Li-Hsin's tango pick!

Each week in Hilary 2024, our friend Li-Hsin (musician, tanguera, DJ, and post-doc) will introduce a piece of tango music and an orchestra...

Week 1: Loca by Orquesta Típica Juan D’Arienzo

In a milonga (tango social dance party), you can find three types of Argentine tango music: tango, milonga, and vals - each type has two forms: instrumental or vocal. In this series of introduction to Argentine tango music, we start with an all-time classic piece: Loca, composed by Manuel Jovés. The version in this video was performed by the orchestra led by Juan D’Arienzo, recorded in 1942. This is an instrumental piece without a singer, played by a "orquesta típica" composed of four bandoneons (similar to an accordion, the "soul" of Argentine tango music), four string instruments (mostly four violins, sometimes with one viola or one cello), one double bass, and one piano. This type of orquesta típica was the most common form of an orchestra during the so called "Golden Age" tango period (30s–40s). Dancers today refer a piece of tango music by the version interpreted by the name of the orchestra leader, among them the four major orchestras are: Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli, Anibal Troilo, and Osvaldo Pugliese. In the following weeks, we will introduce one tango piece performed by each of the four orchestras. 

There are many great modern tango orchestras nowadays performing live in festivals and milongas. Here is the interpretation of Loca by a modern group: La Juan D’Arienzo Orquesta. Despite being a modern orchestra, La Juan D’Arienzo plays the same way as the original Juan D’Arienzo with a bit of a modern touch. The energy level of their live performance always goes through the roof!

Week 2: Junto a tu corazón by Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli, with singer Alberto Podésta

This week we introduce a lyrical tango piece "Junto a tu corazón" ("Close to your heart") interpreted by the Carlos Di Sarli orquesta and singer Alberto Podésta. Born in Bahía Blanca (tango song “Bahía Blanca” was named after his birthplace), southern Argentina, Carlos Di Sarli was the eighth child of an Italian immigrant family. A classically trained pianist, Carlos Di Sarli started his professional career early on at 13 years-old, touring with other musicians playing popular music including early tango. He moved to Beuno Aires and joined Osvaldo Fresedo’s orchestra which had a huge impact on Di Sarli’s musical style. He started his own sextet (orquesta típica) in 1927 at age 25, directing and playing the piano himself. With various musicians and vocalists, Carlos Di Sarli’s orquesta típica continued to perform live in tango clubs in Beuno Aires and Bahía Blanca. Most of the important recordings from Carlos Di Sarli’s orquesta típica were recorded from early 30s until late 50s.  

Di Sarli’s musical style is known for string-heavy arrangement, with a rather simplistic beginning of the piece, slowly matured into a more melancholic lyrical part. His early musical style is particularly simple, elegant, and with clean beats ("compás") throughout the piece, therefore early Di Sarli pieces are often used for teaching and good for early social dancers (the pieces always remind me of my beginner classes) yet some classic pieces are also very popular among performances due to the rich variations and complexity. In this recording of "Junto a tu corazón" recorded in 1942, we can hear the enchanting voice from the beloved singer Alberto Podésta, who was only 18 years old when recorded this version.  

Here we are sharing two tango performances interpreting Junto a tu corazón: by two of the most popular Argentinian couples nowadays: Roxana Suarez y Sebastián Achaval; and María Ines Bogado y Sebastián Jimenez. Both couples are famous for their elegant, musical, and classical style of tango dancing, which makes their interpretation of Di Sarli effortlessly natural.   

Which performance do you like better? 😊

Junto a tu corazón

¡Que noche horrible para mí!
Todo en mi cuarto es frío.
Te debo todo, amor, a ti:
desolación y hastío.

Mi vida entera te la di
y este cariño mío—
pichón herido que buscó nido y calor
junto a tu corazón.

Hoy como ayer
mis pobres ojos han quedado sin luz,
y en mis desvelos solamente estás tú
como una burla a mi dolor.

Hoy como ayer
vuelvo a quedar tan solo…
fue tanto el daño que me hiciste
cuando olvidando mi querer te fuiste.

Hoy como ayer,
hoy como ayer, te quiero…
me arrastraré por mil senderos
y seguirás viviendo en mí.

Close to Your Heart

What a horrible night I’ve had!
Everything in my room is cold.
I owe it all to you, my love:
despair and weariness.

I gave my whole life up to you
and this affection of mine—
a wounded bird that sought a warm nest
close to your heart.

Today as before
my poor eyes are left with no light,
and on my sleepless nights you alone are there mocking my sorrow.

Today as before
I will go back to being alone…
you caused me so much pain
when, forgetting my love, you left.

Today as before
today as before, I love you…
I will drag myself down a thousand roads
and you will live on inside of me.

