Category Archives: Origins

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.

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/

 

Bandoneon

The bandoneon is a musical instrument of the family of the concertina. It was introduced in the Rio de la Plata region at the end of the 19th century and became an essential component of the tango orchestra in the early 1900’s. It’s been the most emblematic instrument of tango music ever since.

The concertina was created in Germany around 1845 as an alternative to the organ and it’s original purpose was to be used for religious services. Though it is not clear who build the first bandoneon, the invention has been attributed to Carl Zimmermann, a fabricant who sold his manufacture to Ernest Louis Arnold, creator of ELA bandoneons. Ernest Louis Arnold was the father of Alfredo Arnold, fabricant of the bandoneon “doble A” which became the favorite of tango musicians.

The first documented mention of a bandoneon being played in the Rio de la Plata is from a 1895 newspaper article. According to it’s author, Jorge Labraña, the bandoneon was brought to Uruguay by a Suiss immigrant in 1863. Other sources indicate that it was imported by an Englishman, Don Tomas, who came to Argentina in 1884.

One of the first musicians to associate the bandoneon with tango music was Domingo Santa Cruz who used to perform in the cafes of La Boca and Barracas in the early 1900’s. Other bandoneonistas of the first generation are Genaro Esposito, Vicente Loduca, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio.

The inclusion of the bandoneon in tango bands had many repercussions. Because it was a rare instrument and a difficult one to master, a clear distinction begins to form betwee tango bands and other formations. The bandoneon replaces the flute, resulting in  deeper tones and a slower pace of execution of tangos. It became an essential component of the orquesta tipica and even a symbol of tango itself.

Because German manufactures have been closed since WWII, bandoneons are now rare and expensive instruments. New artisanal bandoneons have been built in Argentina but the process is complex and remains expensive.

The first bandoneon made in Argentina was released in 2000. The bandoneon AZ was built by Argentine luthier Angel Zullo and introduced to the public on the day tango was officially declared world heritage by the UNESCO.

Bandoneons were built to last 200 years with proper maintenance.

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Zucchi, Oscar. El tango, el bandoneón y sus interpretes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998. Print.

Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

“Salvar el bandoneón”. La Nación. Web. June 26, 2009. Online. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/1143843-salvar-el-bandoneon

“Empezó a sonar el primer bandoneón nacional” La Nación. Web. Oct 3, 2009. Online. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/1181690-empezo-a-sonar-el-primer-bandoneon-nacional

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