26 February 2014

Tango music: syncopation for beginners

Clip from El chamuyo - Orquesta Típica Victor 1930

Whole tango on YouTube here

Clip from El once - Carlos Di Sarli 1954

Whole tango on YouTube here

(Update: music players don't work on your device or your browser? Try viewing the post in Safari, or reloading the page if you're using Chrome - or click to listen to clips here: El chamuyo - El once)

I hope this will help you understanding syncopation a little better! If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask.

18 February 2014

Multiple tandas and the art of swallowing a camel

Me: "I only dance one tanda, to make the turnover better."
Local dancer: "I don't give a crap about rules."


In Norwegian, "swallowing camels" means to make a huge political compromise. Tango sometimes feels like politics, too, and there's one tango-politics camel that I find exceptionally hard to chew. This camel is common in milongas, festivals and marathons in Europe, maybe especially in the northern parts.

The particular species I'm talking about is The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel. Its most common sound is "Let's-see-what-comes-after-the-cortina-shall-we?".

Even though The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel is bothering some people, he doesn't disappear. My theory is that he survives by camouflaging himself as The White Elephant In The Room - you know, the one that nobody talks about. It feels a bit scary to talk about White Elephants, because people get upset when someone critizises their preferred way of doing things. I don't want to upset people, but I want to get rid of The White Elephant In The Room so we can see this Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel clearly.

During the first years of my tango life, The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel ruled alone everywhere I went dancing. I didn't see him, though - the worrying he created was a natural part of any milonga, and I thought that this was how it had to be. The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel gave me a List Of Worries, an intricate self-evaluation system that was based on how I interpreted the number of tandas danced with the same partner. The list looked something like this:

1 tanda = "Oh. He didn't like me."
2 tandas = "Goody. I reached the default. I'm not totally hopeless and boring then, I guess."
3 tandas = "Yay! He thinks I'm the bee's knees! Three tandas! Woohoo!"

This was obviously in the cases when I was dancing with someone enjoyable. If not, the List Of Worries would look more like this:

1 tanda = "Oh no. I guess he's going to be upset, but I really can't take a second tanda."
2 tandas = "I didn't have the heart to say 'thank you' after one tanda."
3 tandas = "Kill me now."

Does it sound familiar?

Over the years, I discovered that there is such a thing as a one-tanda format, and I like it so much that I'm using it all the time now. But it doesn't work so well if everybody else dances two or more consecutive tandas. If people have a List Of Worries, how does one explain that a tanda can be pretty fabulous in itself? I can tell my partners that I'm an one-tanda girl (and why), but how do I convince them that it's not a lame excuse to avoid a second tanda? Maybe it would be easier to swallow The Multiple Consecutive Tandas Camel and go back to dancing whichever number of tandas.

It's just that I don't want to return to my List Of Worries. What I would like to see, is a new consensus that it's normal to dance just one single tanda. I'd like to see one, not two, as the default number. The way it is now, saying thank you after one tanda is surrounded by shame and confusion.

It could also be worth seeing if our communities could benefit from trying something else: Maybe we could inject some more buzz and excitement into the milongas - the buzz and excitement that is created when everybody is free at the same time. Maybe more people would get to dance with more people, too. And maybe more people would be less worried.

Update September 2017: It's 3 1/2 year since I wrote this post, and it looks like that dancing one tanda has become quite normal - at least I don't find I have to explain anything when I dance only one tanda (and if I sometimes choose to dance more than one, it doesn't feel compulsory like before).

10 February 2014

How music looks: Ojos negros que fascinan

A while ago, I made a post about "Yo no sé por que te quiero", to illustrate how a tango can be made up from a couple of very simple rhythm patterns. "Ojos negros que fascinan", recorded 1935 by Francisco Canaro with Roberto Maida, is another nice example of this.

The rhythm is very simple, especially when introduced in the instrumental A and B section - Maida tweaks the rhythm a bit, as tango vocalists do. There are two rhythm patterns that are used extensively throughout this tango: one very short for the A section, and one longer for the B section. This time, I've added colours - one for each tone in the chromatic scale - so it should be possible to play the piece. If you tried, let me know if it worked!

As usual, this is not meant as a detailed analysis. I still find that a simplified version can be very useful, also for hearing elements that are not included in the illustration. An example from the first A section: the main theme is introduced. We can see it in the illustration. But there's another important thing going on in this part… Do you hear it?

Link to the music: Ojos negros que fascinan - Francisco Canaro canta Roberto Maida 1935

The use of recurring rhythm patterns is a common trick in composing, not only in tango. Fun fact: The A section of "Ojos negros que fascinan" is actually a Russian melody, arranged as a tango by Manuel Salina (Manuel G. Salinger) with lyrics by Florián Rey (Antonio Martínez del Castillo). It seems likely that Salina composed the B section.

There are many versions of the Russian song on YouTube - here's one recorded in Paris in 1927:
Feodor Chaliapin with the Aristoff Choir and Balalaika Orchestra.

Source: tango.info/wiki