Ángel Villoldo

Ángel Villoldo, also known as the “father of tango”, was a musician, singer and composer of the first generation of the guardia vieja.  As a performer he contributed to the popularization of tango in the early 1900’s. He is the composer of one of the oldest and most famous tangos of all times, “El Choclo” (1903).

Ángel Gregorio Villodo Arroyo was born in Buenos Aires in 1868 in Barracas. In his youth he worked at many different jobs and learned to play the guitar and harmonica in his free time. Around 1900 he made a name for himself as a performer in the cafes of La Boca, contributing greatly to popularize tango where the payada was still dominating. Heis also remembered for his performances at the prestigious Restaurante 3 de Febrero in Palermo where his tango “El esquinazo” made a lasting impression.

An interesting fact about Villodo is that he was the most important tango lyricist of the guardia vieja. At a time when tango was merely and instrumental affair, he began writing lyrics which were inspired by the poetry the urban payador. These are not the sentimental tangos of Pascual contursi and the guardia nieva but they do lay the foundation for His tangos are the kind which describe the life in the city and anecdotes involving the compadritos and cuchilleros we now associate to the origins of tango.

Ángel Villoldo was a prolific composer with over 70 tangos in his repertoire, including “El esquinazo” (1900), “El Porteñito” (1903) and “El Choclo” (1903). He wrote lyrics for many of his own compositions as well as for “La Morocha” by Enrique Saborido and for “El Entrerriano by Rosendo Mendizábal. His songs were interpreted by himself and by other performers such Dora Miramar, Linda Thelma, Flora Rodriguez, Lea Conti and Pepita Avellaneda.

According to some, Ángel Villoldo traveled to Paris to record for Gath y Chaves and contributed to popularize tango in Europe. Others point out there is no evidence of that and no traces of these recordings.

Angel Villoldo died in Buenos Aires in 1919 at age 51.


Pesce ,Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

El tango: Un siglo de historia (Vol. 3). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

Benedetti, Hector Angel. “La tienda Gath & Chavez tambien publicó discos.” Todotango.com. Web. Aug 2016.

Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel was a signer, guitarist, composer and actor of the early years of the guardia nueva. In the 1920’s, he played an essential role in the renovation of tango as a sentimental song. With his vision, charisma and quality of interpretation, he became an international star and a pioneer of the sound recording and filming industries. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1935 turned him into a legend, and he remains to this day the most famous and respected figure of tango history.

Charles Romuald Gardes was born in 1890 in Toulouse, France, of an unknown father. His mother, Marie Berthe Gardes, immigrated to Buenos Aires when he was still a young child. There she worked as a planchadora, ironing clothes for a living, and together they lived in poor pensions known as conventillos in the neighbourhood of San Nicolas.

Growing up near the heart of the city, Charles Gardes was impresed and attracted to the nightlife of his neighborhood. He got his first job as a claque, applauding the artists in the theaters of Avenida Corrientes. Later, in the neighbourhood of Abastos, he began signing in public with the help of his mentor, the payador José Betinotti.

In 1911, Gardes met José Razzano with whom he began performing as a duo to perform at the Café de los Angelitos. In 1912 he got his first opportunity to record for Columbia under the name of Carlos Gardel.

The Gardel-Razzano duo began traveling to Uruguay and Brasil in 1915. This is where Gardel met the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who had a profound influence on his signing technique. Two years later, in Montevideo, he met Pascual Contursi and recorded his first tango, “Mi noche triste“, opening the way to a new area of tango poetry and singing.

Before he recorded “Mi noche triste” (1917), Gardel’s repertoire was composed of estilos, zambas, tonadas, waltz and other popular folk songs and rhythms of the world. By the time he began his solo career in 1925, he had become the voice of a new genre of tango song. He composed the music of many tangos including two of his greatest hits, “Mano a mano” (with José Razzano) and “Mi Buenos Aires querido”.

In the 1930’s Carlos Gardel produced a series of short musical movies which are regarded as some of the first video-clips in history. He was the star of many movies including “Las luces de Buenos Aires”, “Melodia de arrabal”, “Cuesta abajo”, “Tango bar” and “El dia que me quieras”.

Carlos Gardel died in 1935 in a plane crash in Medellin, Columbia, while touring south America. According to the Internet Movie Database, his voice and image appeared in over 80 movies after his death. [3] It is said that everyday he sings better.


[1] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Librerias Libertador, 2002. Print.

[2] Cárcamo, Antonio José. Carlos Gardel discographía. Por siempre…. Gardel. Online. http://gardel.unsl.edu.ar/carcamo.htm

[3] Carlos Gardel filmography. IMDb, Online. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0306624/#composer

Orquesta típica

In Argentina, the orquesta típica is an orchestra specialized in performing tango. The classic orquesta típica is a sexteto composed of two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

Before the first orquesta típica were formed, tango was improvised or played by ear on commonly available instruments such as guitars, violins and flutes. The simple structure of primitive and old tangos allowed for musicians to perform on their own or in small bands of two to four musicians. Tango was also performed by municipal, military and police bands or played on the organito.

