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history bites and notes

El esquinazo (tango, ~1900)

“El esquinazo” is one of the oldest tangos of the repertoire. It was composed by Ángel Villoldo around 1900 and is the archetype of the old tango-milongas of the guardia vieja. It had a phenomenal success in the cafes  of Buenos Aires where tango was making it’s debuts  at the turn of the 20th century and figures among the oldest tango recordings. This was the first great success of Villoldo before “El porteñito” and “El Choclo” in 1903.

According to Jose Gobello, “El esquinazo” is a lunfardismo meaning to let down or to dump someone. And so the lyrics by Carlos Pesce and Antonio Polito (A. Timarni) are about a man defiantly turning his back on a woman who disappointed him.

I care nothing for your love. Just keep hitting!

These words, combined with the peculiar knocking in the music, seem to have resulted in a habit of banging on tables and dishes during performance. In fact, the enthusiasm it generated grew to a point where an incident was reported to the police and “El esquinazo” was banned at the Lo de Hansen in 1902. It is said that the house was almost destroyed and a sign was posted by the owner saying “Permanently forbidden to perform El esquinazo. We beg you to be careful”.

Another indication of the popularity of “El esquinazo” is the fact that it figures among the oldest tango recordings. At a time when recording technologies were new and harldy available, “El esquinazo” was included in the repertoire of bands such as the Banda Española,  the Rondalla criolla and  the Orquesta internacional.

Less primitive recordings of “El esquinazo” include those of Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo, Donato Racciatti, José Basso, Los Tubatangos, and Los Muchachos de antes.

“El esquinazo” is the archetype of the tango-milongas of the 2X4 era. This is the kind of tango Sebastián Piana “exhumed” from “old partitions” to produce “Milonga sentimental” in 1931. Therefore it is the prototype of the urban milonga we know today as a subgenre of tango music.

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Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.

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

Payador

Payadores traditionally were gauchos and poets who’s art consisted in improvising verses while playing the guitar.  They played a fundamental role in the gestation of tango music and poetry at the end of the 19th century when they came to the city as their life style in the country disintegrated.

The word payada is related to “palabra” in Spanish, which means “word”.  So the payador speaks with improvised verses, contemplating, philosophizing, arguing and commenting the facts of everyday life. In the background a milonga, cifra, cielito, estilo or other folk rhythm flowing from their guitar.

Payadores usually performed on their own, but some of them entered into duels, defying one another with verses until one fails to keep up with the argument. This is the payanda “a contrapunto”. The confrontation could last hours or days and build great prestige for those who excelled at it.

When the gaucho’s traditional lifestyle was disrupted in the 19th century, payadores came to the city to perform in circus, bars and theatres for a living. Their verses began reflecting the reality and anecdotes of life in the city and this is where the first foundation of tango poetry came from.

The intertwining between payada and tango from 1890 to 1920 was profound and had lasting effects. Payadores began using lunfardo terms and singing tangos while early tangos had titles evoking the country such as “El choclo” (The corncob), “El estribo” (The Stirrup)The milonga became one of the fundamental musical style in the gestation of tango and Carlos Gardel himself was an extension of the last urban payadores, performing folk songs as well as tango and always accompanied by a guitar.

Great payadores who are known for their contribution to tango as signers and composers are Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón, José María Silva and Arturo A. Mathon. These are the voices we hear in  the most primitive recordings of tango songs.

As recording technology continued to progress and proliferate, the art of improvising became less relevant. Tango grew into the predominant musical genre in the city and the payada definitely lost ground in the 1920’s.

Las luces de Buenos Aires (movie, 1931)

“Las luces de Buenos Aires” is a 1931 Paramount movie featuring Carlos Gardel and his tango “Tomo y obligo“. This is the first full-length sound film featuring Carlos Gardel. It was filmed in the Paramount’s Joinville studios near Paris and marks the beginning of Gardel’s international career.

Before “Las luces de Buenos Aires”, Carlos Gardel appeared in the silent movie “Flor de durazno” in 1917. He also produced 10 short musical films or videoclips in 1930.  After “Las luces de Buenos Aires” he was featured in other Paramount movies including “Melodía de arrabal” (1933), “Cuesta abajo” (1934),  “El tango en Broadway” (1934), “Tango bar” (1935) and “El día que me quieras” (1935).

