History of Tango video– Part 8: Roberto Firpo and the acceptance of the piano in the Orquesta Típica

See our article, click here.

History of Tango – Part 8: Roberto Firpo and the acceptance of the piano in the Orquesta Típica

Young Roberto FirpoBorn on May 10, 1884 in the City of Las Flores (today annexed to the City of Buenos Aires as a neighborhood).
Firpo spent his childhood working in his family’s store. Although he showed interest in music and painting, his family could not afford an artistic education for him. Since they needed his help with the family business, his father took him out of school after fifth grade.
Enrique Cadícamo tells us that, as a teenager, he felt terribly ashamed when girls in the town watched him working hard as a delivery boy for his family business.
He confronted his father about his plan to leave Las Flores to find his destiny in the big city. Firpo displayed such determination that his father realized he could not retain him, and instead gave him the freedom to leave home and some money to start an independent life in Buenos Aires.
There, he worked in a store located in the corner of Santa Fe and Callao streets. Then he worked in the shoe industry and, in 1903, at an important steel mill, Talleres Vasena, where he met Juan “Bachicha” Deambroggio. At the time, Bachicha was learning to play bandoneon with Alfredo Bevilacqua, one of the greats of the time, author of “Venus”, “Independencia”, “Apolo” and other classics. Firpo began assisting in these classes and learning the instrument of his choice, piano, and music theory.
Having no money to purchase a piano, Firpo made himself an instrument. He constructed it with glass bottles filled with different amounts of water, each producing a different note, a kind of improvised xylophone, which allowed him to practice his lessons in some way. At 19 years old, Firpo was fiercely dedicated and he learned a lot.
In 1904 he left Buenos Aires to work at the port of the City of Ingeniero White, where, at night, he played the piano at a bar of the port. This allowed him to round out his training, and when he made enough money to buy his own piano, he returned to Buenos Aires and did so.
Firpo said he always remembered that day as “the happiest of his life”. On a quest to perfect his technique, he continued his studies with Bevilacqua.
During the day, he took all sorts of odd jobs, while at night, he played in several neighborhood bars and cafés. Sometimes Firpo played in a duet with Bachicha, or others in a trio with Juan Carlos Bazán on clarinet and Francisco Postiglione on violin.
Trio Roberto FirpoIn 1907, he received an invitation to play at La Marina, a famous place in La Boca neighborhood. That engagement increased his fame and lead to his temporary contract with another prestigious place of the tango scene, “Hansen”, in Palermo neighborhood, at the rate of three pesos per night and permission to pass the dish (hat). From this moment on, he worked exclusively as a musician.
During this time he presented his first compositions: “El Compinche”, “La Chola” and “La Gaucha Manuela”, the last two would later be recorded by Pacho, adding the title of composer to his already great reputation as a musician.
In 1908, with his “Trio Firpo”, he played at “Café La Castellana” on Avenida de Mayo, at “Bar Iglesias” on 1400 Corrientes Street, at “El Velódromo” and “El Tambito” in Palermo neighborhood, and at “Armenonville”, the famous cabaret.
It was at “El Velódromo” (a place located close to Hansen), where Bazán began to blow a clarinet call, in order to attract the clientele that passed towards Hansen’s. The result was that the latter was almost empty, while “El Velódromo” was filling up. To solve the problem, the employer of the first contracted them again, this time for the sum of two pesos for each of them!
Later, that call made by Bazán would become the beginning of his tango “La chiflada”.
Max GlucksmannIn 1911, he joined the recording company ERA, of Domingo Nazca, “El Gaucho Relámpago”, accompanying other musicians on his piano, and recording piano solos and duets with a violin player. Then he recorded briefly for the company Atlanta and soon moved to the recording company Odeón, of Max Glücksmann.
In 1912, Firpo formed a trio with “El Tano” Genaro Espósito playing bandoneon and David Roccatagliatta on violin, performing at café “El Estribo”, on Entre Rios Avenue, where Vicente Greco had performed before with Francisco Canaro. Casimiro Aín was their star dancer.
He also formed a trio with Eduardo Arolas on the bandoneon and Leopoldo Ruperto Thomson on guitar. This formation would evolve in a quartet with Roccatagliatta, and into a quintet with Roque Biafore as second bandoneon. Thomson eventually exchanged the guitar for double bass.

Gardel y RazzanoIn 1913, while playing at Armenonville, Gardel-Razzano premiered there. From then on, the singers would become great friends of Roberto Firpo, with whom he later worked at Odeón and toured Argentina. It was on that tour, in 1918, that the singers abandoned him one dark night and fled to Buenos Aires to witness the revenge of Botafogo and Gray Fox in the Hippodrome of Palermo. Recalling those days and the things that Gardel and Razzano did, Firpo said more than once: “With those jesters you could not have peace. They drove me crazy!”
On that same night in 1913, Firpo premiered his compositions “Sentimiento Criollo”, “Argañaraz” and “Marejada”.
Firpo was at this time one of the most recognized and celebrated composer of Tango, and for that reason, the recording company Lepage Odeón, of Max Glücksmann, summoned him to make their first recordings. Firpo would start a catalogue of recordings on discs, only surpassed over the years by his colleague Francisco Canaro. From the piano, he directed a set that counted on Bachicha on bandoneon, Tito Roccatagliatta on violin and Bazán on winds. At the time, recording the piano with other instruments presented challenges because the overwhelming sound of the piano would drown out the other instruments. Firpo recordingFirpo was able to resolve the problem by simply placing the instruments in an order that is still kept at the orquestas típicas. Due to the advantage this gave Odeón over other recording companies, in addition to his talent, it is perhaps why Firpo achieved such special position in the company. Odeón was known at the time for having the best technical equipment. Firpo was hired by Odeón with an exclusive contract: he would remain the only musician recording tangos with an “orquesta típica” for them.
Francisco Canaro recorded on the Era label. Following the success of his tango “El Chamuyo”, a manager of Odeón spoke with him about recording for them, but since Firpo had an exclusive contract, he was able to block other orchestras from recording. That is why Canaro began recording with a trio at Odeón, and sought an agreement with Firpo, “which consisted of paying him six cents for each record that was sold recorded by my orchestra” – said Canaro.

Firpo in OdeonIn 1914 came his greatest success: “Alma de bohemio”, which he composed for a play of the same name, at the request of the brilliant actor Florencio Parravicini.
Other tangos by Firpo include “Fuegos Artificiales” (composed with Eduardo Arolas), “Didí”, “El Amanecer” (the first example of descriptive music in the genre), “El Rápido”, “Vea Vea”, “El Apronte”, “La Carcajada” and many others. He was also a passionate cultivator of the waltz, from which he produced a large amount, generally with great repercussion at the time: “Pálida sombra”, “Noche calurosa”, “Ondas sonoras”, “Noches de frío” and others.

Confiteria La GiraldaIn 1916 in Montevideo, he played what would become the tango of all tangos, “La Cumparsita”, by Gerardo Hernán Matos Rodríguez, which at that time was a two-part song. Firpo, in the style of the “Guardia Vieja”, composed the third. Some time later he would regret not having signed it jointly: the rights of “La Cumparsita” reported millions!
With respect to this fundamental tango, Firpo recalled: “In 1916 I was at “Confiteria La Giralda” in Montevideo, when one day a man arrived accompanied by about fifteen boys – all students – to tell me that they had a humble carnival march, and wanted me to take a look and fix it because they thought there was a tango. They wanted it for that night, because it was needed for a boy named Matos Rodríguez. In the score, in two by four, appeared a little of the first part and in the second part there was nothing. I got a piano and I remembered two tangos of mine composed in 1906 that had not had any success: “La Gaucha Manuela” and “Curda Completa”, and I put a little of each one. At night I played it with Bachicha Deambroggio and Tito Roccatagliatta. It was an apotheosis, and everybody celebrated Matos Rodríguez that night. But the tango was then forgotten. Its great success began when they attached the lyrics of Enrique Maroni and Pascual Contursi”.
Firpo-Canaro carnaval 1917

In 1917, Firpo was hired for the dance parties of carnival at the Teatro Colón of Rosario, forming the giant orchestra Firpo-Canaro, integrated by: Roberto Firpo and José Martinez on pianos; Eduardo Arolas, Osvaldo Fresedo, Minotto Di Cicco, Pedro Polito and Bachicha Deambrogio on bandoneons; Francisco Canaro, Agelisao Ferrazzano, Tito Roccatagliatta, Julio Doutry and A. Scotti on violins; Alejandro Michetti on flute; Juan Carlos Bazán on clarinet; and Leopoldo Thompson on double bass. This orchestra achieved great success, so they were hired again in 1918.

He then played with his formation in the play “Los dientes del perro” accompanying Manolita Poli when she sang “Mi noche triste”, the lyrics that Pascual Contursi wrote for Samuel Castriota’s “Lita”, which went on to be the first tango recorded by Carlos Gardel, and considered the first tango lyric structured in the the way that would become classical to Tango.
On more than one occasion, Firpo shared the stage with the duet Gardel-Razzano, in addition to enduring their relentless jokes. Once, when Firpo played the pasodoble “Que salga el toro!” (Release the bull!), at the moment in which one of the members of the orchestra shouted the title of this song in the middle of the performance, Gardel – using his index fingers as horns – struck the musicians who went to the floor.
Beyond such terrible jokes, Firpo and Gardel-Razzano recorded together once in 1917, the tango “El Moro”, although in the label Gardel and Razzano do not appear, oddly, except – as it is – as authors. Revenge of Firpo? No. What actually happened is that no vocalization was planned. Gardel and Razzano just burst into the recording room and the joke, in this case, consisted of singing the lyrics of the song surprising Firpo. The recording company edited the record without modifying the disc label.

