Saturday, May 30, 2015

Café Domínguez

Ángel D'Agostino's Café Domínguez from 1955 is among my favorite tangos. It's one of those rare pieces that feature a poem that is recited rather than sung.

I find it challenging to construct a tanda around Café Domínguez. The overwhelming majority of DJs I know play it together with Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas songs like Tres esquinas from the early 1940s. These are truly great and thematically fitting songs and dancers are used to hear them together, but in my opinion the sound and emotional fit is not the best and the pairing of Café Domínguez with earlier Vargas is rather the result of the difficulty of finding other danceable D'Agostino pieces of the same caliber from his later period. When I hear a tanda starting with Café Domínguez my heart bleeds a bit - I love the song but I wonder what the DJ is going to play afterwards, and it's difficult to choose the right partner if I can't guess where the tanda is going (and from Café Domínguez most roads lead downwards in one way or another). When a beautiful tanda with Vargas ends with Café Domínguez, my heart also bleeds a bit - I love the song, but I have a very special place in my heart for Vargas whose voice puts me in a distinct emotional mood and way of dancing. Sometimes it is good to be pulled out from such trance by a more forceful last song, but I'm not sure this is an exemplary case, for me anyway. I have some solutions to this problem although I'm not perfectly happy with either of them.

But this post is rather about Café Domínguez itself. The poem recited by Julián Centeya tells the story of a café on the old Corrientes street, a café that played a certain importance, a café that is no more.

Café Dominguez de la vieja calle Corrientes
que ya no queda.
Café del cuarteto bravo de Graciano de Leone,
a tus mesas caian Pirincho, Arola, Firpo y Pacho
a escuchar tus tangos
era el iman que atraía
como el alcohol atrae a los borrachos.
Café Dominguez de la vieja calle Corrientes
que ya no queda.

There are many tango stories relating to this café, most notably those of Paquita Bernardo, the "first female bandoneonist". Centeya's recital mentions its association with Graciano de Leone, Pirincho (a.k.a Francisco Canaro),  Héctor María Artola, Roberto Firpo, and Juan Maglio "Pacho". Its regulars must have felt amiss after its closure, if we are to believe the poet, Enrique Cadícamo, who was a close friend of Ángel D'Agostino, writing lyrics for many of his songs, including that of Tres esquinas (which incidentally also tells a story of another café).

Our distance in time, space, and culture doesn't really allow us to feel the sentiments these titans of tango embraced towards Corrientes 1537. We, however, all have our own Café Domínguez, and associating our own personal stories with the song can greatly enrich our experience of dancing to it.


My Café Domínguez was Eckermann Kávéház, once located within the Goethe Institute under Andrássy street 10 in Budapest. Many of my first experiences tied me there, romantic and professional, and I spent many-many years sitting in Café Eckermann over a bowl sized café au lait, reading and writing articles, having overheated political and philosophical discussions with friends, the editorial committee of our journal Szabad Változók, or just waiting for a special someone to bump into me there. When Eckermann finally closed I was among the last to leave, and when I walk nearby those memories still rush to me. So for many years when I danced to Café Domínguez I would hear something like this [sorry, in Hungarian]:

Az öreg Andrássy út Eckermann kávézója
Immár nincs többé.
Asztalaidnál dolgoztunk és bandáztunk,
Alapítottunk egyesületet, újságot, nyújtottunk kezet, váltottunk csókot,
Tányérból kanalaztuk a café au lait-t.
Ady hajlékában, Goethe árnyékában
Vártuk Európát, vártuk a szerelmet.
Az öreg Andrássy út Eckermann kávézója
Immár nincs többé.

A good while ago I created a version of Café Domínguez of Sexteto Milonguero where, instead of Cadícamo's poem, one hears this Hungarian rendition being recited. Being the traditionalist (and coward) I am, I only showed it to friends, and have not played it anywhere.


Fortunately there are more milonga organizers, teachers, and other afficionados in Budapest who actively add to and enrich our tango community than whose names I could list in a medium sized blog post. Many of them persist in the face of considerable difficulties and we owe them a great deal of gratitude. It's a common mistake to take their efforts and its fruits for granted, and it is easy to criticize certain decisions or solutions without appreciating the difficulties their alternatives would have presented. One then only realizes the true value of these enterprises when they are no more.

One such effort I felt particularly heroic in the past couple of years was spearheaded by Timi Zékány and Simon Kozma: they opened a place called Barrio del Tango, located under Nagymező street 66. It is already difficult to run a regular milonga or a dance school that focuses on teaching Argentine tango; but I feel Barrio was the first systematic effort to create a place in Budapest which is more than that. Timi and Simon established a space that is all about tango and its culture, where many different related activities can take place, one which we could even visit when there are no classes or other activities. On occasion I found myself sitting and working there alone (with Luca, who also worked there briefly), sipping an orange juice, enjoying the aura that was constantly improved with much care and love. They lived in it and they lived for it. And, meanwhile, they helped bringing and integrating a new generation of tango dancers into our community.

