Thursday, November 17, 2016

Top milonga choices

Milonga! (Painting by Renata Domagalska)
A quick statistical snapshot, inspired by a conversation with a fellow playlist blogger, Felicity. It occurred to me that I may have been habitually recycling the safest, sure-fire milonga tracks despite my deep affection to unusual and quirky milongas. It's possible that I actually love milonga tandas more than tango tandas ... well it's hard to gauge, but I do know that many dancers specifically ask me to spare a milonga tanda for them, and (shhh!) nobody asks specifically for a tango tanda :) But the flip side is the huge disappointment of getting an indigestible milonga tanda to dance ... and there're so many milonga records unsuitable for dancing in the first place, and then quite a few records which may delight a true aficionado but won't work for most of the rest of the dancers. And so few milonga tandas in a night of dancing!

So what are *my* top choices? I asked Google. The stats are a little padded because Google slightly exaggerates the hit tallies, and because the same playlist may be spotted at different blog pages, and because I occasionally discuss specific titles outside of playlist posts. But it's gotta be close. Here's my top 20 temas to date, with asterisks marking titles for which I played 2 different orchestras:

1 Pena mulata 47
2 La Mulateada 41
3 Zorzal 33
4 Yo Soy De San Telmo (*) 29
No surprises so far. Top-rated Di Sarli's milongas are my absolute favorites, with a perfect combination of beat, grounded feeling, and stretchy melodic inclusions. With 59 playlists analyzed, it looks like I played some combination of these tracks almost every time!
5 Milonga del 900 29
"Milonga of the 1900s" is my absolute favorite of Sebastian Piana's earliest, slower-paced and therefore "accessible" milongas. And "Milonga sentimental", Piana's original composition, is a close runner-up, just two lines below. 
Sebastian Piana. Todotango photo
(the site even features his
very interesting interview)
Traditional milonga songs of the countryside payadores may have been one of the musical sources of the earliest tangos, but by the beginning of the XX c. the old folk milonga has already fallen into obsolescence, with its unsophisticated repetitive music and endless lyrics, improvised for any convenient occasion.  An operetta classic even featured two "old ladies" of the bygone days - an ailing old boring milonga and a grandmother cifra. We owe the vibrant milongas of  today's tango nights to one visionary, Sebastian Piana (1903-1994). November 26th marks Sebastian Piana's birthday and gives us a great occasion to celebrate the Father of the Milonga, who was one of the less appreciated leaders of the tango music revolution of the 1930s, setting stage for tango's Golden Age. Piana's first award-winning tango compositions were performed beginning in 1922, but it was the birth of "Milonga sentimental", first recorded in 1932, which turned into a truly seminal moment.
Piana was asked to compose a special, unusual milonga, a milonga with high-quality lyrics, and my guess is that he was inspired by the change brought by Gardel's "Mi noche triste" into the world of tango a decade earlier. "Mi noche triste" didn't just introduce set lyrics into tango - it also introduced sadness and contemplation and sentimental feeling. Can a milonga be made sentimental, too? Alas, Sebastian Piana's first customer totally rejected his work! Luckily, Piana's brother-in-law, Pedro Maffia, another of the unsung leaders of the musical revolution of Julio De Caro, loved Sebastian's new score, and played it often. Eventually it made its way to the radio waves ... and soon, the revived milonga genre has become all the rage, and tangueros started to dance to it!
Still, for a while the "new" milonga kept an unmistakable retro feeling, and many of Piana's best milongas paint historical snapshots of Argentina's past: Milonga del 900 - about the aftermath of the failed 1890 Park Revolution; Pena Mulata (the #1 on my list) - about the nation's bygone Afro-Argentine past; or Milonga de los Fortines, #14 on this list - about the Indian wars of the mid-XIX century.
6 Azabache  27
Azabache wouldn't be a top milonga choice, but it wins by being the best bet in its subcategory of candombe milongas. And another top-rated candombe, Tamboriles, is just a few lines below. Which means that although I don't play milonga candombe too often, I must be selecting these tracks very often when I do it.
The success of Piana's milonga porteña in the 1930s paved way to more fast-beat experimentation in the 1940s, both Uruguayan-influenced candombes, returning tango beats to their Afro roots, and Nothern Highlands beats such as Demare's Carnavalito. Miguel Caló recorded his signature Azabache, "Black Amber", in September 1942.

7 Milonga Sentimental  (*) 27
8 Ella Es Asi 24
"Ella es asi" is a very special song in my tango path, the hymn for the true love which started my work on tango translations.
9 Los Vino 24
"Los Vino", a 2010 recording, also wins by being absolutely the best in its subcategory of contemporary milongas. 

10 Milonga Triste  (*) 22
And Milonga Triste, another of Sebastian Piana's trend-setting compositions, gets on the list by being the best in the difficult subcategory of slow, dreamy milonga sureña  It marks the return of the countryside milongas into the urban tango salon. Different people use different terms for the regional milonga style of the Argentine hinterland - milonga campera, milona pampera, milonga surera... It was great Atahualpa Yupanqui, who once performed Los ejes de mi carreta with Canaro's orchestra, who insisted on the term "Southern" for the slowest and saddest milongas from the pampas...

11 Mi Vieja Linda 22
12 Tamboriles 21
Tamboriles isn't just an Uruguayan-influenced tune - this candombe comes straight from Uruguay, the top hit of the short-lived orchestra of Romeo Gavioli, from the days after he was expelled from Edgardo Donato's imploding orchestra and returned to his native country, and before he took his own life.

13 Cacareando 21
14 Milonga De Los Fortines 21
15 El Esquinazo  (*) 20
16 Milonga criolla 20
17 Sácale punta 19
18 Largas las penas (*) 19
19 Entre Pitada Y Pitada 19
20 Rotos en el Raval 17


  1. I had never heard the term "milonga sureña" before - that's interesting.

    The only Tamboriles I am aware of (and had never heard) is Rodriguez (1956) - is this the one you mean?

    1. Great questions. I think I need to add more information and clips to my short list! Will try soon (organizing a milonga first!). But very briefly - no, "Tamboriles" is Gavioli's, I wrote a little about it before. And people called regional countryside milonga styles differently. pampera, campera etc. The word "Sureña" is associated first of all with Atahualpa Yupanqui, who also sang with Canaro.

  2. Replies
    1. made good on my promise, barely in time to mark Piana's birthday :)