Category Archives: Poets

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.

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“.

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.

Enrique Cadícamo

Enrique Cadícamo was a writer, poet, playwright and prolific tango lyricist of the guardia nueva. He is the author of 5 plays and 6 books including “El desconocido Juan Carlos Cobián” and “La historia del tango en Paris”. He is also the author of more then 400 tangos, many of which are great classics such as “Los mareados“, “Tres esquinas”, “Madame Yvonne” and “Nostalgias”.

Enrique Cadícamo was born in 1900 and grew up in the neighbourhood of Flores in Buenos Aires. As a young man he was required to spend long hours in public transportation and this is how he began reading classics such as Victor Hugo and Ruben Darío. He also began writing poetry and plays which were presented in the theaters of Flores.

Following the success of “Mi noche triste” in 1917 it was not uncommon for playwrights of the early 1920’s to write tango. Enrique Cadícamo wrote his first tango, “Pompas de jabón” in 1924. In 1929 he won the first place in Max Gluksmann’s contest with “De todo te olvidas” and he began working with Juan Carlos Cobián. His success with tango was such that 23 of his compositions were recorded by Carlos Gardel between 1925 and 1933, many of which were great hits.

One characteristic of Enrique Cadícamo as a poet was his ability to work with many different themes. “Tres esquinas” is a masterful piece about the neigborhood in the line of Evaristo Carriego and Homero Manzi. “Al mundo le falta un tornillo” is an existentialist tango comparable to those Discepolo. And on the romantic front he is the author of Los mareadoswhich is one of the most famous tango songs of all times.

Other well known tangos by Enrique Cadícamo include “Che papusa.. oi”, “Anclao en Paris”, “Niebla del Riachuelo”, “Garúa”, “La casita de mis viejos”, “Palais de glace”, “Tengo mil novias”, “Tres amigos”, “Muñeca brava”, “Compadrón” and “Pa que bailan los muchachos”.

Enrique Cadícamo remained professionally active until his death in 1999. He received many prices in his lifetime including a Premio Konex in 1885. He was declared Ciudadano illuste de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires in 1987 and Personalidad Emerita de la Cultura Argentina in 1996. [1] In 2011 the pasaje Carabelas was renamed Paseo Enrique Cadícamo in his honor. [2]

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[1] Sorias, Gabriel. (2002) Los Capos del tango: Enrique Cadícamo. Online. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvnBkWGe4Uc

[3] “Cadicamo, en tiempo de homenaje”. In La Nacion, December 17, 2000. Online. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/45314-cadicamo-en-tiempo-de-homenaje

Catúlo Castillo

Catúlo Castillo was a pianist, composer, director and poet of the guardia nueva. Son of a well-known playwrite and poet Jose Gonzalez Castillo, in his youth he distinguished himself mostly as a musician and composer. After the death of his friend Homero Manzi in the 1950’s, he revealed himself as the last great poet of the golden age.

Ovidio Catúlo Gonzalez Castillo was born in Buenos Aires in 1906. He grew up in Chile where his father José Gonzalez Castillo exiled himself until 1913 for political reasons.

Back in Buenos Aires the family moved to Boedo where Catúlo began learning the violin with Juan Cianciarullo. By age 17 he was an accomplished musician and boxer. He won the national championship of lightweight in Argentina and almost reached the Olympic games of 1924. That same year he won the third place in a contest organized by Max Glucksmann with his tango Organito de la tarde.

Later in the 1920’s, Catúlo Castillo traveled Europe with his father and formed his own orchestra. From then on he would dedicate himself only to tango. As a composer he produced many pieces including Organito de la tarde, “Silbando”, “El Aguacero”, “Papel picado” and “El circo se va” with the lyrics of his father Jose Gonzalez Catillo, “La violeta” (1930) with Nicolás Olivari and “Viejo ciego” (1926) with his friends Sebastian Piana and Homero Manzi. He is the author of both music and lyrics of “Caminito del taller” (way to the shop), a socially engaged tango which was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1925.

In the 1930’s and 40’s Catúlo Castillo became increasingly absorbed with poetry. With his friend Sebastian Piana and other composers he worked on remarkable pieces such as “Tinta roja” and “Caseron de tejas” (1941). In 1945 he began writing for Anibal Troilo with whom he produced his best work as a poet in the 1950’s.

