El Tango Canción
‘Tango contains the whole life: grandparents, children, dogs, streets, the whole volume of the sentiments, the missing, all the sorts of perfume, the suffering and the joy. This all is tango and because of this tango is the longing for yesterday, the pain from today and the hope for tomorrow.’ Sandra Luna
In november 2004 I went to a concert of the singer that is quoted above. My first tango concert. Although I didn’t understand the lyrics, nor her explanations in between, that were in Spanish as well, It immediately took a place in my heart. I remember feeling light afterwards, I felt like I discovered a new world.
For some reason after then listening to tango, and mainly Sandra Luna, very intensively for a while, i lost track of it. My vocal teacher in Amsterdam introduced me into Brazilian music and told me about the Latin department in Rotterdam. I started to prepair for the audition and got accepted into the first year. There i got to discover different beautiful music styles, that i all wanted to explore, but still there wasn’t this click yet. I didn’t feel at home yet. Then, about two years ago, because of some musician friends i got in contact with that music again, tango. Again that light feeling. I started to open my ears, eyes and heart for it and knew, this is it. I started to show my face in the tango department of the conservatory, where I got a warm welcome. Now since a year I sing with the two orchestras and the guitar ensemble of the department. I even decided that I want to do a Master of Music in tango. This is a style in which I can keep learning and developing for the rest of my life. But I have to start at the basis.
It is important to have a basic knowledge about the history of the music you play. This thesis was the perfect opportunity for this. I found it hard to narrow the information down. I could write a whole book about it. I would want to analyse all the poetry, extensively describe the poet’s styles, go more into the unity between music and lyrics, describe all the singers extensively, analyse the style of everyone of them. But….unfortunately I didn’t have that much time. So I summarised the major happenings in the development of the music and mainly the poetry, naming only some of the important tango poets. Further I described the most important vocal interpreters and their meaning in the history of the tango canción. So you can see it as an introduction into the world of the tango canción. I will answer the following research question: How did the tango canción originate, how did it develop until now and how will it develop in the future?
How it began…
‘ We want to make clear that the tango is still the soul of the Río de la Plata.’ Luis Labraña & Ana Sebastián
The Spanish colonised the south of America for three century’s. On the 25th of May in 1810 Argentina claimed her independence. With the idea to increase the intellectualism and wealth of the Río de la Plata, the government of Buenos Aires and Montevideo lured Europeans. However, they put their standards so high, that no one but kings and queens could live up to it and off course they wouldn’t migrate. Thus they put their expectations down. An unstoppable migration stream started. In 1887 more than half of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires existed of immigrants, the biggest part consisted of Italians. There wasn’t enough housing and there weren’t enough jobs to provide for them. The government saw the black people, the gringos (non-spanish Europeans) and the compadres (the gauchos that moved to the city’s) as one of a kind and put them all together in conventillos, living communities with shared patios and washing units, in the suburbs. There was very little space to share with a lot of people. Because of this forced mingling, dialects, habits and musical styles were combined. ‘With some imagination we can imagine a late afternoon in the Buenos Aires of that time: The last sunrays throw a shadow on the traditional mate (tea, made from the mate-tree, with a high content of caffeine, consumed from a special cup by a large amount of Argentineans and Uruguayans), some are chatting along, others are seated between flowerpots with jasmine, people sitting on the patios, drinking while sunken into thoughts. And far away, against the background of silence, sounds a soft mumbering, whispering, almost like a complaint. A frightened attempt to pronounce something in the new language of courage, cause courage you needed to live under those circumstances! Like this the first feast of the conventillo must have been born: with the guitar of the compadre, the swaying of the negro, the mandolin of the gringo and his daughter, who try’s to imitate the steps of the dancing black woman, with a sung joke, being answered by a verse. And at a certain moment, with or without fights, with guitar or accordion, the tango sounds like a magical breath that puts the feelings of all into words, without shame or fear.’ 1
There have been different theories about the origins of the word tango. The most probable one is that tango is the word that was used for: ‘closed space where negroes gather to dance’. Later the tango became the name for the dance itself. The word appeared much earlier than the dance. It first appeared on Canary Island ‘Isla de Hierro’ and in other places in America, before used in the Río de la Plata. The dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy of Letters, 1899 edition defines tango as a ‘Fiesta and dance of Negroes or “gente del pueblo” (those that belong to lower socio-economical class) in America’. Later however, in the edition of 1925, tango was described as “Dance of high society, imported from America at the beginning of this century”. In this short time, tango moved from the lower class of society, to the higher class. The music historian Carlos Vega explains that in Mexico, a dance called tango existed in the 18th century. This dance was done individually or apart, not as a couple. Archives of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico make reference to the “ancient tango” – a Mexican song – in 1803. Around the same time as in the Río de la Plata, around the end of the 19th century, the tango was developed in Brazil. There it later developed in a style called chorinho.
The intellectuals brought the myth into the world, that the tango was born in the brothels, developed by prostitutes and felons. This is not true, although later, they made the tango their music. Several tango lyrics are written about the milonguitas ( prostitutes). Some judge their way of living, some idealise their way of living. The following text is a fragment from the tango ‘Vení conmigo’ (come with me). A pimp is luring a girl from the conventillo into prostituting herself:
Ché percantina, dejá el convento que es puro cuento tu realidad. ¿No ves otaria que tus abriles son pa los giles de la ciudad?
Con ese cuerpo que Dios te ha dado qué auto cerrado vas a tener. En el más camba de los hoteles con dos manteles vas a morfar.2
Hey little girl, leave the conventillo, where your life is a lie. Don’t you see little goose, that your life is wasted on the losers of the city?
With this body, that God gave you, you can have the most expensive car. In the fanciest hotel, with two table-cloths, you can dine.
The tango ‘Muchachita loca’ (the crazy girl), written in 1923 by Francisco Bastardi, tells the opposite:
Nunca abandones el Conventillo, si en él naciste y has de vivir porque ser pobre no es una falta y es una gloria saber sufrir.2
Never leave the conventillo, when you’re born there and have to live there, cause being poor is not a mistake and it’s honourable to be able to suffer.
The lyrics of the first tangos, we’re mainly improvised, as was the music, and were passed on orally. This is why not much is known about the first poëts of tango. Ricardo J. Podestá is one of the few authors of whom tango lyrics of the beginning of the 20th century are preserved. Together with his brother he leaded a travelling theatre company. Podestá was one of the initiators of a type of folk theatre called ‘circo criollo’. This type of theatre was an important stage for the tango. Subject of these tangos were usually compadritos bragging about their success with the lady’s and their talent for dancing the tango. Also an important man in this time was Angel Gregorio Villoldo. This man was one of the most important representatives of the so called ‘Guardia Vieja’ (the old guard, tango musicians until 1917). He was born in a modest family in 1861. He earned his living with many jobs, like butcher, choir leader, clown, cuartedor (a person that helps to pull wagons out of the mud or up a hill, with his horse), and street musician. With his guitar and harmonic, he strolled through the pubs of the arrabal (the suburbs, where the low class lived) and performed his songs, milongas and creole folk songs. Villoldo, also refered to as ‘papá del tango criollo’ (tango father) only composed and played tangos when it was still close to the folkloric music. When the frivol rhythm became slower and heavier and the music became more complex, Villoldo turned back to writing and performing creole folkmusic. He gave the tango elements that had their roots in the tradition of the Creole payadores. Payadores were singers from the pampa that accompanied themselves on guitar and improvised songs. Villoldo’s lyrics were light-hearted and ironic and the characters he described were just like him creoles that just moved to the city. It was only later that in the tango lyrics the people from the arrabales were imagined as thieves, murderers and prostitutes.
