TL;DR: I traveled to Belgrade and Berlin to dance, DJ'd in Norway, Germany, and home in Prague, and voraciously indulged in 1950s tango records. I will share what impacted me the most below.
Dance, dance, dance
Belgrade is my second tango home. I visited it four times this year.
The Encuentro is arguably one of the biggest festivals in Europe and always a lot of fun. You'll meet old friends there and make new ones. I admire how its organizers, Tango Natural, are able to build and grow their community and keep bringing young people into the fold. One does not have to worship young tangueras to realize that tango can only live on if young people can pick it up - and keep at it as they grow older.
Other than the Encuentro, they organize several "tango weekends" throughout the year, and I came for three of them. The atmosphere is cozy, with anywhere between 80-200 people in attendance (rough estimate), and as it takes place between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, it offers just about the right amount of dancing I can do in a row before falling down on my bed in total exhaustion.
Berlin is closer, and yet I only came twice. Once for a wonderful Loca milonga in Tangoloft, another time I came for business and dropped by at the milonga in Bebop. I don't know what keeps me from coming back more often!
I'm always happy to travel to share the joy of tango around, and I was lucky enough to make an appearance at the first-ever tango festival in Hell, Norway, organized by the Trondheim tango club. This is what I played there.
Another event that I cherish in my memory was an international milonga in Görlitz, a Germany city close to the borders of Czechia and Poland. It is regularly frequented by tangueros from all three countries, and is one of the friendliest places you can imagine. The organizers are doing a marvelous job there.
I played 33 times in Prague this year and made several attempts at organizing. Man, isn't that hard! Currently, I am working on a concept that emphasizes the social, fun, non-serious potential of tango. The unaugural event happened just before Christmas, and we had a blast!
There were two main themes I played with in 2019: music of 1950s and 2010s. I am on a mission to brings these two epochs into the mainstream. It does not come without significant opposition: one is considered decadent, the other immature. As a DJ, I can only make my case with careful selection that fits the time and mood.
My obsessions from 1950s, selected and distilled:
- Late D'Agostino, without Vargas - still very much himself, and with a talented roster of Tino García and Rubén Cané, who don't get nearly as much love as they deserve!
- Late Vargas, without D'Agostino but available in conjunction with excellent ensembles of Eduardo Del Piano, Armando Lacava, or Edelmiro D'Amario. His rendition of Tanto is a first-rate heartbreak and I featured it recently. Here's his unforgettable El adiós:
- D'Arienzo and his 1950s and 1960s projects with Valdez and Palma: still the King of the Beat, he can be overwhelming at times, and it sounds like 100s of violins and bandoneons were sacrificed in the recording process... but still! Consider this miraculous milonga from 1962, sharp as an executioner's axe - I can barely hold myself from standing up and dancing just by myself when listening to it! Prometedora:
- Late Di Sarli and his magnificient, epochal achievements he made with Pomar, Durán, Florio - all his lyricism distilled into high-proof, super addictive substance that gets you drunk in a heartbeat. This is No la maldigas por Dios from 1958 - I purchased it on a private transfer made by Bernhard Gehberger, the proprietor of the excellent tango-dj.at community - and so can you, and in the process support his awesome work at keeping tango alive!
- Late Mr. Biagi, especially his collaboration with Hugo Duval - just like Di Sarli, he relaxed his tempos in the 1950s, resolved his nervousness, and delivered works of astounding precision and beauty.
- Pugliese's masterworks with Jorge Maciel, by far the highest peaks of lyricism that 1950s produced. Pugliese being Pugliese, some of them are safer for listening only; others work fantastically but only with careful timing and preparation. As an unabashed fan, who just loves it all, I have to restrain myself... For example, I only played this gem twice this year!
Of the 2010's orchestras, I reviewed a few of them this year and love them fiercely. They are the future of tango. The future might not look like what we would necessarily expect or want but such is the nature of future: if you could immediately describe it and convert it into physical matter, it would not be the future anymore, it would be the present. Let's keep up hearts open to be surprised, sometimes annoyed, then delighted and amused. As long as it's got the right beat, it's still tango!
I keep these bands on my front burner:
- Sexteto Cristal - I have a soft spot for German tango bands, and these guys are phenomenal! Their style is very noble, free of showmanship, restrained yet utterly professional. In the selection of songs they cover, you can trace back their influences all the way to Orquesta Típica Victor. I reviewed their début as well as their newest CDs.
- Orquesta Típica Andariega is in my eyes (or ears?) the most innovative band that plays for dancers. Luigi Coviello, their band-leader, is a gifted arranger with a recognizable signature. I reviewed their newest album as well as the album of their spin-off, Sexteto Andiamo. The vals featured below has consistently brought me accolades from dancers.
- Collectif Roulotte Tango, a phenomenal French ensemble whose only downside is that they don't make their music too easy to find online - you've got to purchase the CDs (and you should, as did I!). Many new bands are on Bandcamp but Roulette isn't. All their milonga covers are instant hits: elegant, stylish, and with a unique flair.
- Romantica Milonguera and Tango Bardo: they up the voltage to the max. Always over-the-top and endearing, they exploit the tango idioms to their maximum potential, only stopping a hair short of parody (but not overstepping). While dancing, I would find a prolonged exposure to their interpretation to be exhausting: they are best served as spice, not as the main dish, but boy, do they make for some tasty, super-hot spice!
Other new bands make less frequent but always appreciated appearances in my playlists. I love all of you guys. One of my goals for my 2020 productions (milongas that I organize) is to feature contemporary records as they appear on Bandcamp and elsewhere. Tango is alive!
You can't do tango alone, and I wouldn't want to!
I just renewed my subscription to Tango-DJ.at, already mentioned above. Bernhard's database is without peer, and he says he's going to make new releases in 2020, and so if you into collecting tango records, DJing, or want access to hard-to-get releases, a membership there is a no-brainer!
DJ's wouldn't have a frictionless, digital way to obtain the classical tango repertoire without Don Xellos and his TangoTunes, which I have not mentioned a lot previously but have frequented as a purchaser many times. My latest acquisition are vinyl transfers of Pugliese and Demare, which I can heartily recommend.
I am indebted to Thomas Kröter for his frequent inspiring posts, from which I have received many tips for new bands and whose writing I use to practice my still quite rudimentary German reading comprehension (Ich werde mich bessern!)
And finally, my warmest thanks to all the tangueras whose embraces I had the privilege to share in this wonderful year 2019! This is the reason why we do all of this, after all.
Tango is alive!