Bob's Blog

Mandrágora Tango's Bandoneonist/Accordionist/Bandleader spouts off on random things.


Bob's latest braindroppings:

Musical Examples from Bob's Musicality Lecture

Posted on April 21, 2013 by Bob Barnes

On April 21, 2013, I gave a workshop/lecture with Lois Donnay. For the first part, I talked about tango history and musicality based on this Powerpoint presentation.

I am not the kind of presenter who just reads the slides! There are just a roadmap and a framework on which I can hang my amusing and slightly off-color anecdotes. All-in-all, I am very proud of this presentation and I highly recommend that come to see it the next I'm if offering it in your city.

Here is a link to download the musical examples. I also mentioned a link where you could download 70 of the most common tangos for social dancing. Here it is!

I put together 3 interesting tracks for this presentation:

  1. Here's a track of the first 8-10 seconds of 12 different Tangos, Vals and Milongas. I used this track to try to show the difference. A lot of begining and intermediate students don't know this. Also, the dachshund has nothing to do with tango. I just think s/he looks pretty tough!
  2. Here are the last 16 bars of Carlos DiSarli's Bahia Blanca repeated 6 times. In our class, we went over the skill of ending with the music, and we started using the same tune over-and-over to learn some new steps. And, yes, DiSarli has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars or Bar-b-q.
  3. I call the final track "16 x 12". It is the last 16 bars (32" or so) from 12 different tangos. If you are an experienced dancer or a tango DJ, can challenge yourself to see how many you can identify. The picture is painting of bandleader Osvaldo Pugliese in the style of an Hispanic icon. Hint: none of the tracks are of Pugliese.


2011 Mixtapes For Your Listenting Pleasure

Posted on December 5, 2011 by Bob Barnes

2011 Retrospective Remix

Every year I like to put together a mixtape of the coolest stuff I've heard in the past year. (You can tell how old I am because I used the word "mixtape"!) This year, I've put together a few fun mixes that you might get a kick out of. These are all slightly less than 80 minutes and can be burned onto a standard CD.

The centerpiece is this "Restrospective Remix". Here are some of the coolest tunes I've run across over the past year. If you only download one mix, this should be it! (Also, if you look really carefully, you will find a few of our unreleased gems!)

Download as a Zip file

3 Tango Practice Mixes

These mixes are perfect for tango practice. I've broken them up into "Rhythmic" (older-style DiSarli / Biagi / D'Arienzo), "Lyrical" (Troilo, Calo, Pugliese, etc...) and "Electro" (Nuevo and Electronic)
Practice Tango - Rhythmic

Download as a Zip file

Practice Tango - Electro

Download as a Zip file

Practice Tango - Lyrical

Download as a Zip file

Finnish Tango Sampler

This year, I started playing in Tango Pojan Tähden, a Finish tango band featuring Sara Pajaunen and Elina Ruppert. My mind has been blown by the deep variety of Finnish tango out there. Here's a mix of some amazing stuff that I've just learned about. Enjoy!

Download as a Zip file


Our 2010 Christmas Gift to You!

Posted on December 25, 2010 by Bob Barnes

5 awesome mixes for your listening enjoyment! They are all slightly less than 80 minutes and will fit nicely on a single CD. They are set up as compilation albums that will play nicely in your iPod or MP3 player. Enjoy!

2010 Tango Mix

Our centerpiece mix for 2010! If you have time for just one mix, this is it! Here are some tracks that we've heard this year and really liked.

Download as a Zip file.   Open in a new window

2010 Fun and Funky Mix

80 minutes of tunes that will make you smile and wish you were in Minneapolis (the happiest place on Earth!)

Download as a Zip file.   Open in a new window

2010 Mellow Mix

If you need to de-stress after a long day of pointless busywork, this is the mix for you. Pour yourself a nice glass of Malbec and fire up the iPod. This is a a serious chillout.