The 50’s were critical years for tango as rock and roll was taking over the youth. Feeling perhaps that this was the end of an era, Catúlo Castillo took tango poetry to it’s last apogee. He wrote master pieces such as “El ultimo café” and La ultima curda“, a deeply heart breaking tango where the bandoneon cries in the lonely man’s imagination: “life is an absurd wound”.

Other tangos of that period by Catúlo Castillo include “Domani”, “La calesita”, “El cafe de los Angelitos” and “El patio de la Morocha”.

Besides his activities as a lyricist, Catúlo Castillo had an active professional life. In the 1950’s he became President of the SAIDAC and president of the Comisión Nacional de Cultura . He was declared Ciudadano Illustre of the City of Buenos Aires in 1974 and died the following year at age 69.

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

[2] Baccarelli, Nicolás Sosa. Catúlo Castillo o el existencialismo en la poesia del tango. Correveidile. Online. http://www.correveidile.com.ar/2014/11/12/catulo-castillo-o-el-existencialismo-en-la-poesia-del-tango/

[3] Tálice, Roberto A. “Evocación y ubicación de José Gonzalez Castillo”. In La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977.

Jose Gonzalez Castillo

Jose Gonzalez Castillo was a journalist, playwright and lyricist of the early years of the guardia nueva. He is the author of numerous sainetes including “Los dientes del Perro” which showcased the first tango canción, Mi noche triste,” with the orchestra of Roberto Firpo in 1918.

Gonzalez Castillo was born in 1885 in the city of Rosario. Having lost his parents at a young age, he was raised by a priest in the Province of Salta and became a journalist and a playwright.

Following the success of “Mi noche triste” Jose Gonzalez Castillo began writing his own tango songs. The first one of those, “Que has hecho de mi cariño,” was composed for a play entitled “Don Agenor Saladillo” and presented to the public in 1918 with the music or Juan Maglio. Other tangos by him include “Sobre el pucho”, “Organito de la tarde”, “Griseta”, “A Montmartre”, “Bandoneon”, “El porteño” and “Por el camino”.

Jose Gonzalez Casillo is the father of Catúlo Castillo with whom he collaborated on many tangos including “Organito de la tarde”, “Silbando”, “El Aguacero”, “Papel picado” and “El circo se va”. He worked on various films including the silent movie “Nobleza gauchesca” (1915) and “La ley que olvidaron” (1937). He died in Buenos Aires in 1937.

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[1] Tálice, Roberto A. “Evocación y ubicación de José Gonzalez Castillo”. In La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977.

[2] Del Greco, Orlando. Gardel y Jose Gonzalez Castillo. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/ficha/296/Jose-Gonzalez-Castillo

Juan Andrés Caruso

Juan Andrés Caruso was a journalist, playwright and prolific tango lyricist of the 1920’s. He wrote his first tango “Cara sucia” for his friend Francisco Canaro in 1918. In the 1920’s he became one of the favourite lyricists of Carlos Gardel who recorded 38 his compositions. In 1930 he wrote the lyrics of one of the greatest classics of the tango repertoire, “Alma de Bohemio” by Roberto Firpo.

Caruso was born in La Plata in the Province of Buenos Aires in 1890. Having lost his parents at a young age he came to Buenos Aires where he worked as a claque in the theaters of avenida Corrientes between other jobs. Soon after, following some incident involving a theft, he moved to the city of Bahia Blanca where he began working in a print shop. This is where he began working a journalist for the local newspaper, Hoja del Pueblo.

Back in Buenos Aires in 1910, Caruso moved to the neighbourhood of San Cristobal where he became friends with Francisco Canaro and other musicians of the guardia vieja including Vicente Greco, Genaro Exposito and Samuel Castriota. [2] This was before Pascual Contursi and the emergence of the tango canción and Caruso was writing estilos, a popular style of song we now regard as folclore. [3]

When a new style of tango poetry emerged in 1917 with Mi noche triste“, Caruso was one of the first song writers to contribute to the emerging repertoire with “Cara sucia” (1918), turning a notoriously obscene tango by Casimiro Alcorta into a decent song. Other compositions by Caruso include “No me escribas”, “El taita ladrón”, “Nobleza de arrabal”, “La ultima copa”, “Sentimiento gaucho” and “Alma de bohemio.

