The CT Tango Ensemble have been performing for a decade. We are a South African based group that includes a Polish Violinist and  Bulgarian Accordionist and Bandoneonist. When we first started playing Tango, Stanislav Angelov (variously publicised as Anguelov, Angeulov or Angheolov, and sometimes – in desperation – simply as Stanislav!) performed on the Accordion, the instrument he had studied since his childhood.

Stanislav performing on Accordion

In a companion posting Bandoneon – King of Tango, I described some of Stanislav’s reasons for wanting to study the Bandoneon and his fascinating journey with the Cape Town Tango Ensemble. Stanislav is the only musician I know who performs on both the Accordion and the Bandoneon at this level. On the CT Tango Ensemble’s latest CD Tango Club, Stanislav has recorded on both instruments. This makes him uniquely qualified to talk about the different aspects of performing on these related instruments. Stanislav was brave to attempt to record Tango on the Accordion on our first CD El Tango En Africa and he was praised, by both Accordeon and Bandoneon players, for a deep understanding of the music. (Accordions Worldwide awarded the CD 4 stars) Tango aficionados were sceptical about the Accordion being used in the ensemble instead of the traditional Argentine Bandoneon. But when they heard the product, people were won over.

Stanislav Anguelov playing his beloved "Victoria" Bandoneon

Yet, since we loved the recordings of the great Tango masters – such as Piazzolla, Mederos, Troilo – we had to explore different sounds. When budget allows, we add singers, saxophone, guitar or occasionally a drum kit. Once or twice we have even had 2 violins added to our quartet. These instruments come and go, but the constant is the Accordion and the Bandoneon, and Stanislav performs on both in one concert, depending on the repertoire.

To non-musicians this might seem a small issue, but in the passionate “Tangoland”, opinions are absolute, arguments are heated, friends and lovers are made and lost, over aspects of truth and authenticity. Astor Piazzolla got into such trouble for his innovations in Tango music, that his life was threatened. A dancer actually heard his Tango Nuevo on the radio and went to the radio station to shoot this man who was supposedly killing the dance!

"Close Embrace" - Photo J Altschuler

Listening to Dancers or Dance teachers speak about the tango can be confusing. Argentine “Close Embrace” dancing is intense and intimate, while Ballroom Tango (one of the incarnations of Tango after its export to the salons of Paris) is more flashy and exhibitionist.

Ballroom Tango Competition

Our ensemble has performed with world-class and world-renowned Tango dancers such as Eric Jorissen, for whom the intimacy of “Close Embrace” is the primary objective of the dance. And yet, I have been told by a Ballroom aficionado that they find this style of dancing boring and “inauthentic”. At the same time, many Argentine Tango dancers consider Ballroom dancing  – and even any for of choreography – to be shallow and superficial. “Strictly Come Dancing” or “Come Dancing Strictly”?

The truth is – of course – that both are valid. Both are responses to the music, and both are genuine attempts of people trying to express the music, and express themselves through the movement. The same goes for if one should use the Accordion or the Bandoneon.

Naked Bandoneon

Stanislav is a master disguiser.  The difference in the sound of the Accordion and the Bandoneon is very difficult to distinguish if the Accordion player tries to match the sound of the Bandoneon. However the opposite is impossible. The Bandoneon has two main categories of sound: Right hand notes are bright and powerful and the left hand notes are mellow and softer. The left hand therefore provides accompaniment to the melodies of the right hand. The Bandoneon also does not play chords with one button like the Accordion. Ech note that makes up a chord, must be pressed down individually. This allows much more freedom in the voicing of chords, but also makes the Bandoneon a terribly complicated instrument to learn to play. The left hand buttons are arranged according to the Circle of Fifths – the most basic mathematical principal in musical harmony.

Topless Accordion

The Accordion on the other hand, has a piano-style keyboard, played by one hand, and pre-set chord buttons on the other.The Bandoneon represents one of the early stages of the evolution of the Accordion, and therefore it is technically less complex and costly to build. And it is true that the level of complexity of the musical material that the Accordion handles, can be higher – given the keyboard layout.  This makes some of the more virtuosic – pianistic, if you like – passages, a bit simpler on the Accordion. The Accordeon therefore can play double notes as melodies, while providing ready made chordal accompaniments. In an Argentinian Orquestra Tipica, there is usually more than one Bandoneon playing, precisely to make the harmonies, and play passages in more than one voice. The virtuosity is visible and audible as these “worms” chase each other around the fast passages. The thrill is tremendous.

Ironically, the older design of the Bandoneon makes it a louder instrument than the Accordion – even if it is smaller in size. The reeds of the Bandoneon are made from a heavier mixture of metals. The inside of the Bandoneon also has more metal, creating a reflective soundbox to amplify the vibrations. Also, despite the size, the Bandoneon physically has more space inside the bellows, which allows the sound more “space” to travel.  I refer you to this excellent page by Stanislav’s Bandoneon guru Prof. Ricardo Fiorio, giving a more technical description on the capabilities of the Bandoneon as well as MP3 audio files:

Bandoneon Notation – By Ricardo Fiorio

Available on the record label Good Music World

Stanislav Angelov – Bandoneon & Accordion

Albert Combrink – Piano & Keyboard

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Charles Lazar – Double Bass

& Guests

Kevin Gibson  – Drums

Willie van Zyl – Saxophone

Adriana Edwards – Vocals

James Grace – Guitar

Photo Alexander Zabara -