My DJ Journey Through Uruguay’s Milongas

In April and May of 2023 I had the absolute pleasure and honour of DJ’ing at three milongas in Uruguay. While visiting my family I was kindly invited to DJ at Corazón Tango, a local milonga in Piriápolis, and two of the most renowned milongas in Montevideo: El Chamuyo and JovenTango.

All three experiences were incredibly positive, not only because I was surrounded by family and childhood friends, DJing in my city of birth, and the town where I grew up, were quite emotional experiences.

To be able to play the music that I grew up with to a local audience filled my heart with joy. It also made me incredibly nervous. Nerves are something that I am quite accustomed to, I liken DJing to performing – there is a lot of pressure on the DJ to ensure that everything runs smoothly and most importantly that the floor is full of happy milongueros doing their thing!

Corazón Tango at La Fontana, Piriápolis

The first gig came as an absolute surprise, I landed in Uruguay on 5th April and on the 6th I was DJing for Corazón Tango at La Fontana, never having attended the venue, nor knowing the crowd, their likes and dislikes, I had a lengthy conversation with the organiser to ensure that her expectations aligned with my experience and style of DJing.  

This milonga doesn’t have a set entry fee, it’s strictly by donation, and at the end of the night the proceeds were split between the organiser and the DJ.

*I mention this and will mention DJ remuneration because I feel that it’s an issue that is often overlooked, DJs are sometimes expected to play for free, on a volunteer basis which does no favours to the profession and when taking into account the importance of the DJ as well as the hours of work involved (before and during the milonga) it doesn’t make sense.

JovenTango, Montevideo

The next gig was on Friday 28th April at JovenTango in Montevideo, a non-for-profit organisation created in 1977. I had already attended various milongas over the years at JovenTango, however, during the pandemic they moved to a new venue, so this venue was new to me. I decided to take a trip to Montevideo two weeks prior to get a feel for the new venue, the dancers, the style of music, and had a chance to meet the Director as well as the DJ for the night.

So on Friday 28th April I was ready to go with my DJing travel kit and my laptop. I was surrounded by family and friends as well as a fabulous crowd of milongueros, many of whom complimented my music selection during the evening. My heart filled with joy, never did I expect the feedback I received that night. In Uruguay payment of DJs is taken very seriously and at the end of the evening I was presented with an envelope as well as a logbook where I was asked to sign as proof that I had received my payment for the evening. While JovenTango is a not-for-profit they charge a fee for members and non-members.

El Chamuyo, Montevideo

My final gig was on Thursday 4th May 2023 at El Chamuyo. I had several conversations with the owner who was overseas at the time, as the venue and milonga were entirely new to me and I would not have the opportunity to attend one of their milongas prior to my gig.

I arrived early and set up in a booth that was higher than the level of the dance floor, the organiser’s daughter greeted me and set up my name at the DJ booth. This was by far my longest set, 5.5 hours and what turned out to be two distinct groups of milongueros throughout the evening which ended at 3am. The first group were an older crowd similar to that of JovenTango, but by around midnight the crowd changed entirely and now I was playing to a much younger audience who were very keen to dance until the early hours of Friday.

Having two entirely different groups meant that I had to re-think my cortinas because it was quite clear that what I’d been playing for the first part of the night was not suitable for the second half of the evening. In terms of tango I didn’t alter my usual style of playing although I made sure to include Pugliese and some high energy D’Arienzo during the remaining couple of hours.

Reflections on the Role of a DJ

These experiences underscored the significance of a DJ’s role in crafting the atmosphere of a milonga. Each organiser encouraged me to infuse my personality into the cortinas, reaffirming the DJ’s creative influence. In Uruguay, the value placed on the DJ’s contribution was both humbling and enlightening.

Conclusion: A Journey of Musical and Personal Growth

This tour was more than a series of gigs; it was a journey of personal and professional growth. It reinforced my belief in the power of music to evoke emotions and bring people together. As I reflect on these experiences, I am grateful for the opportunity to return to my roots and share my passion for music. This trip not only enriched my skills as a DJ but also deepened my connection with my heritage, an experience that will continue to resonate with me as I further my career.

May 2024
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