Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Diverging from the established forms of protocol in Argentine tango has always invited argument and dispute.

Tango attracts people with opinions, feelings and commitment and who may not be shy about expressing them - whether conservative, liberal or "radical" (let's call that a relative term).

Tango has continually evolved through every generation (with the possible exception of the 50's thru 80's?). So, controversy is nothing new. In fact it is natural.

Today we are witnessing a sharp debate arise (indication of health and vitality, surely).

Neo-tango is taking its place. It is seemingly drawing in new, younger people and creating new opportunities. But it isn't welcomed by all.

What else is new?

How it is handled by the sponsors will have much to do with how well it is embraced and accepted. Indeed - how well it melds with the old and eventually sticks or not.

A child of the electric/eclectic generation of the 60's, I am one who seeks to have an open mind and welcoming attitude towards innovation and evolution in all things.

For instance: I love much of Piazzolla and wonder how others cannot. I appreciate Tango For Export even while much preferring close embrace social tango for myself. Gotan Project's best work for me was a creative and satisfying arrival. I marvel at the innovations of Gustavo and Fabian; Chicho and El Pulpo.

When it's getting late, I enjoy tracks of neo or alternate tango sprinkled-in (the high-quality offerings); just as very late at night I love to dance tango to Sinatra/Riddle or, say, a particular favourite by Jimmie Lunceford or Satchmo. There are all kinds of great recordings which work in this way.

Making things work for the majority of dancers in a milonga is always in the programming. A little goes a long way. And the great lesson I learned early in my radio career: if in doubt, bail out!

A milonga is supposed to be a fun experience for everyone who attends. The dj should have an eagle eye on the attendees and make sure dancers aren't sitting beyond a natural rest period.

Here is a nightmare scenario for a veteran tango lover:

A neo-milonga where the music is a steady diet of neo all night. There just isn't enough choice material to sustain this idea. Most of these tracks will not be favs in 5 years, let alone 50. Taste (I know - that's an objective judgement, but what does a dj do, but apply his subjectivity objectively?) has to be employed in carefully selecting the program.

I recently endured a neo-tango evening where such care was not taken.

The dj wanted to run with mostly neo music. It went on track after track. Some were OK - much was hard on the nerves for it's paucity of musicality. Drum loops do not a song make.

Short breaks were taken to play a traditional tango or vals tanda. And here the sensibilities were assaulted - on two counts:

1. Artist selection. 50's Pugliese and Di Sarli were played once - and you can't go wrong there - but for older music, nothing by D'Arienzo; nothing by a Canaro (say, Todo Te Nombre which rocks) or a (you name the orquesta). No ... De Angelis! (Well, he made some nice music, but aside from vals, he shouldn't be at the top of the list when nothing else is being played from the Golden Age. Or at least play his lovely tracks from the early 60's like Pavadita and Mi Dolor which would work fine in this case).

And for milonga - NOTHING old was played. Just fast things from the last few years.

(When I choose to dance to neo, I find much of it calls for a milonga-type movement even if it isn't overtly milonga. So in a Neo Milonga, I get out of expression pretty quick because I'm being asked to do the same thing all night. Tedious and boring).

2. Sound levels. Newer recordings sound big. Old tango un-restored sounds small in comparison. Surely a dj should be able to hear the difference and reach over to turn up the volume of the old recordings. (Just ripping tracks from CD's gives you a totally uneven collection in terms of level and sonics). But, no. The old tango was so soft one could hardly hear it; the new songs and Salsa were ear-splittingly loud. Rather insulting to the listener. This went on all night.

Being a good dj isn't just about having a collection and having fun. To me, it's a programming art and science. People wanting to be dj's ought to take it seriously and be in command of nuances.

My perception of the neo-ites (generalizations being dangerous and unfair) is that they don't notice nor care. Loud music is great (so the thin sounding old records would be better dropped for them - they become an interruption). Loops and sampled sounds and cuts that go on forever going nowhere AND THEN FADING OUT (!) (the ultimate evidence not knowing by musicians/producers) are "great." Give me a break.

These sounds provide them full opportunity to do fancy steps and bump people because they have little thought for invading other dancers' space. (Is it just me or are the majority of neo dancers rather on the tall and gangly and inconsiderate side? The more space they get, the more they take).

Methinks the dj's will have much to do with how well the neo movement and the tango heart go together.



After reading this blog, the organiser of the event - a valued friend - (I can say the same for the dj referred to) told me he didn't understand what my point was. I guess I tried too much to be supportive while wanting to offer cautionary criticism.

So, I'll put it in a nutshell: New can be good. Everything new isn't necessarily good just because it is new.

I have a Golden Rule when programming: Is there a better song that I can play than this one I'm thinking about right now? If so, this one must go in favour of the better one. I never play something just because I have it.

I told my friend that the dj should have noticed that a few of us who are the type who usually dance all night were in fact SITTING most of the night. That should be the clearest statement of all.

That being said, the neos had a great time. They tend to be new people to tango (neo-neos?). I just would hate to see them create a ghetto for themselves. And division in the community as a whole through lack of knowledge and consideration. However enthusiastic they might be.

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