Chamuyo de gotán: time travel through tango history with the lyrics of its songs

Tango and its roots – is it a point of contention (as befits its being “rite and religion”, per the famed quote) – or a point of connection? The connection which brings together ourselves, the music, the orchestras, the singers … and where the lyrics may be the most elusive of the interlocking connecting elements?

In a presentation combining printed handouts, a slide show, and music, and titled, in proper Lunfardo slang, Chamuyo de Gotán, Talking Too Much about Tango, Derrick del Pilar tries to cover the history of Argentine tango from its obscure beginnings to the storied Golden Age – through its lyrics. With Derrick’s permission, here are my annotated notes.

Enrique Binda, “Clarin” interview on the occasion of the 2nd edition of the book: “tango was born into a normal society, as existed in Buenos Aires at the time”; “[by 1910] it existed in the city center as well as in arrabal, in as many academias as prostibulos”; “who do you think was buying tango sheet music for piano by the thousands, hoodlums and whores or people who actually owned pianos?”
It all starts from the contention, obviously. The much-touted, much-discredited Borgesian brothel-to-Paris-to-high-society narrative is largely debunked, with the help of the 1998 book by Hugo Lamas & Enrique Binda, El tango en la sociedad porteña, 1880-1920, a product of 35 years of research which extensively analyzed the materials of the formative years of Argentine tango, from news reports to police records.

The brothel - to - Paris - to - beaux-mondes narrative of tango history may be traced back to a 1936 book of Hector and Luis Bates where they romanticized and exaggerated its outlaw, pimp-and-prostitute roots, and declared that tango remained totally unacceptable in the middle and upper class society at home until its return from Paris ca. 1913. However, Lamas and Binda prove that between 1902 and 1909, 3 millions copies of piano sheet music of tango have been sold, and at least 350 gramophone recordings pressed. Given that a gramophone cost several months worth of salary, not to mention what a piano cost, there is simply no question that tango was gaining very substantial following in the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires much earlier. Even some of the earliest tangos from the 1870s and 1880s, formally anonymous, are thought to have been authored by a Spanish noblewoman and concert piano player, Eloise D’Hebril Da Silva.

The police reports and regulations show that dancing took place in “academias” (dance schools/clubs which often had women for hire, and which were aggressively pursued by the police for violations such as … staying open too late), drinking establishments, and theaters (including the most upscale ones, such as the Opera, where the parterre seats may have been removed for the occasions), rather than in BsAs brothels where the local law forbade dancing as well as drinking (one would have to leave the city to find brothels which also operated as bars and dancing halls).

This said, of course sensual borders sexual, and an ethnic and social mix of a big city with its city music and dances juxtaposes against the homogeneity of the provinces and their native-born folk dances … so it comes as no surprise that the early tango found many detractors among the conservatives and nativists, and was widely depicted as half-vulgar and déclassé in the media of the day. It also seems likely that upper-classes acceptance of tango as a national music form preceded the wider acceptance of tango dance and especially tango poetry. The macho underclass hero of the early tango letras (literally “letters”, as the Tango lyrics are known) tells us a compelling story of tango’s lowlife beginnings. Enter Villoldo’s 1903 El Porteñito, the Little Son of Buenos Aires:

El Porteñito (1903)
Letra: Ángel Villoldo

Soy hijo de Buenos Aires,
Por apodo “El Porteñito”
El criollo más compadrito
Que en esta tierra nació.
Cuando un tango en la vigüela
Rasguea algún compañero,
No hay nadie en el mundo entero
Que baile mejor que yo…
Little Porteño
translated by Derrick Del Pillar

I’m a son of Buenos Aires,
they call me Little Porteño,
the toughest, coolest criollo
ever born in this land.
When one of my buddies
strums a tango on his ol’ guitar,
there’s no one in the whole world
who dances better than me…

