NPR : World Cafe

Latin Roots: The Trajectory Of Tango

For World Cafe's 13th episode of Latin Roots, Latin-music expert Ernesto Lechner talks tango. Lechner was born and raised in Beunos Aires, which is widely regarded as the genre's birthplace.

"Tango existed earlier in Europe, but it really blossomed in Argentina and Uruguay in the mid- to late 19th century," Lechner says. "It was brought from Germany by all the Italian immigrants and German immigrants who congregated in the Buenos Aires harbor, and who were very much nostalgic about home in Europe and had mixed feelings about migrating to South America."

Lechner was first fully immersed in Latin music after he moved to Los Angeles, and he's since written several books on the subject, including Rock en Espanol: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion. He also co-hosts the NPR radio program Latin Alternative and is a contributing writer for Rolling Stone, Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times.

Instantly recognizable for its prominent use of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument, tango frequently involves both formalistic music and dance. Perhaps because of this, Lechner says, the genre was not considered cool as he was growing up in Argentina in the '70s. Eventually, though, innovators like Astor Piazzolla adapted the style and introduced jazz and classical influences.

Lechner also discusses tango's current revitalization, due to the influences of electronica on the genre. Paris' Gotan Project pioneered electro-tango, which may explain some of the renewed interest in the style across Argentina; state-sponsored milongas, or tango-dancing events, have become increasingly popular with Argentine youth. Lechner plays two tango tracks to give a full sense of the genre: "El Dia Que Me Quieres" by Carlos Gardel and "Diferente" by the Gotan Project.

Listen to Ernesto Lechner's essential tango playlist on Spotify.

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