Que vachache (tango, 1926)

“Que Vachache” was the first of a serie of socially engaged tangos by Enrique Santos Discepolo. It depicts a society where money and social status are taking over moral values and other ideals such as love and integrity.

This is Discepolos’s second tango and his first attempt at depicting the absurdity of modern life. Here he speaks through the voice of a woman who tells her man what she thinks of him.

Get out of here and don’t you come back. I never want to be hungry again. You think you can change the world?

Go throw yourself in the river! Don’t bother me with your conscience!

What are you gonna do, values are out of fashion and Jesus is no better then a thief.

Money, lots of money. I want to live!

Que vachache” is an expression which means “what are you gonna do”. This is not lunfardo according to Jose Gobello but rather a silly or childish way of saying “que vas a hacer”. The rest of the text contains many lunfardo terms, some of which  were invented or used in a creative way by Discepolo.

However interesting or clever, this tango did not attract much attention at first. At the time he wrote it, Discepolo was a well-known playwrite and the author of another tango, “Bizcochito”, which is of no particular interest and remains forgotten to this day. Success came two years later with “Esta noche me emborracho(1928) and brought attention on “Que vachache“.

This sort of social comment is very characterist of  Discepolo’s work. Though he did explore and master other themes, this one remains strongly associated to him. This series of tangos deploring the loss of moral values in modern society culminates with “Yira Yira (1929) and “Cambalache (1935).

Que vachache was premired by Mecha Delgado in Montevideo and Tita Merello in Buenos Aires in 1926. It was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1927.


Peñas, Alberto. Recopilación antológica para una sociologia tanguera. Corregidor: Buenos aires, 1998.

Cambalache (tango, 1934)

“Cambalache” is a highly praised 1934  tango by Enrique Santos Discepolo. It was written in the context of the so-called “infamous decade” in Argentina and describes a society lost in the rise of materialism. Its popularity goes beyond the genre of tango with modern pop and rock interpretations.

The term Cambalache is a lunfardo expression referring to something like a junk shop or a mess. It is applied here to describe a society where moral values are set aside in favour of profit, social status, and the false illusion of progress.

Twentieth century, junk shop. If you’re not a crook you’re an idiot. Just go for it, don’t worry it will do. And we’ll meet again in hell.

Though these words were written at a particularly dark time in the history of Argentina, Discepolo’s observations about the rise of modern society continue to resonate beyond the 20th century and the context of South America.

Social injustice is a recurrent theme in tango poetry. It can be observed in the work of various authors from Angel Villoldo to Enrique Cadicamo. However it remains mostly associated to the work of Discepolo, also author of “Que vachaché”, “Qué sapa señior” and the equally famous “Yira Yira“.

“Cambalache” was written for the movie “Alma de bandoneon” (1935) and performed for the first time in public by Sophia Bozan at the teatro Maipo. It was recorded countless times by various artists including the orchestras of Francisco Lomuto (1934), Francisco Canaro (1935) and Juan d’Arienzo in (1947). It was never recorded by Carlos Di Sarli though it used to be one of his classics with Roberto Rufino. [1]

More modern recordings of “Cambalache” include those of Julio Sosa, Roberto Goyeneche, Edmundo Rivero, Susana Rinaldi, Nacha Guevara, Rubén Juarez as well as pop singers Julio Iglesias and Javier Calamaro.


[1] Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.

[2] Peñas, Alberto. Recopilación antológica para una sociologia tanguera. Corregidor: Buenos aires, 1998.

Esta noche me emborracho (tango, 1927)

“Esta noche me emborracho” is a 1928 tango by Enrique Santos Discepolo. It tells the story of an old man who ran into a woman he used to love. He finds her vulgar and ugly and is overwheled with regrets at the though of the foolish things he did for her.

To think that I was crazy for her! That for her beauty I commited treason.. lost my honour.. fell to my knees.. lost my friends and neglected my mother. All of this to end up here with nothing and to see her old and ugly.

“Esta noche me emborracho” means “tonight I’m getting drunk”, and so the old man says tonight he’s getting really drunk so he wont think about it.

This is the third tango writen by Discepolo and his first success as a lyricist.  Discepolo was a well-known playright and it was common in the 1920’s for tangos to be featured in popular plays. His two previous compositions were “Bizcochito” and “Que vachache“.

