I am currently building my own website called TANGO NOTES, a resource about tango music. Feel free to visit here:

Selected Tango Immigrant posts will continue to be up for the foreseeable future.

24 September 2013

Of Mice and Musical Men

"Some people just want to show off - you know, like 'look how musical I am!' Why can't we just be in the music?"


In cartoons, typically old Disney movies, sound effects are often used to enhance movement; for instance a downwards glissando sound if someone falls of a cliff. In tango, this has morphed into the expression "Mickey Mousing", which means to design one's dance to match different qualities in the music. The way it's being used implies that visually accurate interpretations of the music are both superficial and artificial. This view makes me a bit sad.

There are many reasons why I dance tango, but the most important one is the music. I find every feeling in it. Sadness, despair, longing, but also happiness, humour, playfulness. I'm also intrigued by the orchestra leaders' musical choices and preferences and how they create their individual trademark sound, and by the musicians and the vocalists. Sometimes I can't tell exactly what I'm responding to: the emotional message itself or the aesthetics and the craftmanship that create the message.

Taste is of course a complicated matter, and I don't like all tango music. But today, I'm talking about the music I love, the music that makes me want to dance.

And this is the key point: this music makes me want to dance. I don't just want to hear it; I want to dance it, to physically express the feelings the music evokes in me. It demands a deep focus: to really listen and to extend the feeling of the music into movement. The joy of experiencing the musical qualities in my body is substantially different from the joy of just listening.

Above all, I want to experience the music together with someone. If a partner actively expresses musical qualities, I can physically feel what he hears - and hopefully, he'll feel that I hear them, too, all the things that create the emotion of each tango: The difference between staccato and legato parts. The difference between soft and loud, light and heavy. The transitions that join the phrases together or separate them. The way the different vocalists swirl their melody lines freely around the main beat. Biagi's aggressive attempts to get even more out of a piano that sounds like it's already about to break down. A sudden appearance of a solo violinist, leaving a lazy trail of honey over D'Arienzo's spiky compás. Di Sarli's piano punctuations in Indio manso - just one shiny star to mark the ending of a section. The way Donato throws us down into darkness towards the end of Me voy a baraja, only to let his bandoneóns lift us up again.

I notice that the Mickey Mousing expression is being used to criticise dancers who use a lot of dynamic variation and precise details, when the onlooker thinks it's "too much". But if the dance is rich in detail, is it automatically less genuine and less heart-felt? How can one, just by looking, tell the difference between a person who just plasters the moves onto the music and a person who wants to express something the music makes her feel? When is it displaying how musical you are, when is it displaying your love for the music?

When is it showing off, when is it showing yourself?

I've seen countless performances where the dancers have made me discover new things in the music. I've danced with guys that have shown me musical elements I hadn't noticed before, even when I thought I knew the music well.

If that is Mickey Mousing, well, then I want more of it.

20 June 2013

The musical dancer's notes

Statement from tango dancer: "I like to dance tango, but I don't like the music."


The music has always been the number one reason why I dance tango. In the beginning, I just lost myself in it, but as I got to know the music better, my main focus became another: to express the music through movement, together with my partner.

So. Which key elements in our learning environment are helping us to become more musical dancers? I think that there are many such elements, and each element is worthy of its own blog post. But for starters, I've made an illustration to sum up the elements that I find especially important - to see how they work together.

(the term "musical dancing" is of course problematic - it will always be partly subjective and open for interpretation. But for now, I'm defining it as "wanting to do something that fits the music in addition to walking on the main beat")

Which elements - these or others - do you feel have helped you learn to dance more musically?

7 March 2013

Female tango composers: Dorita Zárate

Since it's International Women's Day tomorrow, I thought I'd celebrate by starting off a series of posts about women that are unknown for many of us. These women have something special in common: they were composers in a time when the tango music world was dominated by men.

In these posts, I'll focus on women who composed music that was recorded, so we can listen to their work.

