Category Archives: Poetry

Yira Yira (tango, 1929)

“Yira yira” is a famous 1929 tango by Enrique Santos Discepolo. It is one of the most profoundly cynical tangos ever written and is regarded as a reflection of Argentina’s painful social reality in the 1930’s. It remains a classic to this day and it’s popularity goes beyond the genre of tango with modern pop and rock interpretations.

Though Discepolo says “Yira yira” was coming to him before 1929 and describes a feeling of hopelessness he experienced in various circumstances in his life, it’s at the beginning of the terrible decada infama of the 1930’s that he found the words to write it down. It’s also during that period that he felt it the most deeply. [2]

“Yira yira” is only a part of a series of related tangos in which Discepolo explores the topic of decadent social values from various point of view. Other socially engaged tangos by Discepolo include ” Que vachaché” (1928), “Que sapa senior?” (1931) and “Cambalache” (1934).

In “Yira yira”, Discepolo offers a rather pessimistic outlook on human nature. He warns us that there is no true love in this world and everything deep down is motivated by selfish interests. You can search and hope all your life but on the day you die, when your last hopes prove to be vain, you will have to admit true compassion is nowhere to be found.

When all the bells you ring die out, and you look in vain for a brother to die in embrace, then you will understand (remember) these words.

…(refrain)

You’ll see that everything is a lie, you’ll see that nothing is love, and to the world nothing matters, it goes round and round.

The word “yira” is a lunfardo expression meaning “goes round”.

“Yira yira” was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1930. It was also featured in one of his videoclips whit a sketch where Discepolo presents the song  to Gardel himself. It was prohibited under the military government in 1943 due to the use of lunfardo and probably for ideological reasons as well.

Other recordings of “Yira yira” include those of tango, folk and pop artists such as la Orquesta Típica Victor, Ada Falcon, Ignacio Corsini, Edmundo Rivero, Roberto Goyeneche, Hugo del Carril, Francisco Canaro, Javier Calamaro and Julio Iglesias.

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

[2] Peñas, Alberto. Recopilación antológica para una sociologia tanguera. Corregidor: Buenos aires, 1998.

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.

Los mareados (tango, 1942)

“Los mareados” is one of the most famous tango songs of all times. The version we know today was written in 1942 by Enrique Cadícamo at the request of Anibal Troilo and to the music of Juan Carlos Cobián. “Los mareados” became one of Troilo’s greatest hits and the recording they made on June 15, 1942 remains among the greatest classics of the golden age.

One day in 1942 Enrique Cadícamo  was at the cabaret Tibidabo when Anibal Troilo came to him with an old instrumental recording by Osvaldo Fresedo. It was a 1922 recording of a tango by Juan Carlos Cobián entitled “Los dopados”. Troilo felt strongly about it and he wanted rearrange and present it to the public as soon as possible. And he wanted Cadícamo to write lyrics for him.

Cadícamo says he hesitated because Cobián was away in Mexico and had not given his consent for the project. However Troilo convinced him that it would be a winning situation for everyone if “Los dopados” resurfaced twenty years later as a hit. Cadícamo agreed to write the lyrics and changed the title to “Los mareados”.

The new version was premiered shortly after at the Tibidabo by the orchestra of Anibal Troilo with the voince of Francisco Fiorentino. “Los mareados” became an instant hit and when Juan Carlos Cobián returned to Argentina he could only be pleased to find his music was in vogue. What Troilo and Cadícamo didn’t know however is that “Los Dopados” already had registered lyrics by Raul Doblas and Alberto Weisbach.

Bebe ese olvido que te ofrecen, que acallara tu almita herida, y asi podra, embrutecida, amar, beber, reir…

Busca del vicio el triste ensueño, bebe el olvido en su veneno, que si el beber hace olvidar, sera esa tu mayor felicidad.

Drink the forgiveness which is offered to you, which calms your soul, so you can, numbed, love, drink and laugh…

Go for the sad illusion of the vice, drink the forgiveness in its poison, and if drinking makes you forget, let that be your greatest happiness.

“Los Dopados” by Juan Carlos Cobian, Raul Doblas and Alberto Weisbach had been composed in 1922 for a play which was presented at the Teatro Porteño. It was recorded in 1923 by Roberto Diaz with the original lyrics and by Osvaldo Fresedo in instrumental version. Though “Los Mareados” are now one of the most famous Argentine songs of all times, the original lyrics by Doblas-Weisbach have fallen into oblivion.

In 1943, “Los Mareados” was banned by the new military government along with many other tangos which contain lunfardo terms or allusions to drunkenness. Cadícamo wrote a new version entitled “En mi pasado”, which in spite of its beauty, and like many other pieces which were rewritten at that time, was hardly ever used or recorded.

When the prohibition was lifted in 1949, “Los Mareados” gained back its popularity. Since then it has been recorded by countless artists of all styles including Hector Mauré, Floreal Ruiz, Suzana Rinaldi, Raul Lavié, Astor Piazzolla, Mercedes Sosa with Roberto Goyeneche, Adriana Varela and pop singer Andrés Calamaro.

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

Garua (tango, 1943)

“Garua” is a very popular 1943 tango by Anibal Troilo and Enrique Cadícamo. It is the second of 3 tangos produced by them both, the other two being “Pa’ que bailen los muchachos” (1942) and “Naipe” (1944).

