Category Archives: Guardia nueva

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 opene the way to the renovation of tango. He is the author of “Mano a mano” and 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, like Evaristo Carriego, he began writing poetry about the ordinary facts of life in the neighborhood and in the city.

As a young man and respectful admirer of famous 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. Not only did he win the contest, but his work attracted the attention of Carlos Gardel who turned his poem into a tango and recorded it in 1921 under the title of 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, the slang or street language which clearly highlights the popular root of tango.

When the prohibition of lunfardo 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 wrote new lyrics for his popular tango “Mano a mano“, the new version in proper language was hardly ever used or recorded and Celedonio Flores was deeply affected. [2]

When censureship was eliminated 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.

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.

Mi noche triste (1917)

“Mi noche triste” is regarded as the first tango canción or tango song. It was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917 with the lyrics of Pascual Contursi and the music of “Lita” by Samuel Castriota.

The story features a man talking in his imagination to a woman who left him. He tells her how he misses her in little details of everyday life and describes familiar domestic objects which have gone missing or became useless; the guitar isn’t making any sound, the lamp doesn’t produce anymore light and yet he leaves the door open at night in case she comes back.

The style is simple but sets a new standard for tango lyrics in terms of conveying intimate emotions and developing into a complete story line. Before “Mi noche triste“, tango lyrics had been composed by performers of the guardia vieja such as Ángel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi but they were infrequently used and often limited to a refrain which did not allow for  such a deep exploration of the characters and their story.

“Mi noche triste” was first interpreted by Contursi himself in the cabarets of Montevideo where he used to perform at the beginning of his career. It was originally entitled “Pecanta que me amuraste” which in lunfardo means “woman (lover) who isolated (abandoned) me” as in the now famous first line of the song.

Percanta que ma amuraste en lo mejor de mi vida, 

dejandome el alma herida y espinas en el corazon

When Carlos Gardel came to Montevideo in 1917 he met Pascual Contursi and accepted to include this very peculiar tango to his repertoire and in 1917 he recorded it under the title of “Mi noche triste.” This was the first tango Carlos Gardel ever included in his repertoire. Back in Buenos Aires it was presented as a part of the sainete “Los dientes del perro” and performed at the Teatro Esmeralda by the orchestra of Roberto Firpo.

The success of “Mi noche triste” was such that many other other tangos were composed in that style. A new genre of tango song quickly emerged and gained popularity through other sainetes and through the voice of Carlos Gardel.  

Though “Mi noche triste” was not the first tango to be written by Pascual Contursi, it is known as the first tango song because of its popularity and the profound impact it had on the evolution of tango. The success of Mi noche triste” is a part of a chain of events that led to the renovation of tango and the emergence of the guardia nueva.

There is a 1952 movie by Lucas Demare entitled “Mi noche triste” based on the life of Pascual Contursi. π

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

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

Guardia nueva

The period of tango history called guardia nueva goes approximately from 1925 to 1955 and can be divided into two phases; a first phase of restructuring (transformación, 1925-1940), followed by a peak in creativity and popularity of tango commonly referred to as the golden age of tango (Exaltación 1940-1955).

The first sign of a transition can be traced back to 1917 with the recording of the first tango canciónMi noche triste. By establishing a new standard for tango poetry, Pascual Contursi and Carlos Gardel opened a whole new chapter of tango history. However it would take some years for tango music to begin its own renovation process with Julio de Caro and the introduction of the compass of 8/4. De Caro formed his first sexteto in 1924, one year before Carlos Gadel began his solo career, and this is where the transition is completed to the gardia nueva.

Another important figure of the guardia nueva is Juan d’Arienzo whose strong beat and energetic style appealed to the youth of the 1930’s. By engaging a new generation of dancers and putting tango back in fashion, D’Arienzo gave a second life to tango, opening the way to the golden age of the 1940’s.

During the exaltación phase, tango dance and music both reached a peak in terms of popularity and refinement. Different styles emerged from the work of innovative directors such as Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Rodolfo Biagi and Osvaldo Pugliese. Tango was everywhere during the golden age, not only in dance halls but also in movies, radio programs, carnivals, theaters, streets and homes.

The golden age of tango came to an end around 1955 as rock and roll became the music of the youth. After that point tango continued to evolve into the vanguardia but it was no longer the mainstream phenomenon it once was.  π

The organito

The organito is a type of portable organ which was built to play music in the streets.  It was very popular in Buenos Aires towards the end of the 19th century and contributed largely to spread tango music in every neighborhood in the city.