One of the most famous tango melodies ‘el Choclo’ was by Villoldo’s hand. The piece was composed in 1903 and the lyric that Villoldo set to it himself demonstrates the light-hearted poëtry of the tango at that time:
|De un grano nace la planta
que más tarde nos da el choclo
por eso de la garganta
dijo que estaba humilloso.
Y yo como no soy otro
más que un tanguero de fama
murmuro con alborozo
está muy de la banana.
|Out of a grain was born the plant
that later gave us the corncob
because of this the throat
says that it was vain
And me, like I’m no other
more than a famous tanguero
murmur with joy
it is much like a banana
|Hay choclos que tienen
las espigas de oro
que son las que adoro
con tierna pasión,
llenito de abrojos
estoy con rastrojos
como humilde peón.
|There are corncobs that have
The heads of gold
That are the ones i adore
with tender passion
full of thorns
i am with stubbles
like a humble worker
|De lavada enrubia
en largas quedejas
si es como crecer,
con esos bigotes
que la tierra virgenque la tierra virgen
al noble paisano
le suele ofrecer.
|Of reddened washing
i over think partners
As if it is like growing up
With these bigotes
that the virgin earth
to the noble countrymen
is used to offer
|A veces el choclo
asa en los fogones
calma las pasiones
y dichas de amor,
cuando algún paisano
lo está cocinando
y otro está cebando
un buen cimarrón.
|At times the corncob
handles in the fogs
calm the passions
and joyful of love
when a countrymen
is cooking it
and another is serving
a good cimarrón
|Luego que la humita
bajo la enramada
se oye un pericón,
y junto al alero,
de un rancho deshecho
surge de algún pecho
la alegre canción.
|soon the humita
is being prepared
Beneath the shelter made of branches
sounds a horse
and together with the alero
of an unmade ranch
arises from a chest
the happy song.
An often occurring event in tango was that different lyrics were set to a melody, as is the case with ‘El Choclo’. A couple of decades after the release of the song, singer, composer, author and actor Juan Carlos Marambio Catán set new lyrics to it.
|Vieja milonga que en mis horas de tristeza
traes a mi mente tu recuerdo cariñosa,
encadenándome a tus notas dulcemente
siento que el alma se me encoje poco a poco.
Recuerdo triste de un pasado que en mi vida,
dejó una página de sangre escrita a mano,
y que he llevado como cruz en mi martirio
aunque su carga infame me llene de dolor.
|Old milonga that in my hours of sadness
brings to mind your affectionate memory
softly chaining me up to your notes
I feel that the soul cripples me bit by bit
sad memory of a past that in my life
leaves a page of blood written by hand.
and that you have taken like a cross in my suffering
even though his despicable burden fills me with pain
|Fue aquella noche
que todavía me aterra.
Cuando ella era mía
jugó con mi pasión.
Y en duelo a muerte
con quien robó mi vida,
mi daga gaucha
partió su corazón.
Y me llamaban
el choclo compañero;
tallé en los entreveros
seguro y fajador.
Pero una china
envenenó mi vida
y hoy lloro a solas
con mi trágico dolor.
|It was that night
that still terrifies me
when she was mine
she played with my passion
and in duel to death
with whom she robbed my life
my gaucho dagger
left her heart
and they called me
the ‘choclo’ companion
I worked in the mess
self secure and aggressive
but a maid
poisoned my life
and today I cry alone
with my tragic pain
|Si alguna vuelta le toca por la vida,
en una mina poner su corazón;
que una ilusión perdida
no vuelve nunca
a dar su flor.
Besos mentidos, engaños y amarguras
rodando siempre la pena y el dolor,
y cuando un hombre entrega su ternura
cerca del lecho
lo acecha la traición.
|When it happens again
that he puts his heart in a girl
that a lost illusion
to give of her flower
pretended kisses, lies and sorrow
always turns around the aching and pain
and when a man encounters his tenderness
close to the bed
the deceit is spying on him.
|Hoy que los años han blanqueado ya mis sienes
y que en mi pecho sólo anida la tristeza,
como una luz que me ilumina en el sendero
llegan tus notas de melódica belleza.
Tango querido, viejo choclo que me embarga
con las caricias de tus notas tan sentidas;
quiero morir abajo del arrullo de tus quejas
cantando mis querellas, llorando mi dolor.
|Today as the years bleach my temples
and in my chest only nestles the sadness
like a light that illuminates me on the way
come back your notes of beautiful melodies
dear tango, old ‘choclo’ that overcomes me
with the caresses of your notes full of feelings
I want to die beneath the murmur of your complaints
singing my complaints, crying my pain.
By comparing the two lyrics above, you can clearly see the big change in the tango poetry over the years. Where the themes used to be light-hearted story’s about the life of simple countrymen and labourers they now were speaking about men with broken hearts and the tango remembering them of the cruel way in which a woman broke their heart.
Even later, in 1947, the tango composer Enrique Santos Discépolo wrote the third and most accepted and recorded lyric to ‘El Choclo’.
|Con este tango que es burlón y compadrito
se ató dos alas la ambición de mi suburbio;
con este tango nació el tango, y como un grito
salió del sórdido barrial buscando el cielo;
conjuro extraño de un amor hecho cadencia
que abrió caminos sin más ley que la esperanza,
mezcla de rabia, de dolor, de fe, de ausencia
llorando en la inocencia de un ritmo juguetón.
|To this tango that is mocking and flamboyant
are attached two wings, the ambition of my neighbourhood
with this tango the tango was born like a cry
left the dirty mud searching for the sky
strange spell of love changed to rythm
that opened roads with no greater law the hope
mixture of rage, pain, faith and absence
crying in the innocence of a playfull rythm
|Por tu milagro de notas agoreras
nacieron, sin pensarlo, las paicas y las grelas,
luna de charcos, canyengue en las caderas
y un ansia fiera en la manera de querer…
|For the miracle of your prophetic notes
Were born, whithout overthinking it, the girls and the women
Moonlight on the puddles, that sultry sway of the hips
and a savage longing in the way of loving
|Al evocarte, tango querido,
siento que tiemblan las baldosas de un bailongo
y oigo el rezongo de mi pasado…
Hoy, que no tengo más a mi madre,
siento que llega en punta ‘e pie para besarme
cuando tu canto nace al son de un bandoneón.
|Thinking of you, beloved tango
I feel the shaking floor tiles at the dance
and the murmur of my past
Today, now i don’t have my mother anymore
i feel her come on tiptoe to kiss me
when your song is born to the sound of a bandoneón
|Carancanfunfa se hizo al mar con tu bandera
y en un pernó mezcló a París con Puente Alsina.
Triste compadre del gavión y de la mina
y hasta comadre del bacán y la pebeta.
Por vos shusheta, cana, reo y mishiadura
se hicieron voces al nacer con tu destino…
¡Misa de faldas, querosén, tajo y cuchillo,
que ardió en los conventillos y ardió en mi corazón!
|Carancanfunfa crossed the sea with your flag
and, in a Pernod, mixed Paris with Puente Alsina
Sad companion of the womanizer and the doll
and even friend to the pimp and his woman
for you the dandy, the cop, the tramp in his poverty
All were made voices by being born with your destiny
A jumble of petticoats, kerosine, deep cut and knife
They burned in those tenements and also burned in my heart!
Also in this lyric you can see that the tone is much more dramatic than the one of Villoldo. As in the lyric of Catán, it talks about how the tango brings certain memories and sentiments. In many lyrics, the writer or character talks about the tango as if it was a lover, loving and despising it for bringing up confusing feelings. Discépolo brings up some characters from the arrabales in his version. You can see that in the decade between the lyric of Catán and the version of Discépolo there wasn’t a big change of mood in the poetry. Off course there is a difference in the writing styles of the authors. Discépolo was born in 1901 in Buenos Aires as one of the five sons of an Italian musician father and an Argentine mother. Both parents died at young age and his aunt continued to take care of him. Off course this event affected him greatly. He spend a lot of time walking through the city and,’ lacking a real family life, he identified with those who were unaccepted and displaced in society’.5 His lyrics weren’t all pessimistic, he was known for his humorous touch.
