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Q: Information about Tango ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Information about Tango
Category: Arts and Entertainment
Asked by: a2_g-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 02 Nov 2005 13:56 PST
Expires: 02 Dec 2005 13:56 PST
Question ID: 588141
Is it true that the Tango started in bordellos? What do ?lunfardo,?
?guapo? and ?compadrito? mean in the context of tango history? What
kinds of music influenced tango music? How did the bandoneon become
popular? Besides your answer, where can I research about the details
of all this?  I?m willing to tack on a $10 tip for an answer that?s
Subject: Re: Information about Tango
Answered By: guillermo-ga on 09 Nov 2005 17:47 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello A2_g-ga,

As an Argentine born in Buenos Aires, I must thank you for your
interest in our music. Due to my origin and being a tango fan, I could
answer all what you asked off the top of my head, but I will not fail
to provide you with supportive information and leads about how to
search further, as you requested. My previous knowledge serves,
however, to better select the information found.

While the actual origin is obscure, all the references point to the
brothels or bordellos from the suburbs (arrabales) of around year 1900
in Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires lies on the cost of the Río de la Plata
(traditionally translated as River Plate, but actually meaning River
of the Silver, and which ultimate gives its name to Argentina -from
Latin "argentum", silver), and at that time was surrounded by the
country-side of the Buenos Aires province, an agrarian and mostly
cattle culture - pretty much like American cowboys. The scenario where
the tango developed was in the areas where the remaining -
extinguishing - gauchos, began to mix with the urban expansion and the
low class European immigrants, mainly Spanish and Italian, but also
Polish, Germans, Russian, Arabs, French, Jews from many Eastern
European countries, etc. Also are to be considered the last
African-Argentine communities - later on absorbed by the typical
Argentine tendency to race crossing - which mostly lived in poor areas
closer to the port.

In sum, the cultural clay that merged and gave birth to tango among
its fruits came from the country-side to the city, and from the port
to the suburbs. Thus, with base on the Spanish dance "habanera" and
the country-men music "milonga campera" (country-side milonga), which
also has its roots in African rhythms, in particular River Plate's
"candombe", the music that the most grass-root segment of Buenos
Aires' population between around 1870 and 1910 played, danced and
enjoyed, was this mixture, also enriched by tunes and styles brought
by all those immigrants.

Besides the brothels, another scene were the tango was developed,
played and danced where the "conventillos" - tenement houses - where
the local and immigrant lower classes merged. Among them were the
tango players, and among them eventually some immigrant showed-up a
bandoneon, which seducing, melancholic timbre rapidly seduced the
musicians and the public. Bandoneon contributed to a twist in the
color of tango, which began as a more cheerful music, and turned into
a more melancholic one. In its evolution, the tango mixed the
intention of "just having fun" with the melancholy of the suburban
grieving. However, the urban "milonga" -- a tango-like much faster
rhythm -- conserved this cheerful spirit and its words frequently are
satiric stories. Also, the word "milonga" names the tango dancing
places, or the situation of tango dancing: "se armó la milonga", "the
dance began".

That gaucho becoming urban that I referred to above, gave birth to one
particular character, the "guapo" or "compadrito", which is the
archetypal sociological type associated with the first decades of
tango. The link provided by my colleague pinkfreud-ga in her comment
( ) goes very well for the
definitions. The "compadrito" or "guapo" is not a nice person, is a
tough braggart, a boaster, most likely a killer. In a time when
political rights were still to be conquered by the excluded social
classes, the compadritos often worked for politicians who hired them
in order to sustain their strength in their constituencies, by
controlling the neighbourhood. The compadritos used to engage in
knives duels between them for whatever differences, that the tango
mythology frequently wants to be the favors of a woman. While
synonyms, the word "guapo" refers more directly to bravery -- even
today we say "hay que ser muy guapo", "you got to be very brave"...
say, to go through that situation -- and also it was used as a
nickname -- "el guapo Ventarrón", the character of the tango

The "compadritos" spoke "lunfardo", which can be translated as
"slang", and which own etymology is uncertain. Tradition says that
lunfardo originated among this close-to-crime milieu, as a resource to
confound the policemen and regular people while talking about their
illegal activities. Many lunfardo words are variations of foreign
voices of the languages spoken by immigrants, typically Italian, but
also French and others. One very particular aspect of lunfardo is the
use of regular words changing the order of the syllabus, "hablar al
*vesre*" (ves-re is the inversion of "revés", meaning "reverse").
Maybe it's done in English, but I've never heard of it, but I did see
it in France ("vers'l'an" meaning "l'anvers", reverse), as an "argot"
use very alike.

Next, I will give you some internet references about the topics
covered in the answer and for further research about tango. I focused
in references in English, but if you happen to read Spanish, you can
benefit from a few I'll give you just in case.