The success of Firpo was also financial. He made lots of money for his performances, but even more for his recordings and composer’s rights.
In 1928, he unexpectedly abandoned Tango for a while. He himself explained the reason to Héctor and Luis Bates: “With the money I received for the recordings, I felt like a cattleman. Everything I had, I invested in the hacienda. In a year, I got to earn a million pesos … Then came that sadly famous flood of the Paraná River that decimated my farm; I wanted to make up for so much loss and I tried my luck in the stock market. It was in 1929. There I lost everything I had left. I had to go back to the work I had done before, I formed my orchestra and started again.”
Firpo composerHe also returned to the composition, with an eloquent title: “Honda Tristeza”.

Firpo was one of the greatest musicians of Tango, of complete musical erudition, nevertheless, maintained his work within the purest traditional school.
Some of the great tango musicians who started their career with him included Eduardo Arolas, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Maffia, Bachicha, Cayetano Puglisi, Horacio Salgán and many others.
For instance, Julio De Caro‘s first public performance and the beginning of his career playing tango was with Firpo, when De Caro was only 17 years old. His friends arranged for De Caro to see Firpo playing at the cabaret Palais de Glace, even though De Caro was not old enough to be admitted in a cabaret. At the time, boys would not wear long pants until they were 18 years old. Parents would give them their “pantalones largos” as a admission into adulthood. So, Julio’s friends had to get a pair of long pants that would be the credential of being old enough to get into the cabaret, and once he was there, during Firpo’s performance, his “barra” (group of friends) started to shout “Que suba el pibe!” (Bring the boy to the stage!). Julio joined his friends in the shouting, not knowing that “el pibe” (the boy) was him. In short, his friends carried him onto the stage, Firpo asked his violin player to give Julio the instrument and asked him what he would like to play, to which De Caro responded “La Cumparsita”. Eduardo Arolas was also there, and was so impressed by De Caro’s playing, that asked him to play in his orchestra.

Firpo & CanaroRoberto Firpo’s recording work is immense and surely many titles have remained unregistered. During the time of acoustic recordings he made more than 1650 records and at the end of his career, back in 1959, close to 3000 recordings.
Roberto Firpo is one of the first evolutionists of Tango as a director, interpreter and composer.
In those initial days of the “Orquesta Típica”, he definitively established the piano in the tango orchestra, which displaced the guitar, but his way of playing the piano borrowed a lot from the way of playing the guitar in Tango and in the native music of the gauchos, for instance the “bordoneo”, a technique used to embellish the melody with notes from the sixth string of the guitar -the lowest pitched string, called “bordona”.
Firpo orquestaHis orchestra was a model that pointed the way to go, signaling a trend that will germinate in future tango formations.
As a performer, he owned a very fine style – as we can hear in his exquisite solo recordings – and was the first to use the pedal, which offered a greater resonance.
As a composer, he introduced in Tango the romantic emotion, which until then was foreign to the genre.
His personality had the same magnetism as his work – tells us, again, Cadícamo. He was always great and sweet to everybody. Even at the peak of his fame and his fortune, he never made display of it, always living modestly, having all that he and his family needed.
He passed away at the age of 85, on June 14, 1969, being a living glory of Tango since a long time before.Roberto Firpo

Read also:

Bibliography:

Internet:

Movies:
Other:

Books:

  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango – La Guardia Vieja”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Silvestre Byron, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.

SaveSave

SaveSave

History of Tango – Part 7: Origins of the Orquesta Típica – Francisco Canaro

Origins of the Orquesta Típica

Francisco Canaro

Listen to the article, click here.
Click to listen to audio

We would like to tell you about the early life of Francisco Canaro. According to Tango historian Orlando Del Greco “In this name, all the Tango is summarized”.

Francisco Canaro, artistic name of Francisco Canaroso, was born in Uruguay in 1888.


During his early childhood he moved with his family to Buenos Aires, where they rented a room in a “conventillo”, collective form of accommodation or housing in which several poor families

Conventilloshared a house, typically one family for each room using communal sanitary services. His family was very poor. Later, he would become one of the wealthiest people in Argentina, and a major contributor to the diffusion of Tango in Buenos Aires, the rest of Argentina and abroad. He went on to be very involved in the struggle for musicians and composers rights, making it possible to make a living for musicians and generating incentives for them to improve and be creative. His life runs parallel to the history of Tango: starting in the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, moving up the social ladder, eventually achieving world wide recognition.

SADAIC-foto-casa en Lavalle 1547, anterior al 4 de mayo de 1940 que se inaugura la nueva Sede - copiaNot long after Canaro and his family arrived in Buenos Aires, a smallpox epidemic broke out. Three of his siblings got sick, causing one of them to die. To avoid contracting smallpox, Francisco and his remaining siblings had to sleep outside his family’s one-room home.

Niños vendiendo diariosThey decided that they needed to do something to help, and without telling his parents, Francisco, Rafael and Luis went to sell newspapers in the streets.

They would beg in the streets to get some money to buy newspapers at 5 cents, to sell them at 8 cents. They found a corner that seemed well suited for the enterprise, at Entre Rios and San Juan streets, but they soon discovered the corner was already the post of two other brothers. A conflict soon developed into a fight that ended with all of them at the police station. There they settled on an arrangement to share that corner and a new post with the other siblings.

Francisco also worked as shoeshine boy in the afternoons, after selling newspapers in the mornings.

Later Canaro and his family moved to a “conventillo” at Sarandí 1358, occupying Room 31, where one of his neighbors was Vicente Greco. In modern day Buenos Aires, the freeway from the Ezeiza Airport to the downtown area passes over the former location of this “conventillo”.

When he and his family moved, Francisco got a job in a workshop manufacturing oil cans.

His passion for music began in his childhood. He had a good voice and would be a soloist during the comparsas de carnaval (Carnival Parades). Later, a neighbor in the “conventillo”, taught him to play the guitar, and soon he started playing with other kids in the neighborhood parties.

He also learned how to play the mandolin, but his dream was to play the violin. Not being able to afford one, he made his own using an oil can and a wooden board.

Farol a kerosenIn his memoirs, Francisco tells us about his childhood and what he and the other kids in the neighborhood liked to do. Going to the circus was a favorite, but they did not have money. Part of the fun was to try to get in without paying and to avoid getting caught by the workers and guards. They also played games in the street called “rayuela”, “villarda”, “Cachurra monta la burra”, and “vigilantes y ladrones”. Also, there were stone throwing wars between the kids of Sarandí Street and Rincón Street. He also confessed to “diabluras” with other kids, breaking the glass of the street kerosene lamps using their sling shots.

Congreso en construcciónHe learned the painter’s craft, and worked on the final stages of the Congress Building, together with another tango musician and composer: Augusto P. Berto.

At this time, he got enough money to buy a violin in a pawn shop.

He decided that he wanted music to be his profession, formed a trio, and went to play in a brothel in the town of “Ranchos”, eighty miles south of Buenos Aires, in 1906.

Canaro retrato 1906It was a very tough place, where the regulars were men that went to prison at some moment of their lives.

One night an argument between the police guarding the door and two drunk men ended in gunshots and two police dead. The trio was placed on a very precarious balcony near the entrance, and one of the gunshots perforated the floor of the balcony, luckily not injuring Canaro or his colleagues. The musicians, fearing harm or even death if they continued working in such conditions, demanded that the owner of the brothel terminate their contract, but the owner convinced them to stay by shielding the balcony with sheets of iron.

At this time, Canaro, who was very dedicated to his study of music, decided to take lessons with a local music teacher.

Then the trio continued to Guaminí, a town 300 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, on the border with the province of La Pampa. There they found work in a “casa de baile” (literally a dance hall, but more likely a brothel masked as a dance hall) called “El colorado”. The owner did not hire them, but allowed them to put out a plate and ask the dancers to pay ten cents for each song they danced, which they paid at the end of the round, one, two or more songs.

However, there was one guy, nicknamed “Firulete,” who would always find his way out of the place without paying. He was fond of showing off, and his gang of friends would often shout “Solo!” to demand everyone clear the dance floor to allow “Firulete” to display his dance skills.

CompadritoCanaro and his colleagues got more and more annoyed by this over time, until one night they confronted him and demanded payment. “Firulete” reacted dramatically as though they had insulted him and waited outside with two of his gang members to provoke them to fight, which led to fist fights and gunshots. By the time the police arrived, they only found the musicians, since the others were locals and knew the town well and how to sneak away quickly.

The musicians ended up in jail for creating unrest, and they were forced to sleep on the cold ground with no blankets for many nights. Their only reprieve was a police escort to play at “El colorado”, a “privilege” granted to them thanks to the friendship between the sheriff and the owner of “El colorado.”

After a while, they were released from jail, assisted by the mediation of a “compadre” from the area, who became friends with the musicians during their stay in Guaminí.

A consolation for Canaro was hearing that “Firulete” was eventually caught, and submitted to the standard treatment sheriffs gave to “compadritos”, which consisted of cutting their hair short and removing the “taquito militar” (heels) from his shoes.

PachoAlso during Canaro’s time spent in Guaminí, he met Pacho. A friendship that lasted until Pacho’s death, in 1934.

Pacho came to Guaminí with his orchestra to play at the other “casa de baile” of the town, called “El verde”.

In Canaro’s memoirs, he remembers the owner of “El verde” who was a large, elderly woman who was very beautiful in her youth, and very extravagant in her apparel. To attend and watch over the business, she used to place herself in a kind of pulpit where she could dominate the scene. She wore lots of jewelry, and placed a diadem on her head that gave her the look of a queen. Often she organized gala nights and demanded women working for the house dress in green colors, but to avoid uniformity. On those special nights she wore even more jewelry, creating a strong contrast between herself and her clientele. These parties were very famous during that time.