Something that already strikes me now, in the beginning of this research, is that the lyrics written after 1917 talk about the drama of the characters from the arrabales, while most authors, although experiencing some drama’s didn’t grow up in this environment. The writers before 1917, who did live this kind of life, wrote light-hearted, funny lyrics, probably to escape from daily reality. A funny contradiction.
The beginning of a new genre : the Tango Canción
In 1915 Pianist Samuel Castriota composed the piece ‘Lita’. Lyricist Pascual Contursi heard the melody and was intrigued by it. He adjusted a lyric to it that he had written previously. About a year later Contursi encountered Carlos Gardel that up until then had only sang folkloric songs. Contursi sang his version of ‘Lita’ for him. ‘In the second decade of the 20th century, Pascual Contursi was one of the leaders of a movement to move away from the capricious or trivial lyrics to those more realystic and dramatic, ones that reflected the real life of the lowest classes of society. In his writings the characters are usually prostitutes, felons and those with no hope, while the subject matter is usually lost love, nostalgia and the unfairness of betrayal by ones woman.’5 Gardel studied the song and performed it to his friends. They were enthusiastic, but advised him not to play it on stage, cause it might hurt his career. Despite their advise, he premiered the song at the Teatro Urquiza in Montevideo and shortly after at the Teatro Esmeralda in Buenos Aires in 1917 under the title ‘mi noche triste’ ( altough rumor has it that Contursi himself, who was also a fine singer, premiered the song a while before in the cabaret ‘Moulin Rouge’ in Montevideo). The lyrics were about a compadrito, a man that lives of the earnings of his women, expressing his lonely melancholy at the loss of his percanta (his favourite woman). Castriota did not want the name of his tango ‘Lita’ associated with these lyrics and for that reason Gardel called it ‘Mi noche triste’, ‘My sad night’. That night at the Esmeralda, Gardel’s musical partner José Razzano left him to sing ‘Mi noche triste’ alone, accompanied only by one guitar. Before this time, tangos were only performed by orchestras. ‘The song caused an immediate sensation. The wistful, melodramatic lyrics struck an empathetic chord, evoking deeply compassionate response, relating, as it did, to the story of thousands of porteños (literally: people from the harbour, nickname for the inhabitants of Buenos Aires) longing for romance and female companionship, and without love, except for that purchased by the hour.’5
It was the first time that a tango told a full story, including real emotions. This became a model for generations of tangos afterwards. The era of the ‘tango canción’ had begun. From now on the tango lyrics weren’t just an improvised side subject; they became an independent art form.
Mi noche triste
|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.
|Woman, that 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 happiness
and my burning dream
For me there is no consolation
and so i’m getting drunk
to make me forget your love
|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.
|when i go to my room
and i see it messed up
everything sad, deserted
it makes me feel like crying
I stand quiet for a long while
calling on your return
trying to give myself consolation
|Ya no hay en el bulín
aquellos lindos frasquitos
arreglados con moñitos
todos del mismo color.
El espejo está empañado
y parece que ha llorado
por la ausencia de tu amor.
|In the bedroom there are no longer
these pretty little bottles
adorned with ribbons
all of the same colour
And the mirror appears dimmed
and it seems like it’s been crying
for the absence of your love
|De noche, cuando me acuesto
no puedo cerrar la puerta,
porque dejándola abierta
me hago ilusión que volvés.
Siempre llevo bizcochitos
pa tomar con matecitos
como si estuvieras vos,
y si vieras la catrera
cómo se pone cabrera
cuando no nos ve a los dos.
|At night when i lay down
i can’t close the door
because if i leave it open
it gives me the illusion that you’ve returned
i always bring cookies
to have with the maté
as if you were here
and if you could see the bed
how upset it gets
when it doesn’t see the two of us
|La guitarra, en el ropero
todavía está colgada:
nadie en ella canta nada
ni hace sus cuerdas vibrar.
Y la lámpara del cuarto
también tu ausencia ha sentido
porque su luz no ha querido
mi noche triste alumbrar.
|the guitar, in the closet
is still just hanging there
no one sings anything to it
nor makes her strings vibrate
and the room’s lamp
has also felt your absence
because it’s light doesn’t like to
light up my sad night
In this text, and many other tango lyrics you will find words that are not in the Spanish dictionary. Slang words from the Río de la Plata that together became a dialect called ‘Lunfardo‘. It was offcourse inevitable that in a place like the arrabales, where people from so many different country’s came together, the Spanish language, the language of their new homeland, but not their own language, get’s mixed with Italian words, African words, dialect from the gauchos that moved to the city. In this way a new language sprang from this lower class of society. The name for this dialect was invented by the arrogant upper class. It comes from the word ‘lunfas’, a word used for fellons and burglers around 1900. Because policemen mainly heard the new slang out of the mouths of criminals, they classified it as gangster language and started to call it ‘lunfardo’. This term was later even taken over by the people who spoke this language. However it was not a language of thiefs it was the slang used by the people living in the arrabales. Up until today lunfardo words are still used and as you will see later in this paper, even recently written tangos use lunfardo. Also there is an academy in Buenos Aires, the ‘Academia Porteña del Lunfardo’ that teaches the language and history and is working to keep lunfardo alive. On the internet side Todotango there is a lunfardo dictionary. Todotango writes that, in 1943, under Perón, the lunfardo language was prohibited. Since ‘mi noche triste’ consisted of quite some lunfardo words, new lyrics had to be written. Unfortunately i couldn’t find this new version.
The legend: Carlos Gardel
Carlos Gardel was born on the 11th of december in 1890 in the South-French Toulouse, under the name Charles Romuald Gardes. His father Paul Laserre, was already married, so his mother Bertha Gardel had to take care of him and herself alone. In the hope to create a better life for her and her son, she moved to Buenos Aires when Charles was three years old. They found their first residence in a conventillo in the citycenter. Very rapidly Bertha had found a job as an ironing lady. Money was scarce, but still Bertha managed to send Charles to school. There he joined in some choirs and ‘Carlitos’ soon became well known for his beautiful voice. Carlos had to help to make a living. He took on different jobs, but his favourite was in the theatre. He helped pulling up and letting down the curtains with opera shows and he soon became a great opera lover. After work he used to amuse his colleagues by singing and acting his interpretations of the characters. At a young age, Carlos started to perform in pubs and diners. He didn’t improvise, but sang creole folksongs and accompanied himself on guitar. In 1910 Charles took on the name Carlos Gardel, because it sounded more creole than his real name. Rumours of Carlos’ musical talent soon spread through the city. The news about this singing miracle finally reached José Razzano, a singing star from the other side of the city. Friends and admirers organised a duel between the two and this was a start of a very fruitful musical duo. They started touring through the provinces of Argentina and their real breakthrough came in 1913 when they sang together in the famous cabaret Armenonville. Up until ‘mi noche triste’ they solely played creole folkmusic. They recorded their first record in 1917. In 1925, José Razzano had to quit the duo for medical reasons and Gardel decided to continue solo. He recorded many records and gained fame in Europe, and especially France. Because of the film (non-silent movies were just invented) Gardel expanded his fame even more. On the set of his first movie, ‘Luces de Buenos Aires’, he met film journalist Alfredo le Pera. This man became scenario writer of Gardels’ films and also lyricist for his compositions. Altough Gardel couldn’t read notes, he did compose a lot of his own songs. If a melody came to his mind, he asked the musicians he played with to write it down for him.
