Birthday valses, anyone? This particular quirk of the tango scene is enormously popular and I love it, even if it may disrupt the flow of the evening at times. It's a wonderful community-binding agent.
This tanda is built around a typical birthday vals, Lágrimas y sonrisas. As you might suspect, I couldn't contain myself, and sandwiched it between two contemporary instrumentals that are, and this would be difficult to overstate, best examples of what makes a great vals.
- Mujeres (Solo Tango Orquesta)
- Lágrimas y sonrisas (Sexteto Cristal)
- Vals de invierno (Solo Tango Orquesta)
Mujeres has a brief slow intro and opens with a relaxing, noble theme that has a celebratory character. The alternating motive is lyrical and features a fast piano arpeggio chordplay that is reminiscent of another you will hear in Lágrimas y sonrisas. The overall character is upbeat.
I chose Sexteto Cristal's version of Lágrimas y sonrisas, because the German band sounded to me the most compatible with Solo Tango. Since it's just an evergreen hit, one would typically place it either in the first or the final slot in the tanda. Its placement here is my nod to the expectations of birthday-vals dancers (assume it is being played for this purpose here). Although I don't refrain from delegating megahits to less featured spots if another, stronger purpose prevails.
While this could be a post-facto narrative, I do believe that Vals de invierno is a supremely well-executed vals that dwarfs many much-loved classics. Whenever I played it or danced to it when it appeared in another DJ's set, the atmosphere was electrifying. It's a crowd pleaser, very melancholic, yet sharp and relentlessly driven.
One might object saying that playing a darker vals after the birthday dance is kind of a downer. Perhaps. I don't think it's that dark, although a more upbeat mood would certainly not offend anyone. I would want to hope that the sheer lyrical power of Vals de invierno would render such objection moot on the actual dance floor.
Oh yes, and why didn't I include another vals by Solo Tangueros and make it an even more cohesive tanda? I would love that, honestly; their two originals are superb and I would sell my grandmother to slavery for a third one. Unfortunately, the two other valses from their album Nuestro (Vals Numero Uno and Vals No.2) sound more like concert music - they don't compel me to dance. I looked hard but didn't find another that would fit.
This vals tanda is agile and brisk. I don't see any constraints that would make it less suitable for any part of a typical milonga. Sure enough, you can bomb as a DJ with any tanda if you misread the room terribly. On the other hand, valses are loved by most milongueros (and especially milongueras!) and there aren't too many of them in the normal TTVTTM format, and so it's really hard to fuck it up unless you really hate the genre or your dancers 😂 🤣.
image credit Ari Goldstein