The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Tango DJing 3.1: Classification of Tango Music



Without Tango music, it is impossible to DJ and without a lot of that, it is impossible to create a structured Milonga. So Tango DJs have to collect Tangos in a certain way. Additionally, it is of high importance for Tango DJs to have a good knowledge of Tango history and especially the history of the big orchestras.

Tango is played by small to big orchestras. Interpretations like Gardel´s songs, i.e. a singer who accompanies himself on a guitar, can be real Tango gems, but will be very rare at a Milonga and this applies for some duos (like Troilo/Grela or Ziegler/Sinesi) as well. The traditional Tango orchestra is a Sexteto (2 violins, 2 bandoneons, double bass and piano) and during the golden age, this has been extended to big orchestras with more than 10 musicians. For dancing, the orchestras since around 1930 are used. Tango music can be classified in a couple of different phases. Usually I use this classification (based on the classification by Horacio Ferrer) [1]:

– Origins of Tango (1865-1895)

– Guardia vieja (old guard) (1895 -1925)

– – Emergence (1895-1925)

– – Formalization (1910-1925)

– Guardia nueva (1925-1955)

– – Transformation (1925-1940)

– – The fourties: The exaltation (1940-1955)

– Vanguardia (modernization) (1955-1970)

– Contemporary Tango (1970-2000)

– – Globalization (1970-1985)

– – Perduration (1985 – 2000)

– Current period (2000-today)

This is a very useful classification if you look at the Tango as an overall picture. If you want to classify a certain orchestra it becomes very difficult. Orchestras sometimes did not stay in their historical slots, but they developed. Certain orchestras have changed their style frequently to span more than 2 or three historical phases.

Tango definitely had a golden age during the 40ies, so this time was called the Cuarentas or the Epoca de Oro (or EDO). As you can see, there is no EDO in the historical classification (actually it is called “Guardia nueva: El Cuarenta: la exaltacion”). We have to keep in mind, that the time from 1925 to 1940 was a transitional period, which was actually needed to develop the music and the necessary interpretation technique.

For DJing, this can be transformed into a slightly easier classification scheme:

  1. Guardia vieja
  2. Translational period to EDO (20ies to 30ies)
  3. EDO (30ies to 50ies)
  4. Post EDO (50ies)
  5. Tango Nuevo (60ies to 70ties)
  6. Renaissance of Tango (80ties to 90ies)
  7. Contemporary Tango (2000 to today)


A Tango DJ may play music from all phases, but there are some limitations in terms of practicability. There are few records from the real guardia vieja, and these are mostly of bad quality (Examples: Juan Maglio “Pacho”, Eduardo Arolas). In terms of dancability and listening quality they are really limited. This means, they are rarely heard at milongas and even if some DJs may play this music now and then, they are not a continuous part of milonga music. Very early tango music also comes from the transitional period, but here typically the quality is much better. You may pick here music from the early works of Canaro, Firpo and Julio de Caro. Sometimes also the older “label Orchestras” (like OTV and OT Brunswick) can be classified into this drawer.They are frequently played in Europe but not so common in Buenos Aires based milongas.

Music from the real golden age is typically the center of our attention (we will look at this music later in detail). Approaching the end of EDO and later, the orchestras changed theire style, because now they did not play typically for milongas but more for pure listening. Orchestras from that period (like Hector Varela or Julio Sosa) have a good quality (in 1958 the stereo method has been introduced) but a limited danceability, so the DJ has to select very carefully. After the reestablishment of democracy in Argentina, Tango had a renaissance in Argentina and internationally. New orchestras have been founded (like Sexteto Mayor, Rodolfo Mederos or Horacio Salgan). Again, the danceability is limited and DJs need to have a good taste and experience to pick the more danceable.

Today Tango music of contemporary orchestras can be divided into orchestras following the styles of Di Sarli (OT Gente de Tango), Pugliese (Color Tango) or Piazzolla (many….). On the other side are the orchestras and groups playing Tango fusion (or Neotango), we will probably talk about that also in detail.

So a Tango DJ needs some knowledge about the Tango history, good dancing abilities (to determine the danceability of a song) and a sound knowledge about the EDO orchestras.

Next blog will have a look at the big EDO Orchestras.


-Richard (DJ Ricardo)




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