In 1934 Gardel went on tour in North America, where he was also welcomed with open arms. His tour through South America in 1935 rapidly and brutally came to an end when in the Colombian city Medellín during lift-off, his plain crashed into another plain and exploded. Almost all passengers died, including Gardel and Le Pera. Still today admirers from the Río de la Plata and beyond, come to visit his grave and pay their respects to ‘el Mudo’ (the mute) as they called him after his death. He will always be the hero of the people from the Río de la Plata.
What was so special about Gardel, apart from his charismatic appearance? Violinist Emilio Balcarce, who played, arranged and composed for important tango orchestras in the 30’s comments the following about Gardel: ‘He had an astonishing expressive baritone with a natural vibrato. He meant everything that he sang, that means, everything that he sang and spoke, so he succeeded to merge the musical and literary content of a song to a whole. He could use his voice in so many ways, that he was able to divide, accentuate and shape the melodies in such a way, that it agreed with the content and the style of a song. Within the years he developed a unique way of phrasing. Halfway a bar he entered when the instruments made a pause and he sang through every bar line.’ 6 This way of singing became ‘the way’ of singing tango. Many followers imitated Gardels’ way of phrasing and expressing.
‘Gardel con pollera’ (Gardel with a skirt): Nelly Omar
A legend in the footsteps of Gardel, is Nelly Omar. It had a reason that she got the nickname ‘Gardel con pollera’. Nelly Omar was born in the city Guaminí, west of the province of Buenos Aires, on the 11th of december in 1911 as Nilda Elvira Vattuone.’ Her diction, her frasing, her technical perfection, her good taste, in short, her interprative quality, make Nelly Omar an example and the paradigm of a singer, who today when she is nearly ninety years old, keeps on pleasing us with her still fresh voice.’ This was Nelly Omar described on todotango. Her Genoese father was the forman at a cattle station, but also played guitar. Italian folksongs as well as local musical radio shows were constantly played in the Vatuone household, existing of ten children. At a young age, Nelly met Carlos Gardel, since her father organised a Gardel-Razzano concert in the town. Father Vattuone passed away when Nelly was 11 years old. The mother moved to Buenos Aires with her children and found a job in a factory. Nelly spend a lot of time listening to music. In 1924 she auditioned for the play ‘Cenizas del fogón’. She got accepted immediately. The piece was played on the radio and apart from singing, she also had a brief performance as an actress. In 1932 an 1933 on the same radiostation and others located in the same building she appeared with her sister Nélida, singing folkloric tunes as a duo, but the tangos’ Nelly always sang alone. Soon after she joined the play ‘Cuadros Argentinos’. This was first performed on radio and after on different stages in neighbourhoods and countrytowns. In 1937 popular magazine ‘Poll’ named her the best female singer. During the following years she married, eight years later divorced and she entered a solo career on stage, radio and even film. The Society of Authors and Composers gave her a medal and she was designated as ‘The dramatic voice of the tango’. In this period she formed a working and personal relationship with great poet Homero Manzi. She became an inspiration for some of his tangos’ (not for the famous tango ‘Malena’ though, despite of what the rumour said for a while). Nelly Omar didn’t make any recordings until 1946, because up until that time, record companies didn’t see good business in female voices. During these years, Nelly supported the Perónista party. Evita Perón was a great admirer of her and they became friends. Evita insisted on Nelly’s appearance on radio on an occasion. To thank Evita for her kindness, Nelly recorded some songs associated with Evita and her followers. Juan and Evita Perón were big supporters of the artists that supported their party. When in 1955 Juan Perón was overthrown, his supporting artists were cut-off from their work opportunities. Nelly Omar was not heard publicly in Argentina for the next twenty years. In this period she went to Uruguay and later to Venezuela, living in poverty. She finally began singing in a small tango bar in Buenos Aires. To cover her worn-off clothing she wore a poncho with her gigs. This poncho became a trademark of her revived career. She slowly began a new recording career in the 1980’s. In 1997, at the age of 86, she recorded a new cd, with a voice that many still find surprisingly young.
Homero Nicolás Manzione (November 1st, 1907 – May 3, 1951), as Homero Manzi’s real name is, is one of my favourite tango poets. I adore his melancholic way of writing. I can not help but being sucked into his stories. His main theme is death. Death of a loved one, death of an important passage in one’s life. Longing and nostalgia are always present in his lyrics. Manzi doesn’t use lunfardo words. He has an intelligent way of writing, but still the lyrics are understandable for a big audience. One of his most recognised works is the tango canción ‘Sur’ written to music of Aníbal Troilo:
SOUTH: A melancholic evocation dedicated to the most popular Buenos Aires neighborhoods in the southern part of the city. With few words, the author remembers situations, describes landscapes, strokes which every inhabitant in Buenos Aires recognizes at once. These memories and these descriptions are a farewell, the author bitterly complains about dead hopes, the neighbourhoods and people that have changed so much and are now unrecognizable.7
San Juan y Boedo antigua, y todo el cielo, San Juan and old Boedo, and the whole sky
Pompeya y más allá la inundación. Pompeya and further on the flood
Tu melena de novia en el recuerdo The manes of your girlfriend in your memory
y tu nombre florando en el adiós. and your name flourising in the farewell
La esquina del herrero, barro y pampa, The corner of iron, mud and pampa (open area on the outskirts of a town)
tu casa, tu vereda y el zanjón, your house, your sidewalk and the ditch
y un perfume de yuyos y de alfalfa and a scent of herbs and alfalfa
que me llena de nuevo el corazón. that fill my heart again
paredón y después… thick wall and behind…
una luz de almacén… a light of a shop….
Ya nunca me verás como me vieras, you will never see me as you would see me
recostado en la vidriera leaning against the window
y esperándote. and waiting for you
Ya nunca alumbraré con las estrellas Never again will the stars illuminate
nuestra marcha sin querellas our walk without quarrels
por las noches de Pompeya… in the nights of Pompeya
Las calles y las lunas suburbanas, The streets and the suburban moons
y mi amor y tu ventana and my love and your window
todo ha muerto, ya lo sé… it all died, i already know
San Juan y Boedo antiguo, cielo perdido, San Juan and old Boedo, lost sky
Pompeya y al llegar al terraplén, Pompeya and by coming back to earth
tus veinte años temblando de cariño your twenty years trembling with love
bajo el beso que entonces te robé. beneath the kiss that i thus robbed from you
Nostalgias de las cosas que han pasado, Nostalgia of things that have passed
arena que la vida se llevó Sand that life took
pesadumbre de barrios que han cambiado Pain of neighborhoods that have changed
y amargura del sueño que murió.3 and aching of the dream that died.3
The start of female participation in vocal tango
The lady’s who paved the way to female singers in tango were Azucena Maizani and Rosita Quiroga. Azucena, nicknamed ‘Ñata Gaucha’ , little nose of the countryside, had her breakthrough in 1923. From then on she was celebrated as the first ‘cancionista de tango’ (female tango singer). Already as a young girl she wanted to be a singer, but she wound up being a sewing lady. During her work she was always humming along with the tangos on the radio. One evening she went to see a performance of Francisco Canaro and his orchestra in the cabaret Pigalle on Calle Corrientes. She was so bold to step up to Canaro on his break. After a short rehearsal he let her sing two tango’s and the audience was enthusiastic. Azucena made a life changing decision. She quit her job and auditioned in the Teatro Apollo, where they hired her immediately to play small roles. Shortly after, famous composer and pianist heard Azucena sing on a birthday party of one of her fellow actresses and she impressed him deeply. He arranged an engagement with the ‘Teatro Nacional’ for her and wrote the tango ‘Padre Nuestro’ for her, which meant her breakthrough. She performed dressed very masculine or as a gaucho. This aggressive image for a woman was conflicting with the standard at that time. ‘The drama with which she performed every song, was welcomed by the audience. She spoke more than she sang and won the people for her with a voice that expressed tears, complaints and anger.’ 6 As her colleague Nelly Omar described her. Azucena had her fair share of drama, that she obviously used in the expression of her tango’s. She got married to Juan Scarpino in 1928. They had a son that died at an early age, wich left their marriage to die soon after. In 1929 she got an artistic and romantic relationship with violinist Roberto Zerrillo, with whom she toured throughout the country and later they travelled to Spain and Portugal. They returned to Buenos Aires in 1932, where her musical place was taken over by other female singers, such as Mercedes Simone. With a lot of heard work, Azucena gained back her place in the spotlight, being included in several films as a singer. But in 1936 she underwent a new love and financial frustration. Her new partner and artistic manager committed suicide when it became known that he had cheated on her. Off course this event brought her down and in depression for a while, but later she re- established herself in the public eye and a month later she appeared in the final scene at a theatre play. This performance was a great success. The room was full and the audience were mostly women touched by her recent drama. In 1938 she made a long tour through the United States and she shot her last movie. In the 40’s she made some recordings and some tours, but her name moved to the background. She had a stroke in 1966 and she died almost forgotten on January the 15th in 1970. She had made 270 recordings in her life and she was also a composer. Gardel recorded her tango ‘la canción the Buenos Aires’. ‘Undoubtedly Azucena Maizani was a pioneer and one of the greatest female singers in the genre, her tragedy is revealed, not only in her life and work, but also in the miserable end of her last days.’ 7
