Tango flamenco is a lively four count cante chico palo characterized by a heavily accented rhythm and clear, sharply defined rasgueado. It is very similar to the flamenco rumba. The two forms are distinguished primarily by the guitar: in tango, the beat is crisply marked by the tocaor (guitar player), in rumba the guitar is played in a more continuous, rolling manner.

Tango flamenco has no musically discernable relationship to Argentine tango (a common point of linguistic confusion), though both forms are the result of multiple trans-atlantic exchanges in the colonial era. Tango flamenco has, however, a distinctly flamenco character. As tango became part of the flamenco repertoire in the 19th century, elements of older flamenco forms were folded into it, including letras from twelve-count solea, which were re-shaped to fit tango’s four count compas.

Tango is usually played either por media (on the fifth string in A phyrgian, relative to the capo) or por arriba (on the fifth string in E phyrgian, relative to the capo). Its compas is a simple four-count, with accents on the 2, 3, and 4:

1 2 3 4

This basic count is often grouped in sets of two or four, making for musical phrases in 8 or 16 counts. Though the accents on the 2, 3, and 4 can be combined in different ways, the one count is always de-emphasized.

Basic Tangos Rhythm

A basic tango played by Curro Montoya of flamencoeduca.com, demonstrating the 2-3-4 accented pattern and clearly defined rasgueado of tango flamenco. This brief example also shows how tango’s four count pattern is combined to create longer phrases out of simple chord structures.

Tango Stylistic Variations

Tango flamenco is a simple form that provides a foundation for traditional and innovative musical forms alike. It is often one of the first forms guitarists pick up, but it equally lends itself to a level of complexity that supports original and innovative compositions.

Pepe Habichuela

This tango, performed by Pepe Habichuela, Tamara Escudero (cante), Juan Carmona (percussion), and Josemi Carmona (guitar), provides a sense of the feel and movement of a traditional tango.

Paco de Lucía: Cositas Buenas

As simple as it’s basic form may be, tango can convey a wide range of expression. The title track from Paco de Lucía’s 2004 album Cositas Buenas is a quintessential example.

Accompanying Dancers

Tango flamenco, like rumba and buleria, is a por fiesta form that is often performed as short solos at parties and sundry festive flamenco events. For a guitarist, being able to read the dancer, singer, and other musicians is key to thriving in these kinds of situations—as is having a ready repertoire of falsetas and the ability to follow singers and dancers.

That said, the dance structure for tango often follows some basic patterns:

  • Introduction: Often a guitar falseta
  • Llamada: The dancer’s cue (“call”) to the singer or other musicians
  • Letra: The song verse, often broken up by sections of the dancer’s footwork
  • Escobilla: A longer section of footwork that occurs after several repetitions of letras and llamadas
  • Cierre: The final cue moving toward an exit (from the stage), or a finale on stage

To learn more about dance accompaniment, check out Introduction to Flamenco Dance Accompaniment here on Ravenne Flamenco.