The Habanera Rhythm is a unique musical structure that occurs in one very particular type of Tango Music: Milonga Porteña. This is ‘Refined’ Milonga. It is the modern version of Milonga music that we tend to think of. (Think: Francisco Canaro’s – “Milonga Sentimental“). The Habanera Rhythm is what gives Milonga Porteña its definitive sound.
There are 4 notes to the Habanera Rhythm: a strong “1“, an El Golpe (which we’ll get to in a moment), a strong “2“, and then an “+“, or “&”, or “and” note which one might consider to be an off-beat note because it appears as equally distant between the last strong “2” and the next strong “1” note.
What is El Golpe ? (Pron: Ell Goal-Pay) There are two ways to define this word. 1.) When translated from Spanish to the English, the word means “the Sting” or “the Hit”. And in the case of Milonga music, it literally means a sharp or accented note. 2.) It refers to a specific type of note that happens in a very specific place, which in this case is closer to the strong 2 and not the first “and” (or half-note). Even though in the diagram below, it looks equally distant between the first +/& and then the 2, it’s not. It’s actually closer to the 2 than the +/&. 🙂
There are 2 ways to dance to this rhythm: 1.) We can pattern match this idea, and there’s nothing wrong with this way of dancing. It is perfectly acceptable to do this. OR 2.) we can fit 3 steps inside of 4 which means that we would drop one of the notes of the Habanera, and this where we have Rhythmical Variations in Milonga. The most common of these variations is would entail removing the strong “1” or the strong “2” from the equation. However, the easiest variation is to remove the weaker “+” after the 2 and create a series of variations from that. Doing so, creates a ‘breath’ or ‘breather’ in milonga for an off-beat note! It’s actually kinda cool when you stop and you do it. 😉 Give it a try and see what happens.
Looking at a graph above and actually hearing this stuff in action are two very different things. So we have created a tutorial for you below. It’s just a sample but a very important sample. While the sample doesn’t point out the El Golpe specifically, it does direct your attention to the Habanera, and you can clearly hear the El Golpe that you’re looking for!