Also Rosita Quiroga ended up in the tango by coincidence. At her time it was fashion to give away records with songs and wishes of luck as a present. One day she accompanied a friend that wanted to make such a present to record label Victor. Out of boredom she sang a song as well and funnily enough they immediately offered her a record-deal. She had a different style than Azucena Maizini. She came from the neighbourhood la Boca, situated near the harbour. The ironic and folkloric undertone in her repertoire sprang from this background. She spoke the slang and vulgar words that the dock workers and cart drivers from her neighbourhood did. ‘The journalist Jorge Göttling called her the “Piaf from the outskirts of Buenos Aires”.’ 7 Rosita began recording for ‘Victor’ in 1923. At that time artists weren’t payed for radio performances, but Victor ‘borrowed’ his artists to radio stations to promote their records. From 1927 on the radio developed a somewhat strange way of paying. Traders payed the radio stations with their products, to advertise for them. Because everyone was in the studio the whole day, and they took turns in front of the microphone, the eatable products were shared as lunch. Later this familiar atmosphere at the radio changed. She couldn’t adjust to the new working atmosphere that existed of contracts, assigned recording times and competition between the colleagues. From 1936 on she only recorded records for abroad. She didn’t need to worry about money, because she married an important man in Victor, the record company. Because of this she had time to help yet unknown singers, such as Mercedes Simone, to the top. She went to record again in 1952 . In 1970 she had travelled to Osaka in Japan, where she was invited by a group of tango lovers that named their group after her. Rosita was mostly accompanied by guitars, or she accompanied herself on guitar, but in the beginning of her career she was also accompanied by different orchestras that were signed to the Victor label. For many years the poet Celedonio Flores wrote only for her. In this time he created 24 lyrics, including ‘Muchacho’. On September the 14th in 1984, Rosita officially said goodbye to her audience, this was 32 days before her death.
Mercedes Simone, nicknamed ‘la Dama del Tango’ (the lady of the tango) was born on April the 21st, 1904 in the little town Villa Elisa. Later the family moved to La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. Here she started singing in a school choir. As a teenage girl she was working as a shop assistant and later in a print shop. This is where she met her husband Pablo Rodriguez. He was a guitar player and singer that toured around neighbouring towns during the weekend to make some money with his music. Rodriguez was advised by a befriended composer to let Mercedes sing in his shows. In 1926 she officially premiered, accompanied by her husband. This premiere was in the ‘Los Dos Chinos’ tea room in Bahía Blanca (between the pampas and Patagonia). After some more shows in the provinces she and her husband went to Buenos Aires were they played together with guitarist Reynaldo Baudino in the ‘Nacional’ , the most important cafe in the city. Mercedes and her husband settled in Buenos Aires and there she performed in several theatres, until she was picked out by ‘Radio Nacional’ managers. She performed at this station for six years. Mercedes recorded her first record on December the 15th in 1927 with the record company ‘Victor’. She performed at radio channels and stages all over the continent. She became very famous in amongst others, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela Chile, Cuba and Brazil. In 1933 she took part in the movie ‘Tango’, considered as the first Argentine movie with soundtrack, and others. She passed away on October the 2nd in 1990. Before this research i didn’t listen to her much, but what a voice! Her voice is quite low (mezzo-soprano) compared to singers such as Azucena Maizani and Libertad Lamarque. This gives her so much power and warmth.
The last female singer i’d like to describe is Libertad Lamarque (November 24, 1908- December 12, 2000). She was born in Rosario. Her parents married when her mother already had six children from another man. Her father, Gaudencio Lamarque, son of French parents was a convinced anarchist (this explains also the name they gave their daughter, meaning freedom). There was a lot of listening to music, reading and speaking about politics in the household Lamarque. Libertad performed in plays with her brothers and sisters, already at a young age, because her father wrote plays to express his political ideas to the world. Libertad’s talent made the family move to Buenos Aires, to try to make possibilities for her there. She went to audition at the ‘Teatro Nacional’ with her parents at her side and a recommendation letter of a journalist from Rosario in her pocket. She went to sing with the choir and she got to play a small role. In 1926 she debuted in the play ‘La muchacha de Montmartre’ by José Saldías, singing in a vocal trio. The director was very enthusiastic about her skills and asked her to sing a solo in the end of the play. Two months later she performed on radio and then she got a contract at the Victor label. She got married to the theatre prompter (souffleur-dutch) Emilio Romero. She had a daughter with him, but she soon realised that this marriage was a mistake. After twelve years they divorced and then she was in a relationship with pianist Alfredo Malerba till the end of her days. In 1929 she played in a one-act farce ‘El conventillo de la Paloma’ for two years, but she began to miss being on stage solely as a singer. She quit and began a long tour through Argentina and Paraguay. When she entered a female singer contest at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, she won the first prize and got the title ‘Queen of Tango’. As well as Libertad Lamarque and Rosita Quiroga, she played in the movie ‘Tango’. The year 1935 was a difficult year for Libertad. She tried to commit suicide while on tour in Chile and a while after, her ex-husband kidnapped their daughter to Uruguay. After a long search and help from friends and an attorney, she got her daughter back. After this tragedy she got back to performing in plays and in a lot of movies, for which she got payed a lot of money. Her life as a singer got to the background to make place for Libertad the actress. During Perón, she fled to Mexico. She could return to Buenos Aires in 1955. She made a total of about 400 recordings in her life. This is more than any female singer had at that time. Libertad had a high soprano voice that for my taste doesn’t fit so well with the tango but she did compensate with the strength of her voice and her ability to really tell a story.
When i listened to the Uruguayan singer Julio Sosa for the first time in a version of “Mano a Mano” on youtube I got sucked into his story straight away. He has a very powerful voice and really tells a story when he sings. He looks in the camera when he sings this song, like he’s really singing it to you personally. He’s definitely acting while he’s singing, but still it’s real and not over emotional. Sosa didn’t live a long life. At age 35 he left a radio studio one day and drove into a traffic light with his car. Still in his short life he managed to gain the nickname ‘el Varón del Tango’ (the guy of the tango). Most of his repertoire was the same as Gardel’s but still he managed to attract big crowds in a time that tango was not so populair. Sosa was born in Las Piedras in Uruguay on the 2nd of February in 1926. His father was a rural labourer and his mother a washing lady. They lived quite a poor life so as soon as he finished elementary school Julio had to take on different jobs such as wagon washer, biscuit vendor, and drugstore distributor. But his ambition was to sing and so he joined several vocal contests. Also around this time he got married at the age of 16 but they broke it of again two years later. Sosa had already gone professional around this time, performing with Carlos Gilardoni’s orchestra in La Paz (Uruguay). Later he moved to Montevideo where he performed with different orchestras incluiding the one of Luis Caruso, with whom he recorded five records for the Sondor label in 1948. In june 1949 he was singing in several cafés in Buenos Aires. In August, he was discovered by the lyricist Raúl Hormaza, who quickly introduced him to Enrique Mario Francini and Armando Pontier, who were looking for an extra singer for their orchestra. Sosa got a big wage with them. In 1953 he switched to the orquesta típica of Francisco Rotundo, with wich he recorded for Odeon. In june 1955 he joined the orchestra of Armando Portier. He got married again in 1958 and had a daughter. He divorced again and then got his final partner, Susana Merighi, with whom he stayed until his early death.
