Category Archives: Biographies

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.

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.

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“.

Alfredo Eusebio Gobbi

Alfredo Eusebio Gobbi was an acrobat, guitarist, signer and one of the first lyricists of tango history. With his wife, Flora Rodriguez, he formed a duo known as Los Gobbi or Los reyes del gramofóno. Together they traveled in Europe and the US performing and recording tango. Their son Alfredo Gobbi is a well known orchestra director of the golden age.

Alfredo Eusebio Gobbi was born in Paysandu in 1877. Little is known about his youth, except that he stood out as a signer and used to work as a clown and acrobat. He was 18-years-old when he first came to Buenos Aires with the circus Ansemi, and in 1900 he traveled to Spain with a theater company presenting  the argentine play “Juan Moreira”.

In 1905, Alfredo Gobbi married the chilean actress Flora Hortensia Rodriguez with whom he formed the duo Los Gobbi. Their repertoire was composed of folk songs and popular european rhythms, as well as tango and they were among the first voices to be recorded in Argentina both on cylinder and discs.

In 1907, they traveled to France where they recorded for Gath y Chaves. There they remained for 6 years, performing in prestigious venues such as El tabarín and taught tango to a dance teacher from the Faubourg St-Denis, E. Giraudet. This is where their son Alfredo Gobbi was born in 1912.

When the war broke out in 1914, Los Gobbi came back to Buenos Aires where they continued recording and performing. They were featured in the silent movie “Nobleza gaucha” (1915) and various sound films and radio programs until Alfredo died in 1938.

Alfredo Gobbi is the author of many tangos including “Sin madre”, “La entrerriana”, “Aguardate china”, “El criollo argentino”, “El tigre”, “El urugayo” and “La mimosa”, many of which were recorded in Paris.

Los reyes del gramofóno left 250 recordings on cylinder only and many more on disc. They worked with a wide range of labels including Victor, Odeon, Columbia, Atlanta, Pathé, Homokord, Polyphon, Gath y Chaves, Edison, Tocasolo and many others.

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Tango: 100 anos de historia .Vol. 3. Print.

Indart, Hugo. Los Gobbi. Latino America Viva. Online. https://web.archive.org/web/20131021065453/http://w ww.latinoamericaviva.com.au/morepages.aspx?pageid=losgobbi

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.

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[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.

Manuel O. Campoamor

Manuel O. Campoamor was a pianist and composer of the early days of tango. In his youth, he performed in private parties and houses as well as in casas de baile were tango was becoming popular at the end of the 19th century. He was one of the first artists to record in Argentina both as a soloist and as accompaniment of other pioneers including Linda Thelma, Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón and Ángel Villoldo.

Manuel Oscar Campoamor was born in Montevideo in 1877. He was only 7 years old when his family moved to Buenos Aires. There he learned to play piano on his own while working as a telegraphist. In 1897 he was hired at the luxurious department store of Gath y Chaves where he remained for 25 years, working his way from the accounting department to a management position.

While Campoamor relied on these jobs all his life for to make a living, he also began performing in public as a pianist. He made his debut at la Casa Suisa when he was 17 years old [2] and quickly made a name for himself, performing in private parties and houses where tango was not yet admitted. Then he began performing in casas de baile such as la Casa de Maria la Vasca and Lo de Hansen. He composed his first tango “Sargento Cabral” in 1899, followed by “El séptimo cielo” (1900), “La c…ara de la l…una” (1901), “La metralla” (1902), “La franela” (1903) and “Mi capitan” (1905).

The tangos of Campoamor are the fast paced, lighthearted and often naughty tanguitos of the 1890’s. These are among the very first compositions which can be fully distinguished from other musical genres that came into the creation of argentine tango such as the tango andaluz and the milonga.

By the time tango was beginning to gain popularity in Buenos Aires around 1910, Campoamor already felt that his music was going out of fashion and significantly reduced his musical activity. He returned to tango in the early 1920’s, forming a cuarteto with Raimundo Petillo. The cuarteto turned into a sexteto and together they went on performing tango in their own old fashion manner as other musicians were already moving into the guardia nueva.

