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Music from Tango's "Golden Age"

In Argentina and Uruguay, the "Golden Age" of Tango began in the 1930s and ran through the early 1950s, roughly paralleling the swing/big band era of Jazz in the United States.

Naturally, there are any number of ways to begin understanding and organizing Tango's many classic recordings, but among the most accessible are those categories and definitions proposed by dancer and DJ Stephen Brown:


Golden Age - "Smooth" Tango

Elegant instrumentals with a "smooth" sound, like these by DiSarli, feature a clear beat and slow, even tempos — qualities that make them widely used to help introduce newer dancers to Tango's distinctive sounds and syncopated rhythms.


Golden Age - "Softer Rhythmic" Tango

Midway between other styles, a "softer rhythmic" approach includes some Tango's most beloved songs. In these examples, the vocals stay within the clear beat of the music.


Golden Age - "Lyrical" Tango

As tangos migrate toward a more "lyrical" sound and sensibility, the singers can move forward and begin showing some independence from the orchestra's underlying dance rhythm.


Golden Age - "Harder Rhythmic" Tango

Tangos that exemplify a "harder rhythmic" style were first made famous by D'Arienzo and his pianist, Rodolfo Biagi, beginning in the late 1930s.

Then as now, dancers often find this strong staccato approach compelling, and it continues to exert its appeal — especially among closer-embrace, "milonguero" style dancers like those found in the tango clubs of downtown Buenos Aires and on crowded dance floors throughout the world.


Golden Age - "Dramatic" Tango

"Dramatic" tangos like Pugliese's are characterized by complex orchestrations and varying tempos that can be both challenging and evocative for dancers.

In the 1950s, these qualities began to dominate, gradually overwhelming the music as it shifted away from the dance hall toward the concert stage.


Golden Age - Milonga

An older form and an important source for all tango music, milongas are distinguished by their playful, up-tempo 2/4 beat and distinctive internal rhythm.

Related to Cuban habernera and the driving African candombe, historians now trace milonga's origins deep into the early 19th century and beyond — all the way to the west coast of Africa in what is present day Congo and Angola.

In these cultures, the signature pulse evident in milonga is said to be more than a thousand years old, and it apparently still means what it always has:  Literally, "Get up and dance!"


Golden Age - Vals

Vals ("waltz") in 3/4 time blends tango's syncopations with the swirling, circular feeling of this graceful European rhythm. Valses can be variously played in a softer, more romantic mode, in a harder, more staccato mode, or in a richer, more dramatic mode.

Along with another European creation, the polka, Tango in the 19th century was famously among the first dances to incorporate another key feature of waltz:  An intimate face-to-face relationship between the partners.

Daring and provocative in its day, this has since become standard practice for couples in a wide range of social dance forms — including salsa, swing, and the many assorted styles of "ballroom" — in diverse cultures and settings, throughout the world.



By the mid-1950s, in the face of homegrown political upheavals and repression — and the persuasive advent of rock'n'roll coming from North America — Tango's central role as a vital meeting place and vibrant communal art form began a slow decline.

As the audience started to fade, musicians and composers shifted their attention away from the dance hall and toward concert stages and jazz clubs. Tango venues closed; record labels dumped their old catalogues and recordings; no one was interested anymore in learning how to dance; and the fabled "Golden Age" came to a close.

In the decades that followed, a handful of performance-minded dancers created fantasía, a theatricalized version of Tango for the stage, but improvised social Tango and the music that inspired it moved ever more toward the fringes of Argentine society — gradually becoming the dance of an older generation, nostalgic for their lost youth, and kept alive only in small neighborhood clubs and quiet family gatherings.


Contemporary Trends in Tango Music

After the fall of the last military junta in 1983, Tango unexpectedly began to re-emerge as a popular form of social dance in Argentina. This development echoed and amplified growing interest in and enthusiasm for Tango in other parts of the world — much of which had been catalyzed by the work of ex-patriot Argentine artists and musicians who had previously left their homeland in order to avoid persecution.

As older dancers returned to the dance floors in the early years of Tango's "Renaissance," they naturally reached back to the music they knew best — the classic sounds of the late '30s, 1940s and early '50s.

And since much of this music is brilliant for dancing, the younger generation which was just beginning to take on Tango for the first time readily adopted it as their own — indeed, more than 30 years on, it is still quite common to hear "Golden Age" music prominently featured at a majority of tango festivals and milongas throughout the world.

However, since the early 2000s or so, fueled in part by the interest, energy and innovations of younger dancers, some of today's musicians have begun to pay ever more attention to Tango music, leading the way toward new compositions, crossover experiments, and fresh interpretations of the classics.

Contemporary trends include forays into electronic instrumentation, modern acoustic work, melding tango with the influences of jazz and classical music, and investigations into "alternative" tango — tracks borrowed from other traditions which dancers and DJs have found appealing, and so have begun to fold into Tango's ever-widening orbit.


Electronic Tango


Acoustic Tango


Tango influenced by Jazz & Classical Music


"Alternative" Tango


Live Music


More Music Resources

Other Overviews & Guides to "Golden Age" Tango Music


Places to buy CDs

* Available for download on Amazon, iTunes, and Rhapsody.


More about Newer Music + Trends


More Tango Music Online


DJ Resources


On Musicality for Tango Dancers

This unique resource, created especially for dancers who are non-musicians, is an educational project from Joaquín Amenábar, a music professor, dancer, bandoneón player and orchestra leader in Buenos Aires — highly recommended ...


Bandoneon - graphic

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