Edmundo Rivero (June 8, 1911 – January 18, 1986), was one of the few famous tango singers that had an official musical education. He was born in the neighbourhood of Valentín Alsina, in the province of Buenos Aires. His parents stimulated their children musically from a young age on. Edmundo got classical education. He was a very disciplined student. The family moved to the city of Buenos Aires and from a young age on Edmundo studied on the national conservatory. Off course also Edmundo Riveros’ career started on the radio. His first appearance was together wit his sister Eva on ‘Radio Cultura’. He also played guitar and the radio station hired him to accompany the occasional guests on guitar. He also started to do the same job for radio Splendid. When one of the singers he had to accompany couldn’t come, he had to sing on radio Splendid. This occasion became his breakthrough. The first orchestra that hired “El Feo”(the ugly one, which was his nickname) was that of José De Caro. In this way he got in contact with Julio de Caro and other orchestra leaders. In 1944, Rivero was invited by Horacio Salgán to play in his orchestra. He sang with Salgán until 1947. Unfortunately there are no recordings of this. The impresarios at the recording company’s didn’t understand the advanced perception that Salgán had of tango and neither did they understand the unusual vocal range of Rivero. Only in the decades after, both started to record separately. His participation in the orchestra of Aníbal Troilo was the definite breakthrough for Rivero. During the three years he stayed with Troilo, he made over twenty recordings. In 1950 he started his solo career, mainly accompanied by an ensemble of guitars. During this period he also performed as an actor in amongst other the movie ‘El cielo en las manos’ and ‘Al compás de tu mentira’. Around 1965 he was chosen to interpret Jorge Luis Borges’ poems, that were set to music by Astor Piazolla and recorded under the title ‘el Tango’. This work was showed in theatres throughout Argentina and Uruguay. In the late 60’s Rivero was accompanied by the guitar ensemble led by Roberto Grela. During this period he also committed to writing. He wrote two books and composed and wrote lyrics for several tangos, some in Lunfardo. In 1969 Rivero opened his own tango café, ‘El Viejo Almacén’. Many national and international well known figures came to visit this place. At times Rivero performed here with the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese! On January 18, 1986, after being in the hospital since December because of heart failure he passed away in the city of Buenos Aires at the age of 74.
Astor Piazolla once called Edmundo Rivero and the singer Roberto Goyeneche the only two great singers of his time. ‘Rivero is a payador from the countryside; Goyeneche on the contrary, is a typical city man. He is unique and irreplaceable. He is the product of great human and artistic ripeness. Tone and colour of his voice reflect the soul and feelings of an urban citizen’ 6 Goyeneche, nicknamed ‘el Polaco’, is my personal favourite, mainly the late Goyeneche. A lot of commotion took place about this man in his later years. Use of great amounts of whiskey and cocaine roughened his voice immensely, causing a great amount of tango lovers to adore him and another group accusing him of moaning and screaming instead of singing. I personally love the sound of a rough lived life, full of frustration, anger, sarcasm but also love and passion in his voice. He has great phrasing and he’s a great reciter. ‘El Polaco’ lived from 29 January 1926 until the 27th of august 1994. He started his career already at the age of 18, as a singer in Raúl Kaplún´s orchestra. Later, in 1952, he joined the orchestra of Horacio Salgán. It was with this orchestra that Troilo heard him sing and offered him a place in his orchestra. Here he learned to understand tango as an instrumentalist, adjusting his throat and phrasing to the orchestra in harmony. ‘He was an interpreter respectful of tango rhythm, at a time when most soloists mixed it with ballads, with boleros or with sophisticated songs with a tango air.’ 7 Still he totally had his own style, he made the classical tangos his own. This is something that every singer (and instrumentalist) should find, in whatever style. I guess that not every singer realises this. For me it is something essential. For one, to be appreciated as a musician, but even more to make you enjoy what you do and develop endlessly. I think I’m beginning to find my own style more and more, but i’m still looking for a balance between learning from the masters and searching ways in myself. When studying a song I only listen to the original version and maybe some different versions a few times and then I find my own way. For the moment this way satisfies me a lot, because i keep on finding ways in myself with a little help from teachers and fellow musicians. But to really learn the language of the music I have to get into the history more, listen more. Writing this thesis is the perfect opportunity for this.
In the 60’s and 70’s the tango went through a crisis. For the youth it was the music of their parents and grandparents, old fashioned, conservative. The biggest depression of the tango took place during the dictatorship in the 70’s off course, when many Argentinean and Uruguayan artists had to leave the Río de la Plata to not be deported and killed by the regime. Luckily there was a handful of musicians, composers and poëts that continued to develop and renew the tango, whether on the Río de la Plata or in their refuge country’s. Thanks to a.o. Astor Piazolla, Horacio Ferrer, Chico Novarro, Hector Negro, Eladia Blázquez and María Elena Walsh the tango is still alive, loved and developed up until today. The famous duo existing of the Argentinean bandoneónplayer and composer, brought up in New York, Astor Piazolla and the Uruguayan poët, Horacio Ferrer produced quite some pieces together, amongst the most famous the ‘Balada para un loco’:
‘Balada para un loco’
Las tardecitas de Buenos Aires The evenings of Buenos Aires
tienen ese qué sé yo, ¿viste? have this, i don’t know, don’t you think?
Salís de tu casa, por Arenales. You leave your house, past Arenales.
Lo de siempre: en la calle y en vos. Like always: on the street and in yourself
Cuando, de repente, de atrás de un árbol, When, suddenly, from behind a tree,
me aparezco yo. I appear
Mezcla rara de penúltimo linyera Strange mixture of the last vagabond
y de primer polizonte en el viaje a Venus: and the first cop on his way to Venus:
medio melón en la cabeza, Half a melon on the head,
las rayas de la camisa pintadas en la piel, the stripes of the shirt painted on the skin
dos medias suelas clavadas en los pies, two half soles nailed in the feet
y una banderita de taxi libre and a little flag for vacant taxi
levantada en cada mano. Held up in each hand
¡Te reís!… Pero sólo vos me ves: You laugh! But only I see you:
porque los maniquíes me guiñan; because the manikins wink at me;
los semáforos me dan tres luces celestes, the traffic lights give me three sky-blue lights,
y las naranjas del frutero de and the oranges of the fruiterer
la esquina me tiran azahares. on the corner throws orange blossoms at me.
¡Vení!, que así, medio bailando y medio volando, Come! Because like this, half dancing,
y medio volando, half flying,
me saco el melón para saludarte, I take of my melon to salute you
te regalo una banderita, y te digo… I give you a little flag, and tell you…..
Ya sé que estoy piantao, piantao, piantao… I already know that i’m insane, insane, insane….
No ves que va la luna rodando por Callao; don’t you know that the moon will roll over Callao
que un corso de astronautas y niños, con un vals, that a line of astronauts and children, with a waltz,
me baila alrededor… ¡Bailá! ¡Vení! ¡Volá! will dance around me…Dance! Come! Fly!