The first female composer I discovered was Dorita Zárate. In addition to one milonga that wasn't recorded, Por ella, she wrote one tango - No esperaba verte más - and one milonga - Zorzal - that were recorded by Carlos Di Sarli.

(collage by me - images found at Tangos al bardo and

Sadly, I couldn't find much information about Dorita Zárate online. There's a small biography in Spanish at Tangos al bardo though, which tells us that Zárate's real name was Teodora María García, and that she was born in 1917.

Zárate was a singer as well, and her career started early: when she was only 15, she won a contest for new voices at the Radio La voz del aire. She sang occasionally with Ciriaco Ortiz - who used to call her "Gauchita" - and even with Rodolfo Biagi on the radio.

Dorita Zárate wrote both music and lyrics to No esperaba verte más and Zorzal.


* No esperaba verte más  Carlos Di Sarli - canta Jorge Durán - 1946

* Zorzal  Carlos Di Sarli - canta Roberto Rufino - 1941

* Zorzal  Orquesta José García - canta Alfredo Rojas 1942

Zorzal was also recorded in 1969 with Enrique Rodríguez and Dorita Zárate herself, but I couldn't find this one online.

Zorzal is a type of bird - for instance a blackbird - but to me, it looks like the lyrics might be about a man that was a great singer:

Lyrics copied from

If you have additional information about Dorita or her music / lyrics, you're welcome to post it in a comment. I'll be away this weekend, so comments will be published on Monday =)

4 March 2013

Yo no sé por qué te quiero - beauty in simplicity

Drawing music is both fun and useful. It always makes me see something I didn't notice - or didn't know I had noticed. So this weekend, I made a drawing of a tango I love a lot: Yo no sé por qué te quiero. It was written in 1934 by Francisco Canaro; with lyrics by Ivo Pelay. My favourite version is Canaro's own recording, canta Ernesto Famá 1934.

You can listen to it here: and YouTube. The links are to the same recording - I hope that at least one of them works if you live in a country that restricts online listening. The links open in another tab so you can listen and look at the same time. 

I'm fascinated with how Canaro builds his composition out of one, very small idea. Basically, most of this tango consists of one tiny structure:  ╱╲

Here are the two parts - A and B section.

This is by no means a full musical analysis - and it's not meant to be - but we can still see how Canaro builds a whole story with his small fragment. I especially like the way he's changing the mood from the A section to the B section. He uses the same idea, but breaks up the structure, adding suspense.

If you leave a comment, I'm very much interested to hear if this did make sense or not - and if you are familiar with music notation / have done this kind of thing before.

Additional links:

- Francisco's younger brother Rafael recorded a quite beautiful version a couple of years after.

- Lyrics and version by José Carnet / Nelly Omar on Todotango

26 February 2013

Traditionalists have feelings, too

Guy at local milonga: "You really like tango music, don't you?"
Me: "Um. Yes!!!"
Me (in my head): "Now that's a strange question."


You've probably read the tango music discussions on blogs and Facebook - you know, the ones concerning "do we want more nuevo / alternative in the milongas or not?" In these discussions, there's always some person using words like "traditionalist", "tango music police" and similar - in a tone that seems quite sarcastic. These persons' comments usually imply that traditionalists are people who protect tradition just for tradition's sake, without any further thoughts, and that they are conservative, reactionary, dogmatic, narrow-minded and generally afraid of new stuff.

I'm sure that there are traditionalists that fit this description perfectly. I'm also sure that some traditionalists are writing stuff that is upsetting to those of you who love nuevo. And of course: there are lots of nuevo lovers who don't generalise!

But still. I'm becoming increasingly cranky from being labelled as something that I can't relate to.

The thing is: I'm not a traditionalist just for the sake of it. Basically, this is not my tradition - or, to put it differently: it doesn't have to be my tradition if I don't want to. I'm not an old porteño that experienced the Golden Age. I'm a modern Norwegian girl with no prior connection to the history of Buenos Aires. As an immigrant to the country called Tango, I can choose to be a rebel if I like.