Popular tunes which were arranged for the organito were recorded on a cylinder containing about 8 to 12 pieces. The masters were not particularly easy to produce so the organitos tended to repeat the same songs over again. Because tango was a novelty and a popular genre at that time it was included in the repertoire of the organito along with other popular rhythms such as waltz.

At a time when tango was associated to the slums and lower classes, the organito was there to impose it to every soul in the city. Tango tunes which were played over and over again by the organito became familiar even to those who didn’t want to hear it. It is said that tango entered every household through the windows and balconies because of the organito.

As recording technologies evolved and became more accessible in the 1910’s and 20’s the organito became obsolete. It has been evoked with delightful nostalgia in many tangos including “Sobre el pucho” (1922) and “Organito de la tarde” (1924) by José González Castillo, “La musa mistonga” (1926) by Celedonio Flores and “Ventanita de arrabal” (1927) and “El ultimo organito” (1949) by Homero Manzi. [1]

In his memoirs, Francisco Canaro remembers how boys used to dance tango in the streets of Buenos Aires to the sound of the organito. The instrument has been celebrated in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Evaristo Carriego as well. π

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

[2] Etchegaray, Natalio. De Garay a Gardel: La sociedad, el hombre commun y el tango (1580-1917). Buenos Aires, Ediciones Bilioteca nacional. 1998. Foro Argentino de cultura urbana. Online. http://www.facurbana.com/tango.php?cc=101&t=El+Organito+y+Los+Poetas&ss=Costumbres&s=Enciclopedia+del+tango

Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel was a signer, guitarist, composer and actor of the early guardia nueva. In the 1920’s he contributed to the renovation of tango by popularizing a new style of song known as tango canción. With his vision, personal charisma and quality of interpretation, Gardel became an international star and a pioneer in the sound recording and filming industry. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1935 definitely turned him into an legend and he remains to this day the most famous and respected figure of tango history.

Charles Romuald Gardes was born in Toulouse, France, in 1890 of an unknown father. He was still a very young child when his mother Marie Berthe Gardes came to Buenos Aires where she worked as a planchadora, ironing clothes for a modest living and raising her son in poor pensions known as conventillos in the neighbourhood of San Nicolas. Growing up near the heart of the city, Gardel was attracted to the nightlife of his neighborhood and he got his first job as a claque, applauding the artists in the theaters of avenida Corrientes.

Later in the neighbourhood of Abasto Charles Gardes began signing in public with the help of his mentor the payador José Betinotti. In 1911 he met José Razzano with whom he began performing ias a duo at the Café de los Angelitos, and 1912 he got his first opportunity to record for Columbia under the name of Carlos Gardel. In 1915 the duo Gardel-Razzano began traveling to Uruguay and Brasil where Gardel met the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who had an important influence on him. Two years later in Montevideo he met Pascual Contursi and recorded his first tango, “Mi noche tristewhich opens the way to a profound renovation of tango.

At this point Gardel was a popular singer of folk songs and other fashionable rhythms from Europe.  His repertoire was composed of estilos, zambas, tonadas, waltz and other popular songs. Following the success of “Mi noche triste” he began working with a growing new repertoire of sentimental tango songs which are which is now known as tango canción. Not only did Gardel saw the potential of this new style of tango song but he was setting the standards for their interpretation. His repertoire would still include folk songs and an occasional foxtrop or pasodoble but by the time he began his solo career in 1925 he had become the voice of tango.

Besides his activities as a singer, Carlos Gardel wrote music for many tangos including two of his greatest hits, “Mano a mano” by Celedonio Flores (with José Razzano) and “Mi Buenos Aires querido” by Alfredo Le Pera. In the 1930’s he produced a series of short movies which are regarded as some of the first video clips in history and he was starred in various movies including “Las luces de Buenos Aires”, “Melodia de arrabal”, “Cuesta abajo”, “Tango bar” and “El dia que me quieras”.

Carlos Gardel died in 1935 in a plane crash in Medellin, Columbia,  while touring south America. According to the Internet Movie Database, his voice and image appeared in over 80 movies after his death [3] and a popular say in Argentina is that he sings better everyday.   π

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

[2] Cárcamo, Antonio José. Carlos Gardel discographía. Por siempre…. Gardel. Online. http://gardel.unsl.edu.ar/carcamo.htm 

[3] Carlos Gardel filmography. IMDb, Online.   http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0306624/#composer