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 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.

Mi noche triste (tango, 1916)

“Mi noche triste” is a 1916 tango song written by Pascual Contursi on the music of “Lita” by Samuel Castriota. It was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917 and is regarded as the first tango canción. It was originally entitled “Pecanta que me amuraste“, which in lunfardo means “woman/lover who isolated/abandoned me”

Percanta que ma amuraste en lo mejor de mi vida, dejandome el alma herida y espinas en el corazon.

Pascual Contursi began writing lyrics for himself to perform while living in Montevideo. He did it in a style that was new to tango and mostly without permission from their author. When he met Gardel in 1917, he presented “Pecanta que me amuraste” to  him and for the first time Carlos Gardel included a tango to his repertoire.

Back in Buenos Aires, Carlos Gardel recorded this inovative tango under the title of “Mi noche triste“. He also used his influence to have it included in a sainete entitled “Los dientes del perro” in 1918. The success was such that it opened the way to the creation of a new genre of tango song in the 1920’s. It also marks the beginning of a process of transition towards de creation of the guardia nueva

Strictly speaking, “Mi noche triste” was not the first tango song by Pascual Contursi. But it is known as the first tango canción because of its popularity and the profound impact it had on the evolution of tango.

Before “Mi noche triste“, tango lyrics had been composed by payadores and performers of the guardia vieja such as Ángel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi. However these lyrics were infrequently used and often limited to a refrain which did not allow for  a deep exploration of the characters and their story. They were also not of sentimental nature.

Mi noche triste” is about a man missing a woman. It explores in very intimate details his experience of sorrow, describing familiar 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.

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

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

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 phase of restructuring which fully begins with the transition to the 8X4 rhythm. The second phase is characterized by a peak in creativity and popularity, commonly referred to as the golden age of tango.

According to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango, these two phases would be the Transformación (1925-1940) and the Exaltación (1940-1955).

The first sign of a transition towards the guardia nueva can be traced back to 1917 with the recording of “Mi noche tristeby Carlos Gardel, which establishes a new standard for tango poetry. Tango music also goes through 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 Gardel began his solo career, and this is where the transition from the gardia vieja is regarded as completed.

An 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 and opened the way to the creations of a new generation of tango orquestras and to the golden age of tango.

During the exaltación phase, tango dance and music both reached their 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 the cabarets and 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 gained populirity with the youth. Tango continued to evolve into the vanguardia but it was no longer the popular mainstream phenomenon it once was.  It remained alive but somehow became a thing of the past.

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Ferrer, Horacio. El Siglo de oro del Tango: compendio ilustrado de su historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Mate, 1996. Print.

Zalko, Nardo. Paris / Buenos Aires: Un siglo de tango. Buenos Aires: Corregido, 2001. Print.

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 and 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 a product of poor uprooted immigrants living in sketchy neighbourhood in the fast growing city of Buenos Aires, the genre was not particulalrly praised in higher social classes. However the organito contributed to engrave it’s melodies in every soul in the city. The tunes it played over and over again became familiar to all and it is said tango entered every household through the windows and balconies because of the organito.

As recording technologies evolved and became increasingly accessible in the 1910’s and 20’s, the organito became obsolete. It continues to be evoked with delightful nostalgia in many tangos such as “Sobre el pucho” (1922), “La musa mistonga” (1926), “Organito de la tarde” (1924), Ventanita de arrabal” (1927) and “El ultimo organito” (1949). [1]

Francisco Canaro remembers in his memoirs how boys used to dance tango to the sound of the organito in the streets of Buenos Aires.

The organito has been celebrated in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and his now mythical poet Evaristo Carriego.

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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 years of the guardia nueva. In the 1920’s, he played an essential role in the renovation of tango as a sentimental song. With his vision, charisma and quality of interpretation, he became an international star and a pioneer of the sound recording and filming industries. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1935 turned him into a legend, and he remains to this day the most famous and respected figure of tango history.

Charles Romuald Gardes was born in 1890 in Toulouse, France, of an unknown father. His mother, Marie Berthe Gardes, immigrated to Buenos Aires when he was still a young child. There she worked as a planchadora, ironing clothes for a living, and together they lived in poor pensions known as conventillos in the neighbourhood of San Nicolas.

Growing up near the heart of the city, Charles Gardes was impresed and attracted to the nightlife of his neighborhood. He got his first job as a claque, applauding the artists in the theaters of Avenida Corrientes. Later, in the neighbourhood of Abastos, he began signing in public with the help of his mentor, the payador José Betinotti.

In 1911, Gardes met José Razzano with whom he began performing as a duo to perform at the Café de los Angelitos. In 1912 he got his first opportunity to record for Columbia under the name of Carlos Gardel.

The Gardel-Razzano duo began traveling to Uruguay and Brasil in 1915. This is where Gardel met the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who had a profound influence on his signing technique. Two years later, in Montevideo, he met Pascual Contursi and recorded his first tango, “Mi noche triste“, opening the way to a new area of tango poetry and singing.

Before he recorded “Mi noche triste” (1917), Gardel’s repertoire was composed of estilos, zambas, tonadas, waltz and other popular folk songs and rhythms of the world. By the time he began his solo career in 1925, he had become the voice of a new genre of tango song. He composed the music of many tangos including two of his greatest hits, “Mano a mano” (with José Razzano) and “Mi Buenos Aires querido”.

In the 1930’s Carlos Gardel produced a series of short musical movies which are regarded as some of the first video-clips in history. He was the star of many 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] It is said that everyday he sings better.

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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