As I've pointed out before, I only liked nuevo and alternative music in the beginning. Actually, I'm not sure if I would have continued dancing if it weren't for the nuevo tandas at the local milonga and my beloved Gotan Project CD.

But then something happened: I went to a class where the teachers danced to El Flete by D'Arienzo. And I thought: "Hey, this is fun stuff!" I went home and listened again to the few CDs I had and found more fun stuff I had ignored. The rest is, well, history - pun not intended.

During the last six years or so, I've discovered a whole world of qualities and emotions in the music from the Golden Age: The sharp and energetic rhythms of D'Arienzo, fleetingly touched with lyricism. The robust, down-to-earth sadness of Rodríguez with Moreno. The slight naïveness of Fresedo.

The reliability of Canaro, paired with the milk chocolate-y voice of Maida and the incredibly cute "po-po-po-s" from a muted trumpet. The bandoneóns in some Donato tangos, sounding like birds. Oh, and these pianists. The majestic Carlos Di Sarli and the manic Rodolfo Biagi.

I've laughed when dancing to "Gato". I've found the perfect calmness with D'Agostino. Heck, I'll admit it: I've even cried. Not on the dance floor, but in broad daylight in front of my laptop, tagging Di Sarli's "Hasta siempre, amor". I don't even understand that much of the lyrics. It's all there in Horacio Casares' voice.

So I'll keep defending the traditional music. Not because it's traditional, but because it makes me dance through every emotion during a three hour milonga.

(and yes: I find some traditional tango music mind-numbingly boring. But who knows - I might like it at another stage of my life)

Links to the music:

Juan D'Arienzo instrumental 1936 - El Flete

Enrique Rodríguez canta Armando Moreno 1942 - Yo no sé por que razón

Osvaldo Fresedo canta Roberto Ray 1935 - Isla de Capri

Francisco Canaro canta Roberto Maida 1935 - Tu y yó

Edgardo Donato canta Horacio Lagos 1936 - Me voy a baraja

Carlos Di Sarli instrumental 1956 - Viviani

Rodolfo Biagi instrumental 1940 - El yaguarón

Edgardo Donato canta Horacio Lagos 1937 - Gato

Ángel D'Agostino canta Ángel Vargas 1944 - Esta noche en Buenos Aires

Carlos Di Sarli canta Horacio Casares 1958 - Hasta siempre, amor

22 February 2013

Illustrated: wanting to be a DJ

(click image for larger version)

Illustration by me - have a happy weekend everyone =)

8 February 2013

Paciencia - to walk or not to walk

(me, some years ago, dancing with friend to "Desde el alma" / Pugliese)

* pause / stretched tone in music *

Me to friend: "Stand still!!!"


Hopefully, I'm more subtle on the dance floor these days. But sometimes, I still want to say it: Stand still!!! This dance of ours isn't a questionnaire where you earn one point each time you hit a beat.

Actually, you may earn more points by passing over a few beats.

If you want to explore this, please join me on a guided YouTube tour with Noelia Hurtado and Carlitos Espinoza. They're strong musical dancers, and they almost seem to make standing still a trademark.

Oh, one thing before we start - when I say "stand still", I don't mean "freeze like a rabbit caught in the headlights"! You'll see in the videos what I mean.

So. Which musical elements could inspire us to stand still?

1 - The Singer

In my world, the tango vocalists are heroes - even if they weren't always meant to be (in the early tango years, the vocalists were just singing the last part of a tango, as estribillistas). These voices are so beautiful, and it would be nice to acknowledge their presence in the music!

In the first video, Noelia and Carlitos mark the point when the vocalist starts singing at 0:56.

Music: "Qué lento corre el tren" - Enrique Rodríguez canta Alberto Moreno 1943

2 - The Musical Theme and The Solo Instrument

There's a lot of musical food in instrumental tangos as well. In the next video, our dancers are showing us two things by stopping:

- something new and very pretty happens at 0:26 - the music gets softer and less staccato; a new musical theme is introduced.