Manuel O. Campoamor died in died in 1941, never adhering to any of the various currents of renovation tango had been through during his lifetime. He did no express any resentment about the musical evolution of tango and simply said he did not identify with it. He is remembered as one of the great pioneers and proponent of the guardia vieja.

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[1] Selles, Roberto. El tango y sus dos primeras décadas (1880-1900). La historia del tango. Corregidor, 1977. Print.

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

[3] Silbido, Juan. Manuel Campoamor. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/507/Manuel-Campoamor/

 

Rodolfo Biagi

Rodolfo Biagi was a pianist, composer and director of the golden age of tango. He is known for his bold, rhythmical style of interpretation which takes the piano out of the background and into the spotlight. His nickname, Manos Brujas, means “sorcerer’s hands”. He is the author of many popular tangos such as “Indiferencia”, “Humillacion” and “Campo afuera”.

Rodolfo Biagi was born in Buenos Aires in 1906. Growing up in a humble family in the neighbourhood of San Telmo, it was difficult to convince his parents to buy him an instrument in his youth. However, his insistence in becoming a musician was so strong they eventually agreed to buy him a violin and he went to study at the conservatory of La Prensa.

Soon after he began his musical education, Biagi discovered his preference for piano. He began working as a pianist at the Cine Colon when he was 13 years old and this is where Juan Maglio discovered him. He was invited to join the famous orquesta típica of Juan Maglio and began performing at the Cafe Nacional and Bar Dominguez on Avenida Corrientes. Later on he worked with the orchestra of Miguel Orlando at the Maipu Pigall, alternating with Elvino Vardaro, Cayetano Puglisi and Juan Bautista Guido. In 1930, he recorded with Carlos Gardel in the studios of Max Gluksmann.

After refusing an offer to travel to Spain with Carlos Gardel, Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan Bautista Guido and performed at the Cine Real and Cine Suipacha. There he missed performing in a cabaret and went back to the Pigall and Casanova with the orchestra of Juan Canaro.

In 1935, Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo performing at the Chantecler. Together they worked for 4 years forging their own styles until Biagi decided to assemble his own orchestra in 1939. This is when he began to fully express himself as a musician, taking his instrument another step beyond the simple role accompaniment which was usually reserved to the piano in tango orchestras.

Biagi made his debut as a director at the cabaret Marabu and Radio Belgrano. There he was remained 20 years and received the surname of Mano Brujas.

Rodolpho Biagi had a long successful career as a director. He worked with many singers including estribillistas Teofilo Ibanez and Andres Falgas in the beginning; Jorge Ortiz, Alberto Lago, Alberto Amor, Carlos Acuna and Carlos Saavedra later on in the 1940’s; Carlos Heredia, Carlos Almagro and Hugo Duval in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He appeared in the show Glostora tango club of Radio el Mundo and was the star of the television program entitled Casino Philips on Canal 13.

Rodolfo Biagi died on September 24, 1969 leaving 187 recordings as a director with the labels Odeon, Columbia and Music Hall. We can see him perform with the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo in the 1937 movie “Melodias portenas”.

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[1] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombre que hicieron el tango. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de Cultura Argentina, 2002. Print.

[2] Alvarez, Carlos. ”Biagi: Entrevista a Rodolfo Biagi en 1960”. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/286/Biagi-Entrevista-a-Rodolfo-Biagi-en-1960/

Juan D’Arienzo

Juan d’Arienzo was a violonist, composer and influential director of the guardia nueva. Also known as El rey del compas, or king of rhythm, his style of interpretation is characterized by a fast and steady beat which appealed to the youth in the mid 1930’s. With this renewed energetic style he gave a new impulse to tango as a dance and musical genre following the death of Carlos Gardel in 1935.

Juan D’Arienzo was born in the neighborhood of Balvanera to a family of Italian immigrants in 1900. He began studying violin at the Conservatorio Mascagni when he was 11-years-old and completed his education at the institute Thiebaud Piazzini. With his friends, Angel d’Agostino (piano) and Carlos Bianchi (bandoneon), he formed his first trio and began performing tango and jazz.

