The Making of a Tanda

Playing which tanda at which moment in a milonga is important, because it controls the mood and the flow of a milonga. Putting the right songs into a tanda is also important. It is because a well-arranged tanda can help the dancers adapt to the music easily, both in terms of their way of dancing and feeling. If you know the music you dance, or you dance according to the music but not just steps in your mind, then you will feel the difference between a good-arranged tanda and a not-so-good one.

Tanda is a set of songs, what makes those songs a set? Why do we put A song and B song into a set but not A song and C song? It is because the songs in a set share similarities, otherwise we won’t put them together. So what are those common things?

Recorded by the same orchestra

  • This is the very first golden rule, but if it is not followed together with the second rule below, it doesn’t mean much. Need to state here, I’m not against mix-orchestras tanda, but most of the time I don’t see why DJs have to do a mix-orchestras tanda. All the commonly-played orchestras have enough recordings to form their own tandas. Depends on how many recordings the DJs have, milonga or vals may be an exception and the DJs might want to mix milongas or vals from different orchestras. But then, I found it is not easy to form a nice mix tanda like this and the effect is always so so and not outstanding. Personally, I try my best to avoid mix-orchestras tanda. I mix only alternative tangos, not the traditional ones.
  • Recorded in the same period

  • Many well known tango orchestra leaders had very long career, to name few here: D’Arienzo’s first recording was made in 1928 and his last was made in 1975; Di Sarli recorded his first piece in 1928 and his last in 1960; Canaro made over 3000 recordings between 1915 and 1964 and he directed few orchestras played with different styles throughout his career. With their self musical evolution and the change of musical trend*, the style of their music changed from time to time. A recording made in 1950s has nothing to do with a recording made in 1930s even if both are played by the same orchestra – speed, accent, arrangement, vocal expression, some if not all of these elements changed. For this reason, it is important NOT to put recordings from different period in a same tanda.
  • To give you an idea, I found the following types of mix strange and annoying: put Di Sarli’s mid-50s instrumental pieces together with early 40s vocal pieces in a same tanda; D’Arienzo’s late 50s together with his late 40s pieces; put Quinteto Pirincho**’s tango together with those of Canaro’s “orquesta tipica”.
      First of all, all of these orchestras definitely have enough recordings to form few tandas from each period of time.
      Second, I always have hard time to change my emotion and feeling song by song WITHIN the same tanda.
      Third, I choose the partner according the tanda. I may enjoy dancing 1940s’ Di Sarli with dancer A but I may not enjoy dancing Di Sarli’s 1950s instrumental pieces with the same dancer. Or I like Fresedo’s early 30s pieces but I don’t like dancing his late 40s stuff. I heard the first song of a tanda, thought that it was great music for me and so I jumped to the dance floor. Then later I found out that I was trapped because the second or third song sounded completely different from the first. While I made an effort to continue to dance and adopt my dance movement and emotion to the “new” sound, the last song might switch back to something similar I heard at the beginning of the tanda. If a tanda is arranged like this, what is the meaning of using a tanda?
  • We like it or not, generally speaking pieces recorded in the 30s and 40s are more dancer-friendly than those in the 50s. Mixing songs from these 2 periods create unnessary challenges and difficulties to dancers.
  • And my last advice to DJs, pay attention to the year of recording to your own tango music. There are online resources where you can check what you have. It might be a lot of work, but only that you will know what you really have, what you really like and how you can expand your tango music library.
  • *From mid-50s onwards, tango as a social dance started to decline and to be able to survive, orchestras slowly changed from playing “tango to be danced” to “tango to be listened”.

    **Quinteto Pirincho is also directed by Francisco Canaro, specially dedicated to the “guardia vieja”, the old style tango.

    Roughly same pace/speed

  • Here, Beat Per Minute counter can be useful. Songs within a tanda don’t have to be exactly the same speed. I think DJs just need to make sure that the speed difference between the songs won’t be too big. If unavoidably the speed varies quite a lot, then better start with the slower one and end with the faster one. This is extremely important when playing milonga and vals. It is normal that people might drop after 3 or 4 milongas but definitely we don’t want to see them drop just after their first milonga! So always start with a slow milonga (the slowest one within the tanda). Vals is another “speed sensative” type of music, some are rather fast and some can be quite slow. Better don’t put these 2 extreme together in the same tanda.
  • Similar sound quality and level

  • Most of the time tango DJs deal with music recorded more than half century ago. At that time recording technology was not as advanced as today so the sound won’t be perfect. Then nowadays some companies transfer these old recordings into CDs, some do better job than the other and that is why, even it’s the same song, it might sound better in disc A than disc B. Of course it would be great if DJs have several versions of the same song to choose from. That involves a lot of financial investment but even if DJs are willing to spend money, sometimes a good quality version is just not available. So playing crackly recordings might be unavoidable. If that happens, then don’t put those crackly recordings together with those rather “clean” ones, because it will just make those not so good ones sound even worse. :-P
  • 4 Responses to “The Making of a Tanda”

    1. Lexa Rosean Says:

      great post Royce! very important concepts for tandas and I also only like to mix alternative pieces.
      abrazos y suerte!

    2. Belinda Says:

      Well said, Royce!

      Precisely what dancers look for in their music. For the duration of the tanda we are in the hands of the DJ. Once committed to the tanda, we rely on the DJ to manage the music, 1) in line with our expectations, and 2) handle with care the dancer’s emotional flow during the dance. A good DJ understands and respects this important aspect.

      A clueless DJ destroys the evening.

    3. Isaac Says:

      Great post Royce!

      The DJs in the good milongas here in BA play very dancer friendly songs indeed. Especially music hits everyone loves. But no one here plays Canaro tango!!!! :( We all got poisoned by you back in Singapore.

      For me, I think for a tanda the first and the second song is very important as well. Very often after a cortina, when the first phrase of the music hits my ears, I decide if I want to dance or not. If its a hit, then I really feel like jumping out of my seat to the dance floor.

      Most of the DJs here in BA follow your points. And the really good ones keep everyone dancing the whole evening, playing hits after hits.

      I had a very interesting discussion with Cacho and Rosana lately, he told me that in the late 1960s and 70s people were dancing to late D’Arienzo music. And then he let me listen to D’Arienzo 1960s to 1970s recordings. It sounded a lot like Pugliese!! Then he told me in those days where the dancing standards were very high and the milonga was very well behaved people were dancing close embrace but still doing a lot of figures to express those dramatic music.

      So, the very fact that the DJs play rhythmic early to mid pieces now also indicates the general level of dancing has dropped. Well, that was what Cacho said, ‘People nowadays donĀ“t know how to dance to these music.’ Rosana then added that only the young people who dances in nuevo style can express them but they are doing it in open embrace and they need a lot of space hence can’t do it in a social setting.

      Well, how good would it be if we were able to see what were in the 70s as Cacho has been? Close embrace and social dancing at such a high level? :)

    4. Tango DJing Says:

      [...] with my subsequent experiences, are pretty much consistent with Royce’s comments in her excellent article on the make up of tandas. How we have come a long way from [...]

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