Week 3: Quejas de Bandoneón by Orquesta Aníbal Troilo

Aníbal Troilo, nicknamed "Pichuco" ("cryboy"), is a bandoneon player, composer, arranger and orchestra leader. He began to play the bandoneon at age of 10, and like most of the tango musicians, he began his professional career early on when he was only 14. At age 17, he joined the famous Vardaro (violinist) – Pugliese (pianist, band leader) sextet followed by various tango orchestras. He later formed his own orquesta típica which soon became one of the most popular orchestras. Best known for the instrumental pieces, with the most loved recordings for dancers mostly made in the early 1940s, Troilo’s arrangements were challenging and innovative, yet still being completely danceable. Another great bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla played in Troilo’s orchestra in the early 1940s, which heavily influenced Piazzolla’s sound and composition style later on.

Bandoneon is a type of concertina which is held between hands, and played by pushing and pulling the bellows, with the sound made from the reeds by pushing the keys/buttons. Unlike an accordion, the keys/buttons on both sides of a bandoneon are arranged differently and in a sort of random manner (not according to the scale), on top of this, each button makes a different tone while pushing or pulling the bellows, which makes a total 4 different keyboard arrangements, rendering the playing extremely difficult. Originally developed in Germany, bandoneons were brought to Argentina and Uruguay by German and Italian emigrants around 1870, where it was soon adopted into the earliest genre of tango music. It is hard to find a bandoneon nowadays because the mass-production in Germany terminated during the Second World War. Despite being most loved and popular in Argentina, bandoneons were never manufactured there. The vintage bandoneons are extremely rare to find, yet the nostalgic sound from a bandoneon constitutes the melancholic soul of tango music, which cannot be reproduced by any other instruments. In the video of Quejas de Bandoneón, we can see Troilo himself playing this instrument with an iconic "variation" (solo passage) starting at 1:47.

As opposed to the Di Sarli performances last week, which were danced with a social dancing style ("tango salon"); the two performances of Quejas de Bandoneón were stage tango style ("tango escenario") where performers adopt a set of stage-specific techniques – high boleos, lifting, crazy leg wraps ("gancho") among many fancy moves and the dances are usually choreographed. We don’t normally see these moves in a milonga, but tango escenario is possible for amateurs and it is also a category in competitions.

Neri Luciano Piliu y Yanina Quinones - Quejas de bandoneon

(Only available on the YouTube site)

Neri y Yanina are wonderful teachers and they come to the UK to teach in the festivals every year. Last year they came to Oxford to teach and perform in our Oxford Tango Festival in March, and they were teaching in Bristol in October in both 2022 and 2023. Make sure to catch them when they are around!

Week 4: La Yumba by Orquesta Osvaldo Pugliese

Osvaldo Pugliese was a pianist, arranger, composer, and orchestra leader. He started his tango journey as a pianist, and wrote his first tango "Recuerdo" (which remains a tango classic) when he was 19. He started his own orchestra in 1939 in which he played the piano in concerts and recordings. His orchestra produced intense, dramatic, muscular dance music, much loved by the dancers in the southern Buenos Aires during the Golden Age, and toured around the world during 1980s. His recordings from the 1940s are challenging but still very danceable, with very heavy yet obvious beats for the dancers to demonstrate their beautiful long walks. Pugliese had a very long career spanning from the 1940s to late 1980s. In the late 1950s and 1960s he developed his own style which was completely avant-garde. He started experimenting with lots of different techniques, like playing with the rhythm, syncopation, very pretty violin solo lines in many pieces, and different sound effects like "Yumba" and "Arrastre". Due to the complexity and intensity of Pugliese’s musical style, tango DJs normally don’t play Pugliese tandas until later in the evening when the energy on the dance floor has been built up, and people are ready for more expressive and intimate dances.

Pugliese was politically very active and held leftist views. He was imprisoned many times, and once even got locked up in a ship with other Communist Party members which was planned to be sunk. Each time when he was imprisoned, his orchestra placed a red carnation on the piano and played the concerts without their pianist as a protest. His performance in the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (one of the world’s leading opera houses) in 1985 was a landmark moment in the new Argentina that emerged after the return to democracy in 1983. Being a man of integrity and humility, Pugliese was respected by his band members who followed him for more than 30 years.