The incorporation of the bandoneon in tango instrumentation around 1910 was an important event in the evolution of tango orchestras. Because it was such a rare an difficult instrument it sets appart tha band dedicated to tango music. It also had a profound effect on the sound and feel of tango music.

The expression “orquesta típica criolla” first appeared on Columbia labels in 1911 to introduce the orchestra of Vicente Greco as a band which specializes in tango.

The first orquestas típicas were mostly cuartetos composed of guitars, violins, flutes and bandoneon. The piano and double bass were introduced by Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro. The classic sexteto and musical structure of the golden age was established as a result of the work of Julio de Caro in the 1920’s.


Pesce, Ruben. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

Zucchi, Oscar. El tango, el bandoneon y sus interpretes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998. Print.

Acoustic recordings

In Argentina, the acoustic era of sound recording coincides with the gestation and guardia vieja periods of tango history.

The first tango recordings where made on cylinders and 25 cm discs in Europe (1902) and Argentina (1904). These recordings featured primitive or very early tangos performed by various singers, payadores and musicians such as Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón, Angel Villoldo, Flora and Alfredo Gobbi,  Manuel Campoamor and Andree Vivianne. They also included tangos performed by military and police bands.

The first recording of a tango by an orquesta típica criolla was made by Jose Tagini with Vicente Greco in 1911. Jose Tagini was a sucessful importer of gramophones and discs and his store acted as the first recording studio in Buenos Aires. Casa Tagini had an exclusive contract with Columbia and also recorded with Eduardo Arolas, Angel Villoldo, Genaro Esposito, Alfredo Gobbi and Juan Maglio (Pacho), who became extremely popular in 1912. Tagini also gave Carlos Gardel his first opportunity to record, though Gardel was not a tango signer at that time.

Another important actor in the early history of tango recording was Henri Lapage, owner of a photography store which was also among the first to import phonographs and gramophones in Argentina. Casa Lepage was sold to Max Glucksmann who signed with the duo Gardel-Razanni for Odeon and recorded Carlos Gardel’s first tango, “Mi noche triste“, in 1917.

Early recordings made in Argentina were sent to be pressed in the United States, Germany or Brasil. Discs were shipped back to Argentina six months later to be released. Max Glucksmann was first to produce his own discs in Argentina in 1919.

Acoustic recordings were entirely mechanical processes. They involved collecting the physical air pressure of sound waves into large conical horns. This pressure was used to activate a stylus to scratche an analogue of the sound waves onto a moving medium. 

Cylinders appeared first in 1877 and were associated with phonographs. Gramophones appeared in 1887 along with the first discs. Zonophones were phonographs which were commonly used in Argentina.


[1] Pesce, Ruben, Oscar el Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[2] El tango: Un siglo de Historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[3] Luci, H. Lorenzo. “Los payadores y las primeras grabaciones en Buenos Aires.” Todotango. WEB. Aug 2016.


Francisco Canaro

Francisco Canaro was a prominent orchestra director, violinist and composer of the guardia vieja. He had a long and prolific career covering over 50 years of tango history from his early years with Vicente Greco up to the 1960’s. He recorded over 3500 tracks including 900 titles in the acoustic era only. As a composer he produced classics such as “Mano Brava”, “Sentimiento gaucho”, “La ultima copa”, “Sonar y nada mas”, “Madreselva”, “El chamuyo” and “Se dice de mi”.

Francisco Canarozzo was born in Uruguay in 1888 to a humble family of Italian immigrants. When he was 10 he began selling news papers in the streets to help sustain his family. His first violin was made out an oil can from a factory where he used to work.

With his oil can violin Francisco Canaro began performing in public for money. By 1908 he was a regular in the cafes of La Boca and he joined the orchestra of Vicente Greco with whom he made his first recording in 1911. He composed his first tango in 1912 and contributed to shaping the first orquestas tipicas by incorporating the double bass.

In 1925, Canaro was in Paris with his own orchestra. He also performed in New York and Japan. He was among the first to experiment with tango signers and to include an estribillista in his orchestra in 1924. Some of the signers most identified with him in his early years are Charlo and Ada Falcon, a woman with whom he had a notorious love affair.

Another important aspect of Canaro’s career was his involvement in the film industry as a composer, actor and producer. In 1934 he founded his own production company, Rio de la Plata, which produced 11 movies but without much success. He also fought for copyrights and founded the Argentine Society of Composers and Songwriters (SADAIC).

According to José Gobello, Canaro is the second most important figure of tango after Carlos Gardel. He published his memoirs in 1956  and died of Paget’s disease in 1964.


Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977.
Canaro, Fransicso. Mis memorias: Mis bodas de oro con el tango. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1999. Print.
El tango: Un siglo de historia (Vol III). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992.
Gobello, Jose. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Buenos Aires: Centro editor de Cultura Argentina, 2002.