TrenCanaro and his orchestra then traveled on the train tracks to Salliqueló, 340 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, where they were not able to find a gig, since the town was very small and did not have dancing. As a means of survival, they went around to restaurants and asked the owners permission to play for donations. They received very little money, but enough for some food and lodging.

The next day, they arrived in Tres Lomas, where they were lucky enough to be hired in a “casa de baile.” The building was constructed with wooden walls and metal sheets ceiling and it was a very cold winter. During this time, the trio was playing at the top of their game, and were received with great acceptance by the audience. But in some moment they heard a noise: Tac! It was a drop of the water condensed on the ceiling due to the cold temperature. And then, one of these drops fell on the first string of Canaro’s violin, breaking it. They continued playing until the amount of water falling on them made it impossible. Canaro remembers that in order to continue playing, he had to do it with one string, and compared it with the feat of the great violinist Nicolo Paganini, who played a famous concerto with one string. Canaro acknowledged that his feat did not become as well known, playing in a obscure corner of the province of Buenos Aires, with a violin that only cost eight pesos, interpreting the tango “Piantá piojito que te cacha el paine”.

Then, the trio moved to Trenque Lauquen, where they did well enough, and Canaro felt especially fortunate because he started dating two of the ladies in the town. One of them was the daughter of the owner of the “casa de baile” they were working for, and the other was a girl from the town.

However, his fortune did not last long, since Canaro had to play in another town one hundred miles away. Nevertheless, Canaro wrote letters to them both to stay in touch.

Unfortunately, their experience in this new town was not good because they did not make enough money to pay for their hotel, leading them instead to escape in the middle of the night.

The next town was General Acha. They worked there for a short time, and when they were tired, decided to return to Buenos Aires.

Canaro had continued writing to his two girlfriends, but on one occasion made the mistake of mixing up the envelopes and letters, sending each of them the letter written for the other. When the train back to Buenos Aires made its stop in Trenque Lauquen, both of them were outraged and waited for Francisco at the station to confront him and make a scene.

Domingo SalernoIn 1907, after a short stay in Buenos Aires, Canaro headed with the guitar player Domingo Salerno, author among other great tangos of “Marianito”, to San Pedro, a town 100 miles north west of Buenos Aires. They found work at a “casa de baile” called “La Puerta de Fierro”, but since they wanted a trio, they invited a local musician who played the flute, nicknamed “El Cuervo”. This musician, according to Canaro, had the problem of falling asleep between tangos, letting his flute fall on the floor, making a noise that made the regulars laugh.

The owner of the house was an Italian guy, not well mannered, whose big mustache would get wet in the soup he ate for dinner, which he would clean by licking it with his tongue. Canaro tells us that when the sheriff of San Pedro called this guy on the telephone, he would answer by standing up and taking off his hat, repeating “Yes Sir!”

Francisco Canaro en 1907The trio grew up to a quartet when Canaro incorporated another violin player, called Merella. Sadly, Merella soon got sick and needed surgery. After the surgery, he was not improving, and Canaro decided to accompany him back to Buenos Aires by train. Soon after getting on the train, Canaro noted that Merella wasn’t moving. He spoke to him with no response. Canaro took a small mirror that he carried in his pocket and placed it in front of his nose and observing that the mirror did not fog up, realized his friend was dead. When the train inspector came to ask for their tickets, Canaro told him what had happened. The inspector called the manager and they determined that the dead body could not continue on the train and asked Canaro to exit the train with his friend at the next station. Canaro begged them to let him  continue with his friend’s body to Buenos Aires, where the brother of his friend was waiting for them to arrive, but he was not successful, and had to get off the train in Baradero.

Canaro was hopeless at this point. Luckily, he found help from some cart drivers parked at the station, who took him and the deceased Merella to town, where Canaro was able to buy a coffin, make the necessary legal arrangements, and bury his friend in the local cemetery. Then he returned to San Pedro.

DiligenciaAfter a while he got the information from some travelers that they needed musicians in Arrecifes, 35 miles south, and that the pay was better than what they were receiving in San Pedro. He wrote to the owner of the place, confirming that he and a bandoneon player (Salerno decided to remain in San Pedro) could be there in a few days. The owner replied that they needed them immediately, so Canaro and the other musician decided to take the first available cart. This last-minute decision saved their lives. Later they found out that the cart they had planned to take was crashed into by a train, and no one survived.

Once they were established in Arrecifes, Canaro wrote to Buenos Aires for another musician, Pablo Bustos, to join them. Pablo had recently been released from prison for killing a man, alleging self-defense.

While living in Arrecifes, Canaro was dating a lady who used to be the girlfriend of someone nicknamed “El Zorro”, with the reputation of “guapo” (though), who was in prison. When news came that “El Zorro” was going to be released from prison, Canaro and his girlfriend decided to disappear together. They planned for her to hide out in another town and wait for Canaro, who would join her once he received his salary. But “El Zorro” found out about their plan, and one day he showed up at a bar near the “casa de baile” where Canaro and Pablo Bustos were playing cards with other townspeople. He ordered a drink and tried to pick a fight with Canaro by talking loudly and making indirect references to insult him. Canaro did not let this get to him, instead playing dumb. “El Zorro” eventually became impatient with his game of taunting Canaro and got close to him, pushed his shoulder, and said:

El compadre“Listen, little musician, I want to tell you something.”

“With great pleasure!” Canaro responded. He stood up, preparing for whatever would come next, while Pablo placed himself in a strategic position.

“El Zorro” made a gesture like he was reaching for his weapon and pushed Canaro out of the bar.

Then “El Zorro” said loudly, “I will make you tell me where Maria Esther (the lady) is.”

Canaro responded, “If you are so “El Zorro” (referring to the character who is clever and resourceful), why don’t you find her yourself?”

Then a fight broke out, but the people at the bar got in between them, the police came, and things did not go further.

But Canaro was convinced that “El Zorro” was not going to let this go, so, prudently, the following morning asked to be paid, took the train to meet Maria Esther, and continued on to Buenos Aires together, enjoying their romance for a while in the big city.

Once back in Buenos Aires in 1908, Canaro formed a trio together with Samuel Castriota on piano (author of “Mi noche triste”) and Vicente Loduca on bandoneon. They rehearsed feverishly until Canaro was satisfied with the repertoire and the sharpness of the interpretations. He found them a regular gig at “Café Royal” in the very center of the tango scene at the time, the corner of Suarez and Necochea streets, in La Boca neighborhood.

Suárez y Necochea (Pedro Ricci)They played on a balcony that was so small, it could barely contain all three of them. In his memoirs, Canaro said that every time he visited La Boca for any reason, he liked to come back to this place, look at the little balcony, and reminisce about his youth.

“Café Royal”, like other similar businesses, had waitresses, called “camareras”, who dressed in black with white aprons and were very accommodating with the clientele – and very good looking.

The specialty of the house was Turkish coffee, which customers liked very much.

The owner of “Royal” was a Greek gentleman with black curly hair who, in accordance with the fashion of the time, had a very thick mustache. Here wore a picturesque vest, from which he hung a thick golden clock chain, that had a big gold medal, which he carried with pride, perhaps as a sign of his status as the owner of the café.

Genaro EspósitoIn front of “Royal” was another café, as important, where the Greco brothers played. On Suarez Street, “La Marina” was where Genaro Espósito played. In front of “La Marina”, there was another café with Roberto Firpo playing. On Necochea Street, Arturo Bernstein demanded being served beer without interruption, alleging he could not play his bandoneon with a “dry throat”.

Kitty-corner to “Café Royal” was a big “Café-Concert”, perhaps the most important in the La Boca neighborhood, where Ángel Villoldo performed.

Angel VilloldoCanaro had great admiration for Ángel Villoldo. In his memoirs, Canaro describes how Villoldo amazed his audiences by playing the harmonica and guitar simultaneously, using a device he created to hold the harmonica on his chest, leaving his hands free to play the guitar. His compositions were very popular. For example:

“Soy hijo de Buenos Aires,
me llaman El Porteñito,
el criollo más compadrito
que en esta tierra nació…”

Canaro acknowledges his debt to this “precursor” of the “typical Porteño music”, and that not only he, but all tango musicians, composers, Tango itself and the country of Argentina owe a lot to Ángel Villoldo, who passed away on 1921 in complete poverty.

Continuing with Canaro’s description of the neighborhood of La Boca during those times, he tells us that the “Zeneise” language, a Genovese dialect, was spoken there almost more than Spanish. The area of La Boca centered on the corners of Suarez and Necochea streets, hosted not only shows, but also many restaurants. It was a neighborhood of night life, continuously bustling, that attracted many people from downtown and other neighborhoods, bringing out the gangs of young men from rich families, and not so young men, accompanied by beautiful ladies. Rivalries between them and the dwellers of La Boca would often arise, provoking fights.

A young man from the San Telmo neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fay”, frequented the bars of La Boca on an almost daily basis. He was a cart driver, strong, well-grounded, known for being “guapo” and his powerful fists, as he would resolve squabbles with punches. One punch from him resulted in one man out of the fight. The “Fay” was considered a neighbor of La Boca, not of the downtown, due to his regular and friendly camaraderie with the young people in that neighborhood.

