music is called Nontango and specially for valses very popular.

So the selection of music may depend, which style of event you are going to DJ. If the milonga is a very traditional one, you may just want to play EDO music, if the milonga is a more open minded one, you will play a mix. There are also special events for the neotango scene, in that case, you may just want to play Neotango music.

I personally want to keep away from Tango extremism, I believe there is only ONE TANGO and all flavours of Tango are important in terms of music and dancing.

It is not important, whether you play with a system of Tandas and Cortinas or not. A traditional milonga needs to be structured in that way, a modern one not. There is also a dicussion whether Nontangos are appropriate or not. This is just a matter of personal taste. But as a DJ, your taste needs to be good and an example for your crowd.

Just let me express one final thought. We are calling our dances Milonga. 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). So the term Tango is closely connected to the tradition and in terms of Music to the one from 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. 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.

So for a Tango DJ it is absolutely necessary to have a sound knowledge (and a good collection) of traditional tangos from the EDO. Everything starts here and without this basic fundament, a DJ is not a real Tango DJ.

During the next few Blogs, I will try to start from there to talk about music collection, tanda and milonga structure and the real DJing procedure.



-Richard (DJ Ricardo)


P.S.: Please do not pirate Tango Music if you are a DJ!

Argentinean and international labels are working very hard to restore and reconstruct music from the EDO in close connection with collectors. Please buy their CDs, because without your support this will not happen and very important musical gems may be lost forever.  This work will make sure, that you can get Tango music in reasonable digital quality.


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