On a 1947 radio Belgrano program called “asi nacieron mis tangos”, Discepolo said this sort of poetry came to him following the death of a friend for whom he felt deeply. He began noticing the reality of misfortune, the loss of youth and beauty, and the unavoidable coming of death. This is the kind of pain he wanted to express in this tango.

“Esta noche me emborracho” was premiered atTeatro Maipo by Azucena Maizani and quikly became a huge success. It was recorded that same year by various singers and orchestras including Alberto Vila, Azucena Maizani, Ignacio Corsini, Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro with Charlo, Juan Maglio (Pacho) with Carlos Viván, La orquesta Tipica Victor (instrumental), Osvaldo Fresedo con Ernesto Famá, Francisco Lomuto (instrumental) and Juan d’Arienzo (twice) with Carlos Dante both as estribillista and solist.

Later recordings of Discepolo’s first hit include those of Hugo del Carril, Edmundo Rivero, Donato Racciatti with Tania and Ricardo Tanturi with Alberto Castillo.

Discepolo met his wife Tania at the cabaret Follies where she was signing “Esta noche me emborracho”. They were happily married until he died in 1951.


[1] Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.

[2] Peñas, Alberto. Recopilación antológica para una sociologia tanguera. Corregidor: Buenos aires, 1998.

Yira Yira (tango, 1929)

“Yira yira” is a famous 1929 tango by Enrique Santos Discepolo. It is one of the most profoundly cynical tangos ever written and is regarded as a reflection of Argentina’s painful social reality in the 1930’s. It remains a classic to this day and its popularity goes beyond the genre of tango with modern pop and rock interpretations.

Though Discepolo says “Yira yira” was coming to him before 1929 and describes a feeling of hopelessness he experienced in various circumstances in his life, it’s at the beginning of the terrible decada infama of the 1930’s that he found the words to write it down. It’s also during that period that he felt it the most deeply. [2]

“Yira yira” is only a part of a series of related tangos in which Discepolo explores the topic of decadent social values from various points of view. Other socially engaged tangos by Discepolo include ” Que vachaché” (1928), “Que sapa senior?” (1931) and “Cambalache” (1934).

In “Yira yira”, Discepolo offers a rather pessimistic outlook on human nature. He warns us that there is no true love in this world and everything deep down is motivated by selfish interests. You can search and hope all your life but on the day you die, when your last hopes prove to be vain, you will have to admit true compassion is nowhere to be found.

When all the bells you ring die out, and you look in vain for a brother to die in embrace, then you will understand (remember) these words.


You’ll see that everything is a lie, you’ll see that nothing is love, and to the world nothing matters, it goes round and round.

The word “yira” is a lunfardo expression meaning “goes round”.

“Yira yira” was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1930. It was also featured in one of his videoclips with a sketch where Discepolo presents the song  to Gardel himself. It was prohibited under the military government in 1943 due to the use of lunfardo and for ideological reasons as well.

Other recordings of “Yira yira” include those of tango, folk and pop artists such as la Orquesta Típica Victor, Ada Falcon, Ignacio Corsini, Edmundo Rivero, Roberto Goyeneche, Hugo del Carril, Francisco Canaro, Javier Calamaro and Julio Iglesias.


[1] Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.

[2] Peñas, Alberto. Recopilación antológica para una sociologia tanguera. Corregidor: Buenos aires, 1998.

Enrique Santos Discepolo

Enrique Santos Discepolo was a poet, playwright, actor, movie director and screenwriter. He is the author of some of the most philosophical and highly praised tango lyrics ever writen, including those of Yira yira“, “Uno” and Cambalache.

Discepolo was born in the neighbourhood of Balvanera in 1901. His father was a musician from Napoli who died when Enrique was only 5-years-old. Having lost his mother by the age of 8, he went to live with his older brother, Armando Discepolo, a successful young playwright who was 14 years older than him. Following the footsteps of his brother, he began acting in 1917 and was a renowned playwright in 1925 with his play “El Organito” premiered at the Teatro Nacional.

Discepolo wrote his first tango in 1926 for a play by José Saldías entitled “La porota”.  This tango entiteled “Bizcochito” is of little interest and remains forgotten to this day. However it was not long before Discepolo found his voice with Que vachacheand “Esta noche me emborracho”.

In 1928 Enrique’s fame as a poet was quickly established as his tangos was interpreted by popular signers Azucena Maizani and Tita Merello. Carlos Gardel recorded many of Discepolo’s first tangos including “Yira Yira(1929), which he also turned into one of the very first video clips in history 1930.

