Marking a new milestone in the emergence of tango music here, Australia’s first permanent tango orquesta started performing in 2018, and this edition includes a report on the Melbourne Tango Orquesta kicking off 2020 at the Paris Cat. The singing of Carlos Acuña features, and there’s a round-up of What’s On. It’s all on here, this Sunday, on Tango Capital, 7:00pm to 8:00pm:
Image Credit: Ann Smith; The Melbourne Tango Orquesta on stage at the Paris Cat, Melbourne, on 1 February 2020.
Once upon a time in Australia there were ensembles called ‘tango bands’. They generally included musicians from Italy, perhaps Spain, and they played dance music of many styles—except Argentine Tango. It was the 1940s, the 1950s, and in an Australia still under the White Australia policy, ‘tango band’ was pejorative; in an Anglophile culture the term simply separated the Australian musicians from the immigrants. Fast-forward to the 21st century, to an Australia that includes immigrants from every other country in the world*, and the musical influences on young musicians are reflecting that diversity. Tango music is developing through a healthy interchange of musicians between ensembles in the Eastern mainland states, and the emergence of the Melbourne Tango Orquesta marks the growing maturity of the tango genre in Australia.
The development of tango music in Australia mirrors some aspects of the development of tango in Argentina a century earlier. At first the ensembles were small; in Argentina initially there were only 3 or 4 musicians, but the sextet was established by 1911. A century later in Australia the early ensembles were similarly small. The ‘Tango 22’ CD release recorded tango bailable from a duo in Perth in 2001, and Cambalache was a Sydney-based duo a decade later; Libertango Trio was Sydney-based, as were the quartets Tangocentric and Tango Bar, and there was an electro/dub tango quartet in Melbourne; the quintet Collectivo 29 formed in Melbourne, Fuego Blanco and Tángalo formed quintets in Sydney; while Tango Paradiso from Queensland varied up to a sextet formation and Los Jovenes Del Tango was a Canberra-based sextet.
But during the Golden Age orquestas emerged with 10 to 20 musicians, and for dancing tango nothing beats the dynamic range that is only possible with an orquesta. In Australia three orquestas have emerged. The earliest is Tango Oz but while it has been developing tango musicians through an orquesta formation since 2009, it is primarily a youth teaching orquesta with constant turnover of young musicians and only sporadic public performances. Sadly, drawing these musicians into tango as they mature is rare, and the first professional orquesta performance in Australia was by the 10-piece Australian Tango Festival Orquesta in 2017. This was a one-off configuration drawing on musicians from Tángalo, Mendoza Tango Quartet, and the mis-named Orquesta La Luna (it’s actually a sextet 🙂 ), and it featured Australia’s first ever front-line of four bandoneóns. Today the 12-piece Melbourne Tango Orquesta similarly draws on musicians from smaller Melbourne-based ensembles, including La Busca and Tango Collusion Trio, but provides an ongoing context for these musicians to integrate and refine their interpretation of classic tango for dancing. The Melbourne Tango Orquesta is the first permanent tango ensemble bringing the emotional depth of an orquesta to Australian dancers on an ongoing basis.
As well the Melbourne Tango Orquesta brings Australia its first cantor del orquesta, Juan Veron de Astrada. He is a great front-man, one of the best, drawing in the audience with laughter and insights into the lyrics he sings. He is opera-trained in Argentina, but now channels the smooth conversational voice of his idol, Carlos Gardel. He is also a tango dancer, and he brings the richness of the Golden Age cantor to complement the Orquesta’s repertoire, his voice seamlessly transitioning from the joy of a vals to a crisp milonga.
Both classically trained and folk musicians in Australia are now becoming interested in tango music and what its musical forms, structures, and techniques can offer, and they bring a high level of individual skill and professionalism to tango. It must also be said that the tight co-ordination of a traditional orquesta típica from the Golden Age is something that can only be developed over time as the musicians work together regularly in a larger configuration. It will be exciting to watch and hear the Melbourne Tango Orquesta mature in this way over time. But this is only a matter of time; there is no doubting the tightness and excitement of its electrifying interpretations of classic Pugliese tangos.