Download as a Zip file.   Open in a new window

2010 Electro Mix

Here is a random selection of some of our favorite electro tango. If we played electro tango, it would sound like this. Unfortunately, we do not have electricity (or indoor plumbing) in Minneapolis, so we pretty much only play acoustic music.

Download as a Zip file.   Open in a new window

Special: Triple-SeXXXy Late-Nite Tango Mix

Warning: be careful with this one! This is a mix of the sexiest tango known to science. It is an aphrodisiac of the highest order. Mandrágora Tango can not be held responsible for its misuse. Please use it for good rather than evil. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Download as a Zip file.   Open in a new window

(Oh, yeah. Sorry for not posting in over a year. 2010 really sucked.)

Mercedes Sosa, 1935-2009. Gracias a la vida.

Posted on October 4, 2009 by Bob Barnes

Last night, Mercedes Sosa, one of our favorite singers, passed away at the age of 74. She was born in San Miguel de Tucuman in 1935 as was known as "La Voz de America Latina" (the voice of Latin America) for her powerful songs about the plight of the poor. She was not primarily known as a Tango singer, but she has recorded some amazing tango songs. Her version of Los Mareados with Roberto Goyeneche is personal favorite of mine. Here are a few my favorite recordings of her.

One of her most famous songs was "Gracias a la vida" or "Thank you to life". I chokes me up whenever I hear it. Gracias a Mercedes Sosa


10 existential Tango lyrics that are way too nihilistic to be sung in English, even as a Country-Western song)

Posted on May 5, 2009 by Bob Barnes

10) Cristal (Crystal) 1944
Mariano Mores and José Maria Contursi
Tengo el corazón hecho pedazos,
rota mi emoción en este día...
Noches y más noches sin descanso,
y esta desazón del alma mía...
I have broken my heart to pieces,
My emotions are destroyed today…
Nights and nights without ceasing,
And this grief of my soul
9) Garua (Drizzle) 1943
Enrique Cadicamo, music by Anibal Troilo
Garua, solo y triste por la acera
Va este corazón transido,
con trizteza de tapera
Sinteiendo tu hielo,
porque aquella con su olvido
¡Perdido! Como un duende
que más la busca
¡Garua…! ¡Tristeza!
¡Hasta el cielo se ha puesto a llorar!
Drizzle, alone and sad on the streets,
This heart goes stricken
with the grief of a shack
I am feeling your sleet because of that
distant woman with her forgetting
Lost like a spirit that looks for her
and calls out her name more and more
Drizzle! Sadness!
Even the sky begins to weep
8) La ultima curda (The Last Drunken Bender) 1944
Alfredo Castillo, music by Anibal Troilo
Lastima, bandoneón, mi corazón
tu ronca maldición maleva...
¡Ya sé, no me digás! ¡Tenés razón!
La vida es una herida absurda,
y es todo todo tan fugaz
que es una curda, ¡nada más!
mi confesión.
My heart is hurting, bandoneon, from your evil curse.
I know! Don’t tell me! You’re right!
Life is an absurd wound
and all of it is fleeting.
My confession is a drunken binge,
nothing more.
7) El ultimo café (The Last Coffee) 1953
Stampone / Castillo
Lo mismo que el café,
que el amor, que el olvido,
que el vértigo final
de un rencor sin porqué...
Y allí, con tu impiedad,
me vi morir de pie,
medí tu vanidad
y entonces comprendí mi soledad
sin para qué...
Llovía, y te ofrecí, el último café.
Just like coffee,
love, forgetfulness,
and the final light-headedness
of a resentment for no reason...
And there, merciless,
I saw myself die while standing up,
I sized up your vanity
and then I understood my solitude
for waht it was...
It was raining when I gave you
the last cup of coffee
6) Yira, yira (Walking Aimlessly) 1930
Carlos Gardel y Alfredo LePera
Veras que todo es mentira,
veras que nada es amor
que al mundo nada le importa,
Aunque te quiebre la vida,
aunque te muerda un dolor,
no esperes nunca una ayuda
ni una un favor.
You'll see that everything is a lie
You'll see that nothing is love
That the world doesn't care
Yira yira
(Untranslatable: Almost like
walking aimlessly, but also
with the sense of "street walking",
i.e. prostitution)