The most classy milongas of the late 1890s and 1900s may have been held nightly at Lo de Hansen, or Restaurante del Parque 3 de Febrero, in Palermo, in the city’s largest and fanciest park inspired by Paris’s Bois de Boulogne (and, of course, commonly known as Bosques de Palermo). Mr. Hansen, a German immigrant, remodeled his 1869 park restaurant in 1877, as a part of redevelopment of the park. The new concessioners in the 1900s kept a fleet of five cars to ferry the guests around town at night. The daytime orchestra from Milan was being replaced by a tango orchestra for the night, and the rich and pampered daytime clientele, by the tango crowd with its share of malevos and shushetas and occasional fights and shootouts. The tabletops were made of very heavy marble slabs, lest anybody swings a table in a brawl. A posted sign asked the customers to please avoid tapping spoons or plates or bottles to the beat of their most loved tango tune, Villoldo’s “El Esquinazo” (because the earlier ban on “tapping the rhythm with hands or shoes” proved to be inefficient, as the crazed guests invented other ways to accompaniment the music)! By 1908, quality tango salons started appearing elsewhere in the best neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, and the golden days of old Hansen were gradually winding down. It was demolished in 1912. But the scene of tangoing at Lo de Hansen is lovingly reenacted in a 1937 movie, complete with fighting over choices of music, quebradas, boleos, and even a soltada. And the location has even seen an archaeological excavation in 2009, which unearthed bits and pieces of French floor tiles! (but the Porteño historians still argue if it was “the” dancing floor - in fact some oldtimers even insisted that the tango music there was only for listening, that dancing wasn’t allowed and that there wasn’t even room for it; while others, like Leon Benaros, wrote that many “disallowed” things were simply relegated to the back of the building, with its outdoor patio floor of white and black tiles … and lots of bugs at night, so the women didn’t sit in there – they were out in the front).

If you listen to the recorded versions of El Porteñito, you’d quickly realize that the words of the 2nd and 3rd verses are just never the same. They are always improvised or perhaps intentionally tinkered with, as it would have been the rule in the era before the recordings, when the boastful and crude letras would change with the neighborhood. It was always the guys from this street who were the toughest fighters and the best dancers in their couplets.

Carlos Gardel, 1917
(foto Horacio Loriente)

Another accepted narrative links the birth of tango canción, tango as a romance with set lyrics rather than improvised in the old payadores tradition, with the 1917 Gardel’s performance of “Mi noche triste” (a.k.a. “Lita”). The fame may be exaggerated, what’s so special about a song bursting onto the scene of some 3rd rate cabaret – we don’t even know for sure which one – but there is no denying that “Mi noche triste” ended up being the first recorded tango romance, and that the talent of Carlos Gardel truly electrified this formative epoch of tango. The letras by Pascual Contursi are, well, sorrowful, even though the character may be the same porteñito of the previous decade, a pimp at the prime of his life, now speaking in Lunfardo of his lost chica (or rather percanta), in his empty bachelor pad (cotorro or bulin).

Mi noche triste, Carlos Gardel, 1917

Mi noche triste (1915)
letra de Pascual Contursi

Percanta que me amuraste
En lo mejor de mi vida
Dejándome el alma herida
Y espina en el corazón.
Sabiendo que te quería
Que vos eras mi alegría
Y mi sueño abrasador.
Para mí ya no hay consuelo
Y por eso me encurdelo
Pa’ olvidarme de tu amor.

Cuando voy a mi cotorro
Y lo veo desarreglado
Todo triste, abandonado
Me dan ganas de llorar,
Me detengo largo rato
Campaneando tu retrato
Pa’ poderme consolar…
My Sorrowful Night
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

Deceitful woman, you left me
in the prime of my life,
leaving my soul wounded
and a thorn in my heart,
knowing that I loved you,
that you were my joy,
my burning dream.
For me there is no more comfort
and so I’m getting wasted
to forget about your love.