Guardia vieja

The period of tango history called guardia vieja can be divided in two stages. One where tango emerges as a distinct musical genre but is still executed by solo performers or casual trios and cuartetos. And a second phase where the traditional orquestas típicas  progressively takes shape.

According to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango, these two phases are the Eclosión phase (1895-1909), which begins with the creation of tango as distinct and documented musical genre, and Formalización phase (1910-1925) which begins with the introduction of the bandoneon and the creation of the first specialized tango orchestras.

During the eclosión phase, tango becomes a historical reality with the first documented mention of a tango criollo in a zarzuela entitled “Justicia Criolla”. At the same time “El entrerriano” by Rosendo Mendizabál becomes the first published tango with printed partitions and a registered author. Other early tangos which were published shortly after and contribute to defining tango as distinct musical genre  are “Don Juan”, “El Choclo” and “La Morocha”.

In the early stage of the formalización, the bandoneon is introduced in tango instrumentation and becomes a characteristic element of the first orquestas típicas, such as those of Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio. Because the bandoneon is a rare and difficult instrument to master, it becomes the signature of an orchestra dedicated to tango music.

With the introduction of the bandoneon, an important change occurs in the feeling and the sound of tango. Flutes and guitars are left behind and tango begins to take deeper and more melancholic tones. The piano is introduced to tango orchestras by Roberto Firpo in 1912 and the double bass is added by Francisco Canaro. This completes the creation of a traditional sexteto which is composed of two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

During the guardia vieja, tango not only reaches a broader audience in Buenos Aires cafes and nightclubs, but also in Paris where tangomania begins, soon to reach other parts of Europe and the United States. Some of the musicians, signers and dancers who first took tango to the old world include Ángel Villoldo, Los Gobbi and Casimiro Ain.


Ferrer, Horacio. El Siglo de oro del Tango: compendio ilustrado de su historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Mate, 1996. Print.

Pesce, Ruben. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Corregidor, 1977. Print.

Zalko, Nardo. Paris / Buenos Aires: Un siglo de tango. Buenos Aires: Corregido, 2001. Print.

Amuchastegui, Irene. “El día en que el tango tuvo nombre.” Clarín [Buenos Aires] 28 Sept. 1997. Web, 1 Aug. 2016.

Tango history (six stages)

The history of tango can be divided into six stages according to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango. [1]

The Academia nacional del tango was created in 1990 by the Government of Argentina to preserve and organize documents related to all aspects of tango history and to make them available for educational purpose, academic research and new artistic projects.

1. Origins of tango (1850-1895)

2. Guardia vieja (1895-1925)

  • Eclosión (1995-1925)
  • Formalización (1910-1925)

3. Guardia nueva (1925-1955)

  • La transformación (1925-1940)
  • La exaltación (1940-1955)

4. Vanguardia (1955-1970)

5. Contemporaneo (1970-2000)

  • La universalización (1970-1985)
  • La perduración (1985-2000)

6. Actual (2000- until now)

Tango begins to emerge out of a blend of elements of European, African and local origins in the second half of the 19th century. It becomes a clearly distinct genre, acquires many of its defining characteristics and gains popularity during the guardia vieja phase. It continues to refine and evolve to reach its golden age with the guardia nueva in the 1940s and experiences a phase of decline with the advent of rock and roll and the end of the big band area. Tango went on evolving during the vanguardia phase with the work of composers such as Pugliese and Piazzolla, regained worldwide popularity in the contemporary phase and becomes an increasingly popular dance again towards the beginning of the 21st century.

One interesting aspect of Horacio Ferrer’s work is the emphasis he puts on contemporary events and the strong vision he has of the renovation tango is currently undergoing. π


[1] FERRER, Horacio. El Siglo de oro del Tango: compendio ilustrado de su historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Mate, 1996.


Tango is a musical genre and a type of social dance which emerged in the port cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo towards the end of the 19th century. It is the result of a fusion between elements of African, European and local origin brought together by different waves of immigration.

Little is known about the exact circumstances in which tango emerged but the musical styles which came into the creation of tango include milonga, habanera, candombe, tango andaluz, mazurca and polka. Choreographically, tango adopted the controversial close embrace of waltz and was characterized in the early stages by the emblematic “cortes” and “quebradas“, whereas tango poetry, which emerged and developed later, built on the gaucho tradition of payadores and evolved into a new style of song which expresses urban concerns and realities of life in a fast growing city.

The history of tango is complex; it includes various phases of evolution and waves of popularity around the world. According to Horacio Ferrer [1] and the Academia nacional del tango it can be divided in six stages:

  1. Origins of tango (1850-1895)
  2. Guardia vieja (1895-1925)
  3. Guardia nueva (1925-1955)
  4. Vanguardia (1955-1970)
  5. Contemporaneo (1970-2000)
  6. Actual (2000- until now)

Each stage is divided into different phases and characterized by the evolution of musical structures, poetry and dance. π


[1] FERRER, Horacio. El Siglo de oro del Tango: compendio ilustrado de su historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Mate, 1996.

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