Neo tango is here to stay
by Arnoud de Graaf

Lately, there has been a lot of movement in the world of tango music. The best example is probably the recent rise of neo tango. But also more and more tango orchestras are formed and appear on stage. It seems obvious that there is a need for new tango music and new tango compositions. The music competition Concurso del Ocho, an initiative of the Doble Ocho tango festival, aims at stimulating new music, independent whether it is orientated towards traditional tango or neo tango.



In the last five years the international tango scene has been flooded by new sounds and those sounds are something completely different from what we were used to. The responses to the new tango music are varied. This in not an unusual situation. Almost every innovation and fusion in music is greeted with enthusiasm by some and treated with contempt by others.

However, tango music's history is full of fusions and innovations. Think for example of the slow and laborious acceptation of the social phenomenon tango in the beginning of the twentieth century, Julio de Caro's decarean school of tango, the other tango musician's criticisms to Biagi and D'Arienzo's rhythmic and energetic innovations in 1935 (which with in a few years were adopted by those same musicians) and Piazzolla's 'assassination' of traditional tango music, when in the sixties he fused tango, jazz and classical music in a musical genre which nowadays is known as tango nuevo.

In the light of tango music's controversial history, it isn't strange that neo tango is regarded as a phenomenon open to dispute, but it is also not unlikely that within the next decades neo tango will become as mainstream as tango music from the forties and early fifties is nowadays.


In the beginning

Tango music has always been subjected to numerous cultural influences. The enormous migratory movements of the late nineteenth century caused worldwide musical movements. In the Americas several new musical genres were born, such as jazz and blues in North America and tango, habanera and maxixe in Latin America.

(The maxixe brésilienne is the predecessor of the Brazilian samba. It is a vivid and merry folk dance, that originated in the late nineteenth century in Rio de Janeiro. For a short period (1912/13) the maxixe was one of the most fashionable dances in London, but it popularity soon was over (Wicke, Ziegenrucker & Ziegenrucker, Handbuch der Populairen Musik, 2005).

There has always been a musical interaction between the two Americas. Numerous examples can be given; for example: tango singers from the thirties and forties who sang in Hollywood movies, the line up of tango orchestras during the forties and early fifties (the gran orquestas) was a down right copy of the North American big band and last but not least Piazzolla's flirtation with jazz. In the sixties and seventies tango was forgotten by most people, but in the early eighties it made a jubilant comeback, when several musicians fled for the junta and moved to Paris, where a new tango was born. Tango is so much more a international and intercultural phenomenon than most people realize.


Tango is Gotan, and Gotan is tango!

In 2001 the Gotan Project appeared out of nowhere with their CD La Revancha del Tango. In the years that followed several musicians were inspired by this new musical concept. Some were downright copy cat bands, but others did contribute something new and innovative to the new genre, which soon came to be known as neo tango.

The concept neotango was coined in 2003 by Sharna Fabiano (see: Sharna Fabiano, The rise of neo tango music, 2003,
Interview with Sharna Fabiano by Jacob van Kokswijk during 4D Tango Festival Eindhoven,

It seemed that the tango scene was split in two camps; mostly younger tangueros who admired neo tango artists like the Gotan Project, Bajofondo Tangoclub, Narcotango, Otros Aires and Electrocutango, where others, mostly older tangueros, were quick to label neo tango as a hype which soon would pass.

Well, neo tango is still here. The discussions about what neo tango is and what the future of tango music and dance will be like, is still going on. Besides neo tango, there are several other labels in use, such as: electronic tango, tango fusion, trance tango, hybrid tango, street tango, but a strict definition of neo tango is still absent.

And with the new tango music, the dance also changed. Elements of salsa, swing, hip hop, street dance and numerous other modern genres are adapted and incorporated into tango. Sometimes it seems that there is a new way of dancing tango: freestyle, where individual expression combined with team play and a more distant intimacy are dominant, instead of the authentic way of dancing tango, which dates mainly from the forties and fifties.

Jolanda Schörgers from 22tango (in Nijmegen) about this new way of dancing tango: "One can wonder if it is still tango. In essence it is the same. There still is a leader and follower and the basic steps are still the same." Dancer Majied Bahrami adds: "As a matter of fact, nobody really knows what neo tango is. It is an all inclusive concept for a synthesis between modern music and classical tango argentino."

Info about 22tango at:


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What is neo tango?

