Language lessons across the UK & Ireland

Call us! 0203 650 19 50 / +353 (0) 1 440 3978

Tango in Argentina: The Rhythmic Heartbeat of a Nation

Whenever the word "tango" pops up in conversation, different images and emotions spring to mind for different people. Some envision a passionate dance between two partners, bodies entwined in graceful movements. Others might think of the soulful melodies played by street musicians on bustling avenues. However, tango in Argentina is much more than just a dance or music; it is a reflection of the country's rich cultural and linguistic heritage from a bygone era.

In this blog, we will explore the richness of tango music in Argentina and what tango music means for Argentines and the world.

→Sign Up Now: Free Trial Spanish Lesson With a Speaker Teacher!←

A Brief History of Tango Music in Argentina

Early Developments (Late 1800s)

The exact origins of tango are unclear, but historians agree that it emerged in the 1880s and 1890s in the slums and brothels of Buenos Aires. It was a dance that reflected the struggles, emotions, and desires of the people living in these areas, blending elements of African  , Spanish-Cuban Habanera, and European folk dances.

Tango evolved as a fusion of different musical traditions, and its early years there was a stigma over the genre, musicians associated it with the lower classes and the upper echelons of society deemed is scandalous.

Popularisation in Europe (Early 20th Century)

Despite its initial controversy in Argentina, tango's sensuality and captivating rhythms gained popularity in Europe. In the early 20th century, tango music and dance spread across the Atlantic, primarily due to European immigrants returning to their homelands with the dance in their hearts.

Golden Age of Tango in Argentina (1930s-1950s)

Tango experienced a golden age during the 1930s to 1950s. This period marked the rise of legendary tango musicians and orchestras, such as Carlos Gardel, Aníbal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese, and Juan D'Arienzo. Tango became a mainstream musical and cultural phenomenon in Argentina during this time.

Decline and Revival (1960s-1990s)

The popularity of tango started to wane in the 1960s due to changing social and musical tastes. However, the genre experienced a revival in the 1980s and 1990s, partially fuelled by the success of the tango-themed musical "Tango Argentino" and the efforts of dedicated tango enthusiasts.

UNESCO Cultural Heritage

In 2009, UNESCO recognised the importance of tango in Argentine culture by adding it to its list of intangible cultural heritage. This recognition solidified the significance of tango as an essential aspect of Argentina's cultural identity.

Tango Music in Argentina Today

Nowadays, tango continues to be an integral part of Argentine culture. Contemporary tango musicians and dancers experiment with new styles while honouring the traditional roots of the dance. What’s more, tango festivals and events attract enthusiasts from all over the globe, further solidifying tango's place as an iconic dance form.

Unraveling Tango in Argentina: Genres and Variations

Tango, contrary to popular belief, is not a monolithic entity. Over the years, it has evolved and diversified into several distinct styles, each with its unique characteristics and appeal.

Here are the most popular styles of tango music in Argentina:

1. Tango de Salón

Tango de Salón (or Tango de Pista) is the style of ballroom dancing. Its main features are its elegant and precise movements, emphasising connection and fluidity between the dance partners.

2. Tango Milonguero

Tango Milonguero is more intimate and is danced in close embrace. It highlights the connection and communication between the couple and is very popular in crowded milongas, the social gatherings where Argentine people get together to dance tango.

3. Tango Canyengue

Tango Canyengue is considered the original form of tango, dating back to its early days in the slums of Buenos Aires. It is characterised by a playful, improvisational style.

4. Tango Nuevo

In the late 20th century, tango experienced a modern revival with the emergence of Tango Nuevo. This innovative style, pioneered by Astor Piazzolla, incorporates elements from jazz and electronic music into tango songs, pushing the boundaries of what the word ‘tango’ means.

Picture of a couple dancing tango

The Most Important Names of Tango in Argentina

Tango has been shaped and immortalised by countless talented musicians and performers.

Here are some of the most significant names in the history of Argentine tango:

Carlos Gardel (1890-1935)

Carlos Gardel is one of the most iconic figure in the history of tango in Argentina. Born in France, he was a prominent tango singer and actor. His smooth voice and charismatic persona made him an international superstar during the Golden Age of Tango. Some of his most famous tango songs include "El día que me quieras" and "Mi Buenos Aires querido." Tragically, Gardel died in a plane crash in 1935 at the height of his career, cementing his legendary status.

