How I mix vals tandas

I confess: my standards for mixing tandas are very liberal.

Let's say I have a lovely vals, for instance "Cuando florezcan las rosas" by Ricardo Malerba c. Orlando Medina. It feels perfect for the moment. What other tunes would complete the tanda?

The established rule would be to complete the tanda with other two songs by the same orchestra with the same singer recorded in the same narrow timeframe. This is easy to do with a few big names with expansive recording history. Other times, not so much. Or, the available recordings do not mesh well.

If I can't put together a coherent story the established way, it's time to rebel. It's time to mix orchestras or singers.

I use different strategies for mixing tango tandas, and will limit the scope of this article to mixing vals tandas only. I will start with what I want to achieve: a good ronda.

My ideal vals tanda

Valses that dancers enjoy the most have a clear and regular beat in the normal or swift walking tempo. I want to present three of those where the tempo does not change much, or if it does, then it evolves from slower to faster but within a rather narrow range.

What I want in my vals tandas is a good "kick". A great example of what I mean is Tanturi's "Recuerdo", sung by Alberto Castillo.

Unlike tango, where it's common and often enjoyable to break the forward walk and pause for a moment, the vals should flow in a predictable manner. I avoid valses that break the flow at any point except their very beginning and end.

The "kick" would be a clear accent on the first beat in a bar, which guides the dancer and confirms that the step was on time. This strengtens the regularity of the movements the vals should provoke in dancers.

When the "kick" is not as explicit, it better still be there. "Noches de invierno" by Sexteto Cristal has it, even though it's a lyrical, softer vals. You are still compelled to keep moving on the dance floor in a regular and circular fashion.

A well-moving ronda is constantly on my mind. Therefore, my ideal vals tanda will strive to achieve that. How will I attempt to do it?

Technical criteria - recording quality, type of band

There's the technical quality of the recording. If I have two transfers from TangoTunes, I need a third or one that sounds the same. When you close your eyes while listening to the songs, you should have the feeling that you are sitting in one room with given acoustic characteristics for all three songs.

There's the number of musicians performing. There are tango duos (guitar and singer), trios (bandoneon, piano, and violin), quartetts, quintets, sextets, and larger bands. A trio cannot create the same sound space as a larger orchestra. Therefore, I want all three songs to match in the number of musicians involved.

Then there are technical aspects that I use in all of my mixing, namely tempo and key. I have already stated that I prefer to have a narrow variance in tempo in my vals tandas. For harmonic key mixing, I will only say that I try to avoid placing two songs recorded in the same key next to each other, and will detail out the rest in a later post.

None of this is specific to mixing vals tandas. I use these considerations everywhere.

Characteristics of musical expression

Good bands have a "signature" sound, and you just can't mistake a Biagi tune for a Pugliese. Other bands, however, are not so distinct, and this is not a criticism.

I want some of the signatures to match but not necessarily all of them. There ought to be at least one common element.

What constitutes a common element is open to interpretation. It could be the use of an uncommon musical instrument, such as the harp. It could be the way the two songs start, for instance with a heart-wrenching violin solo. In essence, I want to find some arbitrary connection.

Sometimes, however, the bands have no obvious signature. You play the tune and nobody has an idea of what this must be. Then I'll be looking at the mix of emotions the song triggers, and mix at will.

How the songs connect

Some songs have a slow introduction, either instrumental or with the singer proclaiming something important in Spanish. I would use these for opening my tandas.

While dancers do engage in short conversations in between the songs, I'd rather encourage them to dance and postpone the conversation until afterwards. A slow intro does not help.

Slow endings are more common. They give the leader an opportunity to induce an elegant leg movement of the follower. I don't mind mixing valses that all end with a coda.

Most importantly, I want to induce the feeling that the following songs starts a new theme while somehow following up on what's just happened. Looking at my sets, I'd use two approaches most frequently.

It all builds up to finish the initial proposition

I present you with a Castillo tanda:

  1. La vieja serenata (with Condercuri)
  2. Idilio trunco (with Alessio)
  3. Violetas (again with Condercuri)

I would say that all three are predominantly lyrical and point in the same direction. "Violetas" comes last as it's slighly faster and even speeds up towards the end, strongly suggesting the end of a tanda.

The progression is linear and there's no break.

The reverse would be a tanda with three upbeat valses. I cannot find any in my recent sets. This is likely to stem from my personal taste and yours might differ.

Tension builds up, and then comes relief

Here comes a mixed tanda with three different orchestras and singers.

  1. Corazón de artista (Ricardo Malerba)
  2. Mamá, yo quiero casarme (Julio De Caro c. Héctor Farrel)
  3. Por Aquí...Por Alla (Enrique Rodríguez / Armando Moreno)

The first two go in the lyrical direction, then the last one reverses the trend and lightens up the mood. The reverse is also common in my sets: the first song is light-hearted, then the two following it bring in the lyrical guns.

There are additional ways, obviously: one could start off with an upbeat song, follow with a lyrical one, and finish with a smile again. I've just listed two most common patterns I've observed myself using.

Example: mixed 1940s tanda

 Here is what I did with "Cuando florezcan las rosas" on October 22 this year on a regular weekly milonga "Klub Joe" in Prague:

  1. Cuando florezcan las rosas (Ricardo Malerba / Orlando Medina)
  2. Cobardía (Enrique Rodríguez / Ricardo Herrera)
  3. Dos Corazones (Francisco Canaro / Carlos Roldán)

The dates recording range from 1943 to 1947. The orchestras appear to have been a similar size. The recordings I have are of average quality, without the added reverb and with the average noise levels.

The tempos is uniform, averaging 64 beats per minute. The keys differ by a major third: C major, E minor, A flat minor.

With regards to the orchestras signatures, I find Rodríguez and Canaro from that era quite compatible and this Malerba vals meshes well with them.

The overall progression of the songs fits the second pattern. "Cuando florezcan las rosas" is upbeat while the other two go in the lyrical direction.

Example: contemporary tanda

On December 3, 2018, I offered this vals tanda on the same regular milonga:

  1. Que nadie sepa mi sufrir (Tango Spleen Orquesta / Mariano Speranza)
  2. La serenata del ayer (Orquesta El Arranque / Marcelo Barberis)
  3. Lontano (Orquesta Típica Andariega / Fabián Villalón)

The dates span 1997 - 2018. While 1997 is some time ago, I consider it contemporary enough as I was alive back then.

There's no issue on the technical front. All recordings are made in stereo with perfect clarity and depth.

The tempo progresses from 62 to 68 BPM. The keys are: C minor alternating with E flat major, C minor, E minor alternating with G major. Here, you can see I have broken my rule for not placing two songs in the same key next to one another.

The revelation

Rules are useful, especially when one is starting out. They become guidelines as you progress, and so much of the craft is contextual that I have a hard time finding any unbreakable principles by which I would abide.

That said, I find that my vals tandas do follow some of those I outlined above and break others. If there's anything that unites them, it's their regular forward momentum and the "kick".

The beat must go on.