Category Archives: History

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.

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

Sainete (theatre)

The sainete is a type of theatrical piece from 17th century Spain . It became popular in Argentina where it evolved in parallel with tango into the sainte criollo. Later in the 1920’s it played an important role in popularizing tango as a sentimental song in the style of Carlos Gardel.

In 17th century Spain, sainetes were short comedies to be performed during interludes. They usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters and included musical parts and singing. Their purpose was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a presentation.

When zarzuelas were divided betewen genero chico and genero grande in the mid 19th century, Spanish saintes became material for the genero chico and disapeared as an independant genre. In Argentina however, it continued to evolve, integrating elements of circus and local culture to form the sainte criollo. 

Unlike the original Spanish version, the sainte criollo is not pure comedy. It features scenes of ordinary life and elements of drama. It evoques, for exemple, life in the conventillos, the shared houses where new immigrants use to live in very close proximity while Buenos Aires was first growing as a city and where the first tangos and saintetes were fomented.

Later in the 1920’s, the sainete criollo played an important part in the renovation of tango and the emergeance of the guardia nueva. It offered a powerful platform for a new style of tango song to be popularized. The first so-called tango canción was “Mi noche triste by Pascual Contursi. It was presented to the public as a part of the sainete “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach. The success was huge and opened the way for countless classics to be composed, recorded and immediatly integrated into popular culture.

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1 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino. La emancipación cultural (1884-1930). Buenos Aires: Galerna, 2002.

2 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. El sainete y el grotesco criollo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 2008.

Zarzuela (theatre)

The zarzuela is a form of Spanish musical theatre which played an important role in the gestation and popularisation of Argentine tango. In the early 19th century it introduced the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires, and later offered a platform to showcase Argentine tango as a new independant musical genre.

The first documented mentions of a zarzuela goes back to 1657 with the premier of “El golfo de las sirenas” by Calderon de la Barca. The term zarzuela comes from the name of the royal theater in Madrid where this type of musical play first appeared.

In the 19th century a short version of the zarzuela was created, the genero chico, which was more affordable and became popular in Latin american countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina. These short comedies were usually composed of a single act and lasted an hour or less. They were often inspired by sainetes, another genre of short musical play which also contributed to the evolution of tango later in the 1920’s.

One of the ways in which the zarzuela influenced the evolution of tango is by introducing the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires. Theaters were an important vehicle for songs to be popularized and the tangos andaluces not only became familliar to the porteños but soon inspired new local songs.

These so called “tangos criollos” did not yet constitute a distinct musical genre but a are regarded as one very primitive form Argentine tango. An excellent exemple of such “tango criollo” is Andate a la Recoleta” (1800), which is little more then a tango andaluz with adapted lyrics reflecting the reality of life in the new world.

Another way in which the zarzuela played a role in the evolution of tango is by providing a platform in the late 19th century to present and popularise the new Argentine tango. The first documented use of the word “tango” in the sense of tango porteño was found in the script of “Justicia Criolla”, a local zarzuela which featured the new musical genre and dance.

“Justicia Criolla” was premiered at the theater Olimpo in 1897, the same year the so-called first tango, El entrerriano“, was composed by Rosendo Mendizabal.

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[1] Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino en Buenos Aires. Editorial Galerna, 2002. Print.

[2] “El dia que el tango tuvo nombre”. Clarín. Online. https://www.clarin.com/espectaculos/dia-tango-nombre_0_S1luFxZRKx.html

 

Andate a la Recoleta

“Andate a la Recoleta” is a primitive, anonymous tango of andaluz influence. It was composed around 1880, long before El entrerriano by Rosendo Mendizabal (1897). It is sometimes attributed to Juan Pérez and was regarded by musicologist Carlos Vega as the oldest Argentine tango.

Like other early tangos which were composed in the 1880’s, “Andate a la Recoleta” is little more then a tango andaluz with adapted lyrics reflecting the local expressions and reality of life in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. These lyrics were transmitted to us through oral tradition and their interpretation seems to be difficult and uncertain. They also seem to vary according to different sources.

The prevailing interpretation perhaps is that “Andate a la Recoleta”  was a song about the expansion of the railways toward the northern neighbourhood of Recoleta and an allusion to a strike or strong protest about poor working conditions such a those described in “El cochero de tramway” by Angel Villoldo.

Andate a la Recoleta, decile al recoletero que prepare una boveda para este pobre cochero. Sí, sí, sí, que Gaudencio se va a fundir. No, no, no, que Gaudencio ya se fundió. Y ven a los mayorales parados en los estribos con un letrero que dice: “calle de Estados Unidos”.