Enrique Santos Discépolo (1901-1951)

Enrique Santos Discépolo was a multifaceted artist who made significant contributions to tango both as a composer and a lyricist. He wrote some of the most profound and poetic tango lyrics, reflecting the urban struggles and existential dilemmas of his time. Tango songs like "Cambalache" and "Chorra" are enduring classics that continue to resonate with audiences.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Astor Piazzolla revolutionised tango and is considered one of the most influential composers and bandoneón players in the genre's history. He was a master of blending traditional tango songs with elements of jazz and classical music, creating what became known as "nuevo tango" or "tango nuevo." His compositions, such as "Libertango" and "Adiós Nonino," expanded the boundaries of the genre and gained recognition worldwide.

Adriana Varela (b. 1952):

Adriana Varela is a contemporary tango singer who has become one of the most celebrated voices in modern tango music. With a strong, expressive voice, she has revitalised classic tango songs and brought them to new audiences. Varela's interpretations of classic pieces, as well as her own compositions, have earned her numerous accolades and a devoted following in Argentina and beyond.

Lunfardo: The Linguistic Heritage of Tango in Argentina

Lunfardo is a fascinating and essential linguistic heritage closely intertwined with the history of tango in Argentina. It is a type of Argentine slang or jargon that originated in the lower-class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was born out of the cultural melting pot in the city, where immigrants from various backgrounds, including Italian, Spanish, and African, lived together in crowded and often impoverished conditions.

The word "lunfardo" itself has an uncertain origin, but according to most linguists it comes from the Italian "lumbardo," which referred to a language spoken by thieves in Rome. As it developed in Buenos Aires, lunfardo incorporated words and expressions from different languages and adapted them to the local context, creating a unique linguistic code for the city's inhabitants.

Over the years, lunfardo became closely associated with the tango culture for several reasons:

Tangos as a Reflection of Society

Tango songs often reflected the experiences and emotions of the working-class population in Buenos Aires. The use of lunfardo in lyrics helped convey the raw emotions, struggles, and social realities of the city's inhabitants.

Disguising Taboos and Censorship

Tango lyrics sometimes dealt with taboo subjects, such as love affairs, crime, and the hardships of life in the city. Lunfardo allowed tango lyricists to express themselves indirectly and avoid direct censorship while still communicating their intended message to the audience.

Identification with Tango Culture

Lunfardo became a symbol of the marginalised and working-class communities, who found a voice and cultural identity in tango. Using lunfardo in tango songs further strengthened the sense of belonging and camaraderie among Argentine people.

Laburar - To work

Guita - Money

Mina - Woman (often used to refer to a girlfriend or significant other)

Morfar - To eat

Chamuyar - To talk convincingly or sweet-talk someone

Afanar - To steal

Cana - Police

Fiaca - Laziness or lack of motivation

Chorro - Thief or criminal

Quilombo - Mess or chaotic situation

Laburar de sol a sol - To work from sunrise to sunset (working long hours)

Gamba - One hundred pesos

Curro - Swindle or shady deal

Mango - A one-peso coin

Pibe/piba - Young boy/girl or kid

Pebete/pebeta - Variations of the words above

Ñata - Nose

In conclusion, tango in Argentina is a multifaceted art form that reflects the nation's history, culture, and soul. From its humble beginnings in the backstreets of Buenos Aires to becoming a worldwide phenomenon, tango continues to captivate hearts and minds with its rhythmic heartbeat, drawing people from all corners of the globe to experience the magic of this passionate dance and music.

Learn Argentine Spanish Now

However, to truly appreciate this art form, one must learn about the rich culture and language associated with it – including the captivating linguistic heritage of Argentine Spanish.

At Listen & Learn, we offer customised learning packages to help you get the most out of your Spanish experience. With experienced native teachers, interactive activities and engaging lessons, our courses provide an enjoyable and immersive learning journey that will enable you to discover the nuances of Argentine tango - both on and off the dance floor!

→Sign Up Now: Free Trial Spanish Lesson With a Speaker Teacher!←

Whether you are looking for in-person Spanish lessons in London or Spanish teachers in Liverpool, we offer flexible, tailored courses that can be adapted to suit any level of language skill or learning objective.

So why not take the plunge and let our experienced team help you explore this wonderful language? Contact Listen & Learn now and get a free trial Spanish lesson!