From a needle scratching the spiral grooves of an old vinyl to a laser skimming the surface of a compact disc, the way we consume tango may have changed over the last 75 years but our fascination with the rich musical history of the genre will always remain the same.
And there is no better place in the world to familiarize yourself with the notes of the notables of tango than Zivals. Standing on the corner of Avenida Corrientes and Callao since 1971, this listener’s librería could not be more aptly located to serve up tango history. After all, Corrientes was THE avenue you needed to perform on if you wanted to make a name for yourself during tango’s so-called “Golden Age” (1930’s – 1950’s).
Upon walking into this sunny corner store with the checkerboard floor, you will immediately notice that it is divided into two halves: books on the left, and music on the right. The book collection, in truth, is what most patrons seem to stop in for—unsurprising, given Corrientes’ modern reputation as a place to peruse an endless array of affordably priced bookstores. The friendly, laid-back employees seem either completely nonplussed or blissfully unaware that they preside over the premiere collection of tango music in the world!
No matter; turn toward the very first row of discs along the extended wall to the right and prepare to be wowed. Bookended by an impressive tango folklore selection at the back and a small but ever-burgeoning tango electronico section toward the front, this collection goes from Eduardo Arolas to Pablo Ziegler and doesn’t miss a beat in-between!
An Audiophile’s Paradise
The real value in this collection doesn’t just stem from how broad it is, but rather how deep. You will, of course, have an easy time tracking down well-known masters such as Anibal Troilo and Astor Piazzola, but you will also be privileged to find lesser-knowns like Rodolfo Mederos and Florindo Sassone—rare recordings that tango DJ’s outside the city of Buenos Aires would kill to get into their hot little hands!
Not unlike the famed coffee culture of BA that asserts your right to not be rushed out of your seat, Zivals invites you to linger and explore this tango sonic universe for as long as you please. To better feed your curiosity, they offer several listening stations where you can scan a disc and hear snippets of each track through headphones. This is an absolutely wonderful way to spend an afternoon for any tango enthusiast, new or experienced!
The best part is the souvenir disc you will undoubtedly take home after falling in love with some hidden gem track you unearthed from the pile of Pugliese, Posadas, and Pometti. With an average price of under 150 pesos, you might even pop for more than one!
If you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few suggestions that are more “off the beaten track” of wildly popularized tango music like El Choclo, Por Una Cabeza, or La Cumparsita, yet still beloved and widely played in the milongas of BA today. We dare you to go on a tango treasure hunt for these!
Iconic Tango Songs
- El Esquinazo (Ángel Villoldo, 1900) – A lively turn-of-the-century tango made famous for its innovative tapping on the side of the instruments, which sometimes incited rowdy listeners to shatter glasses and plates along to the music and resulted in it being banned in at least one bar in the year 1900!
- Mi Noche Triste (Pascual Contursi, 1916) – The first tango Carlos Gardel ever performed, taking place on the night of January 3, 1917, at the Esmerelda Theater. It is the quintessential anthem of rejected lovers everywhere, and it delved the tango into a new, sentimental era from which it would never return.
- Mala Junta (Julio de Caro, 1927) – The first composer to successfully blend European Bel Canto with the Creole tradition; the perfect union of symphonic and street music. This tango, featuring a man wistfully laughing and whistling while accompanied by a sophisticated melody is the style that made de Caro famous.
These songs were so cherished that milonga venues or events were actually named after them, several of which are still operating today and featured on TangoTrips tours! Why not take home a recording of the song that inspired the name of the milonga you actually visited on your tour?
- Gricel (José María Contursi, 1942) – This song tells the tale of one of tango’s greatest love stories—the forbidden romance between Susana Gricel Viganó and José María Contursi. The owners of Club Gricel in San Cristóbal were touched by it, and so are we!
- Cachirulo (Francisco Caffiero, 1941) – This is the song that inspired the name of perhaps the most famous milonga in the world: Héctor and Norma’s labor of love, Cachirulo.
- Yira Yira (Enrique Santos Discépolo, 1930) – This milonga is held at the elegant Centro Región Leonesa in the barrio of Constitución. The song speaks of the world turning, turning (yira, yira) in indifference to pain and suffering. Certainly one of the most depressing tangos ever written, but a time-honored classic nonetheless!
Whether you just completed your TangoTrips tour or have not yet taken one, Zivals is the perfect place to anticipate, or extend, a music lover’s experience of the unforgettable milongas of Buenos Aires!
Plan Your Visit
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the origins of tango, be sure to sign up for one of our authentic milonga tours where we delve even deeper into the music, the culture, and the dance. Also, like us on Facebook to keep up with all the tango happenings in Buenos Aires!