A while ago, some rousing music by Anibal Troilo was playing at a milonga, when an argentine fellow asked if I knew what the tango was about. He'd grown up with tangos playing at home, so he knew all the words. This piece was called Una Carta (a letter). At that stage my Spanish was not good enough to understand the lyrics, so he enlightened me: A man is writing to his mother from prison, asking if it's true that his wife has found another man. Only then did I understand the energy in the music. It reflected his frustration, pain and anger. Since then, dancing to this tango has been a totally different experience for me.
And so it is with other tangos, valses and milongas. Fundamentally, most are stories set in a working class background. Often the poetry of the letras (lyrics) is exquisite and multi-layered. On top of that, the emotional impact of their universal themes is amplified by superb singers and the music played by great tango orchestras. So nowadays I make a point of finding out the meaning of my favourites. To help with this, there are even a few websites with some translations in English.
Here are a few gems to read, listen to and view:
In Al Compas de un tango the singer wisely advises us to go dancing in the milonga in order to forget the painful demise of a relationship (Note how the two singers evoke somewhat different feelings), while El encopao seeks solace in the bottle. Some pitfalls of machismo feature in Gloria and Patotero sentimental (I found a stunning video of this one, too). Suerte loca deals with gambling, while Volver and Adios arrabal remind us of the powerful influence of one's past.
Do you listen to the lyrics? What are your favourites?
How do you explain Tango?
16 hours ago