- the start of the violin solo at 1:19.

Music: "Ya no cantas más" - Orquesta Francisco Canaro 1934

3 - The Musical Decoration

The next video is a milonga. Noelia and Carlitos seem to be marking the appearance of the singer at 1:46. But they're actually playing with something else: the long tones of the violin that go along with the singer.

Music: "Flor de Monserrat" / "Pobre negrito" (milonga) - Rodolfo Biagi canta Alberto Amor 1945

(music starts at 0:55)

4 - The Lyrics

Ok, this is a tough one for us non-Spanish speakers. But it might be achievable in some cases, even for us!

The tango in the last video is called "Paciencia", and we can hear this word very clearly in the song. The melody is even dragged out, with long tones, to emphasise the word more. It's double clever, really, since it actually means "patience". You can "see" the word at 2:08 and 2:23.

Music: "Paciencia" - Juan D'Arienzo canta Enrique Carbel 1937

(music starts at 0:40)

The music will always make suggestions for us to interpret. The only thing we need to do is listen.

One thing though: Even if we love the music, the flow we create together with our friends on the dance floor is more important. So we need to choose our moments of standing still with care.

4 February 2013

Download: Di Sarli timeline

In my last post, I wrote about how I think it's easier to learn tango music if you make a system for listening.

So last week, I tagged all my Di Sarli recordings from A to Z. As usual, I tagged each recording with year and album artist, so if I click the various columns in my Di Sarli folder in iTunes, it gets sorted by singer or year.

But it's still a lot of information to remember...

"We should have a timeline of all the singers", my bf said. "We could print it out and tape it to the fridge". I found this such a brilliant idea that I spent the weekend in Photoshop, designing a timeline.

The link below the picture is to the printable pdf version. It should work nicely for an A4 printout. If you think this could be useful for yourself or any of your friends, feel free to download, print and share!

All information is from the discographies at, and

Feedback and comments are most welcome! Everything has been checked, double-checked and cross-checked, but let me know if you find any errors.

23 January 2013

The library in your brain

Piano teacher: "Could you play from measure 25, please?"
Student: "I can't start there."
Piano teacher: "Try from measure 17 then."
Student: "I can't start there, either. But I can start at the beginning!"

If I had an Euro for each time I've seen the above scenario, I'd have enough money to buy a Steinway grand piano. It seems our brains like single entities, patterns and succession. You may have experienced the same issue with the alphabet: If you start with a, you can go really fast, but if you start with a randomly picked letter, it takes a little bit of time for you to gain full speed. The way we've learnt it, the alphabet isn't 26 small items, it's one thing.

The brain also likes repetition of portions - at least for a while, until it gets bored. Back in ye olden days, we used to buy LPs and CDs, one at a time. This was a nice portion of information - it kept us interested until we knew every song by heart. I've also wondered if we learnt the songs quicker because they appeared in a set order on the record, but this is just an unscientific assumption. I never use the shuffle function in iTunes, though. I've always thought "there are too many tangos, if I don't play them in the same order, there's no way I'll remember any of them".

And I still have trouble remembering this music. A tango may sound fine in my head, but when I try to sing it, I realise that I don't really know it properly. I've even found myself singing the A section of one Canaro tango, then switching seamlessly to the B section of another. The way I'm listening to tango isn't optimal for learning. And when we go out to dance, the music is constantly on shuffle.

I guess the orchestras that played at the milongas in Buenos Aires didn't play their tangos in the same order every night. But they did get to play for more than one tanda at a milonga, which allowed the dancers to get familiar with each orchestra's style. Everybody would know how D'Arienzo anno 1938 sounded like, simply because D'Arienzo was playing live throughout 1938.

