The Tango Milonga Relationship: A History

The Milonga

The milonga, which precedes the tango in history, was a solo song cultivated during the 19th Century by the gaucho (an Argentine cowboy) in the vast rural area known as the Pampa.

It derives from the payada de contrapunto, in which two singers (payadores), accompanying themselves on the guitar, improvised on different topics in a competition-like practice.

Los Compadritos

Around 1880, through the Conquista del Desierto (Conquest of the Desert), the Argentine government made possible the fencing of the Pampa and the subsequent distribution of the land into large properties for aristocratic owners and small plots of land for European immigrants, who were arriving in Argentina in large numbers.

This forced the almost nomadic gauchos to settle down in the poorest suburban areas of the capital, Buenos Aires. Their adaptation to city life was difficult, and frequently they lived marginal lives of crime. Eventually they were called compadritos, a word used to denote a person with an aggressive character.

A Birth

The relationship between the compadritos and the African-Argentine population in the Buenos Aires suburbs gave birth to the tango dance, which started as a result of the compadritos' mockery of the black people's dances with an important difference: the blacks danced separated and the compadritos danced embraced.

Diverse historians affirm that the word tango derives from the name (in the slang of the black people) of their dancing places, known as tambos and, later, tangos. It is widely accepted that the mocking new choreography was taken to the brothels by the compadritos before tango music really existed as such.

A Mixture

Eventually, music was created to fit this dance, and it is not strange that the rural milonga and the habanera, in fashion at the time, influenced it. Trial-and-error adaptations to the new dance, bringing together the rural milonga of the gauchos, the habanera of the European immigrants, and the African-Argentine dances in the melting pot that was Buenos Aires, created a mixture called Tango.

La Milonga

Undoubtedly, Sebastián Piana was the pioneer of the tango Milonga with his "Milonga Sentimental", composed in 1931 with lyrics by Homero Manzi. It enriched the simple harmonies of the rural milonga and opened a whole range of rhythmic, melodic, and poetic possibilities.

Many other composers followed his path: some of the most representative productions are La Trampera (A. Troilo), La Puñalada (P. Castellanos), Nocturna (J. Plaza), and Taquito Militar (M. Mores).

The Many Styles of Tango

Tango Milonga
A short walk, making a
playful figurative style

Tango Canyengue
A compadrito style more related to
the funny walking styles

Tango Orillero
A little of here and a little of there. Originated in the orillas (surroundings) of Buenos Aires