In 1926 Juan D’Arienzo decided to dedicated himself exclusively to tango. He performed in movie theaters with the Orquesta típica Paramount and the sexteto Los Ases. He also began forming his own orchestra and made his first recordings with Electra and with the voice of Carlos Dante.

When sound films entered movie theatres in the 1930’s, leaving many musicians out of a job, Juan d’Arienzo was hired to perform with his orchesta típica at the cabaret Chantecler. This is where he spent the best years of his career and became the orchestra director we remember today. This is where he began working with Rodolfo Biagi (piano) and encountered the cheerful style of interpretation which gave tango a second youth

The success of Juan d’Arienzo at the Chanteclerc was sudden and intense. He began recording with RCA Victor and appearing on Radio Mundo. Dance halls and tango orchestras were flourishing around the city. D’Arienzo began traveling to Montevideo and became a regular at Teatro Solis and Café Tupí Nambá. In 1937 he appeared for the first time in a movie, “Melodias porteñas”. This movie was followed by many others including “Yo quiero ser bataclana” (1941), “El cantor del pueblo” (1948), “La voz de mi ciudad” (1953) and “Una ventana al éxito” (1966).

Though he thought singers and tango songs were responsible for killing tango, taking the focus away from the beat, D’Arienzo worked with many distinguished estribillistas and signers throughout his career. Francisco Fiorentino, Alberto Echague, Hector Mauré and Armando Laborde all excelled at singing at the powerful speed and rythm of the orchestra.

An important detail to note is the existence of electric recording device in the 1930’s which allows singers to be heard in the middle of the orchestra. When Carlos Gardel turned tango into a song, giving tango yet another youth, he disposed only of acoustic technologies and a more gentle musical background was required in order for singers to be heard.

Juan d’Arienzo is the author of many milongas of the new urban genre as we know it in today’s milonga. Along with Sebasitian Piani, Homero Manzi and Francisco Canaro he contributed largely to impose this new genre in the 1930’s. This style of milonga must not be confused with the milonga campera, or from the country, which  actually played a part in the creation of tango itself.

While new musical styles were flourishing in the golden age, Juan D’Arienzo went on performing and recording with the same fast paced, rhythmical style. Critics said he had become repetitive and failed to evolve. This idea unfortunately persisted even though it is now completely irrelevant. Juan D’Arienzo obviously is one of the most innovative director of tango history and a visionary we must thank for opening the way to all the refinements of the Golden age he has been accused of not following. It’s also impossible to denie that he remains a favourite among dancers to this day.

Only when it became clear in the 1960’s that tango dancing was not in style anymore, Juan d’Arienzo finally made some changes to his music and began exploring in more melodic tone. He went on performing and recording activley until his death in 1976.

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

[2] Gobello, José. “Juan d’Arienzo” in Tango y Lunfardo. Chivilcoy, 1997. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/32/Juan-DArienzo/

[3] Jara, Fernanda. Hace 42 anos moría Juan D´Arienzo, El rey del compás. Infobae. Online. https://www.infobae.com/cultura/2018/01/14/hace-42-anos-moria-juan-darienzo-el-rey-del-compas/

Eduardo Arolas

Eduardo Arolas, also known as El tigre del bandoneon, was an influential bandoneon player, composer and director of the early days of the guardia vieja. He is the author of over 100 tangos including classics such as “Derecho viejo”, “La cachila”, “Retintin” and “Comme il faut”. With his inovative compositions and quality of interpretation, he contributed largely to define tango in it’s early stage. Many distinguished musicians of the guardia vieja made their debuts in his orchestra including Juan Carlos Cobian, Julio de Caro and Luis Bernstein.

Lorenzo Arola was born in Buenos Aires in 1892. He grew up in the neighbourhood of Barracas where his father owned a store. With his older brother he learned to play the guitar when he was 8-years-old and began playing in the cafes of la Boca. This is how he met Ricardo Gonzalez who first thought him to play the bandoneon. Together they performed as a duo until Eduardo decided to go his own way.