Even though life will break you
Even if a pain will bite you
Don't ever expect a help
Nor a helping hand or a favor
5) Cancion desesprada (Song of Desperation) 1945
Enrique Discepolo
¿Dónde estaba Dios cuando te fuiste?
¿Dónde estaba el sol, que no te vió?
¿Cómo una mujer no entiende nunca
que un hombre da todo dando su amor?
¡Soy una canción desesperada
que grita su dolor y tu traición!
Where was God when you left?
Where was the sun that didn’t see you?
How can a woman ever understand
that when a man gives his love,
he is giving everything away.
I am a desparate song that screams of
the pains you gave me and of your betrayal!
4) Volver (To Return) 1935
Carlos Gardel and Alfredo LePera
Tengo miedo del encuentro
con el pasado que vuelve
a enfrentarse con mi vida...
Tengo miedo de las noches
que, pobladas de recuerdos,
encadenan mi sonar...
I’m afraid of an encounter
with my past that returns
to confront my life
I’m afraid of the nights
that are full of memories
that shackle my dreams
3) Che, Bandoneon
Homero Manzi, music by Anibal Troilo
Puedo confesarte la verdad,
copa a copa, pena a pena, tango a tango,
embalado en la locura
del alcohol y la amargura.
I can confess the truth to you
Cup after cup, sorrow afer sorrow,
tango after tango,
All wrapped up in bitterness
and the madness of alcohol
2) Naranjo en flor (Orange Blossoms) 1944
Virgilio and Homero Exposito
Primero hay que saber sufrir,
despues amar, despues partir
y al fin andar sin pensamiento...
First you have to know how to suffer,
Then to love then to leave,
and finally how to walk away without thinking
1) Los mareados (The Dizzy Ones) 1942
Enrique Cadicamo, music by Juan Carlos Cobian
Tres cosas lleva mi alma herida:
Amor, Pesar, Dolor.
3 things are borne by my wounded soul:
love, regret, pain


The original video to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with our audio played instead.

Posted on April 29, 2009 by Bob Barnes

Somebody on took Nirvana's original video to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and replaced the original soundtrack with our version. It works in a really weird way. The tango police would definitely not consider this to be true tango and I would have to agree with them on this one.


Mandragora's Christmas Gift to You

Posted on December 18, 2008 by Bob Barnes

I've made 3 compilations that fit nicely on one CD each. Suffice it to say, very few of these tunes are appropriate for dancing. In actuality, no tango can really melt your face, but these tangos really burn hard and get in your face. The music may defile your soul if you are not careful. I created this mix to show my classical-music-snob friends the depth of tango music as high art. If Jazz is the art music of the United States, Tango is the art music of Argentina. Both have a deep and rich repertory that is often overlooked in academia. Any of these tunes would be at home in a European classical concert hall, but most of them are unknown outside of Argentina. I originally made the "Cougars of Tango" compilation for Rachel Miloy, a flamenco singer friend of our who has a huge voice totally outsized for her small stature. She is starting to sing with us from time to time and really lighting up the stage. In case you didn't know, "Cougar" is American slang for an attractive older woman who prefers the company of younger men; sort of a "trophy wife" in reverse. I'm using this term to refer to the raw sexuality these women put into their singing, regardless of their age. If this term still offends you, please assume that I am referring to the Mercury Cougar of tango and accept our apologies

I've also included some paper cd cases that you can print out on 8.5"x11" paper (US standard) and fold into a neat little envelope that has the tracklist printed on the back. The folding directions are here

You can open each compilation in a separate window so you can listen while surfing the web:
Or you can listen to them here:

Mandrágora Tango wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Fine Solstice, Good Festivus and all the best in 2009. We hope to see you then!

