Steve Morrall is a full time tango teacher, tango
musician and tango DJ whose livelihood depends on encouraging people to
learn to dance and performing and playing music that makes them want to
What is neotango?
For me, neo tango is a piece of music lasting no more
than three and a half minutes, performed with rhythmic as well as
melodic storytelling, perhaps with some heartfelt lyrics in english,
that not only makes me want to dance, but is possible to dance tango to
because it is structured around a 2:4 rhythm like a classical tango.
Take a few minutes to listen to these examples of traditional, nuevo
and neo tango, all of which can be found at the Apple Itunes Music
Store where you can sample an excerpt for free*.
Traditional Tango of
the Golden Era:
"A la gran muñeca" by Carlos di Sarli from
his album Tangos Instrumentales para Bailar
"Pata Ancha" by Osvaldo Pugliese from album 2 en 1
"Desde al Alma" by Francisco Canaro from album
Valsecito Amigos (Tango Vals in 3/4 time)
Libertango by Astor Piazzolla
Neotango of the new
"Almost Blue" by Alison Moyet from her album Voice.
"Leave Me Alone" by Natalie Imbruglia from her
album Left of the Middle.
"Secret" by Maroon 5 from Songs about Jane (starts 0'49")
More tracks with track
notes and audio samples (via iTunes)
Traditional tango is a unique music genre born of the
diasporic musicians of many nations who made their way to Buenos Aires
in the early 1900s. It is without doubt a melting pot of world music
stirred with deeply resonant folklore melodies and styles passed down
through generations in the aural tradition. I play tango piano and
bandoneón and have a great respect for tango music. Traditional
tango at its best is as complex and rich as a symphony even though a
tango runs it course in approximately 200 seconds. It is a genre that
is fiercely protected by its aficionados.
Midway through the last century, tango evolved into
tango nuevo. In the 1960s, bandoneón virtuoso and composer Astor Piazzolla broke away from the popular
argentinian tango style to develop tango nuevo. As a result he received
death threats from aficionados and ostracism from the country of his
Today, more than two decades years after Piazzolla's death, worldwide
acclaim of his music has endorsed the artistic brilliance of his tango
nuevo music. Despite this, even to this day, many traditional tangueros
still maintain " it is not tango - you can't dance to Piazzolla".
All over the world, Tango Argentino is enjoying a
renaissance as an exciting and passionate partner dance and is
attracting huge numbers of people to dance. As it popularity grows
outside its birthplace, traditional tango music is perhaps not so well
received and understood by people of other cultures. It can be too
complex for a novice dancer to interpret. For dancers without a
spanish-speaking heritage, the heart felt lyrics have no meaning, and a
novice tango dancer will struggle with the rhythmic complexity of
In the last few years, neotango has emerged as
non-argentinian tango dancers sought to express themselves with music
from their own culture. Neotango music provides a tango 2/4 rhythm but
was not specifically written as a tango. In its lyrical sentiment, and
emotive quality, in rhythm and pace, neotango lends itself to
interpretation by tango dancers.
Why play neotango?
There are several reasons for doing this, and I state
all of these affirming my greatest respect for traditional tango.
(a) Traditional tango at its best is as complex and rich
as a symphony. It demands a lot of attention to get hear the detail it
offers. Would you enjoy listening to all of Beethoven's symphonies
played back to back?
(b) When I sense that the dynamics of a milonga are
starting to drift, I will play some neotango to clear the musical
palette between sections of traditional tango. Dancers can then
re-engage with the sentiment and sound of traditional tango with fresh
energy and attention.
(c) Often, after I have played a short neotango section,
dancers, clearly moved by the music come and ask me for details of the
track. I want to play music that makes people dance tango, and
reactions like this provide me with a clear benchmark of what neotango
people want to dance to.
(d) Dancers without a spanish speaking heritage are
excluded from the intense emotional lyrics many tangos present. I play
neotango music with english lyrics that resonate with the tango ethos.
(e) Sometimes when I dance at other milongas, the music
is not crafted to provide interest, texture and varying dynamics. Sure
it is easy to put on a, say, Canaro CD and play three tracks 'in the
same genre' but what about chosing the best Francisco Canaro, the best Miguel Calo and
the best Lucio Demare that compliment each other (but provide variety in
rhythm, structure and arrangement) and then, ZING!, play something like
a Goran Bregovic.
(f) A good DJ needs to know his music, and must be able
to 'give' himself or herself to the needs of the dancers rather than
play personal favourites. A DJ is a service provider who must listen to
the needs and wants of his audience. Here in the south of England, it
is clear the audience needs and wants neotango played alongside
Times change, dance evolves
Neotango has its supporters and detractors. There are
some tango dancers who are so entrenched in the traditional tango genre
that they will not dance to anything else, but they are a minority.
Musical appreciation is a personal consideration.
Musical needs will change with our moods and our passions. I also
understand that it is possible to learn to like music that on first
hearing I hated. I had to study Alban Berg as an exam piece, and the
process of getting inside the music and understanding its structure
showed me not only how to appreciate the music but to hear its own
In our own search for beauty in music and freedom in
dance, I urge both supporters and detractors of neotango to think
outside the box. To neotango addicts I say traditional tango is unique
- there is nothing else like it in the world. Seek out the best in the
genre and get inside the music to hear its real beauty. To
traditionalists, consider the future of this dance to be dependent on
the number of dancers it attracts. If neotango grows our numbers,
embrace it, dance to it, your tradtional skills will help you find
beauty in the beast. Be an advocat for traditional tango through dance.
If a DJ plays a traditional tango or tanda that moves you - let him or
her know. Feedback changes playlists.
Times change, dance evolves. In its infancy in Buenos
Aires, tango was sentimentally a "lament for the lack of women' (there
were 10 men for every woman in the early 1900s ...read
more). In 2018 we have different reasons for dancing tango and in
our search, it is possible to express ourselves using other music that
resonates with the soul of tango.