History of tango in general: 
- "Argentine Tango History - Origins of Argentina Tango":
- "The Hidden History of Tango", a brief introdutory text and eight
links to specific articles, all of them really worthy:
- "Tango Music Q&A - Some Basic Knowledge", by Royce Chau:

About lunfardo:

About the bandoneon (and general tango history), please see: "El
Tango", by Eduardo Fernández,

"The first tangos were played with guitar, harp, flute, and sometimes
an accordion. The bandoneon arrived Buenos Aires around 1865.
Developed around 1835 by Heinrich Band, an accordion maker in
Karsfeld, it is a portable instrument, related to the organ and
harmonium. It is a free reed instrument. It is also a diatonic
instrument (that means that every button produces different notes
depending on whether it is opening or closing). It has two keyboards,
the right one contains 38 keys, and the left one 33 keys. It was made
in Germany by Alfred Arnold until WWII, and from his name is know
today: the Doble A. Its introduction in El Rio de la Plata was like
that of the other immigrants, not too much information about it. What
is definite is the fact that since its arrival in Buenos Aires, "El
fueye" (squeezebox) as we call the bandoneon, went from the early
players, without formal music education to the next generations of
very skillful ones. Then, the bandoneon grows up and becomes the
center of the tango orchestra. Its heavy and deep sound pushed away
for ever the cheerful flute. However, neither Germans nor Europeans
were the first to perform on this instrument. The first performers
were blacks such as Jose Santa Cruz, his son Domingo Santa Cruz, El
Pardo Sebastian Ramos Mejia, and others. The bandoneon reached its
maturity when musicians like Arolas, Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz
developed and expanded its musical possibilities."

The same page also includes the article of the link provided by my
colleague that I mentioned above, which is very interesting.

If you can read Spanish:
- For a possible etymology of the word lunfardo, you can see:
CONSOLIDÁNDOSE", Por Nora López (Established Lunfardo and Lunfardo
establishing", by Nora López)

My search strategies were:
"history of tango"

"bandoneon history"

I hope that the information posted meets your expectations. If any
clarification is needed, please don't hesitate to ask.

Best regards,


Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 10 Nov 2005 09:33 PST
TYPO: syllabus for SYLLABLE!! Sorry!

Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 05 Dec 2005 11:07 PST
Thank you very much for the stars, comment and tip! :)
a2_g-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thanks!! Very good information and sites.

Subject: Re: Information about Tango
From: pinkfreud-ga on 02 Nov 2005 14:04 PST
You'll find lots of interesting info here:
Subject: Re: Information about Tango
From: dherring-ga on 10 Nov 2005 15:17 PST
The Tango:

The Tango became a dance style created originally in Montevideo,
Uruguay and exclusively in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the lower
classes of population. As time progressed, the Tango was adopted into
local Salons and parlors. The tango became a quick cultural export
from South America to Europe as classical and opera music became
quickly integrated into it. Soon, the popular dance style jumped the
pond again as the Tango was widely accepted into American Culture.
Once in America, the Tango soon represented a new baroque sector of
dancing for it was highly regarded by the wealthier social classes.
The name ?compadrito? in the context of Tango History became known as
a typical character of the suburb, a bully and a braggart; one who
preached his or her individual version of the newly developing ?tango?
dance. Also, the name lunfardo was considered as a slang name for one
who is native to Buenos Aires. The name lunfardo  can also be
attributed as a language of the underworld spoken by immigrants and
social rejects as means to communicate with one another without
understanding by the authorities. Also, the name Guapo can be
considered as one who practices the cult of courage, meaning any man
who brings others to embrace his noble thoughts and ideas. In context
to the history of the Tango, this could be applied as a man who
spreads his knowledge of tango dancing and teaches others his
individual forms. Finally, the bandeon became popular among Tango
history as German instrument makers perfected  their individual type
of mouth organ. The bandoneon soon found its place in Tango history
for the instrument was capable of playing different notes at the same
time with the advent of the free reed sonic principle, which allowed
several different instruments to be played, such as harmoniums, reed
organs, accordions, harmonicas alongside the bandeon. As newly
immigrated bandeon players adapted their instrument to play the
Argentinean Milonga, the bandeon?s influence upon the rapidly growing
Tango culture was born.
	Considering the Tango was originally created by young, outgoing, and
adventurous teenagers, the origins of Tango can be considered close to
rap, break dancing, and even hip hop; for clothing of the time were
elegant and flashy, reflecting the original nature of the dance
practice. Later, as the Tango mutated into a more elegant form in
America, the Tango was to be practiced in socially strict ballroom
settings. From the 1920?s to the 1950?s the Tango was peak upon its
golden age.
Tango music over time became widely varied, for different composers
took subtle influences from different genres of music. For example,
Astor Piazzolla  during the 1950?s, composed Tango music full of
melodies formed by jazz and modern art musical influences, removing
the ball room atmosphere from the Tango adding less strict, laid back,
 and more casual attitude towards the dance.
Argentine Folklore is exclusively most influential in the makeup of
Tango. Argentine Folklore can be considered as a blend of Polka,
Mazurka, Paso Doble, and Habanera music, among others. Also, Latin
influences of Tango include the once popular ?pampas? or flatlands
music of Argentina, which after much transformation became known as
The Tango. Meanwhile, Tango music oringinated as two distinct forms.
Latin America played the Tango without heavy drum beat while using
traditional string instruments. Meanwhile, European style Tango music
became adopted with a heavy drum  beat, keeping rhythem and pace along
with full support of an entire orchestra. These musical influences,
among different instrumental influences such as the Bombo drum, (an
Argentine Indian beat drum) crafted the future of this new type of
dance style which later became known as the Tango.