-Bob, Mateo, Laura and Rahn

PS: We hope to finish our new CD sometime in 2009, 2010 or 2011. (2013 at the very latest!!!) Meanwhile, here are a 6 tracks (35M) to whet your appetite. You can also listen in a new window or click below:


Tango Band Starter Kit

Posted on September 22, 2008 by Bob Barnes

I'm a big believer that information wants to be free. I also think that there are not enough Tango bands outside of Argentina. Tango dancers generally prefer DJ'd music because there are simply not enough good tango bands out there to show folks how great it is to dance tango to live music. You couldn't have a swing or salsa festival without a live band, but there are plenty of tango festivals that all recorded music. I love the classics as much as the next dancer, but I also think that for Tango to be a living art form, it needs live music.

Tango is classical music you can dance to. The musicians generally play off of arrangements where each note is written down. One thing I hear a lot from fellow tango musicians is the difficulty of finding arrangments suitable for dancing. (I've written about this in an earlier blog post). There is a lot of tango concert music (i.e. Piazzolla) available, but this is not suitable for dancing. For this reason, most beginning Tango dance bands play "A la parrilla", which means they are playing off of lead sheets like jazz musicians. This is good, but it may not be "real tango" (whatever that is). The Argentine composer Martín Kutnowski one told me that if a Tango band is not using arrangements, it is just playing "World Music".

I'd like to share some of Mandrágora's arrangements with whomever wants them. These certainly aren't the best arrangements out there and I'm certainly not in the same class of arrangers as the cats in Buenos Aires, but I want to put my stuff out there in the hopes that other musicians with other charts will do the same (if you want, I can post them to this site and link back to you).

Much, much more after the jump...

Continue reading "Tango Band Starter Kit"


Bob's Thoughts on Playing for Weddings

Posted on September 17, 2008 by Bob Barnes

First of all, the wedding is about the bride (and, to a lesser extent, the groom). Unless it is 100% financed by Mom and Dad, It should be about the choices of the couple. When I got married, we looked at the reception as the only time we would have all our friends and relatives in the same room. We wanted to have a party that everyone would enjoy. We figured the next time all these people would join together will be when one of us dies, and that party would not be as enjoyable for the surviving spouse.

For most guests, the fun of a wedding comes from 2 things. First of all, watching the 2-minutes of so of the ceremony where the Bride and Groom profess their love and finally kiss. Secondly, folks like to visit with friends and relatives they may not have seen in a long time. Do whatever you can do to facilitate this. Keep the ceremony short (sorry, Catholics!). Make sure the reception is condusive for mingling and having fun. A plated sit-down dinner traps people at a table for a long stretch of time. Folks mingle at a buffet, and small children will get ansy waiting to eat. Have folks give toasts while folks are eating: if the toasts get boring, folks go back to eatting and pretend to listen. This will also prevent toasts and speeches from cutting into mingling time.

One item that Mandragora has always noticed is that open bars are always happier receptions. We're not just saying this because we are borderline alcoholics: an closed bar gives your guests a subtle message against drinking. If this is your attitude, more power to you. But think about this: if the first thing you'd to when a guest came to you home is to offer them a drink, why would you not offer them one at your wedding? Unless you have a lot of really inappropriate friends and relatives, you may want to consider an open or semi-open bar for at least some of the evening. If money is tight, you may want to serve a keg or a large quantity of cheap boxed wine available for free until it runs out. Consider a buffet-style dinner instead of a plated one to save money for the bar. Also, consider putting a bottle of cheap wine or two on each table for the guests to share. There is something absolutely hospitable about sharing a glass of wine and a nice meal with friends and family.

Continue reading "Bob's Thoughts on Playing for Weddings"


70 of the Most Danced Tangos

Posted on May 8, 2008 by Bob Barnes

The best way to become familiar with tango music is to listen to it as much as you can. Listen at work. Listen in your car. Listen while working out. The more you hear, the more you internalize the music, and, consequently, the better you dance. One of tango's little secrets is that there are only about 200-300 tangos that get played regularly at the Milongas in BsAs. Old-time tangueros will have at least a fleeting knowledge of most of them.