In “Las luces de Buenos Aires”, Carlos Gardel plays the role of a ranch owner, the estanciero Anselmo Torres. Anselmo and his girlfriend Elvira (Sofía Bozán) were happy and in love until she goes one day to the city looking for fame and fortune as a singer. In Buenos Aires she is treated with little respect but she does her best  to play the game and to become a star. Heartbroken Anselmo comes to get her but she rejects him. He persists in his intentions of getting her back and she end up returning to the estancia. ​

The movie features many scenes of signing and dancing both of tango and folclore. It was premiered in Septiember 1931 in Buenos Aires movie theatres and had a wild success not only in Argentina but in other Hispanic countries. This is the movie that made Gardel an international star and promoted tango yet to another level of popularity.

The music was composed by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez and performed by Julio de Caro with Francisco de Caro and Pedro Laurenz. It features the tango “Tomo y obligo” which drove spectators wild in movie theatres across Latin America and Spain. It is said that people applauded so loudly at «Tomo y obligo» that the operators had to rewind the movie and play it over again.

“Las luces de Buenos Aires” translates to “The lights of Buenos Aires”. It was written by Luis Bayón Herrera and Manuel Romero.

Julio De Caro

Julio de Caro was a violinist, composer and innovative director of the guardia nueva. With his sexteto he set many standards for modern tango music and it’s interpretation by the orquesta tipica. Like Carlos Gardel, he acted as a bridge between the guardia vieja and the Golden age of tango.

Julio de Caro was born in Buenos Aires on December 11, 1899. His father, José de Caro, was former director of a conservatory in Milan. He gave his son a high level of musical education but could never approve his choice of tango.

Early in life, Julio de Caro made a decision to leave his Father’s house. He made his debuts with Edurado  Arolas at the cabaret Tabarín in 1917. Performed with Fresedo’s cuarteto and the orchestra of Juan Carlos Cobian. And in 1924 he formed his own orchestra with his brothers Julio and Emilio de Caro, Pedro Maffia, Luis Petrucelli and Leopoldo Thompson.

De Caro’s orchestra is fundamental in establishing the musical standards of the golden age. Through Julio De Caro’s work as a composer and arranger, the musical structure of tango becomes more complex and is greatly refined with counterpoint, solos and variations. As a director, he establishes the traditional sexteto as a norm for a fully developed interpretation of tango.

An interesting particularity of Julio De Caro is his use of the violin corneta, a violin with a metalic horn for amplification. In times of acoustic technologies, it allowed for the violin to be hear in contracantos and solos during performance or recording.

As a composer, De Caro contributed many classics such as “Mala junta”, “Boedo”, “Orgullo criollo”, “El monito”, “Buen amigo”, “Tierra querida”, “El arranque”and “La Rayuela”. He arranged many tangos of the guardia vieja to allow their full execution by a sexteto without ever loosing their original essence. He left over 420 recordings, most of them between 1924 and 1932 with Victor first and then with Brunswick. He traveled to Brasil in 1927 and to Europe in 1930 where he participated in the filming of “Las luces de Benos Aires.

In 1933, De Caro began experimented with larger orchestras and other instruments, but his influence quickly declined due to the evolution of other orchestras. He continued to perform and to experiment in his own style. He recorded 38 tangos with modern technologies with  Odeon from 1949 to 1953.

Julio de Caro died in Mar del Plata in 1980. His date of birth, December 11, is the same as Carlos Gardel and was declared day of tango.

Milonga

The term milonga has many different meanings. It may refer to a genre of Argentine folk music, to a subgenre of tango music, to a subgenre of tango dance, or to a popular event where people get together to dance tango.

Originally, the milonga was a popular musical rhythm from the interior of Argentina. This is the milonga campera, a slow and melancholic folk rhythm related to the gaucho culture and payadores.  This rural milonga is relevant to the history of tango because it played a fundamental role in the gestation of tango music.

According to Roberto Selles, there were two main genre of primitive tango in the gestation period. One of them evolved from the tango andaluz and disappeared before the appearance of the orquestas típicas in the 1910’s. The other one is related to the milonga campera and lived throughout the end of the guardia vieja.

The milonga as a subgenre of tango music was introduced by Sebastian Piana in 1931 with “Milonga sentimental“. This urban version of the milonga was inspired by the tango-milongas of the guardia vieja and is characterized by a blend of milonga and habanera rhythms.  These urban milongas were adapted to the orquesta típica and further popularized by Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo and other directors of the guardia nueva.

