The Milonga Rhythm

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to write a blog about the milonga rhythm, and given the milonga classes being held in Wollongong over the coming few weeks it seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I agreed to do some research on the subject and was surprised with what I found.

As way of introduction, the milonga rhythm is a style of folkloric music that is shared across the River Plate in both Uruguay and Argentina. I discovered that when using the word ‘milonga’ to describe the rhythm, there are in fact two variations.

Firstly the original style of milonga which was played by the gauchos (horsemen or cowboys) that travelled from town to town, traditionally just on the outskirts of the city. They gathered with other gauchos and played their guitars, always improvising the music whilst at the same time creating spoken poetry to accompany the music. This style of milonga is the ‘milonga campera’ or ‘country milonga’.

The origins of the ‘milonga campera’ style of milonga are often debated but it is said that it contains African elements within the rhythm as well as influences from various styles of dance that arrived to the region of Buenos Aires and Montevideo from Peru, Spain, Brazil and Cuba. During this time, the styles of music varied as they travelled backwards and forwards between Latin America and Europe, picking up adaptations from the various regions as time went on.

Towards the late 1800s musicians of the time went to the milongas (in this sense, I am referring to the place where people came together to dance), and began to adapt the music so that it became more danceable, leaving behind the improvised spoken poetry and focusing more on the music. The music itself became more stylised, adding piano, mixing this rhythm with the music that was popular at the time, the tango, which at the same time had influences from other styles such as Habanera and Candombe.

This transition and transformation led to the second style of milonga which is referred to as ‘milonga ciudadana’ or ‘city milonga’.

In 1931 the style of milonga rhythm that we enjoy dancing to at milongas today was created by Sebastian Piana and Homero Manzi with ‘Milonga Sentimental’. Here is a version by Carlos Gardel recorded in 1933.

And here are Miguel Angel Zotto dancing with Daiana Gúspero to ‘Reliquias Porteñas’.

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