In the first half of the live recording shared here (recorded in 1992 when Pugliese was 87!), "La Yumba", was composed by Pugliese himself, and soon became the most popular and iconic Pugliese piece. "Yumba" (zhoóm-ba) also refers to a sound effect: from the beginning of this video, the "yumba" effect is more obviously produced by the piano, where Pugliese played the first and the third beats with normal accents (the "yum" sound), while the second and forth beats were played by smashing a bunch of very low notes on the piano using his left palm (the “ba” sound). This "yumba" sound can also come from the profound gasping by a bandoneon, along with a mixture of sounds from the orchestra arrangement. According to Pugliese himself, the unrelenting rhythm was inspired by the noises of metalworking in the streets of Buenos Aires. The yumba soon became one of the most iconic Pugliese sounds. Other sound effects like arrastre (very anticipated, dragged first beat, best produced by the bandoneon), tambor (plucking sound from the strings), chicharra (a cicada-like, very dry sound from the strings), were all heavily experimented by Pugliese in his later arrangements, which laid the foundation for the versatile "tango sounds" of future modern tango compositions until today.

We share three performances interpreting Pugliese’s La Yumba: by the young Italian couple Lorena Tarantino y Gianpiero Galdi, who are known for their elegant, "European-style" interpretation and exquisite musicality. The legendary Argentinian couple Chicho Frumboli y Juana Sepulveda, famous for their beautiful and eclectic musicality. The Argentinian couple Miriam Larici y Leonardo Barrionuevo, known for their stage tango performances (they appeared in many TV shows in the US), and their very well-made tango teaching video clips on YouTube which I find as an extremely helpful resource for learning specific tango moves. Check out their videos for the next move you want to learn! And enjoy "La Yumba".

Week 5: Invierno by Orquesta Francisco Canaro, with singer Roberto Maida

The pick of the week, Invierno, is inspired by a good friend, also an influential tanguero in our community, as being his “desert-island tango” (which would be very likely mine as well). Sweet, mellow, simple, and poetic, one of the “old timers” song recorded in 1937 by the Orchestra led by Fransico Canaro – band leader, composer, and violinist, considered one of the early pioneers of the Golden Age tango.

Canaro was born in 1888, not in Argentina, but in Uruguay, to Italian immigrant parents. The family moved to Argentina when Canaro was 10 years old. He grew up under a financially difficult environment, and worked hard with various jobs. He started to make money by playing the violin in bars, and was first introduced to tango by his neighbour, the orchestra leader Vincer Greco when Canaro was 20. He then forged a career spanned over five decades. He was known for being a difficult character, nicknamed as the “Kaiser” by the musicians. Though regarded as a “populist”, Canaro’s orchestra recorded a wealth of nice and very danceable music including all three categories: tango, milonga, and vals, which are still much loved by the dancers today. We can hear Canaro’s early recording from the 1925 in milongas, which give the flavour of the “Old Guard” (“Guardia Vieja”) sound.

Here we are sharing the modern interpretation of Invierno by the band Romantica Milonguera, recorded in 2017. Romantica Milonguera was formed in 2015-16 in Buenos Aires. They cover a wide variety of orchestras including Canaro, D’Arienzo, Fresedo, Donato, Tanturi, and Demare. After the first video “Poema” quickly went viral on YoutTube, Romantica Milonguera soon became very popular and started to tour around the world.

The performance this week is by Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes. Being one of the long-standing iconic tango performers and teachers, Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes are known for their exquisite musicality. Their interpretation of Invierno beautifully demonstrated “salon tango” at its best – only simple, basic steps and ochcos, yet elegant, grounded, with profound connection between the two dancers. They dance to the music, and with the warmest embrace, they dance heart to heart.


el invierno con su blanco ajuar,
ya la escarcha comenzó a brillar
en mi vida sin amor.

Profundo padecer
que me hace comprender
que hallarse solo
es un horror.

Y al ver
cómo soplan en mi corazón,
vientos fríos de desolación
quiero llorar.

Porque mi alma lleva
brumas de un invierno,
que hoy no puedo disipar…


It has returned:
winter, with its white veil—
the frost has already begun to sparkle
in my loveless life.

Profound agony
that makes me understand
that it is terrible
to find yourself alone.

And when I see
how the cold winds of desolation
gust through my heart
I want to weep.

Because my soul carries
the mists of a winter
that I cannot banish today…

Week 6: Ella es así by Orquesta Edgardo Donato, with singer Horacio Lagos

In week 1 we mentioned the word “milonga”. For tango dancers nowadays it has two different meanings: either referring to a tango social dance party, or a type of dance/music among the three: tango, vals, and milonga. The song we introduce today is one of the most popular, delightful, and extremely fun milongas – Ella es así (“She is like that”), recorded in 1938 by the orquesta Edgardo Donato.

