Category Archives: Poetry

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

___

[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.

Lunfardo

The Lunfardo is a popular language or slang characteristic of the Rio de la Plata. It appeared during the second half of the 19th century, just as tango did, as a result the massive immigration and cultural mixing which accompanied the expansion of the city of Buenos Aires. It is mostly composed of italian words from the genoese, toscan, napolitan and sicilian dialects as well as other expressions of afro-brasilian, Spanish, aboriginal and gauchesco origin. [3]

Like any other argots or slang, the lunfardo is not a language in itself but a set of words and expressions which are not a part of the official language. According to Jose Gobello, who was the first to study the phenomenon in the 1950’s, lunfardo expressions were initially meant to be unintelligible or playful. Lunfardo is a voluntary transgression of the official language. [4]

It is often said that the lunfardo was “the language of the thieves” (the word “lunfardo” itself refers to “lombardo” meaning thief) though it was most probably and simply the language of the streets at a time when things could get rough in the suburbs and poor zones of the city center.

As the city of Buenos Aires continued to expanded and develop at the beginning of the 20th century the lunfardo became a part of the new urban culture. It was naturally present in the lyrics of the music which was born of the exact same urban context, the tango. It was immortalized in the rudimentary lyrics of pioneers such as Angel Villoldo as well as those of  Pascual Contursi, Celedonio Esteban Flores and other poets the 1920’s.

During the dictatorship in the 1930’s the lunfardo was banned from all media in Argentina along with other improper language or allusions to undesirable topics. [1] As a result the lunfardo disappeared completely from tango lyrics during the golden age. When the prohibition was lifted in the 50’s it proudly reappeared in popular culture including late tango recordings and Argentine rock songs [2]. The lunfardo had become a symbol of national identity and remains present in everyday language to the point of being integrated to or undistinguished from the official language.

The Academia Portena del Lunfardo was funded in 1962 to document the history and evolution of this phenomenon. Over 6000 lunfardo words and 3000 expressions have been identified from contemporary and historical sources. π

_________

[1] Fraga, Enrique. La prohibición del lunfardo en la radiodifusión argentina 1933-1953. Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 2006.

[2] Gobello, Jose, and Marcelo H. Oliveri. Tangueces y lunfardismos del rock argentino. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 2001. Print.

[3] Conde, Oscar. El lunfardo es un fenómeno linguístico único. Pagina12. Online. https://www.pagina12.com.ar/105340-el-lunfardo-es-un-fenomeno-linguistico-unico

[4] Entrevista a Jose Gobello. Revista El Abasto.  n .68, Aug 2005. Web. Sept 2016.