For anyone wondering what could drive dancers to spend a lifetime mastering the intricate footwork of the genre, the vibrant music in Saturday's "Tango: A Changing Tradition" concert at Baird Auditorium offered a soul-stirring explanation.

No computer synthesis yet devised can connote life's sweet ache with the eloquence of Anibal Arias and Osvaldo Montes, the Argentine legends who opened the evening. Arias's guitar and Montes' bandoneon (a relative of the accordion with keys on either side) created an infinite range of rhythm and texture. Lyrical and introspective, the quick-fingered Arias was a lovely counterpoint to Montes, who can make a bandoneon cry, scream, laugh and shout.

Comparatively brash and irreverent, the New York Tango Trio was very much in sync with tango's roots in the late 19th century. The genre, born in the ghettos of Buenos Aires, blends the Afro Cuban rhythms of the habanera and mazurka with the Afro Argentine candombe. Like jazz, tango was considered to be the music of hoodlums and harlots, making its rise to international popularity during the early part of this century the scandal of polite society. Gentrified as each style has become, both jazz and tango draw core energies from the hopes and hungers of the disenfranchised.

The Tango Trio left no doubt as to the continued vitality of the form, with a jaunty, jazz-inflected performance. Guest violinist Jacqueline Carrasco's versatility was a welcome complement to the formidable talent of bassist Pablo Aslan, bandoneonist Raul Jaurena and pianist Maurizio Najt. Particularly striking were the majestically percussive "Nocturna" and the episodic "Cheseando." The multifaceted Pablo Ziegler, an accomplished jazz musician and former pianist with tango musician Astor Piazzolla, joined the trio for an all too brief sampling of his virtuosity.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the entire "Musica de las America" series occurred when coordinator Hector Corporan drew nervous giggles from the audience by mentioning that Jaurena began performing at age 8 with a children's tango orchestra. Throughout the Smithsonian Associates' excellent series, it has become clear that the arts are still valued as an inextricable part of everyday life in the rest of the Americas. Here in the United States, where school music programs too often fall victim to the whims of budget cutters, such is sadly not the case. Viva tango!