When I go up to my pad
and I see it all messy,
everything sad, abandoned,
it makes me want to cry;
I hang back a long time,
pining after your portrait
so I can console myself.

Ever since the 1872 epic “El Gaucho Martín Fierro” by José Hernández immortalized the image of the fearless outlaw, poet, and dueler of the Pampas in a classic payada verse, the gaucho remained a poetic symbol of Argentine people. But the times change. The 1926 “Mandria” makes a gaucho of a different era throw a poncho in a duel challenge – and then refuse the fight.

Mandria (1926)
Letra: Juan Miguel Velich y Francisco Brancatti

… Esta es mi marca y me asujeto
¡Pa’ que peliar a un hombre mandria!
Váyase con ella, ¡La cobarde!
Dígale que es tarde
Pero me cobré…
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

… This is my mark and it has kept me in check –
Why should I fight a wretched man?
Go with her, that coward!
Tell her that it’s late
but I’ve made my claim.

El Mocho”, “the Stub” David Undarz was called so because he lost a finger to an accident. El Mocho danced with his wife Amelia “La Portuguesa” (or sometimes remembered as “La Brasilera”) under the scenic name Los Undarz. In the cabarets of the 1910s, in the fine theaters of the 1920s, wildly popular. El Mocho’s trademark style was to showcase the follower, to make her moves and her footwork look stellar while the steps of leader himself remained understated. I’m sure you can recognize El Mocho’s legacy in the unwritten rules of gender roles of today’s tango dance! Progressing tuberculosis made El Mocho Undarz leave the city just before “Adiós Arrabal” was composed; soon, he died, aged only mid 30s.

The other legendary dancer from the lines of Adiós, Arrabal, Ovidio José “Benito” Bianquet, was better known as El Cachafaz (“The Troublesome” / “The Outrageous” as the lunfardo word may be translated). In truth, both of his nicknames predated his tango fame – his mother called him “Buenito”, “sweet little boy”, to the cops who wanted to punish the nice little guy for some broken windows in the neighborhood, and his father called him “El Cachafaz”, “the incorrigible rascal”, after he’s got a bit older and got in trouble with the girls. El Cachafaz must have been the first Argentine to try teaching tango in the US, before WWI; not much came out of it. But in 1919 he went to Paris and dazzled the City of Lights – he was remembered in Discépolo’s lyrics of “El Choclo” as “Caracanfunfa”, a dancer with a fancy footwork who “carried the flag of tango across the ocean, and mixed Paris and Buenos Aires barrios into an intoxicating drink”. As it turns out El Cachafaz wasn’t finished at all in 1930, when Carlos Lenzi wrote the letras of “Adiós, Arrabal” – what happened was that he parted with Emma “La Francesita” Boveda, after more than a decade of dancing together. But in a year or two, “Cacha” met Carmencita, and they went on to win movie roles and awards together. Their photograph accompanies every article about El Cachafaz, but since we paused at a page of tango history when the two haven’t yet met, I’m not going to include this picture. El Cachafaz died in 1942, age 55, slumped at a piano dressed in his best dance attire, waiting for a drink after a performance.
The Great Depression delivers a final blow the the figures of the compadrito and the gaucho – actually a horrible blow to the whole fabric of the civil society in Argentina. September 1930 brings what’s known as Década Infame, the decade of corrupt governments and stolen elections. The 1930 “Adiós, Arrabal” is a song of longing for the sweetness and integrity of the days of the past.

“I won’t ever change, but the old life of my mother neighborhood is gone forever” – insist the verses. It mourns the departure of the best dancers, of El Mocho, El Cachafaz. It bids farewell to “Rodríguez Peña”, officially known as El Salón San Martín at Rodríguez Peña 344, just off Corrientes, which was one of the best tango salons of the early 20th c. (immortalized by a 1911 tango composed by Vicente Greco, who played there).