One night, as usual, the “Fay” was accompanied by several friends at “Café Royal”, as he was a fan of Canaro’s music. A great friend of his, a waitress called María “La Morocha”, was invited to sit with them by the “Fay” while also attending to other tables. At another table close by, there was a “patota” (group of men), of a rich young men called Cacho Arana, and they started teasing “La Morocha”. When it became too much, the “Fay” responded to them and a fight broke out. First, they started throwing glasses and bottles, then chairs, then guns came out and tables went upside down. When the police arrived, the “Fay” was in the middle of the fight, throwing punches left and right. They closed the café and took everyone to the police station. These fights were common in La Boca.

Another night, Loduca was in the company of a Spanish lady, who had been involved with a guy nicknamed “El Ñato Campana”, with a reputation as “guapo” and a skillful thief.

Canaro explains that after the trio finished playing and they were on their way home, this guy showed up by surprise on the street with a gun in his hand. He threatened to take the woman with him by force, so Loduca quickly took his gun out and both of their guns fired without consequence. Although no one was injured, the next day Canaro discovered a bullet hole in his overcoat…

Eduardo ArolasAnother night, in 1909, a young man came to “Café Royal” with a group of friends, while Canaro’s trio was playing. He had the air of a “compadrito high life” (a wealthy, tough, young man), who wore a grey hat with a black ribbon, tilted forward, a checkered jacket with black and white squares and black trim, pants with a wide black stripe on each side and three small pearl buttons, a fancy vest with fileteados (a type of artistic drawing, with stylized lines typically used in Buenos Aires), and an ascot tie decorated with a colorful pin. He was very good looking and attractive, with long eyelashes, full eyebrows, good teeth, a ruddy complexion, and big black eyes. Considering the usual dynamics between gangs, Canaro was expecting a fight, but soon realized that this young man had come in a friendly mood when he noticed that he was carrying a bandoneon. He was Eduardo Arolas.

When the concert finished, they came down from the balcony to join him and his friends.

One of his friends said that he composed a very beautiful tango, and they all asked him to play it, to which he happily agreed. Arolas placed a small black velvet blanket on his lap, beautifully embroidered with his initials, got his bandoneon and played his tango “Una noche de garufa”. Canaro and his colleagues liked the tango very much, and included it in his repertoire. After that first meeting, they became close friends.

Among the popular songs during that time and still now, they played: “El Choclo”, “El Torito”, “El Porteñito” (Villoldo),”Don Juan” (Ponzio), “El Morochito” (Greco), “La Catrera” (De Bassi), “La Morocha”, “Felicia” (Saborido), “El Irresistible” (Logatti), “Venus” (Bevilacqua), “El Talar” (Aragón), “El llorón”, “Siete Palabras”, among others.

Roberto Firpo tercetoAround this time, Canaro also met Roberto Firpo, and they developed a close friendship. They were neighbors of the same neighborhood, San Cristobal, and every night they rode the #43 streetcar together.

By 1910, the year of the Centennial Anniversary of Argentina, Tango started to move from Suarez and Necochea streets to take over downtown.

The first to play downtown was Roberto Firpo. The success of his many compositions was the key that opened the center of Buenos Aires to him. The place was the “Bar Iglesias”, at 1400 Corrientes Street, where the Centro Cultural General San Martin is now located.

Orquesta Vicente Greco con CanaroCanaro’s trio eventually dissolved, and he entered the orchestra of Vicente Greco, to play at café “El Estribo” of Entre Rios Street 763/67, and at the dance halls of “Salon Rodriguez Peña” on Rodriguez Peña Street 344, close to Corrientes Street. At “El Estribo”, Canaro liked to stay late after his gigs in the “peña” that happened in the underground of the café, two or three times a week, where many “payadores”, guitar players and singers came together. Gardel and Razzano were regulars.

Rodriguez PeñaOn nights the “peña” was closed, he like to go with his colleagues after work to a “bodegón” (a kind of taproom) of the marketplace located across Entre Rios street. There, they enjoyed the specialty of the house, a succulent Italian style stew, served in abundant portions with a generous parmesan cheese topping, costing only ten or fifteen cents. They stayed there late into the night and would see other musicians and dancers, like “El Pardo Santillán” and “El Vasco Aín”, who where the organizers of the dances at “Salon Rodriguez Peña”.

Casimiro AínAnother place Canaro played with Greco was the house of “La Morocha Laura”, with a very selected clientele, located on Paraguay and Pueyrredón streets. Groups of wealthy young men rented the house for a fixed amount of time, including female dancers, drinks and musicians.

One night, a manager for “Casa Tagini” on Avenida de Mayo who ran Columbia Records in Buenos Aires, came to café “El Estribo” to sign them on to record. They accepted and, in order to differentiate their musical formation from others who did not specialized in Tangos, Canaro and Greco chose the title of “Orquesta Típica Criolla”.

Casa TaginiThese recordings were very successful and sold very well.

Once he left Greco’s orchestra, Canaro made other contributions to the formation of the “Orquesta Típica”, including the double bass (Ruperto Leopoldo Thomson) and the “estribillista” (a singer performing only the chorus part of a composition –Roberto Diaz).

Also, Canaro helped Tango to find its way to complete acceptance by all the sectors of Buenos Aires society, being the first Tango musician to play at the private parties celebrated in the houses of some of the most prominent upper class families of Buenos Aires.

As a composer, some of his first tangos are “Pinta Brava”, “Matasano”, “Charamusca”, “Nueve Puntos”, “La Tablada”, “El Pollito”, “El Chamuyo”, among others.

Read also:

Roberto DiazBibliography:

    • “Mis memorias. Mis bodas de oro con el tango”, Francisco Canaro, Ediciones Corregidor 1999.
    • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
    • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
    • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
    • “Encyclopedia of Tango”, Gabriel Valiente, 2014.
    • http://www.todotango.com/english/

Canaro-1916

Canaro orquesta en Brazil

History of Tango – Excerpt: Tango and knife fight

“Nació en los Corrales Viejos allá por el ochenta.
Hijo fue de la milonga y un “pesao” de arrabal.
Lo apadrinó la corneta del mayoral del tranvía
y los duelos de cuchillos le enseñaron a bailar”

“El Tango”, Miguel A. Camino, 1877-1944.

CORRALES VIEJOS Mataderos P PatriciosWhen Argentina took on the model of the “Generación del ochenta” (the governing elite which ruled the country from 1880 to 1916), the gaucho lost his habitat. The Pampa would be divided into “private property”, so Argentina could join “civilization”.

El GauchoMany of these gauchos opted for the opportunity to adapt to a new way of life in Buenos Aires, with its rapid growth due to a large influx of immigration.

They brought their knowledge and skills to the big city. They were expert cattle herdsmen, which fed the locals and the world, slaughterers, butchers, horse trainers, tram drivers, and carters, who knew the most efficient way of transporting cargo to the port. Their effectiveness in handling a knife was not limited to use with livestock. The gaucho was a man skilled in the art of fighting. The wars of independence, civil wars, and other less illustrious circumstances had trained him. But the gaucho was not a criminal. He had incorruptible ethics.

In the chaotic origins of our country, a new state that had just begun to get organized, the police force and justice system were not as efficient as one would have wished. With the population increasing by the day due to a careless immigration policy, which also led to more diversity, the most vulnerable sectors of the population found in those gauchos someone who supported them in their daily disputes. They were arbiters of justice spontaneously elected by their neighbors, residents of the poorest neighborhoods of the city, the suburbs, the “arrabales”, and received in gratitude, the title of “compadres”.

Batalla de CaserosYoung people in these slums learned to admire those strong men. They admired his independence and self-reliance, and the skill with wielding his weapon, the knife, if necessary to defend those characteristics that defined them.

puente+barracasHowever, these fans never came to incorporate the ethical values ​​of the compadre, arising from the moral of the Knight of the Middle Ages. You could say that they were already “tainted” by the modern city and its utilitarian pragmatism. The “compadritos”, so called contemptuously, thus signaling its lowest moral stature in the shadow of the “compadre”, responded to the demands of a new historic moment: the birth of Buenos Aires as the great city of South America, incorporated into the global capitalist market.

FightThe visteo (knife fighting training) and tango, with cockfighting and pimping were compadrito features.
The compadre, however, did not dance, did not amuse himself by fighting, had no commercial ambitions. He was a man who had made his life and now in the city, preferred to take a contemplative and wise position.

During the formative years of modern Argentine state, which could be dated starting in the battle of Caseros, ending the government of Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852, the flood of immigrants brought to the daily life of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires various manifestations of the many cultures that arrived here. Among them, new forms of partner dance that originated from the popularity of the waltz in Europe. Those who witnessed their arrival at the port of Buenos Aires called them “a la europea (in a European fashion)“. These dances were mainly the waltz and the polka, which were very fashionable in Europe. The novelty of these dances was that the woman was “in the man’s arms”. This was a major change in relation to the minuet, the most popular couples dance until the appearance of the waltz, in which contact between members of the couple did not go beyond holding hands.

MinuetYoung men from the slums, the “compadritos”, could see this way of dancing mainly in places of night life near the harbor, and adopted the technique of ​​bringing the woman in his arms, but with some important changes.

Bs As Football Club 1891The compadrito was fond of visteo (knife fight training). Knowing knife fight, not the larger gaucho or compadre knife, but a shorter one, that could be hidden under the lapel of his jacket, since it was not allowed by the authorities, was a direct way to express his status. The visteo was the physical education of these men (and many women, too) prior to the arrival of a more “civilized” sport brought to our land by Englishmen: football (or soccer). (The first football game was played in Argentina in 1867, and all participants of the game had English surnames).

Duelo a cuchilloBy taking a woman to dance, the compadrito used his “body language” which he had acquired in the visteo. That made it necessary for the bodies of the dancers to be completely united in an intimate embrace, which was very shocking for the time.