Barrio del Tango of Nagymező street, like Café Domínguez of calle Corrientes, is no more. Upon hearing the sad news I decided to honor them with a special dedicated tanda which I played during their last milonga. The last song of the tanda was a newly created version of Café Domínguez, now with a Hungarian recital that both follows the original and fits our shared memories of Barrio, to be played on this occasion only.

Barrio del Tangó az öreg Nagymező utcából
Immár nincs többé.
Barrio -- asztalaidnál tanultunk és táncoltunk,
Szemeztünk és öleltünk, nyújtottunk kezet, váltottunk csókot.
Tangód volt a mágnes, mely vonzott,
Ahogy az alkohol vonzza a korhelyt.
Barrio del Tangó az öreg Nagymező utcából
Immár nincs többé.

Here is a video I made from the song using photos from their FB page (hopefully with the permission of their rightful owners):

Timi, Simon, Éva, Endre, Marcsi, Jani, Amper, Luca, Ramóna, and many others: thank you!


Lastly, for completeness, here is the original poem by Enrique Cadícamo:

Estaba en la antigua calle Corrientes
cuando era angosta y la gente
se saludaba de vereda en vereda.

Café con el cuarteto de Firpo
o de Graciano De Leone,
donde caia el tano Pascual
a escuchar sus tangos
por que en el fondo
era un gringo malevo y sentimental.

Rebotaban en tu paredes
los tangos de Firpo
y los de Graciano:
tierra negra,
el pillete
o un lamento.
Era el iman que atraia
como el alcohol a los borrachos.
A tus mesas caian
Pirincho, Noli y Pacho...

Cafe Dominguez
de la antigua Corrientes
de cuando era angosta y su gente
se saludaba de vereda en vereda. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tango DJ quiz

Once I had a weird dream about a tango marathon that was only attended by tango DJs. The following day I played around with the idea of a quiz which could be used to filter applicants for this marathon.

I had two criteria for questions on the quiz:

(1) The questions can be quickly answered by any tango DJ worth his/her salt without the need for consulting his/her musical collection. The questions may require some knowledge about major orchestras and orchestra leaders, but it should not aim at complete obscurities.
(2) The questions can not be quickly answered by others who do not have comparable familiarity with tango music and/or the requirements a DJ needs to be aware of. In particular one should not be able to answer them after a simple Google search.


Here is my first attempt: for all of the following ten multiple choices the question is: Which option fits the least with the others?

(a) Ernesto Famá
(b) Roberto Rufino
(c) Alberto Podestá
(d) Jorge Durán

(a) Carlos Di Sarli
(b) Adolfo Carabelli
(c) Florindo Sassone
(d) Héctor Varela

(a) Rodolfo Biagi
(b) Adolfo Carabelli
(c) Alberto Echagüe
(d) Osvaldo Ramos

(a) Si soy así
(b) Poema
(c) Invierno
(d) El Adiós

(a) Carlos Di Sarli
(b) Aníbal Troilo
(c) Pedro Laurenz
(d) Pedro Maffia

(a) Horacio Lagos
(b) Lita Morales
(c) Romeo Gavioli
(d) Mercedes Carne

(a) Orquesta de Lomuto
(b) Orquesta de Canaro
(c) Quinteto Pirincho
(d) Quinteto Don Pancho

(a) La cicatriz
(b) Milonga sentimental
(c) Cuando llora la milonga
(d) Campo afuera

(a) El Rey del Compás
(b) El Maestro del Melodía
(c) El Señor del Tango
(d) Pichuco

(a) Desde el alma
(b) Pobre flor
(c) Ilusión azul
(d) Soñar y nada más


Later I'll post my "solutions" in the comment section. I'm sure we can come up with better questions; if you have any suggestion or idea feel free to post it in the comments!

P.S.: This is intended as a game! Please don't take it too seriously.

One of many reasons why tango DJs should not use iTunes as a primary streaming device - on occasion it stops playing in the middle of a song and skips to the next track

For playing music in milongas I use the audiophile player Decibel with a high quality external sound card and my own mixer (if needed). In larger events I also use a redundant system consisting of two separate synched streaming devices to allow for a failsafe listening experience. This works in the following way: I'm managing a playlist in iTunes for pre-listening purposes, and from this playlist I drag-and-drop the songs to Decibel that streams the music through my external sound card. My laptop is also connected to an iPad which synchs with iTunes whenever I add a new tanda to the playlist. The iPad plays the same music at the same time (from the copy of the playlist on it) to another channel of the mixer that is turned off by default. In case anything happened with my laptop, I only need to flip a switch, and the music continues from the iPad from where the laptop left it. Fortunately so far I haven't needed to rely on this backup procedure, but it's better to be safe than sorry. I have seen other DJs struggling with technical issues and I do not need the experience.

Although Decibel has problems of its own, one thing I'm avoiding for streaming like plague is iTunes. I do use iTunes to organize my tandas, but even there I wish I had started out with a more sensible piece of software (now I'm kind of locked in, as iTunes does not support exporting playlists and playlist folders en masse).

Here is one of many reasons why to avoid iTunes as a primary streaming device: occasionally, with some regular mp3 files iTunes plays the song until a while, and then in the middle of the song it stops and jumps to the next track!