By the time he was 19-years-old Eduardo Arolas was and fully dedicated to music. He studied with Jose Bombig and opened a café called “Una noche de garufa” where he performed on his own. This is where he composed his first tango, which bears the same name as the cafe.

Like many tango musicians of the first generation, Eduardo Arolas couldn’t read or write music. But he was nonetheless a brilliant, prolific and innovative composer. He was also appreciated for his style of interpretation and phrasing, which was more fluid then other bandeonistas of that time and sets new standards for musicians.

With his talent as a composer and interpreter, Eduardo Arolas quickly became popular around the city. With Leopoldo Thompson (guitarra) and Ernesto Ponzio (violin), he began performing at Café La Turca and traveled to Montevideo. Back in Buenos Aires he formed another trio with Agustín Bardi (piano) and Tito Roccatagliatta (violin) and later on a cuarteto with flute. He was invited to perform at the prestigious cabaret Armenonville with Roberto Firpo in 1913 and then began forming his own orchestra.

With his orquestra típica, Eduardo Arolas continued performing in prestigious venues and cabarets such as El Estribo, L’Abbaye and Montmartre. He performed at Café Botafogo and Royal Pigall in In 1916 and Café Apolo in 1917. In those years he composed some of his most famous pieces and left recordings in which we can hear him play solo or with his orchestra.

During the last years of his life, Eduardo Arolas suffered from depression and alcoholism. He traveled extensively to Montevideo where he was a star at the carnavals of 1920 and to Paris where he performed at prestigious venues such as the Cabaret Parisien and Ermitage, contributing to the popularization of tango in the old world. He died in Paris in 1924. He was only 32-years-old.

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

[2] García Blaya, Ricardo. Eduardo Arolas. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/23/Eduardo-Arolas/

Estribillista

The estribillista is the singer of the orchesta típica of the 1920’s and 1930’s. It’s purpose is to perfom the estribillo (refrain) in such a way that the orchestra and the music remains at the center of attention. It differs from the cantor de orquesta (orchestra singer) of the golden age and solo tango singers.

In the early 1920’s, singing was reserved to soloists such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini. These singers used to perform with guitars or small band which would accommodate their voice and were not concerned with delivering a steady beat for dancing. Orquestas típicas were performing instrumental pieces only.

Francisco Canaro was the first director to incorporate a singer to his orchestra. In his memoirs he says he felt something was missing and so he invited Roberto Diaz to perform the estribillo and began experimenting with duos.

The challenges to integrate a singer to an orchestra were many at a time were there were no microphones and amplifiers. The voice of the singer had to be powerful enough to accompany the instruments in noisy public places, cafes and nightclubs. Cone were used sometimes but not an ideal solution estetically. Also it didn’t seem to occurre to anyone to slow down the pace or do major efforts to accomodate the voice of the singer until Anibal Troilo began working with Francisco Fiorentino in 1937.

Besides all of this the contribution of the estribillista to the orchestra was rarely credited. Singers were not regarded as members of the band and their names often did not even appear on recordings.

However the estribillista became popular by the end of the 1920’s and some soloists such as Charlo were associated to an orchestras. Juan Carlos Thorry and Ernesto Famá worked with Osvaldo Fresedo, Félix Gutiérrez with Julio de Caro, Dante with D’arienzo, Teófilo Ibáñez with Roberto Firpo and Santiago Devin with Carlos Di Sarli.

The presence, status and recognition of the estribillistas continued to improve as electric technologies allowed for better performances and in the 1930’s all orchestra were working with singers. Some were associated to a particular orchestra like Roberto Ray to Osvaldo Fresedo and others like Luis Diaz and Francisco Fiorentino worked with many.

It’s not until 1937 that the orchestras finally begin to fully integrate the signer and to adapt the music to showcase the voice and poetry of tango. That all began with Anibal Troilo and the first cantor de orquesta Francisco Fiorentino.

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García Blaya, Ricardo. El cantor del Tango: su evoluci’on en el tiempo – El estribillista. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/69/El-Cantor-del-Tango:-Su-evolucion-en-el-tiempo-El-estribillista/