Bringing a different perspective to the music of tango, The Tango Decades is an 8-part series focusing on a horizontal slice of what was hot, decade by decade, as tango blossomed over 40 years. This fifth episode is focused on 1945 to 1949, and explores how the role of the singer was linked to developments in recording technologies. That’s this Sunday on Tango Capital, 7:00pm to 8:00pm:
- broadcasting on 2xxfm 98.3 in Canberra,
- streaming live and also on demand from http://www.2xxfm.org.au
Image: The history of tango is intertwined with the development of audio technologies and none more so than recording. Tango started to emerge in the mid-19th century but recording technology was only widely available from 1888. There are fragments of tango recordings from the 1890s but these may not be commercial; use of the technology was not widespread in Argentina and they may be ‘one-off’ as early cylinder players also made recordings. Then a series of technical improvements between 1895 and 1903 gave shellac discs advantages over wax cylinders, but the real impact was that discs were cheaper to make and much more compact for packaging and storage; with a big price differential they effectively displaced cylinders by 1910.
Tango capitalised on this cheap opportunity. Pedro Maffia started recording tangos from 1911, Juan Maglio from 1912, Carlos Gardel from 1917. Key patents covering disc recordings expired around 1919 and the result was an explosion of new companies but it was not until the mid-1920s that the speed of disc recordings was standardised at 78 revolutions per minute (nominal) and domestic sales expanded. From this time popular voices such as Carlos Gardel, Azucena Maizani, and Rosita Quiroga made some recordings with tango orquestas such as Canaro’s but once electric recording using microphones instead of acoustic horns arrived in Argentina in late 1926 singing was also re-introduced by Canaro as an integral element of tango for dancing in the form of the estrabillista. Gradually the balance shifted as during the 1940s and 1950s singers drove record sales.
Recordings also changed the way tango was experienced. Tango DJs playing shellac recordings emerged in the late 1920s. Recordings also offered opportunities to radio stations as early negotiations between the then-nascent technologies of recording and radio recognised that it was to their mutual benefit to co-operate. From the 1920s onwards recordings of tango music were thus piped into every home in Buenos Aires.