Caruso wrote over 30 plays and sainetes, the first of which was “Nobleza de arrabal” (1919) with Francisco Canaro. He was director of the magazine El Teatro Nacional.

Juan Andrés Caruso died in Buenos Aires in 1931. He was 41-years-old.

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[1] Gobello, Jose. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el Tango. Buenos Aires: Libertador, 2008.

[2] Canaro, Fransicso. Mis memorias: Mis bodas de oro con el tango. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1999. Print.

[3] Pinson, Nestor. Juan Andres Caruso. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/647/Juan-Andres-Caruso/

Celedonio Flores

Celedonio Flores was a prolific tango lyricist of the 1920’s. Along with Pascual Contursi, he contributed to the creation of a repertoire of tango canción and to opened the way to the renovation of tango. He is the author of “Mano a manoand many other classics which were recorded by Carlos Gardel.

Celedonio Esteban Flores was born in Buenos Aires in 1896. He grew up in the center of the city near Lavalle and Tucuman; when he was 14 years-old his family moved to the neighborhood of Villa Crespo. This is where, in the style of Evaristo Carriego, he began writing poetry about ordinary facts of life in the neighborhood and the city.

As a young man and admirer of poets such as Rúben Dario and Amado Nervo, Celedonio never dreamed of becoming a writer himself. In his youth he explored many paths, studying business and then the arts and music (violin). He also competed as a lightweight boxer at the national level before he found his path.

His breakthrough came in 1920 when the newspaper Ultima hora opened a poetry contest. In a moment of wild optimism, Celedonio Flores wrote “Por la Pinta”, hoping perhaps he could win 5 pesos and have his poem published in the newspaper. This is how he attracted the attention of Carlos Gardel who turned his poem into a tango and recorded it in 1921 as “Margot”.

This unexpected success was followed shortly by another one as “Mano a mano became one of the greatest hits of Carlos Gardel in 1923.

Other well-known titles by El negro Cele include “Corrientes” y “Esmeralda”, “La mariposa”, “El bulín de la calle Ayacucho”, “Viejo smoking”, “Por qué canto así”, “Malevito”, “Canchero”, “Pan”, “Muchacho” and “La musa mistonga”. Many of those poems were musicalized and recorded by Carlos Gardel and other prominent artists including Pedro Maffia, Edgado Donato, Ignacio Corsini, Edmundo Rivero and Julio Sosa.

Celedonio Flores published two compilations entitled “Chapaleando barro” and “Cuando pasa el organito”. His poetry is characterized by the sentimentalism of the 1920’s and a clever and abundant use of lunfardo.

When the prohibition was instituted by the military dictatorship of 1943, the work of Celedonio Flores could no longer be broadcasted, recorded, printed or performed in public. Though he proposed new lyrics for “Mano a mano“, the new version was hardly ever used or recorded and he was deeply affected economically. [2]

When censureship ended 10 years later, his songs were once again recorded and performed by various artists; they remain to this day among the great classics of the tango repertoire.

However, Celedonio Flores died in 1947 at age 51, six years before the prohibition was lifted. π

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[1] Rossler, Osvaldo. Celedonio Flores. La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1981. Print.

[2] Barsky, Julián. El tango y las instituciones: De olvidos, censuras y reivindicaciones. Buenos Aires: Teseo, 2016. Online

Pascual Contursi

Pascual Contursi was a guitarist, singer, playwright and innovative song writer of the early guardia nueva. He is known as the author of the first tango canción or tango song, Mi noche triste“, recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917.

Contursi was born in Chivilcoy, province of Buenos Aires, in 1888. He grew up in the neighbourhood of San Cristobal and began singing and writing poetry in his youth. In 1914 he traveled to Montevideo where he began writing lyrics for popular tangos and performing them in public to earn a living.

Before Contursi, tango lyrics had been composed by other performers including Ángel Villodo and Alfredo Gobbi, but the lyrics of the guardia vieja tended to be more rudimentary and often reflected the rough reality of life in the streets and nightclubs of early century Buenos Aires. With Pascual Contursi, tango lyrics began to develop into decent popular songs with deeper characters and more complex story lines.

One day in Montevideo, Contursi presented his best tango, Mi noche triste,” to a popular cantor de estilos or singer of what we would call today folk songs. Carlos Gardel did not have any tango in his repertoire at that time, but he liked this particular one and he decided to record it in 1917.