Carlos VegaCarlos Vega, researcher and historian of Argentine dances, differentiates the mode of holding the woman in waltz / polka, calling it “linked” as opposed to the “embrace” of tango.
The tango is the first dance that is based on the human embrace.
Another amendment introduced by compadritos, which completes the originality of the tango, which is also a consequence of their body language, their natural way of moving, and the embrace. In tango, there is for the first time in a dance linked / embraced the opportunity to stop and be still. So far, the dances which had static moments, called “figures”, were separated couples dances, while in those linked the movement was constant and there were no moments of stillness.
Tango’s intimate embrace made this innovation possible because the dancers now had more physical connection, which allowed them more accurate communication.
And to complete, also due to the embrace and to the skills of the compadritos, the legs’ games “invading” the other partner’s space in the couple.
At the time, these features were called dancing with “cortes y quebradas”.
Ipolician 1861, a police document mentions three couples detained near the port of Buenos Aires for dancing using “cortes y quebradas”. The document does not mention tango. At this time, this dance technique was used by compadritos to dance all kinds of music. Later, in the last decade of the 1800s, tango would be adopted by the compadritos as their distinctive music, so the music of tango would be united forever to the dance with “cortes y quebradas”.
Probably the tango music would have developed many of its features from the adaptation of street musicians the dance of the compadritos.

Novia de blanco Juan PiaIn the origins of tango there is also an influence of the culture of the Afro-Argentines, who had enjoyed greater freedom of expression during the years of the government of Juan Manuel de Rosas. After slavery was abolished in Argentina, in 1853, the Afro-Argentines were the residents of the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires at the time of the great flood of immigrants. The immigrants arriving in Buenos Aires, not only from the other side of the sea, but also from within the country (displaced gauchos, and the “chinas” or women from indigenous races who came to Buenos Aires after their men died in the wars of extermination of the natives), they met with the Afro-Argentines as locals. It was they who were responsible for the places of entertainment, dancing and drinks in the city of Buenos Aires. Thus, it can be said that the sociocultural characteristics of the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires had definitive Afro-Argentine features. Many Afro-Argentines were gauchos, and many of them were then compadres and compadritos.indigenas conquista del desierto 3

The Argentine governing classes, as well as the country, were defined during the years of transition between the aristocratic / feudal and bourgeois / capitalist systems. In those years, everything about the aristocratic life style, still possessed an aura of distinction, which was looked up to by the nascent Argentine ruling class.
Thus the “niños bien”, the children of the most powerful families, saw in the compadrito, not without envy, virtues that were well appreciated in the aristocratic culture: the duel and seduction.pacto-roca-runciman1
ParisWhen tango later became well appreciated in Paris, and from there the rest of the world, compadritos and “niños bien” undertook an exchange of customs and skills, which refined the first, and made good milongueros of the others.

Resources:

Jorge Emilio Prina, Maestro de Esgrima Criolla
www.esgrimacriolla.blogspot.com.ar

Bibliography:

  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango”, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “Danzas Populares Argentinas”, Carlos Vega, Instituto Nacional de Musicología, 1986.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
  • “El Tango, una danza. Esa ansiosa búsqueda de libertad”, Rodolfo Dinzel, Corregidor, 1999.
  • “Historia del baile social. De la milonga a la disco”, Sergio Pujol, Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 2013.
  • “Masculinidades. Fútbol, tango y polo en la Argentina”, Eduardo Archetti, Antropofagia 2003.
  •  “Encyclopedia of Tango”, Gabriel Valiente, 2014.
  • Todo tango http://www.todotango.com

Movies:
“El hombre de la esquina rosada” de René Múgica, con Francisco Petrone, Walter Vidarte, 1962.
“Un guapo del 900” de Lepoldo Torre Nilsson, con Alfredo Alcón, 1960.
“La guerra gaucha” de Lucas Demare, con Enrique Muiño, 1942.
“Historia del 900” de Hugo Del Carril, con Sabina Olmos, 1949.
“El Gatopardo” de Luchino Visconti, con Lancaster, Delon, Cardinale.
“Tango” de L. M. Barht, con Tita Merello, El Cachafaz, Carmencita Calderón.

History of Tango – Part 6: Orquesta Típica. It’s origins.

Orquesta Típica: It’s origins.

The first stablished musical formation for the interpretation of tango music was the trio, integrated by harp or guitar, flute or clarinete, and violin.
These trios did not produce any recordings, but we can be sure enough, according to testimonials, that they played a faster and more “staccato” rhythm, which was slowed down and shaped into a more “legato” sound with the arrival of the bandoneon.
At the beginning of the 1900, the word “tango” was still considered inappropriate.
As an example, when José Luis Roncallo performed for the first time “El choclo” at the restaurant El Americano, in 1903, he presented it as “danza criolla”.

Casa TaginiIn 1910, Casa Tagini, dealership of Columbia Records, produced the first recordings of a formation dedicated exclusively to playing tangos. In need of an appropriated label for this formation, the term “Orquesta Típica Criolla” was born.
Vicente Greco (1888-1924), conductor and bandoneon player of this formation, is recognized, together with Francisco Canaro (1888-1964), who played violin in it, as the creators of this term, which will from this moment, characterize the orchestras conformed for the interpretation of tango music.

They both were neighbors of adjacent “conventillos” of the “candombero” barrio de Concepción, on Calle Sarandí 1356 and 1358 respectively.

Their families were very poor and they had to work since their childhood selling newspapers in the streets of Buenos Aires.

Vicente’s parents, Genaro and Victoria were from Italy, and his father played the mandolin. His siblings also played music and were passionated students of every subject.

His nickname “Garrote” (club) needs an explanation. During one of those card games in which Don Genaro use to find entertainment, the eldest of Vicente’s siblings, Fernando, knockout of a slap one of the players, possibly because he perceived a cheat, or this man said something not nice to his father. From that moment Fernando got that nickname, and Vicente was first known as “Garrote’s brother”. As his fame grew up, people started calling him simply “Garrote”.

Vicente GrecoVicente started playing the flute, then guitar and singing. He had a talent for music, he worked hard and study passionately, self-taught and made each instrument sound in a personal way: concertina, bandoneon and also harmonium, in which he made many of his great compositions.

He also aspired to have access to a comprehensive culture and deeply loved literature and theater. He self-taught himself to read and write by asking people in the street, while he worked selling newspapers, what the words in the signs said: “panadería” (bakery), “librería” (bookshop), “se alquila” (renting)…

Julio De Caro told that “One day, by chance, discover a box over his parents’ closet. At opening it, he is amazed by the unknown instrument. He interrogates her mother, who replied: “It is a concertina that we were given by a family friend.” Vicente begins to practice with the instrument, and in one month he was able to play a Waldteufeld’s waltz, a polka and… Juan Tango! Studying day and night without taking a break.”

Other version of how Vicente gets this concertina tells that a group of young boys were playing a serenade for a beautiful girl in a nearby conventillo. When, instead of the girl a policeman showed up at the opening of the conventillo’s door, the group of boys runaway, leaving a concertina behind. Since nobody came back to reclame it, it was given to Vicente, known for his talent.

Another version of the story connect both renditions saying that this left behind concertina was keep by Vicente’s parents over the closet, were he will eventually find it.

He was introduced to the secrets of the bandoneon by a colorful character of the Buenos Aires of those times, Sebastián Ramos Mejía “El Pardo”, who worked as trams guard.

We refer again to Julio De Caro: “After listening to Greco playing the concertina, Ramos Mejía, amazed, advised his parents to buy him a real bandoneon. Family and friends chip in and after a long search, being then very few of these instruments in Buenos Aires, they find the long-awaited bandoneon and give it to the 14 years old prodigy. Vicente soon dominates his new instrument. “

Almost simultaneously, he learned musical theory with Carmelo Rizzuti, but the intuitive musician will always prevail. Bandoneon player and composer of original realization ideas, he was always caught by a spontaneous musical inventiveness, without traces of academicism.

Vicente Greco was the first professional bandoneon player. Other bandoneonists played before him, but at homes, in family parties. He assumed the task to take the bandoneon to the streets.
At evenings, Vicente would practice his instrument at the entrance hall of the “conventillo” where he resided, opening the door for fresh air. The people passing by would by attracted to the hunting sounds of this mysterious instrument and would stop to listen. Night after night the crowd grew bigger.

His professional premier happened in 1906 at “Salón Sur” (Pozos and Cochabamba), with a trio integrated by, in addition to his bandoneon, violin and guitar.
With them he started a year long tour throughout the sprofitable brothels of the Buenos Aires province’s cities and Rosario, a great opportunity for all tango musicians of the time to make money, gain experience and achieve prestige. During this tour, Vicente suffered a serious accident, which will be, eventually, the cause of his early death, when the stage setup for his performance fell apart (some claim that following a violent fight), damaging his kidneys. But he also linked up with the most famous tango musicians of the time, who would influence him improving his technique and the way he conduct his formations.

After recovering from the accident, he returned to his performances at the “cafés de camareras” (bars attended by waitresses) of La Boca neighborhood, with his brother Ángel Greco in guitar, and Ricardo Gaudenzio -author of  “El chupete” (listen to Anibal Troilo’s rendition of 1940, click here) playing the violin.
He continue playing for three years at the most popular venues of the area known as Suárez y Necochea, with great success, and premiering some of his compositions, yet without title.

