Category Archives: Tango

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 its 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 points 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.


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 with 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 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.


[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.

Enrique Santos Discepolo

Enrique Santos Discepolo was a successful poet, playwright, actor, movie director and screenwriter. He is the author of some of the most praised and deeply existentialist tango lyrics including those of Yira yira“, “Uno” and “Cambalache”.

Discepolo was born in the neighbourhood of Balvanera in 1901. His father was a musician from Napoli who died when Enrique was only 5 years old. Having lost his mother also by the age of 8, he experience the pain of becoming an orphan as a child and went to live with his older brother, Armando Discepolo, a successful young playwright who was 14 years older than him.

Following the footsteps of his brother Armando, Enrique made his debut as an actor in 1917. One year later he wrote his own play and became a renowned playwright with “El Organito” premiered at the Teatro Nacional in 1925.

Discepolo wrote his first tango in 1926 for a play by José Saldías entitled “La porota”. Since the phenomenal success of “Mi noche triste” as a part of the saineteLos dientes del perro” in 1918, it was common for tango songs of a new genre to be premiered and popularized as a part of a play. However, this first tango by Discepolo entitled “Bizcochito” didn’t have much substance to it. It never gained popularity and remains forgotten to this day.

It was not long after “Bizcochito” that Discepolo found his voice as a poet and profoundly cynical observer of social reality. Soon after he wrote “Que vachache” followed by “Esta noche me emborracho”, and by 1928 these two tangos were gaining a lot of attention through the interpretations of popular signers Azucena Maizani and Tita Merello.

Carlos Gardel recorded many of Discepolo’s first tangos including “Yira Yira(1929), which he selected to produce one of his famous video clips in 1930, contributing largely to reinforce the notoriety of Discepolo as a poet of tango.

Throughout the 1930’s Discepolo wrote various musicals and composed many more tangos including “Cambalache (1934), “Desencanto (1937) and “Alma de bandoneón (1935). He traveled to Europe and began working as an actor, movie director and screenwriter.

In the 1940’s he wrote some of his most important pieces including “Uno (1943) “Canción desesperada (1944) and “Cafetín de Buenos Aires” (1948), all while continuing his career in cinema and theater.

Censorship affected Discepolo under the military government in 1943 as “Cambalache and “Unowere banned. Discepolo was among the authors who took action to lift the prohibition under the government of Peron in 1949.

Discepolo was happily married to tango singer Tania. He died of cancer in 1951.


[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. III). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Librerias Libertador, 2002. Print.

[3] Peña, Alberto. Recopilación antologica para una sociología tanguera. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998.

Sainete (theatrical play)

The sainete criollo is a type of theatrical piece which played an important role in the evolution of tango songs. It originated in 17th century Spain where it was often performed during interludes and featured musical parts and singing. In Argentina the sainete evolved into an independent genre and became an important vehicle for tango songs to emerge and become a part of popular culture.

In early 17th century Spain, the sainete was a very short comedy of popular tone. It usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters and included musical parts and singing. The purpose of the sainete was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a function.

When social context in Spain called for the creation shorter plays in the mid 19th century, zarzuelas were divided between two genre: the genero grande (long genre) and the genero chico (short genre). The sainete was assimilated to the genero chico (short genre) to create affordable, popular plays of approximately 45 minutes.

Meanwhile in Argentina the sainete continued to develop as an independent genre, combining elements of the circo criollo (circus) and tango. Unlike the original Spanish sainete, the sainte criollo was not pure comedy. It continued to feature scenes of ordinary life but incorporated elements of drama and became a of reflection of local realities such as life in the conventillos, the shared houses where modest families of immigrants used to live in close proximity in the city of Buenos Aires.

The sainete criollo played an important part in the emergence of the tango canción in the 1920’s. The first tango canciónMi noche triste by Pascual Contursi was popularized through a sainete, “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach. The tango canción is the kind of tango promoted by Carlos Gardel and it played an important role in the transition between the guardia vieja and the guardia nueva.

Many more tango songs were written for sainetes following the phenomenal success of  Mi noche triste. They were often premiered by actors such as Tita Merello and Sofia Bozan and recorded by singers such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini.


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.


The Armenonville was a remakably luxurious cabaret frequented by the high society of the 1910’s and 1920’s. It was located near the edge of the city of Buenos Aires on Avenida Alvear, now Libertador, at the corner of Tagle.

The building itself was a two story chalet designed to resemble a French hunting pavillon of the same name. It was surrounded by large green spaces and parks with enchanting terraces and rotondas. It was particularly popular during the summer months for the upper classes to escape the city in good style.

The food was of the very best quality at the cabaret Armenonville, just as everything else the cabaret had to offer. Promotional posters announced the finest french cuisine, imported wines, parking for automobiles and carriages, beautiful terraces, gardens and the finest entertainment.

The purpose of a cabaret is to offer dinner and show and so the ground level inside of the Armenonville was organized around a large dance floor and a stage. The room was surrounded not only by tables but also by boxes and balconies like in a theatre.

This most highly fashionable venue was inaugurated by Vicente Greco and his orquesta típica in 1911. Other tango musicians who performed at the Armenonville in the early years include Roberto Firpo, Eduardo Arolas and Augustin Bardi.