Adiós, Arrabal
Letra: Carlos César Lenzi

Mañanita arrabalera,
Sin taitas por las veredas
Ni pibas en el balcón.
Tus faroles apagados
Y los guapos retobados
En tu viejo callejón.
Yo te canto envenenao,
Engrupido y amargao
Hoy me separo de vos.
Adiós, arrabal porteño,
Yo fui tu esclavo y tu dueño
Y te doy mi último adiós.

El baile “Rodríguez Peña”
El Mocho y el Cachafaz,
De la milonga porteña
Que nunca más volverá.
Carnavales de mi vida
Noches bravas y al final,
Los espiantes de las pibas
En aquel viejo arrabal.
Goodbye, arrabal!
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

Sweet morning in the arrabal,
no tough guys on the sidewalks,
and no dames out on the balconies,
your streetlamps all put out
and the pretty boys all passed out
in your old alleyway.
I sing to you venomously,
boastfully and bitterly –
today I’m leaving you.
Goodbye, arrabal of Buenos Aires!
I was your slave and your master
and here’s my last goodbye

The dances at Rodríguez Peña,
el Mocho and el Cachafaz
of the milongas of Buenos Aires
that never shall return,
my life’s great parties,
awesome nights and in the end
the blow-offs from all those dames
in that old arrabal.

As the 1930s march on, the things look increasingly bleak for Argentina. In 1932 Great Britain, the main export marker for Argentine beef, institutes a trade barrier system of “Imperial Preference”, putting Argentine economy on its knees and forcing the country into a near-colonial dependence under Roca–Runciman Treaty. By 1935, Enrique Discépolo, perhaps the most pessimistic of the Great Bards of Tango, doesn’t see any hope. The life is a hopeless mess, a pile of things which lost their past meaning on a shelf of a pawnshop. All the human beings are piled together there, and honesty and wisdom do not matter anymore:

Cambalache (1935)
Letras de Enrique Santos Discépolo

¡Que falta de respeto,
que atropello a la razon!
Cualquiera es un señor!
Cualquiera es un ladron!
Mezclao con Stavinsky
va Don Bosco y La Mignon,
Don Chicho y Napoleón,
Carnera y San Martín…
Igual que en la vidriera irrespetuosa
de los cambalaches
se ha mezcla’o la vida
y herida por un sable sin remache
ves llorar la Biblia
contra un calefón.
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

What a lack of respect,
what an affront to reason!
Anyone can be a baron!
Anyone can be a bandit!
Stavinsky and Saint John Bosco
go hand in hand with La Mignon,
Don Chicho and Napoleon,
Carnera and San Martín,
just as the rude window displays
of every pawnshop
have mixed up life itself
and you can see a wounded Bible
weep next to a boiler somewhere,
hanging on a hook.

Juan “Chicho Grande” Galiffi was an infamous 1920s/30s hit man of the Sicilian Mafia in Argentina
(Derrick explains that Stavinsky was an infamous swindler; Saint John Bosco helped underprivileged youth; La Mignon was slang for a call girl; Don Chicho a mobster, Carnera an itinerant boxer, and General San Martín, a national hero of Argentina’s wars of independence; and the sable sin remache was a hook nailed on a toilet wall to spear newsprint or book pages for use as toiler paper.)

Tango is reborn and reinvented with a new generation of dancers of the 1930s, most notably the D’Arienzo fans; new role for vocalists in the danceable tango – not just tango canción – is pioneered by Canaro; Sebastián Piana revitalizes the obsolescent genre of a milonga, allowing it to become a vibrant dance.

Yet the new milonga laments the bygone 1900s, and the sympathies of its main character remain with the honesty of the past:

Milonga del 900 (1933)
Letras: Homero Manzi

Me gusta lo desparejo
y no voy por la vedera;
uso funghi a lo Massera,
calzo bota militar.
La quise porque la quise
y por eso ando penando –
se me fue ya ni se cuando,
ni se cuando volverá.