Milonga first appeared as the name of a type of folksong, very similar to blues that often has standard harmonic and rhythmic base over which lyrics are chanted in an almost tuneless way. In 1931, Sebastián Piana and Homero Manzi wrote Milonga Sentimental, attempting to recreate the sound of the old quick milongas yet with a new melody and harmonic structure more in the style of tango. Milonga Sentimental was the result of their experiment and immediately became a huge hit. In the late 1920s through early 1930s, tango dancing started to slowly falling out of favour. Since the new “tango milonga” idea started to rise, many other composers soon took up new ideas and started to create new danceable milonga songs that are faster, with more energy, yet still carry the essence of tango in the rhythm and melody. There were two forms of milongas: milonga campera (southern country milonga), and milonga ciudadana (city milonga). They bear different base rhythms – milonga campera is based on syncopated beats while milonga ciudadana has the time-keeping beats as a long first downbeat followed by a short second beat, and the same length of the third and the fourth beats. Like this example:

In the first video, we wanted to show an example of dancers having so much fun dancing to a milonga at a real milonga (Monday tongue twister :D). Dancers normally use repetitive basic steps and sequences for a milonga. When it is done right (and with the music), dancing milonga is tremendously fun! 

To tango dancers, the “milonga” we know is essentially just the milonga ciudadana. “Ella es así” has this base rhythm throughout the whole song, usually played by the pizzicato (plucking the strings instead of bowing) of a double bass, as well as most of the milongas we dance to nowadays. Essentially, a milonga has faster tempo, lighter vibe, more uplifting feel, and is absolutely fun and playful to dance to. This musical signature fits very well with the overall feel of Donato’s music, which is usually upbeat and fun, with great use of the violin pizzicato (Donato himself is a violinist). His rhythms are choppy, tones are bright, and with high energy for dancers. In some way, he should be credited as the forerunner of the D’Arienzo revolution in 1936. 

The first performance video: Ella es así danced by (my all-time favourite couple) Javier Rodriguez y Geraldine Rojas. This couple began to dance together in their teens. They are known to be one of the most naturally talented dancers in today's Argentine tango world. A documentary called “La Confiteria Ideal” available on YouTube captured the young Javier y Geraldine and the tango scene in the 90s in Bueno Aires. I highly recommend to check it out!  

Second performance this week by (my other all-time favourite couple) Pablo Inza y Sofia Saborido, was danced to a live music performance by the Cachivache Quinteto. Pablo Inza has partnered with various female dancers and his style changed with different partners. He is best known for his eclectic music interpretation and seamless dance moves, as well as his impeccable taste of modern/nuevo music. With Sofia, they dance in a relatively more traditional way, while still capturing the essence of elegance and versatility of tango. 

Week 7: Desde el Alma by Orquesta Osvaldo Pugliese (and various orchestras)

Vals is essentially tango in waltz time, and is one of the three parts in the “Tango Trinity” – tango, vals, and milonga. When danced in tango steps, it is sometimes referred to as vals cruzado (vals with the cross – a basic tango movement when the dancers cross the two feet for a pause). In Golden Age Buenos Aires, people sometimes danced Viennese waltz to tango vals music, or mixed a few bars of Viennese waltz music into vals cruzado. Another name for vals, vals criollo (Creole waltz), or Peruvian waltz, refers to the roots of vals which was an adaptation of the Viennese or European Waltz brought to the Americas during colonial times by Spain. The waltz was gradually adapted by the Criollo people in Peru, and became popular outside of Peru, especially in Argentina.

Tango vals and Viennese waltz share the same essence. They both have a three-beat rhythm. The main difference between the two is the speed: the music of tango vals is faster than Viennese waltz. Therefore, while in the Viennese waltz dancers step on every beat, in tango vals, we normally step only on the first beat (simple-time). Sometimes in a relatively slower tango vals, dancers can try to step double-time: either first plus second beats, or first plus third beats, or a combination of both. Because of this variety and freedom of dancing to the three-beat rhythm, vals can be super fun and playful.

Desde el Alma (“From the Soul”) is one of the most timeless vals criollo throughout the periods of time since it was composed in 1911 by Rosita Melo, a female prodigy who wrote this song at the age of 14. Due to its enormous popularity, it was recorded by a huge number of orchestras, including orchestras of Roberto Firpo (1927), D’Arienzo (1935), Canaro (1940 and 1947), Ricardo Tanturi (1944), Horacio Salgán (1953), Pugliese (1979 and 1985), and many modern orchestras such as Orquesta Color Tango (2003), Orquesta La Juan D’Arienzo (2015), and Bandonegro (2022).

A live recording of Des el Alma by Pugliese and his orchestra at the historical performance in the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1985, which was a landmark moment in the new Argentina that emerged after the return to democracy in 1983 (see week 4). 

Paulita Duarte y “El Gato” Michael Nadtochi dancing to live music by Orquesta Color Tango. This couple is known for the European-style interpretation and being playful while composed and elegant. 

This video brings us back to Roxana Suarez y Sebastian Achaval dancing to a super free and creative interpretation of Desde el Alma by Quinteto Robrto Siri. For me this performance embodies dancing and playing vals as its best: spontaneous, playful, romantic, and so much fun!