Vicente Greco y su Orquesta Tipica CriollaThen he was hired by “El Pardo Santillán”, a renowned milonguero, to play in downtown, at the “Salón San Martín”, known by the dancers as “Rodriguez Peña” due to the street in which it was located, where he played with a quartet integrated by his bandoneon, piano and two violins.
It was so successful, that soon the salon resulted too small for such crowds. This hall was attended by the best dancers of the time, like the aforementioned “Pardo” and “El Vasquito” Casimiro Aín, “La Parda” Loreto, “La Chata” or María Angélica, to whom Vicente dedicated his tango of the same name (listen to Adolfo Pérez “Pocholo” rendition of 1934, click here).
Greco performances at this venue contributed greatly to the acceptance of tango at Buenos Aires downtown. Vicente expressed his gratitude to his huge following with his composition “Rodriguez Peña” (listen to 1945’s Carlos Di Sarli rendition, click here).

Soon, he is hired to play at “El Estribo” (Entre Rios 763/67), where his musicians will be his disciple Juan Lorenzo Labissier as second bandoneon, “El Chino” Agustín Bardi at the piano, “Palito” Abate and “Pirincho” Canaro in violins, and ”El Tano” Vicente Pecci playing the flute. It was the year 1910. The police had to close Entre Rios street due to the amount of people that crowded in front of the café to listen to Greco even they could not enter to his sold out performances. Applauses and shoutings exploded at the end of each song. The public was most heterogeneous, and “compadritos” (marginals) co-existed peacefully with “niños bien” (rich family boys), at least for a while. Regulars were also famous “payadores” of the time, as José Betinoti and the duet formed by Carlos Gardel and José Razzano.
Vicente composed the tango “El Estribo” (listen to Rodolfo Biagi’s rendition, 1940, click here) dedicated to Mario Scolpini, owner of this place.

He played also during this time at “Lo de Laura”, and “Lo de María La Vasca”.

First recording of Vicente GrecoThis is the time in which the nascent phonographic industry of Argentina, headed by the owners of Casa Tagini, decide to hire Greco to make the first ever recordings of tangos by a musical formation exclusively dedicated to this gender. The sponsors of these recording were not convinced of the piano as a instrument that belonged to tango music yet, and that is why Ángel Greco came to play the guitar instead of Agustín Bardi the piano. There are also some doubts about who played the violin, regarding Canaro and Abate.
At the print label of the discs was written: “Vicente Greco y su orquesta típica criolla con bandoneón”. The firs recording was “Rosendo” (listen, click here).

In 1912 Greco’s orchestra played at the opening of Armenonville, in Palermo, the first cabaret in Buenos Aires. It had beautiful gardens with tables and chairs, a sumptuous villa with ample dance floor and windows. The ground floor, generously lit by a stunning chandelier, contrasted with the semidarkness of the box seats.

Vicente Greco did not created the “orquesta típica”, but devised its name, and contributed with the doubling of bandoneons and violins, which together with the substitution of flute by bass, done by Francisco Canaro, and the finalized acceptance of the piano instead of guitar, done by Roberto Firpo, will lead to the formation of the “Sexteto Típico”, core of the Orquesta Típica.

Atlanta Records Quitento Criollo GarroteFrom 1913 Greco recorded for other companies. In 1914 for Atlanta records, with the name of “Quinteto Criollo Garrote”, and at the end of this year, he takes a break and travels to Montevideo de Canaro to expend the money made with these recordings.
Then he continue with his performances at “Petit Salon”, “Cabaret Montmartre” (Corrientes 1431), at the summer house of the roundabout of Las Heras 2500, the “Rowing Club”, “Cabaret Maxim’s), the hotels Plaza, Americano, Tigre… Also, the families of the ‘Porteña aristocracy” opened their doors to him and with him to Tango itself -another of Vicente Greco’s great contributions to Tango-, and he played at the residencies of Dr. Lucio V. López (Callao and Quintana), at the Lagos García, at the Lamarque, Green and many others.

Vicente Greco and Francisco Canaro en MontevideoIn 1916 he and Canaro put together one of the first known big orchestras, to play at the carnival dances at the “Teatro Politeama” in Rosario. The size of the hall and the amount of people assisting to these events, demanded the enlargement of the musical formations to increase the sound volume.
This orchestra was conformed by Vicente Greco, Juan Lorenzo Labissier, Pedro Polito and Osvaldo Fresedo in bandoneons; Francisco Canaro, Rafael Rinaldi and Francisco Confetta in violins; Samuel Castriota in piano; José Martínez in armonio; Vicente Pecci in flute; Ruperto Leopoldo Thompson in bass; Pablo Laise in sandpaper; and Juan Carlos Bazán in clarinet.
These idea would later be followed by Firpo and Canaro in 1917 and 1918.

Then his health declined rapidly. His plays less and less often. His last performances were at the city of Córdoba in 1921. His demise happened at his home of Humberto Primo 1823, on October 5, 1924.

Of his personality, what is more notorious is his extreme modesty. he loved literature and theatre, cultivated the friendship of Evaristo Carriego, with whom he coauthored a tango that remains unpublished, and Florencio Sánchez, great screenwriter. He frequented the literary cafés, like the one called “Los Inmortales”, of Corrientes 1369, and left at the time of his death an unfinished screenplay.

As a composer, he knew to intertwine in his creations the rhythms and melodies of the “criolla” music, of the traditions of a country populated by gauchos descendants of the Spanish colony, and the new sounds and idiosyncrasies arriving to Buenos Aires with the massive immigration of the end of 1800s.
Some examples of his talented compositions are:

“El pibe” (to listen to Vicente Greco rendition of 1910, click here)
“El morochito” (to listen to Enrique Rodriguez of 1941, click here)
“Rodriguez Peña” (to listen to Carlos Di Sarli rendition of 1945 , click here)
“El flete” (to listen Juan D’Arienzo rendition of 1936 , click here)
“El estribo” (to listen Rodolfo Biagi rendition of 1940 , click here)
“Ojos negros” (to listen Anibal Troilo rendition of 1948, click here)
“Pofpof” (to listen to Juan D’Arienzo rendition of 1948, click here)
“La viruta” (to listen Carlos Di Sarli rendition of 1943, click here)
“Racing Club” (to listen to Alfredo Gobbi rendition of 1948, click here)

Read also:

Bibliography:

    • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
    • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
    • “Historia del tango – La Época Dorada”, chapter 2, “Vicente Greco”, Luis Adolfo Sierra, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
    • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
    • “El tango, el bandoneón y sus intérpretes”, Oscar Zucchi, Ediciones Corregidor, 1998.
    • “Encyclopedia of Tango”, Gabriel Valiente, 2014.
    • http://www.todotango.com/english/

SaveSave

History of Tango – Part 5: The appearance of the bandoneon in tango

Bandoneón

During the 1870s arrives to Buenos Aires a very particular immigrant: the bandoneon.
Tango was in its infancy, as well as this new instrument, which was recently invented in 1846 in Germany by Heinrich Band, according to some versions, or Carl F. Zimmerman, according to others. None had patented it.
The bandoneon is a musical instrument that resulted from the evolution on the concertina, invented in 1830, inspired in the accordion, and conceived as a portable version of the harmonium.
Bandoneon reedsIt is of the hand-held bellows-driven free-reed category, sometimes called squeezeboxes. The sound is produced as air flows past the vibrating reeds mounted in a frame.
The oldest known musical instrument that uses this method is the Cheng, a “mouth organ”, already used in China on 700 AC, made of several bamboo canes (13 to 36) which had inside the vibrating membranes and a gourd as response box. The air flow was produced by blowing on it, like a flute.
ChengDuring the 1800s this principle of production of sound was known in Europe, from which derived many diverse instruments, some in use still today, like the harmonica, the harmonium, the accordions and the concertinas, which is considered the immediate ancestor of the bandoneon.
Carl Friedrich Uhlig (1789-1874) created the concertina in 1839, inspired in the accordion of the Viennese Cyrill Demian (1772-1847), and as an improvement of it.
The first concertina of Uhlig had 5 buttons on each side, for higher pitch notes destined to the melody on the right, and for lower pitch or basses on the left. This concertina produced 2 different notes per button, one opening and a different one closing the instrument, obtaining in this way 20 different tones. This instrument already had the seeds of what would become one day the bandoneon of tango.
Concertina UhligThe goal of Uhlig was to attain an instrument that, eliminating the difficulties of transportation of the harmonium, had a similar sonority that perfectly amalgamates with the string instruments, allowing its integration into the chamber music ensembles and not constraining it to the interpretation of popular music. That is why he continues improving it.
In 1854 Uhlig presented his creation at the Industrial Exposition of Munich, receiving a medal of Honor.
These instruments were highly popular, although they did not have the destiny desired Carl Friedrich Uhligby its creator, as they were mostly adopted by farmers and workers who began to execute it by ear or with a notation system using the small numbers written on each button.
Later, other luthiers continued adding buttons, until it reached 62.
In 1829, scientist and luthier Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875), patented the English concertina. This instrument has hexagonal resonance boxes, while in the Uhlig invention, called also German concertina, they are squared. The bandoneon derives from the German concertina.
According to some versions, Carl F. Zimmerman modified Uhlig’s concertina, adding buttons and rearranging its disposition, creating what became known as “Carlsfelder concertina” (derived from the German city Carlsfeld, where Zimmerman lived and created his concertina), in opposition to “Chemnitzer concertina” (derived from the German city Chemnitz, where Uhlig lived and created his concertina). Zimmerman later emigrated to USA, selling his factory to Ernst Louis Arnold, another instrument maker that will be connected to the origins of bandoneon.
In 1840, Heinrich Band, a musician from Carlsfeld, gets to know Uhlig’s concertina in a visit to Chemnitz. He really likes the instrument, but fell compeled to improve it. In 1843 he opens a musical instrument shop in Carlsfeld, and in 1846 starts selling his improved version of Uhlig’s concertina with 28 buttons that play two different tones each, and a different arrangement in the disposition of the buttons. This is the instruments that began to be referred as bandoneon, although Heinrich Band considered it a concertina, and never patented it.