The Melbourne Tango Orquesta is bringing back the big sound of tango, although think Lomuto for instrumentation rather than Di Sarli. The frontline of multiple bandoneóns, the string of violins, piano, and occasionally multiple double basses; these all fits the mould of the classic orquesta. However, the Melbourne Tango Orquesta also incorporates clarinet and guitars. Clarinet was a textual element of several major orquestas, including Canaro and Fresedo as well as Lomuto, but not a common instrument. Guitar was the key instrument of the very early development of tango in the mid-19th century until it was eliminated by Firpo in 1914. For the Melbourne Tango Orquesta the piano channels Firpo’s vision, driving the rhythm and the underlying texture, the bandoneóns and violins bringing a tapestry of depth and delicacy. But unlike many contemporary orquestas overseas the musicians and arrangers of the Melbourne Tango Orquesta have also taken on the challenge of integrating the very different textures of clarinet and guitar to enrich its repertoire of classic tango. Together with the influences of their folk music experience, the result refines and extends the arrangements of Di Sarli, Canaro, Troilo, and their peers that form the core of the Orquesta’s repertoire, bringing new textures to the evolution of contemporary tango music.
*Australian Bureau of Statistics Release 3412.0 – Migration, Australia, 2017-18
- Milonga Sentimental, meaning ‘Sentimental Milonga’; recorded by Francisco Canaro on 9 February 1933; a milonga with music composed by Sebastián Piana in 1932, lyrics by Homero Manzi, and sung by Ernesto Famá and Ángel Ramos.
- Uno, meaning ‘One’; recorded by Rodolfo Biagi on 11 April 1944; a tango with music composed by Mariano Mores in 1943, lyrics by Enrique Santos Discépolo, and sung by Carlos Acuña.
- Cuando El Amor Muere, meaning ‘When Love Dies’; recorded by Carlos Di Sarli on 2 August 1941; a tango with music composed by Alfredo Malerba in 1941, lyrics by Héctor Marcó, and sung by Carlos Acuña.
- A La Luz Del Candil, meaning ‘By The Light Of The Candle’, and also known as ‘A La Luz De Un Candil’; recorded by Rodolfo Biagi on 3 March 1943; a tango with music composed by Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores in 1927, lyrics by Julio Plácido Navarrine, and sung by Carlos Acuña.
- Adiós, Pampa Mía, meaning ‘Farewell, My Pampa’; recorded by Mariano Mores on 22 March 1957; a tango with music composed by Francisco Canaro, Mariano Mores, Ivo Pelay in 1945, lyrics by Francisco Canaro, Mariano Mores, Ivo Pelay, and sung by Carlos Acuña.
- Un Boliche, from lunfardo, meaning ‘A Bar’, and also known as ‘Ni Mas Ni Menos’;; a tango with music composed by Carlos Acuña, first recorded in 1958, lyrics by Tito Cabano, and sung by Carlos Acuña. Possibly recorded in the 1970s or 1980s.
- Loca, meaning ‘Floozy’; recorded live from a performance by Melbourne Tango Orquesta at Paris Cat, Melbourne on 1 February 2020; a tango with music composed by Manuel Jovés in 1922 and lyrics by Antonio Viergol.
- Organito De La Tarde, meaning ‘Hurdy-Gurdy In The Evening’; recorded live from a performance by Melbourne Tango Orquesta at Paris Cat, Melbourne on 1 February 2020; a tango with music composed by Cátulo Castillo in 1923 and lyrics by José González Castillo (Juan de León).
- La Mariposa, meaning ‘The Butterfly’; recorded live from a performance by Melbourne Tango Orquesta at Paris Cat, Melbourne on 1 February 2020; a tango with music composed by Pedro Maffia in 1921 and lyrics by Celedonio Flores.
- La Puñalada, meaning ‘The Stabbing’; recorded live from a performance by Melbourne Tango Orquesta at Paris Cat, Melbourne on 1 February 2020; a milonga with music composed by Pintín Castellanos in 1933 and lyrics by Celedonio Flores.