Ya sé que estoy piantao, piantao, piantao… I already know that I’m insane, insane,
Yo miro a Buenos Aires del nido de un gorrión; I look at Buenos Aires from a sparrow’s nest
y a vos te vi tan triste… ¡Vení! ¡Volá! ¡Sentí!… and i see you so sad…. Come! Fly! Feel!
el loco berretín que tengo para vos: the crazy wish i have for you:
¡Loco! ¡Loco! ¡Loco! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
Cuando anochezca en tu porteña soledad, When the evening falls over your Buenos Aires solitude
por la ribera de tu sábana vendré over the shore of your sheet i will approach your bed
con un poema y un trombón with a poem and a trombone
a desvelarte el corazón. to keep your heart awake
¡Loco! ¡Loco! ¡Loco! Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
Como un acróbata demente saltaré, jumping like a demented acrobat
sobre el abismo de tu escote hasta sentir over the edges of your cleavage until I will feel
que enloquecí tu corazón de libertad… that i made your heart crazy of liberty
¡Ya vas a ver! You will see!
Salgamos a volar, querida mía; let us go out and fly, my sweet
subite a mi ilusión super-sport, board my super sportive illusion
y vamos a correr por las cornisas and we’ll go running through the cornices
¡con una golondrina en el motor! With a sparrow in the motor!
De Vieytes nos aplauden: “¡Viva! ¡Viva!”, The ones from Vieytes will applaud us: Hurray! Hurray!
los locos que inventaron el Amor; the mad ones that invented love;
y un ángel y un soldado y una niña and an angel and a soldier and a child
nos dan un valsecito bailador. dance us a waltz
Nos sale a saludar la gente linda… the beautiful people will come out to salute us
Y loco, pero tuyo, ¡qué sé yo!: and crazy, but yours, I don’t know!
provoco campanarios con la risa, I provoke church bells with my smile,
y al fin, te miro, y canto a media voz: and finally, i look at you, and sing in medium voice
Quereme así, piantao, piantao, piantao… Love me like this, insane, insane, insane
Trepate a esta ternura de locos que hay en mí, climb in this tenderness of crazy people that lives in me
ponete esta peluca de alondras, ¡y volá! put on this wig of larks and fly!
¡Volá conmigo ya! ¡Vení, volá, vení! fly with me now! Come, fly, come!
Quereme así, piantao, piantao, piantao… Love me like this, insane, insane, insane
Abrite los amores que vamos a intentar Open your love/heart cause we will try
la mágica locura total de revivir… to revive the magic of total insanity
¡Vení, volá, vení! ¡Trai-lai-la-larará! Come, fly, come! Trai-lai-la-larará!
¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Viva! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Loca ella y loco yo… Crazy she and crazy me……
¡Locos! ¡Locos! ¡Locos! Insane ones! Insane! Insane!
¡Loca ella y loco yo! Crazy she and crazy me!
Although the topic is still one of the two major topics from the old tangos, love, the style is totally different. Much more humour is used; the tone of the text is so much lighter. I love his style, it speaks to the imagination so much, it is so easy to accept Ferrer’s invitation into his imagination. Although to sing, the older, more dramatic lyrics of for example Homero Manzi appeal to me more at this moment, because Ferrer’s lyrics need an even more storytelling way of singing, of presenting the song. It’s more theatrical and i don’t have enough experience for that yet. Horacio Ferrer uses Lunfardo words in his texts and even added some words and sayings to the Lunfardo. Ferrer was born in Montevideo in 1933. Apart from his famous cooperation with Piazzolla, he also wrote for amongst others Aníbal Troilo and Julio de Caro. With Piazolla he wrote an entire Opera, called ‘María de Buenos Aires’. Ferrer is also a tango historian. He teaches on, and is president of the academy for tango in Buenos Aires, the ‘Academia Nacional del Tango’.
A great singer that owed her success to Piazolla and Ferrer is Amelita Baltar. She sang the title role in the opera ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ and ‘Balada para un loco’ gave her the biggest success. Ferrer said the following about her: ‘With her mysterious, suggestive and darkened by tobacco distinct voice, with her temper and authenticity of woman of the modern Buenos Aires, she created a new way of interpreting tango. In her talent, our numbers found the exact echo that we were looking for.’7 Her artistic cooperation with Piazolla ended with the termination of their love affair. Up until today (at age 69)Amelita Baltar is still performing all over the world. She plans her shows until the smallest details.
One of the few women that made a name for herself in tango poetry is Eladia Blásquez. This daughter of spanish immigrants wrote lyrics for different styles of songs, but from the 60’s on she mainly concentrated on writing tango lyrics. They call her ‘Discépolo con Faldas’ (Discépolo with skirt), because she uses and elaborates his themes in her lyrics, though in a milder way. She wrote 33 tango lyrics in total amongst others the lyrics to Piazollas’ ‘Adios Nonino’ (although this piece enjoyed more worldwide fame instrumentally).
Adios Nonino Farewell Grandfather
Desde una estrella al titilar… from a star that when it flickers
Me hará señales de acudir, gives me signs to come
por una luz de eternidad to a light of eternity
cuando me llame, voy a ir. when it calls me i will go
A preguntarle, por ese niño by asking, for this child
que con su muerte, lo perdí, that with his dead i lost
que con “Nonino” se me fue… that left me with grandfather
Cuando me diga, ven aquí… when it told me, come here
Renaceré… Porque… came back to life…..because
¡Soy…! la raíz, del país I am! the smile, of the country
que amasó con su arcilla. that was mixed with it’s clay
¡Soy…! Sangre y piel, del “tano” aquel, I am! Blood and skin, from an Italian
que me dio su semilla. that gave me his seed
Adiós “Nonino”.. que largo sin vos, Farewell grandfather…how long without you
será el camino. will be the road
¡Dolor, tristeza, la mesa y el pan…! Pain, sadness, the table and the bread!
Y mi adiós.. ¡Ay! Mi adiós, And my goodbye..! Ay! My goodbye
a tu amor, tu tabaco, tu vino. to your love, your tobacco, your wine
¿Quién..? Sin piedad, me robó la mitad, Who? Without passion, robbed half of me
al llevarte “Nonino”… by taking you grandfather
Tal vez un día, yo también mirando atrás… Maybe one day, me to, looking behind
Como vos, diga adiós ¡No va más..! Like you, will say farewell It doesn’t go anymore!
Y hoy mi viejo “Nonino” es una planta. And today my old grandfather it is a plant
Es la luz, es el viento y es el río… it is a light, it is the wind, it is the river
Este torrente mío lo suplanta, this current of mine takes place
prolongando en mi ser, su desafío. prolonging in my being his struggle
Me sucedo en su sangre, lo adivino. It will happen to me in his blood, i predict it
Y presiento en mi voz, su propio eco. and present in my voice, his echo
Esta voz que una vez, me sonó a hueco That voice that one time, sounded hollow to me
cuando le dije adiós Adiós “Nonino”. when it said farewell farewell grandfather
¡Soy…! La raíz, del país I am! The smile, of the country
que amasó con su arcilla… that mixes with his clay
¡Soy…! Sangre y piel,del “tano” aquel I am! Blood and skin, from an Italian
que me dio su semilla. that gave me his seed
Adiós “Nonino”… Dejaste tu sol, Goodbye grandfather… you left your sun
en mi destino. in my destiny
Tu ardor sin miedo, tu credo de amor. your warmth without fear
Y ese afán… ¡Ay…! Tu afán and this energy…Ay! your energy
por sembrar de esperanza el camino. to fill the road with hope
Soy tu panal y esta gota de sal, I am your honey-comb and this drop of salt
que hoy te llora “Nonino”. today i cry for you grandfather
Tal vez el día que se corte mi piolín, maybe the day my cord will be cut
te veré y sabré… Que no hay fin. i will see you and know….that there is no end.