Think about it this way: a "Classic Rock" radio station in the US may only have 200-300 songs in regular rotation. If you grew up in the States, chances are you have heard all these songs and can sing along to a few. If you grew up in the tango world, you'd know just as many tangos.

The problem is that is can be difficult to find tango music outside of Argentina. Most of what you can buy at a records store is Piazzolla or show tango, which are not the most suitable for social dancing. People often ask me what CDs they should buy to become familiar with tango for dancing. Every dancer or musician has their own opinion. There are some good guides on the Internet. However, each CD only has 2 or 3 "hits" that are commonly played at Milongas. DJs seem to pride themselves in paying $25 for an imported CD just to get a single danceable track!

You can buy good CDs at The store is in Buenos Aires, but they ship all over the world. You can buy most CDs at the Argentine equivalent of U$5. Unfortunatley, shipping for a single CD may be U$8, so a CD from Zivals ends up being about the same cost as a CD from

One of my favorite sites on the Internet is Tango RBerdi: El diario. This is a blog by an Argentine gentleman who posts 2 or 3 albums worth of MP3s nearly every day. He posts them to, which is a German file-sharing service. You can download one file an hour for free, or you can buy an "all-you-care-to-download" pass for a few euros. Most of my tango MP3s have come from this site or other sites like it.

Anyway, I wanted to post a very subjective list of 70 of the most played tangos. If you are a dancer, most of these will be somewhat familiar to you. You can download the complete collection in .ZIP or .RAR format (280M). You can also new window. If you want to become more familiar with tango, put this on your iPod or burn it to some CDs and listen, listen, listen.

PS: I've also put together big, downloadable collections of the most common Milongas and Vals
You can download the tunes in one big file at / milonga.rar (145M) or / vals.rar (175M).


Moon Over Miami

Posted on January 24, 2008 by Bob Barnes

Here's a Youtube video of my buddy Randall Throckmorton and I playing what very well might be the world's first bandoneon and banjo-ukulele duet. Randall and I have dayjobs at Minnesota Public Radio. Our company has a Christmas party / talent show every year and this was our song this year.

Many years ago, Randall and I were in a band called The Deadly Nightshade Family Singers, where we played an odd mix of styles we called "Modern Parlor Music". We used to play Moon Over Miami from time to time. Randall has an amazing ability to mangle the lyrics to any song and come up with something even better. The bridge to Moon Over Miami has the line "Hark to the sounds of the smiling troubadours/ Hark to the throbbing guitars". On one memorable performance, Randall sang the words "Throbbing troubadours" and the band nearly broke up laughing. We almost called our last album Throbbing Troubadours but we thought better of it.


Max Valentinuzzi Talks History (Personal and Tango)

Posted on November 21, 2007 by Bob Barnes

Our friend Max Valentinuzzi was in town last month. He is quite a tango character. He was born in Buenos Aries in the 1920s and learned tango piano as a child. In the late 40s and early 50s he played piano in various Buenos Aries tango bands while he was in college. He moved to the US in 1961 to study biomechanical engineering and moved back to Argentina by the late 1970s. His 2 daughters were born in the states. His eldest daughter lives here in Minnesota, along with Max's grandchildren and great-grandson. Max comes to visit them every 2 years or so. This is how we know him.

Max is a professor at the National University of Túcuman, Argentina. He goes to biomedical conferences around the world and presents a powerpoint presentation / concert on tango history, in addition to his scholarly presentations on biomechanics. He gave his tango presentation in Minneapolis in May, 2005 and again October 2007. This year, I was able to get Max into the recording studios of Minnesota Public Radio to record his presentation, as well as him telling his life story. Elmira Cancelada of Tango Tales edited this raw material into a one-hour program about Max's life story and 2 one-hour programs on the history of tango.