This is strictly an iTunes player issue: these files are not damaged and can be played by other media players without any problem. This is also not an issue with iTunes settings: neither the start, nor the stop times are set and/or checked for these files.

I made a screencast video to demonstrate the problem:

One things I'd like to add to the video is that erasing the file from the iTunes library (completely removing it from the database, not just from the playlist) and reimporting it does not solve the problem.

Apple has been made aware of this issue years ago on its forums (by myself and others) but so far no representatives cared to address it. Here is an Apple discussion forum that I just started (since my old discussion forum post apparently got removed):

If you are also worried that this might happen with you in the future, please help increase awareness of this failure of core functionality. Apparently Apple doesn't bother fixing it until enough people are expressing their worries.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Experimenting with tango "karaoke" tandas

When I started spinning the proverbial disk in the milongas I thought it would be nice to announce the orchestras and singers before the tandas. My theory was that dancers would be better off learning more about the music they are dancing to (even if they are not realizing this). One great and non-invasive solutions for doing this is the Tango Tandas DJ Display Book, used by many tango DJs in the US; coming back to Europe I had no room left for carrying non-personal items so unfortunately I couldn't bring one of these with me.

So for the first year or so I kept announcing the tandas vocally in our local milonga. But the habit didn't stick, especially after I started DJing bigger events. Fast forward a few years: in one of the tango marathons I saw Mikael Holber using a program he created himself to project the names of songs and the next tanda on a screen. What a super solution! Mikael, teaming up with Horia Uifaleanu, later released the software to the public. Their project is called Beam and you can download the program from their website: To be honest I haven't tried the program myself, but from what I've seen live and from what I read it is already very useful and keeps getting better!

Recently I also started another project which culminated in a similar result. I have a pretty bad voice, but I love singing along tangos, especially those of Carlos Gardel. So I wanted to display the lyrics of the songs while they play so that I can sing along. A number of programs are available for doing this; the larger part of the effort is in finding, correcting, and synchronizing the lyrics with the music. (Although I was vaguely aware of this before, during this work I needed to realize that most of the lyrics that is available online - for instance over one of the most awesome tango resource site, Todotango - is only partially matching the lyrics that is actually sung by the singer. There are also subtle differences between different renditions; i.e. have you ever noticed the different wording Ernesto Famá (with Francisco Canaro) and Fernando Díaz (with Francisco Lomuto) chooses when singing Parque Patricios?)

After few weeks of work I ended up having many hours of tango music with synchronized lyrics. Although I started my synching spree with Gardel, I mostly focused on well known, danceable songs that fit nicely together in tandas.

And so recently I experimented with something new: with an entire night's worth of synched tandas I used the built-in video projector in our regular milonga at Kazimir haz to display the lyrics to the dancers. Here is a video of an Edgardo Donato tanda from 1939-40 with Sinfonía de arrabal, Mi Serenata, Yo te amo, and Carnaval de mi barrio to show how the screen looked like. (Milonga footage is appended to the end!)

I was a bit worried in the beginning that displaying the lyrics would distract the dancers, but that didn't seem to happen; on the other hand those who were sitting during the tandas could hum along the lines. The response was overwhelming, and a very positive experience; I think I'll keep coming back to this after I finish processing another few hours worth of tandas.

I'm also looking forward to the summer tango camp of Endre Szeghalmi and Maria Glotz where I'm going to DJ together with Konrad Krynski (our partner in crime in organizing the regular Thursday milonga in Budapest) and Luca Csatai. After the Friday milonga, when some people are already a bit tipsy (if past traditions are properly followed!) I'm planning to create a huge tango karaoke party! In general I think karaoke for tango songs could work well for after-after-parties of tango festivals and marathons, when people who had enough dancing can hum along their favorite songs!

A few years passed..

It's been a few years since I updated this bandoneon blog, so this is a very brief update on how things are moving forward.

As I mentioned back in 2011 I started to take private lessons with Tamás Radnai. He is an amazing and very patient teacher who I can recommend to everyone. I owe a lot to the classes I took with him (not only for the bandoneon, but also for improving my understanding of musical theory). I also relied on several books, some of which I kindly received through Maxi Gluzman.

I wish I had sticked to my original plan of detailing my progress in this blog, including the material we made use of. I also produced some learning material on my own to help my progress, for instance a colored bandoneon fingering chart with which I had an easier time to learn to find the buttons than with the great black-and-white chart of Ben Bogart, from which it is derived. Enjoy!

I can now play a couple of tangos on the bandoneon in solo mode, but I still consider myself to be a complete beginner. I'm also quite shy to appear in public; the last time I did this was during a tango flash mob where I played La Cumparsita in a duo with our other great bandoneonist, Eszter Vörös (and with Eszter Kárász pepping it up with the lute). Here is a video of it:

Unfortunately my enthusiasm faltered roughly after a half a year of practicing. Our government passed a law forbidding playing music in public spaces without a permit, and I neither felt comfortable with constantly annoying my neighbors and family nor wanted to risk my bandoneon being confiscated when I'm practicing in the park. Life also got in the way: I had a phd to write. I also started to take tango DJing more seriously, about which I also plan to post from now on.