According to a story told by Cadícamo himself, Troilo came up to him with a musical piece one night after his show at the cabaret Tibidabo. Troilo asked Cadícamo if he could create lyrics for hus music and as he walked back home that night there was a very light rain falling over him. This is where Cadícamo conceived the first verses of one of his most famous tangos. [1]

Drizzle!

Sad and lonely along the road,

goes this heart striken with sadness

Like an abandoned house

Garua is a lunfardo term of Quechua origin which translates to “drizzle”. [4]

The rains is a recurrent theme in tango and has been evoked directly or indirectly in many other pieces such as “El café de Los Angelitos”, “El ultimo café”, “Charlemos”, “Tarde gris”, and “La noche que te fuiste” as a symbol of sadness and loneliness. [3]

It wasn’t long after that night under the drizzle that Cadícamo came back to the Tibidabo with “Garua”. A few days later Troilo was rehearsing with Francisco Fiorentino and the song was an instant hit. It was first recorded by Troilo and Fiorentino on August 4, 1943 under the label RCA Victor. Pedro Laurenz recorded his own version two days later with Alberto Podestá under the label Odeon.

“Garua” became a great classic of Troilo’s repertoire and in 1962 he recorded it again with Roberto Goyeneche who also had great success with it and went on recording two other versions with Raul Garello and Astor Piazzolla.

Other well known interpretations of “Garua” include those of Hugo del Carril and Adriana Varela.

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

[2] Garúa. Tangos al Bardo, 2013. Online. http://tangosalbardo.blogspot.com.ar/2013/07/garua.html

[3] El tango y la lluvia. El Litoral, 2011. Online. http://www.ellitoral.com/index.php/diarios/2011/08/20/escenariosysociedad/SOCI-02.html

[4] Diccionario lunfardo. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/comunidad/lunfardo/?i=G&s=all

La ultima curda

“La ultima curda” is one of the last great poems of the golden age of tango. It was written in 1956 by Catúlo Castillo to the music of Anibal Troilo. It tells the story of a deeply disillusioned man, talking to a bandoneon about the futility of life and the profound emotions he feels at the sound of a tango.

Curda is a lunfardo term which means “drunkenness” or “inebriation”; thus La ultima curda would translate as “the last inebriation”. It is the third of a series of tangos which presents the bandoneon as a living character and friend of the lonely man in the style of “Che bandoneon” by Homero Manzi. It also resonates with the work of Enrique Discepolo as it takes tango poetry down to it’s deepest level of existentialism.

(man talking to a bandoneon)

I know.. don’t say it. You are right!

Life is an absurd wound

and everything is so ephemeral

that it’s as good as getting drunk

to even bother telling my story

In his memoirs, Roberto Rivero remembers a beautiful summer evening when they were rehearsing “La ultima curda”. They were all gathered in Troilo’s apartment on Parana street near Avenida Corrientes, across the street from the cabaret Chanteclerc. They were making the last arrangements when they noticed a crowd was amassed in the street, interrupting late night traffic. Then they went out on the balcony and performed “La ultima curda” for the first time in public. It was such a magical night, Rivero says it felt a bit strange to sing “life is an absurd wound” in his book “Una luz de almacen”.

“La ultima curda” was recorded for the first time in 1956 by Anibal Troilo with the voice of Edmundo Rivero. It became a classic of his repertoire and he recorded another version with Goyeneche in 1963, followed by an in instrumental version in 1969. Both Roberto Goyeneche and Edmundo Rivero adopted it as well and continued performing and recording “La ultima curda” many times over.

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

[2] Adet, Manuel. La ultima curda. El Litoral. Online. http://www.ellitoral.com/index.php/diarios/2013/03/09/escenariosysociedad/SOCI-03.html

[2] Riveo, Edmundo. Una luz de almacen. Buenos Aire: Emecé editores, 1982. Print.

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.

Alma de Bohemio (tango,1914)

“Alma de bohemio” is one of the oldest classics of the tango repertoire. It was composed in 1914 by Roberto Firpo for a play by Florencio Parravicini.

Parravicini was a regular at the cabaret Armenonville where Firpo used to perform with his leading edge tango orchestra. He hired Firpo to perform in his play “Alma de bohemio” which was premiered at the Teatro Argentino in 1914.

Though the musical structure of “Alma de bohemio” remains that of a tango of the guardia vieja, it is said that it shows some refinement in the melody. Roberto Firpo was an innovative musician, a pioneer of tango and a visionary in many ways.

Like most compositions at that time, “Alma de bohemio” was originally an instrumental piece. The lyrics we know today were composed well into the era of tango canción by Juan Andres Caruso who often wrote for Carlos Gardel.

Traveler and dreamer, to sing…

I want [to sing] my fantasy

and the mad poetry which lies in my heart

“Alma de bohemio” was recorded many times over by Roberto Firpo himself as well as other orchestras, singers and musicians throughout the history of tango including the Orquesta Tipica Victor, Francisco Canaro, Rodolfo Biagi, Osvaldo Fresedo, Alfredo de Angelis, Ricardo Tanturi, Osvaldo Pugliese, Ignacio Corsini, Alberto Castillo, Los Tubatango, Hugo Díaz, Astor Piazzolla and Plácido Domingo.

“Alma de bohemio” was featured in the movie “Tango in 1933 with the voice of Alberto Gómez.

Alberto Podestá is famous for his interpretation of “Alma de bohemio” with long extensions of the second verse as recorded by Pedro Laurenz in 1943.

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