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October 24, 2005


Music for the not-so-musical

A few days ago, an interesting question was discussed on the Tango DJ list:

Suppose you are a Tango DJ with a repertoire consisting of mostly the Golden Classics of the ’40s and earlier, how should you handle requests for some more lively and sophisticated-soundingmeaning: modern and dramatic but having a generally less pronounced beat – stuff?

There was also a little sub-text that these requests were frequently made by a portion of the dance community that seems to have problems with rhythm.

A lack of appreciation of rhythm is also an issue within our relatively young Tango community. Since I have provided the music during some of our practicas and milongas in the past, I have personally experienced such requests before, hence I followed the discussions keenly. Below are some of the key points made.

As mentioned in the discussion, it is tempting to simply play music that has less pronounced rhythms in order to appease the requesters. While it can be argued that the more modern recordings have better fidelity and more dynamics and drama, this often only serves the desire of avoiding a confrontation with a lack of their rhythmic skills. However, good interpretation of the subtleties and tempo shifts in such music requires a great deal of musical skill, which is often lacking, not only in the people requesting the music, but in others. This can result in a room full of dancers that are not dancing very well.

Part of a DJ’s job is to keep the dancers connected to the rhythm of the music as much as possible. Some suggestions of (short of dishing out a never-ending string D’Arienzo instrumentals) of the appropriate choice of music that can up the Rhythmic Quotient – as Stephen Brown put it – of the dancers are:

  • Stick to relatively well-known classics when playing for groups of dancers that you do not know very well or who have only a rudimentary command of rhythm.
  • Play a tanda of music with a strong and less complex rhythm before playing something with more subtle or complex rhythms, e.g. a tanda of Di Sarli instrumentals or Di Sarli with Duran before a tanda of later Pugliese instrumentals or relatively modern tangos.
  • Select the modern tangos well so that they meet the rhythmic needs of the dancers.
  • For variety, play tandas with soft rhythms and lyrical singing from the 1940s including Calo/Beron, Tanturi/Campos and Troilo/Fiorentino. These tangos will help generate the soft feeling that the dancers without much rhythm seem to like without depriving the more rhythmically oriented dancers a good rhythmic foundation for dancing.
  • After a tanda of modern tangos, consider the use of Fresedo/Ray to redirect the mood back to earlier eras.
  • Try to make sure that consecutive tandas have sufficient contrasts in style and rhythm, so that people on the dance floor don’t get bored!
  • Finally, don’t expect Biagi to work very well for those who are requesting modern Pugliese, Color Tango, etc. because those who want softer or floaty rhythms are usually completely bedevilled by Biagi’s syncopations. Biagi valses are fine.
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1 Comment
  1. Louise
    Nov 4 2005

    Oh, i totally agree. but some interesting-sounding stuff can really liven up the dance floor after repeated rounds of Golden Age stuff. Generally, tho, i only accept dances during the “interesting” tandas if I feel the leader can handle it.

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