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.

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[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.