So what neo tango is and how it will develop in coming years, remains vague. A good definition of neo tango is not yet possible, since this social phenomenon hasn't really crystallized yet. What can one say in general about neo tango?

First of all, it is produced by nowadays musicians of all sorts, who have firm roots in contemporary music and who, based on their own music and musical experience, attempt to innovate tango music, in which they often (but not always) are influenced and inspired by tango from la epoca de oro and/or Piazzolla's tango nuevo.

The second characteristic of neo tango is the immensely diverse way of approaching tango, where numerous fusions are made with other musical genres, such as klezmer, jazz, chansons, opera, hip hop (rap), classical music, world music and many other genres.

Thirdly, the neo tango musicians use an instrumentation witch is partly the traditional tango instruments (such as: bandoneon, violin, bass and piano), but also partly new for tango, such as digital sampling techniques and instruments normally associated with world music or other non tango genres.

Finally the line up of the modern neo tango ensembles is usually very different from the traditional tango orchestras. A typical tango line up in the twenties and thirties was the orquesta tipica and in the forties and fifties the typical line up was a gran orquesta. For neo tango bands there no typical line up.

And last but not least, a lot of people tend to confuse neo tango and alternative tango. Alternative tango (or special tango) refers to non tango music, which is tango danceable. Some well know examples of alternative tango are: Tango To Evora (Haris Alexiou), Roda Vida (Teofilo Chantre), Time (Kroke), Chaloupée (René Aubry), Youkali (Ute Lemper) and La Valse d'Amélie (Yann Tiersen).


Dancing freestyle

The last few years there is a trend that during some milongas only traditional tangos from the forties is played, while others concentrate fully on modern tango or aim at a mix of traditional and modern tango. For dancers this is favourable development, for there is so much more to choose from. If you compare it with ten or even five years ago, the musical flavours to choose from have expanded enormously. Dancers nowadays choose more consciously for a certain milonga, because of the music being played.

In the field of music, traditional tango and modern tango can function as a inspiration for each other. Tango is a living musical genre and also an evolving form of dance. Although the future of tango is difficult to foresee, one can wonder if tango as a musical genre would survive without new input.

Sharna Fabiano made a nice observation on this topic: "No one can say this for sure, but based on the past 100 years, I would guess that within another 50 to 100 years, something will evolve that is different from what we know now, to become "the tango" that everyone recognizes as tango. What I mean is, today what we call "traditional" is really the tango of the epoca de oro. The tango of the 1900s and 1920s has been lost, the golden era tango replaced it. Possibly something will someday replace the golden age tango. Or maybe not, maybe the golden age tango is the only tango strong enough to endure. Only time will tell."


Concurso del Ocho

With the arrival of no less than two tango music prizes, the Dutch tango scene shows its need for stimulation of tango music. Recently tango magazine La Cadena announced the Choclo, a tango music competition for new compositions within the scope of traditional tango music.

A few weeks later, the Doble Ocho festival launched the Concurso del Ocho, another music competition in honour of El Corte's twentieth birthday and Doble Ocho's first lustrum. During the next edition of the Doble Ocho festival from Wednesday March 19 till Sunday March 23, a music competition is held for both amateur and semi-professional (tango) musicians.

The Doble Ocho festival 2008:

The competition aims at two categories: arrangements (traditional; rearranging Carel Kraayenhof's El Corte) and new projects (modern tango; emphasis on 'tango fusions'). The goal of Doble Ocho's Concurso del Ocho is to stimulate both traditional and innovative (tango) musicians to compose new tango (orientated) music. Compositions in both categories are judged by an international jury , which consists among others of Gustavo Beytelmann, Katrien Karimoen and Maria Jose Ortiz. The winner gets to play at the Doble Ocho festival.

Gustavo Beytelmann (piano, violinist, arranger and composer) is momentarily associated with the Rotterdam Conservatory. Katrien Karimoen plays the piano with Quinteto Zarate"
Maria Jose Ortiz is a tango singer who performs with her own tango trio.

More info on the Choclo music award:

But there is more. There will also be a musicians workshop during the Doble Ocho festival, which is led by Iwan Harlan. This workshop aims at tango fusion and neo tango musicians. This workshop will culminate in a tango fusion jam on Thursday afternoon in café Odessa. Tango is alive and kicking. So be there!

More info on Iwan

January 2008
Arnoud de Graaff


Zie ook:
Neo tango: remedie tegen de eenzaamheid, door Diane Romashuk. (15-5-2007)