In the simplest way of putting it, a tango DJ is responsible for playing the music at a milonga or practica, or any other tango related event. In this situation, the DJ becomes the puppeteer for the energy of the night, and inevitably shoulders the burden for the success of the event. Their work alters the experience of the entire room of people, and in the longer term, the evolution of the tango community. Therefore it is much more complex than putting together a playlist to rinse and repeat.
In the long history of tango music, there are so many layers and depth to each orchestra, that essentially one would (preferably) have to deconstruct the music’s mood, meaning and rhythm to create the tango high we keep looking for. And a community’s discovery of this music depends very largely on a how much effort a DJ has put in to take them on this journey of discovery together.
Although tango DJ-ing is more subtle and less flashy than DJ-ing for other kinds of music, it takes a lot of time spent with the music to find the best dance music. Every orchestra has good and amazing pieces…and really bad ones. It’s just like really expensive designer clothing brands – even they have really awful pieces that no one in their right mind should even go near, let alone wear.
The DJ would play a crucial role in filtering this raw product to piece together an inspiring milonga. However, although it does help to have a sizeable database of music, it most definitely is not what makes a DJ. He or she must understand the dance and the community, to be able to craft what they will feel when certain songs are played. It takes a lot of time really feeling and listening to the music to assemble an evening of music that will make people want to dance.
Of course, it does help if one understands the lyrics of the music, but that has become much easier now due to the availability of open source tango lyric translations and other passionate efforts to promote tango awareness. I would recommend anyone to check out this site by fellow tanguero and friend Manuel Garber.