Max Tells his life story:

Download part 1, part 2

Max's presentation on the history of tango

Download Hour 1-Part 1, Hour 1-Part 2, Hour 1-Part 3, Hour 2-Part 1, Hour 2-Part 2, Hour 2-Part 3


Some cleanups of Enrique Rodriguez by Ramiro Garcia

Posted on October 24, 2007 by Bob Barnes

I've been emailing a tanguero out of Sacramento, California named Ramiro Garcia. He does some great work in cleaning up old tango recordings and making them "milonga ready". Many old recordings have more scratches and high-end noise than most modern ears care to hear. For instance, as much as I love DiSarli and Firpo, a lot of their best stuff is just too lo-fi to play in public. I think it's probabbly OK to play this stuff at a milonga where everyone is there to dance, but I most play at a restaurant that has a lot of non-dancers. I've had bartenders beg me to play stuff from this century because they are sick of hearing the old scratchy recordings.

At any rate, Ramiro has rescued some old Rodriguez tracks. To be honest, I have never DJd any Rodriguez because the cuts in my collection were simply too lo-fi. Well, not any more. Here are 9 cuts (either 2.25 or 3 tandas, depending on how you slice it) of some freshly restored Rodriguez. You can listen to them in the player on this page, or download a zip or a rar file of all these tracks. (55MB each)

There are a lot of DJs that "clean up" tango tracks before DJing them. Keith Elshaw of Montreal is probabbly the best of the. He does some amazing cleanups and has posted samples on his website. I've had the pleasure of hearing Keith play his restorations in a milonga on a trip to Montreal.


Musical Examples from Bob's Musicality Workshop

Posted on August 30, 2007 by Bob Barnes

On August 25th, I gave a musicality workshop at Lois Donnay's home/studio for about 20 dancers. I've given a version of this workshop on tour before (called "Dancing in the Music), but this was the first time I taught it in the Twin Cities. We all sat down in Lois' living room and sipped red wine as we discussed tango. I brought my bandoneon and played musical examples for dancers who had never seen one up close before. I had a 90-minute presentation all mapped out, but there were so many questions and so much back-and-forth that I ended up talking about 2 1/2 hours! As readers of this blog may have guessed by now, I really do enjoy talking on and on about tango!

We hit the following points:

  • Basic Tango beats ("en 2", "en 4", "syncopa", "milonga", "3+3+2", etc...), demonstrated demonstrated on the tango "Malena" performed live on bando.
  • Tango structure (Antecedent and Consequent phrases, windows, fills, stops, etc...) demonstrated using "Malena".
  • The differences between Concert Tango, Vocal Tango and Tango for Dance, illustrated by 5 different recordings of "Malena".
  • The role of nostalgia in tango for dancing (or why there are only about 300 recording that DJs ever play)
  • A danceable guided tour of tango history, featuring the tracks above. I gave a 30 second intro to each tune and folks go up to dance to experience the music kinesthetically.

Lois and I want to give this class again sometime, but with more emphasis on pairing dance moves with musical figures!

Download all examples as a single file | Open player in new window


A musical travelogue from Buenos Aries

Posted on July 24, 2007 by Bob Barnes

In early July, 2007 I went to Buenos Aries to study at the Academía Nacionál del Tango for an intensive 2 week seminar for foreign musicians. I studied tango music 8 hours a day and learned more than I ever could in the States. I already posted a little bit about my trip (and a lot of pictures) on the band blog.
I basically heard live tango music every night I was in Buenos Aires. By contrast, I've only heard 3 different Tango bands in the States and only one of them even had an Argentine. I thought it might be fun to produce a slightly different kind of travelogue here: a day-by-day playlist of the performers I heard. All of these tracks are either from CDs I bought from the performers or from the performer's own websites.

Full Story plus music after the jump!

Continue reading "A musical travelogue from Buenos Aries"