He later yet improved it up to produce models of 65 buttons with two different sounds each. He also contributed to the diffusion of the instrument with several transcriptions of piano works into bandoneon, and composed valses and polkas to be payed with bandoneon, although this information contradicts another version, which states that Heinrich Band conceived his instrument to play sacred music.
Heinrich Band dies 39. His widow, Johana Sieburg, partnered with Jaques Dupon in 1860 to continue the production of bandoneons.
Heinrich Band did not make the bandoneon himself. He designed it and ordered its production from Carl F. Zimmerman.
Alfred Band, the first son of Heinrich and Johana, wrote one of the first books related to bandoneon, with all the mayor and minor scales.
Ernst Louis Arnold, who bought Zimmerman’s factory, will became the most prominent bandoneon producer. His son, Alfred Arnold, who worked in the factory from his childhood, will eventually devise a bandoneon of 71 buttons of two notes each. His version, called “AA”, will become the preferred one by the Argentine tango musicians.
There are many different versions of the concertina and the bandoneon. There are different button’s arrangements, as we saw with the Carlsfelder and Chemnitzer concertinas, and in some models each buttons plays only one note.
These could become confusing, so in 1921, Emil Schimild of Leipzig, proposed the unification of all the buttons’ arrangements of concertinas and bandoneons in one instrument. This proposition did not prosper, but in 1924, it was agreed the unification for the button’s arrangement for the bandoneon, with a model of 72 buttons producing 2 notes each (144 tones), although the model adopted by Argentine tango musicians is the one of 71 buttons (142 notes), and Alfred Arnold continued its production exclusively for them.
Alfred Arnold would take orders from Argentine tango players that asked for the inclusion of more tones, and customize them.
After the Second World War, Alfred Arnold’s factory, which was located in what became Eastern Germany, was expropriated, and ended the production of bandoneons to become a diesel engine’s parts factory.
Arno Arnold, Alfred’s nephew, was able to scape from Eastern Germany and opened a bandoneon production factory in Western Germany in 1950, with the aid of Alfred’s former technician, Mr. Muller. This factory closed after Arno’s death, in 1971.
Klaus Gutjahr, a bandoneon player graduated at the Bandoneon School of Berlin University, started to build handcraft bandoneons in 1970. At the end of the 1990s, he partnered with Paul Fischer in the Paul Fischer KG Company, a musical instrument manufacturer, set about reviving the manufacture of bandoneons in conjunction with the Eibenstock municipal authorities.  The Paul Fischer KG Company, together with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota, developed a 142 tone bandoneon in 2001.
The Bandonion and Concertina Factory Klingenthal is continuing the tradition of the legendary “AA”  instruments and thereby the construction of bandoneons at Carlfeld.  The materials and construction used correspond to the legendary “AA” instruments.  Using historic instruments, experiments are being carried out to test the acoustic, material and mechanical parameters in conjunction with the Institute for the Manufacture of Musical Instruments of Zwota.  The manufacturing process have been set up using these parameters and this can be demonstrated by means of measurements. Because the bandoneon was not patented, there are no information ever recorded about the material used for its construction, like the precise alloys of the metallic vibrating reeds, different for every note.
In Argentina, bandoneons were hand made by Humberto Bruñini, resident of Bahía Blanca. After he passed away, his daughter Olga continued with the tradition until herself passed away in 2005.

The first bandoneon player ever mentioned in Buenos Aires was Tomas Moore, “el inglés” (the English man), although some said he was Irish, who brought this instrument to Argentina in 1870.
A Brazilian man called Bartolo is also mentioned as the first to bring this instrument to Buenos Aires.
Ruperto “el ciego” (the blind man) is mentioned as the first one to play tangos with his bandoneon. He played in the proximity of the market on Moreno street for alms.
Pedro Ávila and Domingo Santa Cruz (author of the famous tango “Unión Cívica”) played the concertina until Tomas Moore presented them his bandoneon.
José Santa Cruz, Domingo’s father, also switched from concertina to bandoneon. He is regarded as playing military calls with a bandoneon during the Paraguay’s war, but it is most probably that at that time he played a concertina.
Pablo Romero, “el pardo” o “el negro” is regarded as one of the first to play tangos with bandoneon, in the area of Palermo. Contradictory versions mention him as either playing before or being a student of “el pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía.
These bandoneons were a primitive version of 32 tones.

After 1880, when tango began to develop its definitive form, the most recognized bandoneon players were:

Antonio Francisco ChiappeAntonio Francisco Chiappe, born in Montevideo in 1867. His family moved to Buenos Aires in 1870 to the neighborhood of Barracas, where he later had a butcher shop. He also was a professional cart driver, who became the president of the Association of Professional Cart Drivers. He was a magnificent bandoneon player, who would brag of his talent posting advertisings in the newspaper, challenging to whoever wanted to bet money to who played better Waldteufel’s waltzes, although he never made his living out of playing music.
He never played in other locations than family home parties.
He played with “El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía a primitive tango, or “proto-tango”, “El Queco”, very popular in his time.
He also conducted several musical formations, from which it is important to highlight one that foretells the “orquesta típica criolla” of Vicente Greco. In this orchestra he counted with bandoneon, violin, flute, clarinet, harmonium, two guitars and bass.

According to Enrique Cadícamo, in his poem “Poema al primer bandoneonista”, the first bandoneon player of tango is “El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía, but today is agreed the affirmation of the historian of tango Roberto Selles that it was Antonio Chiappe.

“Vientos de principios de siglo
que hicieron girar las veletas
y silbaron en los pararrayos
de las residencias señoriales
de San Telmo, Flores y Belgrano.

Entonces el Pardo Sebastián Ramos Mejía
era primer bandoneón ciudadano
y cochero de tranvía
de la Compañía Buenos Aires y Belgrano.

El pardo Sebastián inauguró un siglo
con su bandoneón
cuando estaba en embrión
la ciudad feérica
y la calle Pueyrredón
era Centro América.

Primer fueye que encendió la luz
del tango, en las esquinas.
A su influjo
don Antonio Chiappe,
también bandoneonista,
se dió el lujo
de desafiar por medio de los diarios
al que mejor ejecutara
los valses de Waldteufeld,
extraordinarios…
El Pardo Sebastián
contagió su fervor
a los hermanos Santa Cruz
que actuaban en el cafe Atenas
de Canning y Santa Fe
donde se aplaudían
los tangos de Villoldo
-El choclo y Yunta brava-
que tanto apasionaban
a Aparicio, el caudillo, y al chino Andrés.

Sebastián Ramos Mejía,
decano de la facultad de bandoneón,
inauguraste un siglo
cuando estaba en embrión
la ciudad feérica
y la calle Pueyrredón
era Centro América.”

“Poema al primer bandoneonista”, Enrique Cadícamo.

“El Pardo” Sebastián Ramos Mejía was descendent of African slaves and was “mayoral” (driver) of the tramways puled by horses, on the line Buenos Aires-Belgrano.
He played in the Cafe Atenas of Ministro inglés (today Scalabrini Ortiz) and Santa Fe. His bandoneon had 53 tones.
He is regarded as giving some bandoneon lessons to Vicente Greco.

The bandoneon was not immediately accepted by Argentine tango musicians and dancers. The original formations of flute, violin and guitar played a staccato, bright and fast rhythm. The bandoneon, with its “legato”, with its low key notes, which were favorited by its players, who would constantly insist to its German producers to add more low key notes, seemed not belonging to tango. But in fact, it gave tango what tango was missing until the integration of bandoneon, and the bandoneon found the music it seemed to be created for.
The bandoneon, contrary to other instruments of tango, like the violin, the flute, the guitar, the harp, or later, the piano, had no traditions to refer to. It was a blank piece of paper in which anything could be written yet. Neither it were maestros nor methods for it. Everything had to be created from scratch.
Perhaps the similarities between its sound and the sound of the organitos that disseminated tango all over, helped to its acceptance.

Juan Maglio PachoJuan Maglio “Pacho” was essential to the acceptance of bandoneon as a musical instrument of tango.

Born in 1881, he started to learn to play bandoneon by watching his father play it every day after work. He would pay attention to the finger positions and then practice them secretly on his home’s roof.
He went to school until the age of 12, when he start to work, first in a mechanic workshop, then as laborer in different activities, and then in a brickyard.
At the age of 18 he decided to fully head into his vocation: music.
During the years of hard work he kept practicing, in order to stay in shape for when the opportunity knocks. But still he had technical issues to resolve, like developing a greater independence between right and left hands, and he went in search of instruction to the more experienced Domingo Santa Cruz. He improved notoriously, and from his bandoneon of 35 buttons, moved successively to instruments of 45, 52, 65, 71 and at last, a customized bandoneon of 75 buttons.
His father called him “pazzo” (Italian word for crazy) in his childhood, due to his restless character. His friends could not pronounce this word, and called him “Pacho”.
He loved to make jokes. If you were in the area of Maldonado creek in 1918 and saw a ghost, it was Pacho, who wondered around every night with a white bed sheet to have fun scaring the people that passed by.
He dressed with sobriety and distinction, and he insisted to his musicians to do the same.
He started playing as a professional at the beginning of the 1900s, first in brothels and then in Cafés, until, doe to his rising prestige, he was convened to play at the very famous Café La Paloma, in Palermo, in 1910. It is important to clarify that the Palermo of that time was not the same upper class neighborhood we know today. In those years it was an area of “compadritos”.
Lots of people came to listen to Pacho there. The special rhythm of Pacho’s interpretations of tangos brought many of the best dancers of the time, like El Cachafáz, to listen, because it was not place to dance.
Cuarteto MaglioOne night, a group of the audience from the neighborhood of Once, more upper class than Palermo, took him in litters and carry him to Café Garibotto, in San Luis and Pueyrredón.
There he later presented a quartet of bandoneon, flute, violin and 7 stringed guitar.
Around those years Pacho started to present his compositions: “Armenonville”, “Un copetín” and “Quasi nada”.
He attracted so much people to his concerts, that the police began to suspect that it was not only music what the Café offered to its clientele, and one night they entered abruptly and arrested everybody, clients, waiters, musicians, the owner and the cat… But they found nothing.
In response, Pacho wrote his tango”Qué papelón!”.
In 1912 he started to record for Columbia. His success was so great that the word “Pacho” became a synonym of “recordings”.