That same year, Mi noche triste became a huge success in Buenos Aires as a part of a theatrical piece, a sainete entitled “Los Dientes del perro”. The success of Contursi’s tango was such that other authors immediately began to explore the genre and a new style of tango poetry quickly emerged.

Back in Buenos Aires, Contursi continued writing sainetes and composing tangos lyrics. He is the author of over 40 tango including “Champagne tango”, “Ivette”, “Flor de fango”, “El motivo”, “Ventanita de arrabal”, “De vuelta al bulin”, “La biblioteca” and “Si supieras”,  many of which were recorded by Carlos Gardel.

Contursi was a humble man and his poetry was written in a simple style. Most of his work revolves around a certain number of recurrent themes and characters which became archetypes of tango poetry for years to come.

Contursi traveled to Europe in the 1920s. He lived in France and Spain where he enjoyed his success until his mental condition deteriorated due to an untreated case of syphilis. He died in Buenos Aires in 1932 at age 44.  π

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[1] Pelletieri, Osvaldo. Siempre Contursi. La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1981.  Print.

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

[3] Astarita, Gaspar. Pascual Contursi, vida y obra. La campana, 1981. Print.

Evaristo Carriego

Evaristo Carriego was an obscure young poet of the early 1900’s. His name became associated to the origins of tango through the work of Jorge Luis Borges who saw in him the creator of the urban style of poetry now associated to tango. Though Carriego was never an acclaimed writer nor a man of tango, he became legend and his name gained the power to evoke the spirit of the city, the old neighborhood and the mysterious root and essence tango itself.

Evaristo Francisco Estanislao Carriego was born in the province of Entre Rios in 1883. His family moved to Buenos Aires when he was only four-years-old. The Evaristo Carriego house on Honduras street is where Evaristo grew up and lived until his death in 1912.

Living in late 19th centruy Palermo, Carriego witnessed all of the roughness of life in a neighbourhood populated by poor uprooted immigrants. The cuchilleros and the compadritos, the organito and the so deeply regretted woman, all of these elements now associated to the mythical bajofondo and birthplace of tango were his universe. It was the reality that amazed him and inspired him to write poetry.

Little is know about the life of Evaristo Carriego besides what Jorges Luis Borges wrote about him. [1] Borges knew Carriego personally as a neighbor and a friend of his father. [3] He remember being strongly impressed by the presence of the poet and was deeply touched by his depictions of the Buenos Aires he knew in his childhood.

According to Borges, Carriego was a very sensitive and introvert young man. He used to hang out in literary cafes and marveled at simple facts of everyday life. This plain and simple observation of an humble man’s life in his ordinary and often merciless urban environment became a constant thread of tango poetry. It remains present and continues to build up and evolve through the works as many other authors from Angel Villoldo to Homero Manzi and Horacio Ferrer.

Evaristo Carriego died of tuberculosis in 1912 at age 29. In his short lifetime he left one published book entitled “Misas herejes”. “El alma del suburbio” and “La canción del barrio” where he develops the themes he is known for today were published after his death.

The house where he lived on Honduras street was bought by the city of Buenos Aires in 1977 to host a museum and library. La Bibliotheca Evaristo Carriego was opened to the public in 1981 and became home to over 5 500 documents in print and electronic formats including various collections of poetry. It closed in 2013 for renovations and remains closed to this day. [2]

Other important tributes to the poet include a piece by Astor Piazzolla entitled “Milonga Carrieguera” and a tango by Eduardo Ravira, “A Evaristo Carriego”, recorded by Pugliese in 1969. There is a street in Palermo named after him.

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[1] Borges, Jorge Luis. Evaristo Carriego. Buenos Aires. Emece, 1989. Print.

[2] Ordenan reconstruir la casa donde vivio Evaristo Carriego. La Nacion, March 27, 2014. Online. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1675640-ordenan-reconstruir-la-casa-donde-vivio-evaristo-carriego

[3] Borges, Jorge Luis. El tango: cuatro conferencias. Buenos Aires. Sudamericana, 2016. Print.

[4] Domingo, Luis Hernández. Frontera, llanura, patria: Un otro Borges. Anales de la Literatura Hispanoamericana, 1999. 28: 731-744. Online. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=52363