Sunday, March 23, 2014

Let's celebrate Rodolfo Biagi and Enrique Rodriguez!

-A Milonga Sin Nombre flyer -

March is the birthday month of Argentine Tango orchestra leaders Rodolfo Biagi and Enrique Rodriguez!

Rodolfo Biagi
March 14, 1906, Buenos Aires – September 24, 1969

Arguably the most handsome of the great tango orchestra organizers, Biagi was an insatiable piano prodigy who started playing at the movie halls of Buenos Aires at 13, keeping it a secret from his disapproving parents. At 15, he already played with the Tango Old Guard legend, Juan Maglio “Pacho”. 
Biagi’s fingers can be instantly recognized when we hear the trademark scattering of crystal chimes of his piano keys, even before he formed his own orchestra. From 1935 to 1938, Rodolfo Biagi famously played with Juan D’Arienzo, the revolutionary of the tango music, making tango vibrantly rhythmic, youthfully energetic, and in this way, many historians say, laying the foundation for the Golden Age of Argentine Tango.  

In Biagi’s and D’Arienzo’s lifetimes, though, their contribution to tango has often been dismissed and even berated. They were blamed for supposedly simplifying the tango, for “kowtowing to the base instincts of the wild dancing youth”. I don’t know how the critics could say it; to my ear, Biagi is simply irresistible, yet musically, not simple at all.  It’s a crazy pleasure to dance to Biagi with someone who shares your understanding of his music!

In 1938, Rodolfo Biagi struck on his own. Today, the most popular Biagi’s tangos, valses, and milongas are from this earliest, purest, exuberant period, which lasted roughly from 1938 to 1940. Later in the decade, his music grows slower, more subdued, and more melodic, before returning to driving, yet more complex, rhythm in the late 1940s.

Enrique Rodriguez
March 8, 1901 - September 4, 1971

Another great tango orchestra leader whom the highbrow tango critics loved to hate, Enrique Rodriguez was the true dancer’s musician who understood the rhythms of the dancing bodies like few others. Yet unlike Biagi, decades after his death, Enrique Rodriguez remains shut out from the best dance floors of Buenos Aires; his popularity is the strongest abroad. The supposed “sins” of Enrique Rodriguez include a widespread use of foreign music motifs (he remixed a great deal of classic, popular, and folk music from all over the world into dance tunes), the many non-tango dancing genres he played (earning to himself – oh horror! – the title of El Rey Del Fox!), his eagerness to add strange musical instruments into tango music, and even the supposedly ever-upbeat mood of his music. In other words, Rodriguez is found guilty of exactly the things which make him so dear to my heart!

First and foremost a bandoneonist who played with Pacho and Canaro in the Old Guard days, Enrique Rodriguez was also a fluent piano and violin player, and a wonderful composer. His rhythmic style developed in the mold of Edgardo Donato’s orchestra, after Rodriguez played with Donato in the late 1920s.

When Enrique Rodriguez convened his own grand orchestra in 1936, he pointedly refused to name it a Tango Orchestra. Instead, it was christened “an orchestra of all rhythms” which also played foxtrots, rancheras, pasodobles, polkas for the dancing public which didn’t just tango. Today, we often choose to dance to these very tango-flavored, fast-paced pieces in the rhythm of a spicy milonga. In fact, despite having recorded wonderfully rhythmic tangos and exuberant valses, Enrique Rodriguez’s orchestra didn’t leave us good milonga records … if you want to dance milonga to Rodriguez, you better not be shy about doing it to the sound of Argentine foxtrot!

For the music selection of our Biagi and Rodriguez night and more comments about the music, check Milonga Sin Nombre's playlist for March 22, 2014

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