The Armenonville also played an important role in advancing the career of Carlos Gardel. In 1913, Gardel was hired to perform at the Armenonville with José Razanno for 70 pesos per night, a sum for which Gardel admitted he would have been grateful to wash the dishes as well. There the duo attracted the attention of Pablo Podestá, a regular who led them to travel to Montevideo where Gardel discovered his first tango, “Mi noche triste”.

When the Armenonville was demolished in 1925, the owners Carlos Bonifacio Lanzavecchia and Manuel Loreiro took their business to a new location. The cabaret Armenonville became Les Ambassadeurs.

There is a 1912 tango by Juan Maglio entitled “Armenonville”.


[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. II). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] “El Armenonville, un cabaret inspirador”. Clarin, october 8, 2012. Online.

[3] “Carlos Gardel: Debut en Armenonville.” Hagase la musica. Online.

[4] Cabaré Armenonville. Arcón de Buenos Aires. Online.


The cabaret is a type of night club featuring dinner and show. In Buenos Aires they appeared in the early 1910’s and are closely related to the history of tango. During the 1930’s they evolved into luxurious restaurants with a dance floor surrounded by tables and a bar. This is where the major orchestras of the golden age such as those of Juan d’Arienzo and Anibal Troilo could be found on a regular basis.

The Buenos Aires cabarets were located mostly in the center of the city along avenida Corrientes. Some were frequented only by men and were animated by the mysterious alternadoras, coperas and papirusas, which were all women who were in charge of entertaining men and get them to consume and to come back. Some of these restaurants-dancing also were designed for couples to go out together for a cozy evening.

The cabaret of the golden age was usually associated to a particular tango orchestra which was the main attraction of the house and a measure of their prestige. Juan d’Arienzo was the star at Chanteclerc, Anibal Troilo the soul of Tibidabo and Lucio Demare was at El Casanova.

If tango orchestras were the main attraction at the cabaret of the golden age, they were not the only entertainment. Jazz orchestras and other performers were also featured before and after during the evening. And on Saturdays the típicas were off to perform in popular dance halls across the city.

Some of the legendary cabarets of Buenos Aires are the Armenonville, the Chantecler, the Royal Pigall, the Marabú and Palais de glace. These were the luxurious cabarets mostly located along the Avenida Corrientes. More humble cabarets, also known as los del Bajo, were located near the port and what is now the Centro cultural Kirtchner. The Ocean Dancing, which featured Miguel Caló and Osvaldo Pugliese, was located at Leandro N. Alem 286. Nearby was the Montmartre, el Royal, el Derby and Cielo de California where guests were greeted by a doorman dressed up like a cowboy. [2]

When the popularity of tango and live music declined in the 1950’s and 60’s, most cabarets were already closed. They remain present and alive in the poetry of tango, and their influence is obvious in the organization of traditional milongas.


[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. II). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] Palacio, Jorge. Los cabarets de los anos cuarenta. Todotango. Online.


The estribillista is the singer of the orchesta típica of the 1920’s and 1930’s. It’s purpose is to perfom the estribillo (refrain) in such a way that the orchestra and the music remains at the center of attention. It differs from the cantor de orquesta (orchestra singer) of the golden age and solo tango singers.

In the early 1920’s, singing was reserved to soloists such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini. These singers used to perform with guitars or small band which would accommodate their voice and were not concerned with delivering a steady beat for dancing. Orquestas típicas were performing instrumental pieces only.

Francisco Canaro was the first director to incorporate a singer to his orchestra. In his memoirs he says he felt something was missing and so he invited Roberto Diaz to perform the estribillo and began experimenting with duos.

The challenges to integrate a singer to an orchestra were many at a time were there were no microphones and amplifiers. The voice of the singer had to be powerful enough to accompany the instruments in noisy public places, cafes and nightclubs. Cone were used sometimes but not an ideal solution estetically. Also it didn’t seem to occurre to anyone to slow down the pace or do major efforts to accomodate the voice of the singer until Anibal Troilo began working with Francisco Fiorentino in 1937.

Besides all of this the contribution of the estribillista to the orchestra was rarely credited. Singers were not regarded as members of the band and their names often did not even appear on recordings.

However the estribillista became popular by the end of the 1920’s and some soloists such as Charlo were associated to an orchestras. Juan Carlos Thorry and Ernesto Famá worked with Osvaldo Fresedo, Félix Gutiérrez with Julio de Caro, Dante with D’arienzo, Teófilo Ibáñez with Roberto Firpo and Santiago Devin with Carlos Di Sarli.

The presence, status and recognition of the estribillistas continued to improve as electric technologies allowed for better performances and in the 1930’s all orchestra were working with singers. Some were associated to a particular orchestra like Roberto Ray to Osvaldo Fresedo and others like Luis Diaz and Francisco Fiorentino worked with many.

It’s not until 1937 that the orchestras finally begin to fully integrate the signer and to adapt the music to showcase the voice and poetry of tango. That all began with Anibal Troilo and the first cantor de orquesta Francisco Fiorentino.


García Blaya, Ricardo. El cantor del Tango: su evoluci’on en el tiempo – El estribillista. Todotango. Online.

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.


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