For More Information:
Subject: Re: Information about Tango
From: guillermo-ga on 10 Nov 2005 21:35 PST
With respect to Dherring-ga's comment, while some place tango's origin
in Montevideo (Uruguay), that cannot be asserted. Rather, we could
think of it as a process that involved both sides of the River Plate
-- the expression "música rioplatense" (music from the River Plate) is
a common place for tango. Buenos Aires and Montevideo (in a broader
scope, Argentine littoral and Uruguay) -- while with differences --
share many cultural resemblances, such as a very similar use of the
Spanish language, tastes, games, foods, the typical infusion called
"mate", etc. Both cities have had a fluid interchange since they were
founded about four centuries ago, they belonged to the same Spanish
administrative unit, and to the same country for more than one decade
after emancipation from Spain, and maritime traffic usually included
both ports. So the process I described for Buenos Aires in relation
with the origin of tango may very well include Montevideo, and the
tango has been an expression of that city too. However, it seems to be
Buenos Aires were it rooted more deeply and enduringly, and even
Uruguayan tango artists such as singer Julio Sosa or composer
Francisco Canaro developed their career in Buenos Aires. One of the
reasons may be that Montevideo has developed other genres such as
"canto popular uruguayo" (Uruguayan popular singing) and a particular
kind of "murga" (very different from the Argentine type, up to the
point that, when performed in Argentina by Argentines it is called
"murga uruguaya", so that the public would know the kind of
performance they'd attend). Those genres have its roots in Uruguayan
"candombe", African-origin music still very present in Uruguayan
"barriadas" (neighborhoods) -- unlike Argentina where it's virtually
extinct -- and also had its part in the origin of tango. About the
tango in Uruguay, if you can read Spanish or French, this is a very
good material: (Spanish); (French). (I apologize for
not having found a source in English for this).

As to the word "guapo", while it denotes bravery, I have to disagree
with the idea of "meaning any man who brings others to embrace his
noble thoughts and ideas". Words like "guapo", "compadrito", "malevo",
"taura" were used to designate violent and fierce men, not idealists.
The word word "guapo" is still used in some expressions, such as "lo
hice de guapo", meaning "I did it out of arrogance", as when you
achieve something in spite of the obstacles opposed by others. It has
a positive sense implying "out of courage and determination", but
always imposing your prevalence to others.

Regarding the word "lunfardo (...) as a slang name for one who is
native to Buenos Aires", this is the first time I see such a
definition, and could not find any supporting information about it.
Most likely, "lunfardo" meant "thief", from the Genovese dialect
"lunfardo", meaning "lombardo", from the Italian region Lombardia,
where apparently in the Renaissance many usurers came from, thus the
use of "lunfardo" ("lombardo") as "thief". Therefore, if in Buenos
Aires the thieves invented that particular jargon, it must have been
referred to as "talking in *thief* (language)" = "hablar en (idioma)
*lunfardo*". Later, the original use of the word "lunfardo" may have
become obsolete and lost. (In case you can read Italian, you may find
very interesting the article "Italiano d'Argentina" (Italian from
Argentina) by Nadia Paris: (Apologies again
for lack of a source in English).

The mention of Astor Piazzola is quite accurate. I would only add that
his having lived part of his childhood in New York (though born in Mar
del Plata) left its mark in his approach to tango with that jazz
influence. Ultimately, Piazzola left aside completely the dancing
origin of tango, making out of it a sort of unique
classical-contemporary music to *listen*, not to dance and, mostly,
not even to sing. A paradoxical case, Piazzola became maybe the
highest Argentine music ever for the world, and the ultimate tango
composer, at the end of the golden age of tango. After him, the tango
never was the same, but also -- and I don't mean *because* of him, for
there were other factors -- in his peak moment (the 60's) the tango
began to lose popularity, specially among the youngsters.

As to the relation between tango and folklore (although tango is
indeed a folklore, we reserve the term folklore for the group of
genres from the interior of the country), they are not really related,
except for the milonga campera. Most Argentine folkloric dances derive
from the ancient Peruvian "samacueca", a 3/4 rythm with African,
Indian and Spanish influences, while tango is a 2/4 rithm. Now that I
mentioned the 3/4 rythm, I must add that also the worldwide
omnipresent waltz makes part of the tango culture, with many tunes --
called "valsecitos" (little waltzes) performed with the typical tango
sound. But they are clearly not tangos, but waltzes in a tango

On another note, I found the webpage suggested by Dherring-ga most
interesting ( ).

I hope you find this additional information interesting.



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