Others have pointed out that “going to la Recoleta” means going to party as the area around the cemetery of Recoleta is where the disreputable nightlife and tango dancing were happening in those days. According to this analysis, “Andate a la Recoleta” was rather a lighthearted allusion to nocturnal escapades in the neighbourhood of Recoleta. (Yes yes yes, tonight is my turn, no no no, tomorrow is yours)

Si, Si, Si, que esta noche me toca a mi. No, no, no, que mañana te toca a vos.

Another version shows how familiar “Andate a la Recoleta” must have been in those days as it goes “yes yes yes, son of a bitch”.

Si, si, si, la puta que te pario. No, no, no, que Gaudencio ya se fundio

Yet another version entitled “Vamos a la Plata” was about the foundation of the city of la Plata. This one describes the new city as a place to go in search of a better life where there is soup, women available for marriage, money and no need to work.

“Vamos a La Plata / la nueva capital / allí se come sopa / y puchero sin sal / Si, si, si, / que La Plata se va a fundar / No, no, no / que La Plata ya se fundó / Vamos a La Plata, / que hay mucho que ver / que se casa un hombre / con una mujer / Vamos a La Plata / que hay mucho que ver / hombres a caballo / mujeres de a pie / Me voy a La Plata / la nueva capital / que allí se gana plata / y no hay que trabajar”

These were all inspired by the “Tango de la casera”, the tango andaluz also known as “Senora casera” or “Tango de los merengazos”.

“Señora casera / ¿qué es lo que s’arquila? / Sala y antesala, / comedó y cocina / ¿Cuánto vale esto? / Vale cinco duros./ Dígale al amo / que les den por…/

“Si, si, si, / A mí me gustan los merengazos / No, no, no, / que a ti te gustan los medios vasos / Si, si, si, / a ti te gustan los pío nonos / No, no. no, / que ya te he dicho que no los como”

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[1] Matamoro, Blas. “Orígenes musicales.” In La historia del tango: sus orígenes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1976. Print.

[2] Horvat, Ricardo. Esos malditos tangos: apuntes para la otra historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 2006. Print.

Tango andaluz

The tango andaluz is one of the main musical genres which came into the creation of Argentine tango. It became popular in Buenos Aires in the middle of the 19th century through Spanish theater and inspired the creation of local songs which evolved into one of the primitive form of tango criollo.

The history of the tango andaluz is complex and raises many difficult questions including that of the origin and meaning of the the term “tango”. According to the Argentine musicologist Carlos Vega, (1) when Spanish sailors came to South America at the end of the 18th century, they discovered afro-american rhythms which were integrated into their musical tradition along with the word “tango”. This is the origin of the tango flamenco which in itself has little or nothing to do with Argentine tango.

When the tango flamenco was integrated into Spanish theater in the 19th century it went through a process of transformation which led to the creation of the tango andaluz. Because theaters worked with piano and orchestra rather then guitars, the tango flamenco began to incorporate elements of the habanera, a Cuban rhythm which was very popular in Hispanic countries at that time and better adapted to orchestra instruments. This blend of tango flamenco and habanera is at the origin of the tango andaluz which entered Buenos Aires through the genero chico, a short genre of musical play or zarzuela.

In those days when there was no radio, movies or sound recording of any kind, theater was an important vehicle through which new songs were made popular. This is how the tango andaluz entered Buenos Aires where local versions were invented to better reflect the life situations and linguistic expressions of the Porteños. Many of those tangos acriollados were directly based on an original tango andaluz as Carlos Vega pointed out comparing the “Tango de la casera” with “Andate a la recoleta” (1880). Another example of an early tango which is little more then an adaptation of a tango andaluz is “Ay, qué gusto que placer” (1897) which can be compared to “Ar sal’i los nazarenos”.

Other primitive tangos of andaluz influence include “Bartolo” (1900), “El cochero de tramway” (1900), “La morocha” (1905), “Cuidado con los cincuenta” (1907), “Hotel Victoria” (1906) and “El caburé” (19). These are the tangos which were popularized by interpreters such as Angel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi. They contributed to the creation of other genres of  tango criollo and disapeared around 1910 in favour of another current related to the milonga.

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

[2] Matamoro, Blas. “Orígenes musicales.” In La historia del tango: sus orígenes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1976. Print.

[3] Horvat, Ricardo. Esos malditos tangos: apuntes para la otra historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 2006. Print.

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/