Me la nombran las guitarras
cuando dicen su canción,
las callecitas del barrio,
y el filo de mi facón.
Me la nombran las estrellas
y el viento del arrabal;
no se pa’ que me la nombran
si no la puedo olvidar.
Milonga of the 1900s
Translation by Derrick Del Pilar

I like mismatched things
and I don’t go out on the sidewalk;
I wear a Massera porkpie hat
and military boots on my feet.
I loved her because I loved her
and ’cause of that I’m hurting now –
she’s left me and I don’t even know when,
don’t even know when she’ll come back.

Guitars remind me of her
when they are speaking their songs,
so do the little neighborhood streets,
and the edge of my dagger.
The stars remind her name to me
and so does the wind of the arrabal,
I don’t know why they remind me of her
since I could never forget her…

The final verses of Manzi are almost never sung on the records, the lines there become palpably political, professing distrust to the changes of modernity, and loyalty to the legacy of Leandro Alem, founder of Radical Civic Union and the leader of 1890 Revolution, who took his own life in 1896.

Tristezas de la Calle Corrientes (Horacio Coppola – Buenos Aires 1936)

It’s hard to count all the tangos which sing of Avenida Corrientes; a simple search in the Argentine tango lyrics website returns 159 texts! They tell of the old, narrow street of tango’s formative years and the new wide Corrientes nearly purged of its tango history; of the grandeur and the squalor; of the real landmarks and the fictitious addresses, like the number 348, an illicit den of love, tango, and dimmed lights from Donato’s 1925 “A media luz”.

The 1933 “Corrientes y Esmeralda” charts all the contrasts of the city to just this one intersection, two blocks East of the Obelisk, where grand theater Odeón (#782) and popular cabaret Royal Pigall (#825) faced across the street not 200 ft from one another … the street corner which was home to great poets and artists and to the thugs and drug-addicted call girls. In 1955 Julían Centeya recited a moving tribute to Café Dominguez, a few blocks West near the intersection of Corrientes and Parana, immortalizing the first Buenos Aires tango bar to stay open 24/7, where the quartet of the bandoneonist “Liendre” De Leone played in the 1910s and 1920s … the cafe which was no more. The actual verses of “Café Dominguez” belong to Enrique Cadícamo who lived a block away, at #1330. And Enrique Discépolo’s home was half mile further West, at #1990.

The sense of loss of tango history turns most palpable in Osvaldo Pugliese’s 1961 tango, “Corrientes Bajo Cero”, “Corrientes Below Zero”. Roberto Chanel sings of Corrientes reborn as the crib of gotán, a place where Piazzolla’s bandoneon sounds again, where the doors of “El Olmo” (at #948) and “El Germinal” (at the corner of Maipú, where Juan Maglio Pacho once debuted) have reopened, where the music of Pugliese himself rings at Teatro el Nacional (#960) … but it turns out to be just a dream, and we wake up to find a frozen place where “El Marzoto”, “El Ruca”, and “El Tibidabo” are shattered, too! Yet, just close you eyes again, and then you may see a monument to Carlos Gardel rising side by side with the Obelisk…  (Needless to say Pugliese now got a plaza named after him, and a monument, at the corner of Corrientes and Scalabrini Ortiz).

But the best known Osvaldo Pugliese monument must be the one at the very end of Avenida Corrientes – at his grave at Chacarita Cemetery, with the maestro’s piano traditionally graced by red carnations as a symbol of his absence (whenever Pugliese was detained – and there were times when the authorities locked him up almost every weekend – his orchestra kept playing, but with a red carnatios placed on his piano to signify that the maestro can’t be there with them, but is present in spirit). The whole world of tango’s past is there at Chacarita. Its first band leaders, Villolda and Arolas, are buried there; Gardel’s chapel crypt is there, as is the modest grave of El Cachafaz. A parcel purchased by Francisco Canaro has the graves of the greatest of tango’s golden years as well as his own. Its greatest poets are there, Cadicano, Contursi, Discépolo, Flores, Manzi, Exposito, Centeya… Orchestra leaders – Troilo, De Caro, Laurenz, Fresedo, De Angelis, Malerba, Gobbi, Maffia, Varela, Maderna, Pontier, Bianco, Filiberto, Cobian… And, ever a maverick, Juan D’Arienzo rests in a different section of Chacarita.
Corrientes Angosta

