Tango Yona explores the legacy of songs in tango rhythm, loved by Yiddish audiences from the 1920s to the 1960s. The evocative sounds of the lyrics with their potent layers of meaning, and the richly textured collaborative arrangements by the ensemble, create a living interpretation of these treasures.

At the heart of Tango Yona’s repertoire are songs from the Holocaust. We perform these songs as a memorial to the creators and their listeners, and to honour the place of art in a time of war. We hope to provide a window to understanding contemporary artists dealing with displacement and oppression.

Tango music originated in Argentina, and band leaders on tour in the 1920s became stars in New York and Europe. Soon Jewish composers embraced the rhythms and emotional intensity of tango, and gorgeous new tango melodies were heard in the theatres of New York’s Second Avenue and nightclubs in Germany and Poland. Before and after the war, thriving Yiddish-speaking communities in South America, North America and Israel loved tango’s bittersweet beauty.

As Jews were forced into ghettos in wartime Eastern Europe, they found in tango a musical language to express sorrow, longing, irony and love. The Holocaust era tangos are a reminder of the complexity of wartime experience – some songs are laments, some are outcries, and some inspire courage.

Shmerke Kaczerginski, important to the creation and preservation of Holocaust era tangos, wrote, “It seems unnatural when in a moment of high tragedy an actor on stage suddenly breaks into song. You would think: this does not happen in real life. But ‘real life’ has shown us otherwise.” (Collector’s Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)