Tango history started at the end of the XIX century, when people from different countries mixed together and shared their cultures in the region of Rio de la Plata. Tango nowadays has become a worldwide phenomenon and, if on one side it is not as popular in Argentine as it was in its golden age (between 1935 and 1955), the number of people dancing Tango in the world have never been as high. Today we can dance Argentine Tango in almost every country of the world, and in most European cities there is at least one milonga every day. Both the music and the dancing style of Argentine Tango changed and evolved throughout the years. What we dance today are mainly Tangos from the Golden Age, from 1935 to 1955, although in recent times many DJ’s are proposing Tangos of the late fifties and sixties. Furthermore new orchestras appeared on the scene, proposing new arrangements of the most famous Tangos.
Different Eras of Argentine Tango
We can divide the history of Argentine Tango into 5 different eras: the Guardia Vieja (the Tango origin), the Guardia Nueva, the Golden Age, the Modern Tango and the Contemporary Tango.
Argentine Tango history: the guardia vieja
At the beginning Tango originated as a hybrid dance, from other forms of dances that were popular in the countries of origin of the many immigrants who arrived in the Rio de la Plata region. For this reason, it is very difficult to set an exact date of when Argentine Tango was born, as at the beginning there were few or none of the characteristics that made this dance and this music famous worldwide. At the beginning mainly immigrants belonging to the lower class of the society danced tango, often in the arrabal, the suburban areas of Buenos Aires. For this reason the upper classes initially did not join the many people attracted to Tango, although later on, after it became famous and popular in Paris, Tango became the most popular music in Argentine. By the end of the 19th centuries, many famous Tangos that we listen to today, had already been written, such as El Entrerriano, Don Juan, El Choclo, El Porteñito”
Argentine Tango history: the first orchestras of the guardia vieja
Tango was becoming more and more popular, and at the beginning of the 20th century it was played also in theatres and cafes, and many Tango discs were recorded. That was the period when the first professional orchestras were formed to play Tango. The most iconic instrument of Tango music, the bandoneon, was introduced in 1910, brought by a German merchant: the first Tango recorded with a bandoneon was Don Juan, played by the Orchestra of Vicente Greco. Another popular orchestra was the one directed by Juan “Pacho” Maglio, formed by a bandoneón, a flute, a violin and a guitar. As Argentine Tango was a dance with a lot of contact between men and women, when the first dancers exported it in Europe and USA, they tried to clean it, in order to make it more appealing for the upper classes.
On the origin of Tango there are many different theories, and we will dedicate to it more in depths-analysis in different articles.
Argentine Tango History: The Guardia Nueva (or Decarean era)
As Julio De Caro was one of the major musicians who led the way in the evolution of Argentine Tango, many also call this era Decarean. During this period Tango consolidated his position as one of the most popular music in Argentine, and musicians created different styles and arrangements. Tango was not only popular as a dance, and a new genre, the Tango canción (tango song), was born. The icon of the Tango canción was Carlos Gardel, who contributed to make Tango popular worldwide. In 1925 Julio de Caro formed a sextet and started to change the structure of Tango music, making it more harmonious, melancholic and sentimental. Although some includes in the Guardia Nueva period also the Golden Age of Tango, if we consider what is Tango nowadays and the music DJS play in most milongas in the world, it is probably better to consider the Golden Age a separate part of Tango history, beginning incidentally with the death of Carlos Gardel, in 1935.
Argentine Tango history: The Golden Age
The period between 1935 and 1955 is known as the Golden age of Argentine Tango. During this period Tango was reborn, and evolved into the music we still listen and dance to nowadays. The musician who started this new revolution in Tango was Juan D’Arienzo. D’Arienzo wanted to give Tango back to the dancers feet, and got inspiration from the old Tangos of the guardia vieja, to reproduce a music that was adapt to be danced, but at the same time professionally arranged and played by a big orchestra. As a result he managed to get all Tango lovers to dance, with his energetic and powerful style. After D’Arienzo many other orchestras gave their input and, although later on, from 1945, all orchestras started to slow their music, from 1935 to 1955 all directors arranged Tangos with the clear goal of making people dance. The most popular orchestra directors of this era were Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli, Aníbal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Ricardo Tanturi, Ángel D’Agostino, Francisco Canaro, Miguel Caló, Rodolfo Biagi, Pedro Laurenz, Enrique Rodriguez, Edgardo Donato, Lucio De Mare, Alfredo De Angelis and Alfredo Gobbi.
Argentine Tango History: the modern age
After 1955, both because of the dictatorship in Argentine, imposing strict rules on the right of gathering in public places, and because new musics from the USA were becoming popular (such as Rock and Roll), Tango saw a decline. Although it was still played on the radio and there were still places where to dance, Argentine Tango never saw again the madness and the happiness of the previous golden age. For this reason most famous orchestras of the Golden age started to change their style of playing, and many tangos composed after 1955 don’t have anymore the regular compass (beat) so loved by all milongueros. In this period the Tango Fantasia (show) saw its origin, with Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves as two of the main interpreters.
Argentine Tango history: Contemporary Tango
In 1983 Carlos Copes was the choreographer of the show Tango Argentino in Broadway, which was the sparkle that made Tango famous again all over the world. It is because of this show that Tango gained popularity again also in Europe. During the last 20 years, Tango evolved further and nowadays, although still a niche compared to other social dances, such as salsa or swing, it is danced in most countries of the world.