The need for NeoTango
BY STEVE MORRALL
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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 keep dancing.

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)

Nuevo Tango
Libertango by Astor Piazzolla

Neotango of the new century:
"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 birth.

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 classic tango.

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 traditional tango.

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 strange beauty.

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.


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