Teatro Odeon @ Corrientes & Esmeralda

At Royal Pigall, Canaro’s orchestra played alongside a US ragtime band

Old Corrientes by night

Avenida Corrientes

We return to Corrientes street and tally our losses.

In a decade which passed since “Adiós, Arrabal”, the famed avenida has lost more than half of its buildings, demolished in Depression-era public works for a massive widening of the old street, the street still remembered by the porteños with the one epithet, “Corrientes Angosta”, “the Narrow Corrientes”.

There is sadness, poverty, and despair under these street lines of the grand boulevard of the Obelisk and fine theaters and bookstores, and there is also acceptance of the fate. The song takes life as it is.

Tristezas de la calle Corrientes
Letra: Homero Expósito (1942)

Como valle
De monedas para el pan.
Río sin desvío
Donde sufre la ciudad.
¡Qué triste palidez tienen tus luces!
Tus letreros sueñan cruces,
Tus afiches, carcajadas de cartón.
Que precisa
La confianza del alcohol.
Hecho cantos
Pa’ vendernos un amor.
Mercado de las tristes alegrías
Cambalache de caricias
Donde cuelga la ilusión…

Triste, sí,
Por ser nuestra…
Triste, sí,
Porque sueñas…
Tu alegría es tristeza
Y el dolor de la espera
Te atraviesa.
Y con pálida luz
Vivís llorando tus tristezas…
Triste, sí,
Por ser nuestra…
Triste, sí,
Por tu cruz…
Corrientes Street Blues
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

like a valley
of coins for buying bread,
dead end river
where the city suffers –
what sad pallor under your lights!
Your signs dream of crosses,
your posters, cardboard cackling
that requires
liquor’s confidence,
become songs
to sell us a love,
market of sad joys,
pawnshop of caresses
where they hang up all our dreams.

Sad? Yes.
Because you’re ours…
Sad? Yes.
Because you dream…
Your joy is sadness,
and the pain of waiting
cuts across you
and with faint light
you live weeping your sadness.
Sad? Yes.
Because you’re ours…
Sad? Yes.
That’s your cross…

Taking the cue from Homero Expósito, an actor, singer, and comedian Marcos Caplán, the Jewish enfant terrible of tango’s Golden Era, made the “premature rumors of the demise of tango” the centerpiece of his show at Teatro Maipo. “It’s a lie that tango has died!” – he would exclaim – “I’m going to slaughter it myself, right now!” – and then sing, mockingly, some tango hit of the season.

Marcos Caplán
But has tango lost its soul? Its rough edge? Has it become tame and tired? (Have you heard the story of the newspaper article declaring that tango has died? “El tango ha muerto”, it appeared in “Caras y Caretas” … in 1903)

Yo soy el tango, 1941
Letra: Homero Expósito

Soy, el tango milongón
Nacido en los suburbios
Malevos y turbios.
Hoy, que estoy en el salón
Me saben amansado
Dulzón y cansado.
Pa’ que creer
Pa’ que mentir
Que estoy cambiado,
Si soy el mismo de ayer.

Escuchen mi compás
¿No ven que soy gotán?

Me quiebro en mi canción,
Como un puñal de acero
Pa’ cantar una traición.
Me gusta compadrear
Soy reo pa’ bailar,
Escuchen mi compás

Yo soy el viejo tango
Que nació en el arrabal.

