The first stanza of Sebastián Piana’s Milonga Sentimental, which was the first recorded milonga sung by Carlos Gardel in 1931, emanates classical picaresque elements of milonga music: the melancholy and joy that arise in a rogue attempt to survive in a corrupt society.
“Milonga to remember you “Milonga pa’ recordarte Sweet milonga milonga sentimental Others complain by crying Otros se quejanllorando I sing because I’m not” yo canto por no llorar”
The word milonga, originally taken from the Quimbanda language spoken by the Angolan slaves brought to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina around 1600, means “talk”. The Angolan slaves used this word to describe the Spanish payada, an improvised musical dialogue. In modern music the payada could be compared to an improvised hip hop rap verse or battle. This merging of African and Spanish cultures produced a style of music that is enjoyed to this day in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.
There are two types of Milonga music: milonga campera (country milonga) and milonga ciudadana (city milonga). Country milonga was the original style of milonga and its origins are still yet to be definitively traced. But what is certain is that there are afro and creole elements brought from Brazil, Spain and Africa. The rhythm and composition of both milonga and tango is typically in 2/4 or 4/4, but what differentiates milonga from tango is that the musical notes are typically distributed in 3-3-2, whereas tango rhythm is quadratic.
Nowadays, the term ‘milongas’ is also used to describe clubs where people go to dance tango, valscriollo and milonga. They offer a great opportunity to practice dancing tango regardless of your dance level. Most Buenos Aires milongas provide very affordable tango lessons a few hours before people usually start arriving, which is around ten or eleven o’clock. The instructors are always professionals that you’ll see dancing later on in the evening and the class is given in both English and Spanish, so it’s a great way to practice your Spanish. You should dress formally and remember: the better you look, the better your chances of attracting a partner. Although women usually have more opportunities to dance, ambitious men should have no problem finding a partner.
One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about Buenos Aires milongas is that age isn’t a factor. It’s quite common to see an older man in his sixties dancing with a young woman in her thirties. The quality of the dancer is respected more than the dancer’s age. Another important point to keep in mind is personal space. Tango is a very seductive and intimate dance. When you dance with a partner, you’re going to be very close to the person, so wearing a few sprays of a seductive perfume/cologne might be a good idea in order to persuade your partner to keep dancing a few more songs.
Most Buenos Aires milongas have a bar with wine, beer and fernet available. Some milongas will have a kitchen for late night snacks after dancing up an appetite. Argentina passed a smoking ban in 2006 so most milongas are smoke free, but after 2:00 a.m. many make an exception. If you’re traveling with kids you should think twice before bringing them along with you to the milonga, as they will probably get bored.
Most importantly, try and enjoy yourself! Muster up a bit of courage and dance with a stranger, have a glass of something sweet and take in as much of the Buenos Aires milonga culture as possible.
For more information about Buenos Aires milongas and fun facts about Argentine culture, check out our blog. Or contact Say Hueque to start planning your trip to Argentina to experience the Milonga culture for yourself!
Written by Brian Athey