Traveling in Europe in the 1930’s, Discepolo began working as a movie actor, director and screenwriter. He wrote many more tangos including Cambalache (1934), “Desencanto (1937) “Alma de bandoneón (1935), “Uno (1943) “Canción desesperada (1944) and “Cafetín de Buenos Aires” (1948).

Discepolo was among the authors who took action to lift the prohibition of lunfardo under the government of Peron in 1949. Cambalache and “Unowere banned by the military government in 1943.

Discepolo was happily married to Tania, a Spanish signer who used to sign “Esta noche me emborracho” at Les Follies. He died of cancer in 1951 at age 50. On his death bed himself at that time, Homero Manzi wrote “Discepolin” to honour his memory.


[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. III). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Librerias Libertador, 2002. Print.

[3] Peña, Alberto. Recopilación antologica para una sociología tanguera. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998.

Sainete (theatre)

The sainete is a type of theatrical piece from 17th century Spain . It became popular in Argentina where it evolved in parallel with tango into the sainte criollo. Later in the 1920’s it played an important role in popularizing tango as a sentimental song in the style of Carlos Gardel.

In 17th century Spain, sainetes were short comedies to be performed during interludes. They usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters and included musical parts and singing. Their purpose was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a presentation.

When zarzuelas were divided betewen genero chico and genero grande in the mid 19th century, Spanish saintes became material for the genero chico and disapeared as an independant genre. In Argentina however, it continued to evolve, integrating elements of circus and local culture to form the sainte criollo. 

Unlike the original Spanish version, the sainte criollo is not pure comedy. It features scenes of ordinary life and elements of drama. It evoques, for exemple, life in the conventillos, the shared houses where new immigrants use to live in very close proximity while Buenos Aires was first growing as a city and where the first tangos and saintetes were fomented.

Later in the 1920’s, the sainete criollo played an important part in the renovation of tango and the emergeance of the guardia nueva. It offered a powerful platform for a new style of tango song to be popularized. The first so-called tango canción was “Mi noche triste by Pascual Contursi. It was presented to the public as a part of the sainete “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach. The success was huge and opened the way for countless classics to be composed, recorded and immediatly integrated into popular culture.


1 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino. La emancipación cultural (1884-1930). Buenos Aires: Galerna, 2002.

2 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. El sainete y el grotesco criollo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 2008.

Zarzuela (theatre)

The zarzuela is a form of Spanish musical theatre which played an important role in the gestation and popularisation of Argentine tango. In the early 19th century it introduced the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires, and later offered a platform to showcase Argentine tango as a new independant musical genre.

The first documented mentions of a zarzuela goes back to 1657 with the premier of “El golfo de las sirenas” by Calderon de la Barca. The term zarzuela comes from the name of the royal theater in Madrid where this type of musical play first appeared.

In the 19th century a short version of the zarzuela was created, the genero chico, which was more affordable and became popular in Latin american countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina. These short comedies were usually composed of a single act and lasted an hour or less. They were often inspired by sainetes, another genre of short musical play which also contributed to the evolution of tango later in the 1920’s.

One of the ways in which the zarzuela influenced the evolution of tango is by introducing the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires. Theaters were an important vehicle for songs to be popularized and the tangos andaluces not only became familliar to the porteños but soon inspired new local songs.

These so called “tangos criollos” did not yet constitute a distinct musical genre but a are regarded as one very primitive form Argentine tango. An excellent exemple of such “tango criollo” is Andate a la Recoleta” (1800), which is little more then a tango andaluz with adapted lyrics reflecting the reality of life in the new world.

Another way in which the zarzuela played a role in the evolution of tango is by providing a platform in the late 19th century to present and popularise the new Argentine tango. The first documented use of the word “tango” in the sense of tango porteño was found in the script of “Justicia Criolla”, a local zarzuela which featured the new musical genre and dance.

“Justicia Criolla” was premiered at the theater Olimpo in 1897, the same year the so-called first tango, El entrerriano“, was composed by Rosendo Mendizabal.


[1] Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino en Buenos Aires. Editorial Galerna, 2002. Print.

[2] “El dia que el tango tuvo nombre”. Clarín. Online. https://www.clarin.com/espectaculos/dia-tango-nombre_0_S1luFxZRKx.html


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