Introduction To Tango

Introduction to Tango
A traditional Bandoneon. Image copyright of Wikimedia Commons.
A traditional bandoneón. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new series of posts introducing readers to the various genres of Latin music you’re likely to here in Medellín.

It’s the most famous dance in Argentina and known for its foot flicking moves. Dramatic, passionate and very technical, tango is one of the world’s most-loved genres.

Originating from Buenos Aires, it is thought that tango began in the poor neighborhoods in the mid-19th century.

The oldest tango was written by a pianist called Rosendo Mendizabal in the 1890s. Soon after it found its way into the recording studios and became known for its Spanish feel which form the core of tango as we know it today.

Traditionally, tango music is played with a bass and violin accompanying the piano (and sometimes a cello and a flute) but tango just wouldn’t be tango without the bandoneon – a type of concertina that looks similar to an accordion with buttons instead of keys.

One of the greatest Tango voices was Carlos Gardel, a singer and composer known as the Frank Sinatra of Argentina, who died in a plane crash in 1935 at the age of 44 years old.

En route to Cali from Colombia’s capital, flight number F31 crashed upon landing at Olaya Herrera Airport, Medellin’s only airport at the time.

F31 Quinteto is a group named after the flight number of the aircraft which Carlos Gardel died in.

Each year in his memory, Medellín hosts an International Tango Festival in June with performances taking place around the city including at the grounds of Olaya Herrera Airport.

Watching a concert in his name at the exact spot where he perished makes the experience even more poignant.

F31 Quinteto
F31 Quinteto at the International Tango Festival

Other top artists in tango are Astor Plazzolla, born in 1921 who introduced tango to American jazz: Anibal Troilo known for his bandoneón playing and Juan Carlos Copes, who helped develop the tango’s dramatic steps.

A film created by Carlos Saura aptly named Tango in 1998 received exposure worldwide and helped to propel the revival of the Argentinean genre into modern times.

As tango is brought into the present, the Gotan Project have re-invented the genre to combine the classicism of tango with electronic beats, a fusion that doesn’t necessarily appeal to tradition tango lovers.

This year also saw the World Tango Championships in June with an array of sequined outfits, heeled shoes and colourful attire. And it’s not just limited to couple dancing either as there are many varieties of tango, and the championships demonstrate the diversity of this world-class genre.

From men dancing with men to women dancing with women and even groups of chicos and chicas, tango is surprisingly versatile with long fluid hand movements, cheek to cheek dancing and moves that resemble sword fighting with razor sharp feet.

But the most enjoyable has to be the tango seduction where women are drawn across the floor on their toes before being rolled down their partner’s body to a jaw-dropping stop just before they hit the floor. Here’s some footage from the World Tango Championships:

Where to Enjoy Tango in Medellín

So where can you go to enjoy this famous dance?

For tango lovers in Medellín, Patio del Tango in Barrio Antioquia is one of Medellín’s best-known tango bars, and is frequented on Friday and Saturday nights for its tango music and legendary couple dance.

La Cabaña del Recuerdo in Envigado has live music every Wednesday and Thursday at Calle 38 sur #35-4 Subdivision Mesa with singers and musicians from Argentina.

Salon Malaga in Centro is more like a museum than a trendy tango bar. Alive with music and old-fashioned conversation, it’s a place to enjoy the sounds of tango from the last 50 years. Open Monday to Saturday until 2 a.m. and Sundays and holidays until 12 a.m. Salon Malaga is situated between Calle 45 and 46 Amador Maturin.

So if you fancy a change from salsa, bachata and reggaeton, then tango could be the dance for you.

Additional posts in this series include: 

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