Hoy, que tengo que callar,
Que sufro el desengaño,
La moda y los años.
Voy, costumbre del gotán
Mordiendo en mis adentros
La rabia que siento.
Pa’ que creer
Pa’ que mentir
Que estoy muriendo,
Si yo jamás moriré.
I Am the Tango
translated by Derrick Del Pilar

I am the tango of the milongas
born on the outskirts,
rough and tough.
Now that I’m in these fancy halls,
they think I’m tamed,
sappy and worn out.
But why lie,
why believe that I’ve changed,
if I’m the same as yesterday?

Listen to my beat:
don’t you see that I am gotán?

I bust myself in my song,
like a steel dagger,
to sing about a betrayal.
I like to strut around,
I’m cool for dancing,
listen to me beat:

I’m the same old tango
born in the arrabal.

Now that I have to quiet down,
that I suffer from disillusionment,
fashion and the years,
I’ll follow the tango custom:
I’ll bite my tongue
at the anger I feel.
But why think,
why lie
that I’m dying
since I’ll never die?

In the days “Una emoción” was composed, the listeners might have read its message of cleaner, humbler tango as a call for purge of the remnants of the underclass origins of tango (culminated several years later with the ill-advised Peronist proscription of lunfardo, which replaced letras and even titles of the tango pieces with censorship-approved mediocrity) or maybe a jealous partisan attack on the irreverence of “El Rey de Compás” D’Arienzo and his followers. Indeed Raul Kaplán, its composer (and probably the only Jewish fiddler to ever direct a tango orquesta tipica), firmly belonged to the camp of tango romanticism. But we now see the message of “Una emoción” through the prism of Gavito’s legacy – as a passionate call for humble respect to tango’s roots and for the mutual respect and community-building.
Finally – Una emoción, 1943 – the beat of tango has permeated the city, its every corner. This nostalgic feeling, this loving and longing reflection of its past days, grows only more sweet and more enchanting every time when we hear it. Tango has become timeless; it no longer needs to pretend to be something convoluted, because it’s so natural for this humble and deep emotion to resonate in our hearts. That’s what we call Tango, and nothing more.

Una emoción (1943)
Letra: José María Suñé

…Envuelto en la ilusión anoche lo escuché,
compuesta la emoción por cosas de mi ayer:
La casa en que nací…
la reja y el parral…
la vieja calesita y el rosal.
Su acento es la canción de voz sentimental…
su ritmo es el compás que vive en mi ciudad.
No tiene pretensión,
no quiere ser procaz.
se llama tango… y nada más.
An emotion
translated by Derrick del Pilar

Wrapped up in a dream last night I heard it –
an emotion composed of things from my yesterdays:
The house where I was born,
the iron fence and the ivy,
the old carousel, the rosebush.
Its accent is the song of an emotional voice,
its rhythm is the measure that lives in my city –
it has no pretensions,
it doesn’t want to be lewd,
it’s called tango, and nothing more.

At the start of our era of the rebirth of tango, it was Gavito who carried the message of Una Emoción as an article of faith – so I must close this long post with an old, grainy video of Gavito’s dance. See you on the dance floor!

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MOCKBA dijo...

Tamas Deak asked on the Hungarian sister blog about the 1890 "Tango in D" by Albeniz, who apparently visited Argentina some 15 years earlier. Could the popularity of tango piano music in the turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires have been contributed by Albeniz's piano composition? I doubt it, because Albeniz's "Tango" doesn't seem to have anything in common with Argentine tango (apart from occasional Cuban habanera influence). Albeniz's "España" op. 165 (of which "Tango" is the second part) owes more to Ferenc Liszt than to Buenos Aires IMHO. As the title suggests, it showcases folk motifs of Spain, from Malaga flamenco to Catalan and Basque songs. The "Tango" there doesn't sound Iberian / Andalusian but not Argentine either; it's probably a vaguely Cuban-influenced motif (and in 1890 Cuba, unlike Argentina, still belonged to Spain)