Buenos Aires’ tango clubs allow visitors to experience the music as well as the accompanying romantic dance. // © 2013 La Catedral
One of the best parts about being in Buenos Aires was that there seemed to be music everywhere I went. At any given time, I would stumble upon spontaneous drum circles, street crooners and guitar sing-a-longs in the park. The sound I came to love most however was live tango, the quintessential music of Buenos Aires. Characterized by a medley of string instruments, piano and the accordion, this distinct musical style is haunting, sensual and enchanting.
My first taste of tango was at Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro (CAFF). CAFF is an artsy, intimate underground music club frequented by an eclectic mix of young, trendy hipsters and sophisticated older folks. I squeezed onto a bench in the back as the tables filled up quickly and sipped on a glass of wine while I waited for the music to start. When the lights went down and Orquestra Tipica Fernandez Fierro began to play, I immediately fell in love. The 12-piece tango orchestra played with such passion and intensity that I was mesmerized from start to finish. The vocalist captivated me as he belted out stories in Spanish that I wished could understand. The accordion players banged their heads as they lost themselves in the music, the strings cried out sounds of loss and love and the piano filled the room with a sense of buena onda, the local phrase meaning good vibes.
Tango does not necessarily have to be a formal affair. While wandering the famous Sunday afternoon street fair in San Telmo, I came across countless tango musicians playing for tips to anyone who would stop and listen. There was a different sound on every corner as performers played solo or in groups, in the traditional style or with a more modern twist. My favorite group looked like a barbershop quartet, dapperly dressed in bowlers and bow ties. They charmed me as they played light-hearted tunes with goofy grins.
The full tango experience must include the dance as well. Milongas, or tango clubs, can be found all over the city. La Catedral is a very popular milonga where the bold can try their hand at a tango lesson, experienced dancers can showcase their skills and the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the scene. Chivalrous men guide graceful women around the floor in an intricate, romantic dance as a live tango band fills the air with gorgeous music. I envied the ease with which they whirled around the room and made a mental note to add tango lessons to my bucket list.