Latin Roots: The Trajectory Of Tango : World Cafe Ernesto Lechner returns to Latin Roots with a history lesson on the evolution of tango music.

Latin Roots: The Trajectory Of Tango

Latin Roots: The Trajectory Of Tango

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Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla performs in France in July 1986. STF/Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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STF/Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla performs in France in July 1986.

STF/Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

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


  • Carlos Gardel, "El Día Que Me Quieras"
  • Gotan Project, "Diferente"

"Tango existed earlier in Europe, but it really blossomed in Argentina and Uruguay in the mid- to late 19th century," Lechner says. He adds that it is instantly recognizable for its prominent use of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument that 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.

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 Día Que Me Quieras" by Carlos Gardel and "Diferente" by the Gotan Project.

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