The milonga as a dance is related to the urban milonga of Sebastian Piana. It is characterized by short, down to earth steps in the spirit of cayengue and early forms of tango dancing. The milonga lisa is a way of dancing milonga which is regular and on the beat. Milonga traspie includes many playful weight changes  on double time.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the term milonga it was commonly used to designate a popular event where afro argentines gathered to dance. And afro argentine dances were reffered to as tango. Today, the milonga is an event where people gather to dance Argentine tango.

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Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.

El nacimiento del tango. http://www.facurbana.com/tango.php?cc=162&t=El+nacimiento+del+tango&ss=Temas+del+Tango&s=Enciclopedia+del+tango

Milonga sentimental (milonga, 1931)

“Milonga sentimental” is a 1931 milonga composed by Sebastián Piana with the lyrics of Homero Manzi. This is the first milonga in the sense of an urban tango-milonga and subgenre of tango.

Originally the milonga was a slow and melancholic folk rhythm from the interior of Argentina. This is what we now call the milonga campera to distinguish it from the more modern subgenre of tango music.

During the early days of tango history, many tangos were little more then a milonga with habanera rhythm. These primitive tangos were common throughout the guardia vieja and then disappeared with  Julio De Caro and the music of the guardia nueva. This is the original tango-milonga which Piana meant to bring back to life with Milonga Sentimental. By asking Homero Manzi to compose the lyrics, he also turns this old fashion tango into a sentimental song like those of Carlos Gardel.

Milonga that made your absence
evocative milonga
Milonga never to be sung 
at your balcony
So you come back at night 
and go away with the sun
To tell you sometimes that "yes" 
or to yell at you that "no"

(casual translation)

“Milonga sentimental” was popularized by Mercedes Simone who performed it at the Teatro Solís in Montevideo with some success and recorded it for the first time in 1932. It quickly became a huge success and was recorded countless times by many others including Carlos Gardel, Charlo, Tania, Hugo del Carril, Fluvio Salamanca, Siriaco Ortiz, Adolfo Carabelli with Carlos Lafuente and Francisco Canaro with Ernesto Famá as well as with Ada Falcon.

Sebastián Piana recorded “Milonga sentimental” himself  as a piano solo and with recitado by Julián Centeya. Other milongas by Sebastián Piana and Homero Manzi include “Milonga del 900” (1933), “Pena mulata” (1940) and “Milonga triste” (1936).  Many of those new tango-milongas were recorded by orquestas típicas, including those of Francisco Canaro and Juan d’Arienzo.


Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.

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

Homero Manzi

Homero Manzi was a journalist, professor of literature, playwright, and one of the greatest poets of the golden age of tango. He is the author of lyrics of outstanding classics such as “Malena” (1941), “Barrio de tango” (1942), Torrente (1944) “Fuimos” (1945), “Sur” (1948), and “Che bandoneon” (1949). His words are profound and filled with poetic evocations of the city, the humble neighbourhood and love and life gone by.

Homero Nicolas Manzione Prestera was born in Santiago del Estero in 1907. He spent most of his youth in Buenos Aires in the neighborhoods of Pompeya and Boedo. There he met his friend Catúlo Castillo who’s father, Jose Gonzalez Castillo, was a playwright and tango lyricist. He was 15-years-old when he wrote his first vals “Porque no me besas” (1921) and only 19 he submitted his first tango, “Viejo ciego” (1926), to a poetry contest.

Explused from the Faculty of Law in 1930 because of his political implication, Manzione  spent some time in prison under the military regime. Then he became a journalist, playwrite and movie director. He was also co-founder of the Artistas Argentinos Asociados and director of the Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores de Música.(S.A.D.A.I.C.)

Throughout his career, Homero Manzi wrote for the best composers and directors including Pedro Maffia, Lucio Demarre, Osvaldo Pugliese and Anibal Troilo. His style was elegant and free of  lunfardo. Yet some of his compositions were banned by the military government in 1943 for being pessimistic or possibly immoral.

With Sebastián Piana he contributed to create a new genre of tango-milonga, the first of which was Milonga sentimental (1931).

Homero Manzi died of cancer in 1951. He was only 44-years old. Anibal Troilo who was working with him at that time expressed his sorrow in an instrumental tango, “Responso“.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.