Chan chan

What does chan chan have to do with tango?  They are how musicians and lovers of tango verbalize the last two notes of tango.  In musical terms, they are the dominant (fifth) and tonic (first) notes of the scale.  All orquesta tipicas perform tangos and valses that end with these two notes.  Musical compositions generally end on the tonic in the key they were written, and so it is with tango.

During one of my visits to Buenos Aires, I was told this story about a bandoneonist, which may or may not be true, but it is interesting.  He played for many years with the orquesta of Juan D’Arienzo.  Then he was hired by Osvaldo Pugliese.  He went home frustrated every night after performing with the orquesta.  He had been used to playing the chan chan accented at the end of each tango with D’Arienzo.  That changed with the Pugliese style in which the last notes were soft.  So he played the chan chan repeatedly loud and accented until he got them out of his system.

Anyone who is interested in studying the music can find tango and vals scores on Todo Tango.  The lyrics end on the first beat of the last measure with the addition of the dominant and tonic.  That, along with a strong first and third beat of each measure, is what makes tango music unique.

I asked Daniel Borelli about the recordings where the last chan (the tonic)seems to be missing.  He says it is there or the tango would not be complete — we just have to listen more carefully.  The 78rpm recordings are the most compact and have it all.  Omitting the tonic note at the end would be difficult for the musicians.

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6 Responses to “Chan chan”

  1. Simba Says:

    Great post! Only sorry to see you beat me to it ;-P

    Some cd transfers, most famously those of Rodriguez have the final tonic attenuated or completely missing, probably happened in the transfer process.

    Chan chan,

  2. Kirra Says:

    Thanks for this. I needed the ‘why’ of endings.

  3. poesiadegotan Says:

    Simba is right—in the U.S., Rodriguez is (in)famous because most of the recordings of his classics (“En la buena y en la mala” “Llorar por una mujer” “Danza maligna” etc.) omit the last tonic note, and thus many times the Rodriguez songs seem to leave people hanging. This is especially comical for those dancers who feel the need to end with a pose on the “chan chan”–the second note never comes. Some people I have met (DJs too!) seem to think that this was a stylistic choice on Rodriguez’s part.
    But, if you listen to some of the other recordings (“No te quiero más” or “¡Diarios, revistas, señor!”) the second chan is clearly present. So the logical conclusion is that sloppy transfers to CD have omitted or silenced the final chan on some of these spectacular tangos. Pity.

  4. LoveTango Says:

    Thanks for the explanation. Now I understand why I felt left hanging when the chan chan is missing. They probably should be there, but somehow get lost like what poesiadegotan said.

  5. yabotil Says:

    Oh I never realised it was just a bad recording – thank you for posting.

  6. Mark Word Says:

    Although I appreciate much of what you have to say. You would have done better to have spoken with musicians before making these assertions. Indeed endings have been cut off or altered, but that goes for many artists. Rodriguez has excellent recordings from vinyl, and this simply is his “signature.” Your article and the comments above are without basis. Many composers do not follow the “chan-chan-rule” as described here. Also, the chan chan is not as you said: “… the dominant (fifth) and tonic (first) notes of the scale,” but just the opposite: I and V. Many marches have the same ending. Most disturbingly, you say “… a strong first and third beat of each measure, is what makes tango music unique.” Country Western and many other kinds of music have this feature. Not tango! One can “hear” this as the main feature, but that does not make it so. Tango is a Latin American music with strong influences from Africa. Tango, even tango nuevo, finds its uniqueness in many things, but the rhythm is 1**4**7*/1**4**7* (also called 3/3/2). Dancers often enjoy dancing on 1&3, but musicians experience something quite different, and it makes tango what it is. During the most danceable epic of tango (epoca de oro) the beat played off this “clave” of the earlier tango to the “upbeat of this rhythm. *2**5**8–especially felt in d’Sarli and Pugliese. This same rhythm is the “cruzado” of Val Cruzado because this rhythm, like all African “claves” started in 6/8 (which the vals cruzado truly is, although not written so). “One and three” accented makes this all very easily summarized for dancers, but it is incorrect.

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