You see that this lyric again falls back on the theme off death. The style of writing is more
old-fashioned than Ferrer’s style. It does have, like Ferrer’s lyrics a more storytelling touch to it, also with a recited part. Probably also because this fit’s Piazolla’s style.
The vocal tangos of today
Since the 80’s there is a big revival in the interest in tango, actually all over the world. New compositions are made, new lyrics are written. The new generation of tangueros is called ‘la Guardia Joven’ (the young guard). A poet of this recent time is for example Alejandro Szwarcman, born in Buenos Aires in 1961.’Szwarcman’s arrival in the tango scene means an undeniable contribution to the poetry of the genre. So his voice is added to the continuity of the great and renowned creators of all the periods of tango-song up to the time of the glorious 40s which is continued by the poets that came in the late 60s and during the 70s. His oeuvre and his uninterrupted activity are allied to deny the worn-out criticism by those who hide their lack of sensitivity and knowledge by repeating the already anachronistic and comfortable commonplace phrase about the “absence of poets and lyricists in the latter decades of tango”. The choice of his path has not been the easiest one since in his oeuvre he bets on the artistic quality against the search of the “supposed” success at any cost. His lyrics, besides portraying the city of our time, are involved with the problems of man today and pose original approaches and subject-matters, keeping without concessions his loyalty to the poetic language and staying close to what is popular. All this is penned with a natural handling of the craft of song writing.’7 The composer with whom he works most is José Ogivieki. The next piece is made by this duo:
Me estoy dando cuenta que estás del tomate I’m realizing that you are a drinker
chiflado del mate, un loco de atar… crazy about mate, as mad as a hatter
No se qué querés, que los nervios te maten I don’t know what you want, that the nerves kill you
calmate un momento, apagá el celular. calm down for a moment, turn of your cell-phone
Pedile al mozaico galaico un cortado, ask a cut to the galaico mozaic
sentate a mi lado, quedate a charlar… sit down at my side, keep chatting
Bajá la pelota, ponela en el piso, lower the ball, put it on the floor
no seas marmota, te vas a infartar…. you’re not a marmot, you are going to shut down
¿Adónde vas?, ¿No ves que llueve todavía? Where are you going, don’t you know it’s still raining?
Y afuera es todo fulería y confusión… and outside everything is prostitution and confusion
¿No ves que Dios está escabiado en un andamio don’t you know that god is drinking in a scaffold (schavot-dutch)
y el diablo tiene ganas de pegarle un empujón? and the devil wants to beat a push
¿Adónde vas?, quedate un rato todavía where are you going, still stay a bit
que entre gomías vas a estar mucho mejor… cause between thrifts you will be much better
Acá en el bar perdura siempre la alegría here in the bar the happiness of the hours
de las horas que no apuran la locura del reloj…. that don’t finish the insanity of the clock always stays
¡Dejá de joder no me hablés de la guita! stop screwing around, don’t talk to me about money
Que el cuore palpita broncando demás. because the feeling heart is fighting the rest
Hablame de amores o de otros dolores, speak to me about loves or other pains
la guita es un yiro que viene y que va… money is a prostitute that comes and goes
Aflojate el saco, tomate el cortado take off your bag, drink your coffee
que está casi helado de tanto esperar… that is almost like ice because of so much waiting
No se que querés enchufado a “dos veinte”, I don’t know if you want to join at “two twenty”
que el bobo reviente y te diga ¡”arrevuá”! that the crazy bursts and tells you “au revoir” goodbye
¿Adónde vas?, ¿no ves que llueve todavía? Where are you going? don’t you know that it is still raining?
¿Quién te llenó de fantasías el melón…? who filled your head with fantasy’s?
Con ese cuento de correr detrás del vento with this story to run after money
nos afanan la alegría, nos enchufan un buzón… they swipe us the happiness, they join us a mailbox
¿Adónde vas? quedate un rato todavía Where are you going? Still stay a bit more
que entre gomías vas a estar mucho mejor. because between thrifts you will be much better
¡No ves que el mundo es una feria de miserias Don’t you know that the world is a fair of miseries
y en el charco de esa histeria vas a hundir tu corazón!
and in the puddle of this hysteria you will bury your heart!
This lyric could be addressed to a love, or a friend. I like that it is not about love or death. He criticises the society of today. The society that doesn’t give space to feelings, only watching the clock and chasing after money and succes. Compared to the other lyrics that I stated before this one has a content that is very different. You see that a lot of tango composers and lyricists nowadays are more and more trying to deliver a certain message to their public, want to express their critique about society. Another example of this is the tango group Astillero. ‘The orchestra, even though it is composed of classical instruments associated with tango, is revolutionary. It is the first sextet in the history of tango formed by two bandoneons, violin, cello, counter bass and piano. And there’s more: they only play their own new compositions. They have a repertoire of new tangos, instrumentals and songs, generating their own identity, inextricably linked with modern life. The sounds of Astillero are the sounds of Buenos Aires today and the way they play the music reflects the unbalance of this city in which we are immersed. It kicks, breaks, hurts, moves. The new lyrics add their weight in this rawness. A rough but tender voice, that cares and tears at the same time.’ 8
How did the tango canción originate, how did it develop until now and how will it develop in the future?
The tango developed in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the end of the 19th century. People from the lowest classes, such as European immigrants and gauchos that moved to the city we’re put together in living communities. In their difficult circumstances they found a way to express themselves through music. The musical mix of different cultures developed into a style named tango. At first the lyrics were improvised, light-hearted texts.
Carlos Gardel’ s performance of ‘mi noche triste’ in 1917 meant the birth of the tango canción. The lyrics of these songs are everything but light-hearted. The main subjects are death and betrayal by a loved one. A dialect called Lunfardo, that developed among the low class in Buenos Aires was integrated in tango lyrics.
Gardel introduced a way of singing that is still admired, imitated and developed up until today. He introduced a free way of phrasing. He sang over bar lines. In this way he was not only singing, but really telling a story.
With the era of the Tango Nuevo, initiated around the 80’s by Astor Piazolla came a new genre of tango lyrics. Foreman of this movement was Horacio Ferrer. His ‘ balada para un loco’ had a very theatrical style of writing, that also caught the attention of a younger audience. The main subject was still love. Off course this also required a more theatrical way of singing and performing.
The tango’s and their lyrics that are written nowadays contain more critique about society.
Is there a future for this genre? I am absolutely sure there is. I draw this conclusion from the fact that the style kept on reviving and renewing over the century of its existence. And still around me I see a lot of people falling for the attraction of the tango in music, song and dance. The fact that we have a tango department on the Conservatory of Rotterdam with young people enthusiastic for the style, shows a lot. We even have two teenagers studying tango! Unfortunately there is no possibility for vocalists to study on the tango department of Codarts at the moment. I hear a lot of singers around me warming up for the tango canción, so I guess this will lead to the possibility to study tango voice again in the future. What I do see is that the tango world is divided into groups. A group that adores the music of the ‘Guardia Vieja’ and the ‘Guardia Nueva’ and stays loyal to these styles. Then there is a group that uses the old tango’s and puts it into modern versions. The third group writes totally new tango’s and try to renew themselves constantly. I think all these streams will stay and need to stay for the continuing existence of this beautiful music.
- Tango, de bewogen geschiedenis van een dans – Helena Rüegg & Arne Birkenstock
- De geschiedenis van de tango – Ana Sebastián & Luis Labraña
- Tango Voices, songs from the soul of Buenos Aires & beyond – Donald Cohen
- For the translations of the tango lyrics I used: www.spanishdict.com and the lunfardo dictionary on www.todotango.com
Author and License
- This thesis is written by Mirre Valkenburg
- Text is released under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0