Genre Bending: Tango

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Tango music belongs, for most of us, in a completely different world. It conjures images of dark cafés, hot latin summers and a dance that was construed so fierce and sexual that attempts were made to ban it by US congress and the Vatican early last century. When asked how tango music is supposed to sound, most people will probably end up humming the same tune, accompanied in their head by the common trio of violin, guitar and double bass. The famous side of the genre is strident and strong, managing a sense of musical improvisation within a rigid atmosphere to accommodate dance. It in this style that Tango has featured in so many celluloid dance scenes – Scent of a Woman, Moulin Rouge!, Shall We Dance?, and Chicago, to name but a few. Yet the genre also encompasses a lesser-heard, subtle, overtly romantic style that is driven more by melody than rhythm.What few people know about are the revisions that tango has undergone; those same emotions finding new expressions. The earliest, more famed traditions were musically based around portable instruments – thus the violin, guitar, flute trios, that characterized it in its origins. Eventually, the flute was dropped for a double bass and the bandoneón (squeezebox) introduced; and this then blossomed into the ‘standard’ arrangements of double violins, bandoneóns, and a double bass and piano. It was with this arrangement that the genre found its most world-popular expression in the 1920s, with Carlos Gardel, developing the sung tradition: tango-canción. And so the Golden Age began.But with the 1950s came Ástor Piazzolla, and with him the Tango Nuevo, ‘New Tango’. Tango was, at this point, a very important part of Argentina’s national identity, and Piazzolla messed with it, controversially fusing tango and jazz, sometimes echoing the harmonic sophistication of Bach – one of his early idols. He introduced completely new arrangements to the genre, frequently using the electric guitar but also writing for symphony and string orchestras. His genre-breaking ideas were, I believe the height of Tango’s evolution. And then Neo-Tango has, in the last decade, become very big. It is the lovechild of the Tango Nuevo and the booming age of electronica. If you enjoy the feel of both of these genres, you may love this – coupling subtlety and energy with sophistication and thought, Gotan Project, and their album Lunático, have been very much at the core of this movement. Explore this genre. It’s good. It’s very good.By James Goldspink

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