I'm willing to bet that most dancers knew each tango a lot better than we do. This music was pop music! It was played on the radio, and people bought the records and played them on their gramophones at home. And I'm sure the hits were played often, by popular demand - so it would have been easy to learn each new song. Many tangos were even transcribed into easy piano versions, and people bought the sheet music and played their favourites themselves, at home and for friends and family.

So there's a huge difference between the learning climate in Buenos Aires during the Golden Age and the learning climate outside Buenos Aires in 2013. The budding tango music lover of today needs to find her own way of learning about this music.

To make our brains work with us, it might be an idea to listen to our tango music in realistic portions. Listen to CDs that have an orchestra and year on the cover. Sort your music by orchestra/year/vocalist. Make smaller playlists. Use the shuffle function with care.

Make a library system in your brain, not just in iTunes.

Mentors would also be good. This will be for another blog post though: I'm splitting this topic up because many brains - my own included - don't like long blog posts.

Which, come to think of it, sort of proves my point…

2 January 2013

A Caló challenge

The first thing I do when I start tagging a tango, is to check if I have more than one version - it could be different recordings from the same orchestra, or just different edits of the same recording. The last one often offers some surprises.

The biggest surprise this far has to be Miguel Caló's "Qué te importa qué te llore"; recorded in 1942 and sung by Raúl Berón.

I have two versions of this tango - and they are identical, except for the beginning, which is totally different in these two versions. You can listen to them here:

* Version 1

* Version 2 or use this player (the 4th track)

This is what I'm hearing:

Version 1: four measures legato + piano transition 1- four measures staccato + piano transition 2.

Version 2: six measures staccato + piano transition 2, which means that this version doesn't have piano transition 1, the one we hear at 00:06 in version 1. We only have the last tone of this piano solo, which is a strong indicator that somebody's been cutting. And the legato strings are also gone.

The two first measures of version 2 replaces the four first measures of version 1. These two measures can be found later in the song - at 00:20. I think this part has been copied and pasted at the beginning.

Conclusion: Version 1 must be the original one.

These recordings are totally identical from approx. measure 5 / 00:08 (version 1) and measure 3 / 00:04 (version 2) through to the ending - even if the tempo / pitch is slightly different; version 1 is higher and I think a bit quicker. Which pitch is correct, I don't know.

Age Akkerman took the challenge and compared the two versions - and you can see the cool graphs of his results here.

(this is an edit of one of my earlier Facebook posts)

1 January 2013

A country called Tango

My first tango efforts were made in Jekteviken, Bergen some years ago. As most beginners at, well, anything, I had high hopes of mastering the art quickly. When the beginners' course was completed, black dresses would be donned, red roses would be put behind ears and drama would prevail.

After the first class, I had realised that 1) this tango thing was somewhat different from what I had visualised and 2) it was an undertaking that wouldn't be completed in a jiffy. A quitter should, normally, have been in the making.

But, against all odds, this turned out to become the first and only enterprise that I've insisted on sticking to even if it's making me feel more useless than successful. There's this Friedrich von Schiller quote: "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens" ("Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain"). It's been several years, and I'm still, stubbornly, trying to figure out this tango thing.

Actually - as you may also have realised since you're reading a tango blog - this tango thing is more than a thing. It's a whole country.

It's the dance form itself, deceivingly easy in its description: "you only need three steps: forward, side, back".

It's your body, it's other people's bodies. Shapes and sizes and smells.

It's the music: lots and lots of orchestras and singers and styles. Thousands of recordings. Scratching and whining and old-fashioned arrangements and lyrics you don't understand.

It's more than one hundred years of history that you don't know - not properly, thoroughly.

It's a community with all kinds of rules - written, unwritten, discussed by all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds.

It's tradition and transition, it's polarities and passionate Facebook debates.

It's uniformity and individualism, collectivity and egoism.

It's things to love and things to resent.

The tango thing is a country, and we're all immigrants.

This blog will be a travel journal written by one tango immigrant. As is the case with most journeys: things may have been seen by others before, but not by all. I hope you'll see something new on these pages.