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History of Argentine Tango music, as told by Rina Gendelman

Rina Gendelman and Joaquin Canay dancing the Argentine Tango
Rina Gendelman and Joaquin Canay dancing the Argentine Tango
Wolfgang Sachse

The history of Argentine Tango music is intertwined with that of the dance, according to Rina Gendelman, Argentine Tango dancer and DJ in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although she is reluctant to call herself an historian of Argentine Tango, Rina is well versed in the history of the dance and the music, which are intertwined with the political climate of the time. According to Rina, at the end of the 19th century, there were many immigrants, mostly young men, traveling to Buenos Aires, a port city, from Eastern and Western Europe.

“The music evolved with the dance from the late teens to the early ‘40s. From the mid-‘30s to mid-‘40s, there were about 300 Tango orchestras, among which were revolutionaries in a musical sense.”

Argentine Tango orchestra

Rina says, “A traditional Tango orchestra is a sextet consisting of 2 bandoneones, 2 violins, a piano, and a bass. An orquesta típica is anything of that size or larger. Tango music is separated by orchestras. One does not usually talk about a Tango song, but rather, the orchestra that plays that song.”

“The name of the leader, or conductor, of the orchestra, is the name of the orchestra. For instance, Juan D’Arienzo was a famous Tango conductor, and if one were to say, “I like D’Arienzo,” one would be referring to the music conducted by D’Arienzo. One might also say that one likes dancing to “D’Arienzo with Mauré.” Mauré refers to the name of the singer who accompanies D’Arienzo in the orchestra.”

Argentine Tango instruments

The bandoneón is the signature instrument of Argentine Tango. It was brought to Argentina by German immigrants. The bayan, a much more sophisticated version of the accordion, is another instrument that is used to play Tango. It originated in Russia.

Signature sounds of Argentine Tango

“The Argentine Tango orchestras are fairly distinct in that most of them have a signature sound.” Rina’s goal is to “bring to people’s attention the signature sounds of Tango.” She says that Tango music needs to be studied as much as the dance. It would be helpful to “know a little about how the music affected the dance, how the dance affected the music, and how the political climate affected the dance.”