Read also:

Bibliography:

    • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
    • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
    • “Historia del tango – La Guardia Vieja”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Silvestre Byron, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
    • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
    • “El tango, el bandoneón y sus intérpretes”, Oscar Zucchi, Ediciones Corregidor, 1998.
    • http://www.todotango.com/english/

History of Tango – Part 4: La Guardia Vieja – II: The first dancers

La Guardia Vieja

Part 2: The first dancers

1903 Navas with WomanIn the case of the dancers, in addition of the ones already mentioned, who were also musicians and we remember mainly because of their musical legacy, like Casimiro Alcorta (and his partner La Paulina), Lola Candales, Enrique Saborido, Ángel Villoldo, Alfredo Eusebio and Flora Gobbi, Ernesto Ponzio, or like Laurentina Monserrat (Laura), María Rangolla (La Vasca) or Concepción Amaya (Mamita), who are known after the places they managed, a special mention is deserved by

BailarinesEnrique Saborido, with the beautiful Lola Candales, Uruguayan as he and his muse, come tango dancers. In 1908, with the growing popularity of tango, he opens an academia in Cerrito 1070, which they managed until 1912. In that year he decided to go to Paris with other tango personalities. There, he taught to dance tango to the European aristocracy and show off as professional dancer at the Savoy and the Royal Theatre in London. He referred to other good dancers: Jorge Newbery (one of the first Latin American aircraft pilots. He was also an engineer, and is considered to be the architect and founder of the Argentine Air Force), his close friend Alberto J. Mascías, Alberto Lange, and Martin Edmund Hileret Anchorena.

Concepción Maya, known as “Mamita”. At her home, located in Lavalle 2177, Ernesto Ponzio composed his famous tango “Don Juan”. Domingo Greco, in his unpublished memoirs, quoted by Dr. Benarós, among other things, says: “In this house, the clientele was selected. Men from upper class only. I met there the first professionals of tango:  Angel Villoldo and Sergio Mendizabal, Rosendo’s brother. He played the tango ‘más compadrón’, and was strongest in the accompaniment, more ‘tempista’. He was one of the best tangueros of his time. Played, preferably, in Concepcion Amaya’s house. When this woman emigrated from Buenos Aires, she settled with a brothel in the village of 9 de Julio, and brought “El Negro” Sergio with her. I was then told that he died sitting in a bar, with the guitar on his lap. He played guitar and sang so well, improvising. Instead, Rosendo produced better tangos … ”
Luis TeisseireMamita, as Luis Teisseire told, “was tall, skinny, authoritarian. Of dark complexion, rather achinada, brave, black eyes. Always she wore long, dark silk suit. She looked all covered with high collar. At her house, among her women, she had la Ñata Rosaura, Herminia and Joaquina. After a glass door, it was a long courtyard with the rooms on the side and the classic dining room. ” There, played the piano Sergio Mendizabal, El Gordo Mauricio and Teisseire, our informant.

Other dancers from before 1910 who’s names reached us are:

El Mulato Sinforoso, who played clarinet next to Casimiro Alcorta and a guitar player, forming a trio that according to Lino Galeano, in an article written in the newspaper “Crítica” in 1913, signing as “Viejo tanguero”, was the first tango band.

Carlos Kern ‘El Inglés’ was a man of “Maria La Vasca”. He mastered the ‘vals cruzado’. He was an strong man of clear eyes, always quiet, but effective in placing order. He was recognized as a tough man, was heavy-handed and he alone was able to contain the aggressive ‘compadraje’. For a time he organized dances at Patria e Lavoro, in Chile 1567, a narrow hall, which was a difficult place to stop the excesses of pickpockets and rioters. According to César Viale, he finished serving as ordinance in the law firm of Dr. Carlos Delcasse.

Bailarines 2Carmen Gomez have been born around 1830, and began dancing at the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, located on Calle del Parque (current Lavalle). Around 1854s she opened what became known as the “Academia de la Parda Gomez”, in the vicinity of the Plaza Lorea (part of the current Plaza del Congreso). After selling it, in 1864, she opened another in Corrientes 437.
By the help of an Afro-Argentine sorcerer, surrounded the house of her adversary, la Morena Agustina, in an effort to provoke misfortune.
“The Afro-Argentines of the second half of the nineteenth century were the owners of the ‘academias’, as the ‘peringundines’ where the ‘compadraje orillero’ used to attend, were called… The police report of the time recounts numerous incidents occurred there, where soldiers, Afro-Argentines from different neighborhoods and cart drivers were regulars” (R. Rodriguez Molas: Free Black River Plate Magazine Humanities, Ministry of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires, l year, September 1961, p. 114.).

About la Morena Agustina, we know that also had an academia near Plaza Lorea.

The dancer Clotilde Lemos began in the Academia de Pardos y Morenos, in the second half of the 1850s.

Alejandro Vilela, was employed at the Academia de la Parda Gomez, where he played the piano.

La Moreira Tita MerelloLuciana Acosta,”La Moreyra”, was a popular dancer of  the neighborhood of San Cristobal. She was a source of inspiration in the literary field: Jose Sebastian Tallón portrayed her in his book “Tango in the stages of forbidden music” (Buenos Aires, 1959); and Juan Carlos Ghiano makes her protagonist of his play “La Moreyra,” released by the company Tita Merello in 1962. There is a film version starring by the same actress.
She was the daughter of Andalusian gypsies, and lived with her man , “El Cívico”, Bautista Salvini, at the room number 15 of the “conventillo” El Sarandi, located at the 1356 of the street of the same name, and where some rooms were occupied by the Greco family.
Dancer of great fame in the early tango scene, she danced at the café La Pichona, at Pavón, between Rincón and Pasco (then district of brothels), where, as described by Jose Sebastian Tallón, “she was the business partner of her husband, a pimp, and skilled dancer. She was at night a woman of tango. In her veins bubbled the gypsy bravery, and being so feminine in appearance, and so beautiful, she was of great courage as dagger shooter, hence her nickname … Her figure: not very tall, perfectly shaped, sensual voice, like her face, as her walk; olive skin tone, black eyes and hair, small mouth, optimum bust. She wore blue or red silk robe with white poke dots. Sometimes with colorful squares, or flowery dress with long sleeves and laced cuff. She closed her robe from the neck to the start of her breast, with a silken cord zigzaging the embroidered eyelets, finishing in a bun with tassels. Her waist was belted up to hurting by a corset. The skirt was pleated, gray or light green. Perfumed with Rosa de Francia, Agua Florida or Jour de Gloire. Hairstyle bun at the nape, with hairpins and combs of tortoiseshell, big gold hoop earrings, and a locket. Portrayed inside the locket was El Cívico.”

El Cívico, Bautista Salvini, descended from Southern Italians. was a pimp, a good dancer and a respected compadrito.

JoaquinaJoaquina Marán, “La China Joaquina”, a wonderful tango dancer, was the favorite at “lo de Mamita”, and later herself manager of dance houses in the first decade of the 19th century. Tall, not pretty but very interesting and seductive brunette, of very pleasant conversation, Juan Bergamino dedicated to her his tango “Joaquina” (listen) (originally “La China Joaquina” (listen). She was involved in the death of a young dancer called “Ramayón” by Ñato Posse, as both loved Joaquina Maran, who besides being a lover of the two, had been of Mariano “Maco” Milani, another renown dancer, and of Pablo Podesta, actor, circus performer and singer.
Fernando Ramayón was a young man of the Buenos Aires’ upper class, an Law student and a good tango dancer, who was killed at age 22, on January 31, 1898, by Juan B. Passo, el Ñato Pose, in the famous “Cuartos de Adela”, coffee, inn and dance place, in Alvear y Acevedo, Palermo. Homero Manzi wrote a tango inspired in this story, with music by Cristobal Herreros:

“Resuenan en baldosas los golpes de tu taco.
Desfilan tus corridas por patios de arrabal.
Se envuelve tu figura con humo de tabaco
y baila en el recuerdo tu bota militar.
Refleja nuevamente tu pelo renegrido
en salas alumbradas con lámparas de gas.
Se pliegan tus quebradas y vuelven del olvido
las notas ligeritas de Arolas y Bazán.
Ramayón, ya no estás con tu noche
tras el blanco calor del pernó.
Ya no pasa trotando tu coche,
ya no brilla tu bota charol.
Y no está con su traje de raso
la que entonces por buena y por leal,
afirmada en tu inmóvil abrazo
fue también tu pareja final.
Aplauden tu elegancia las palmas de otro tiempo.
Las cuerdas empolvadas resuenan otra vez.
Y en el fugaz milagro de un breve encantamiento
reviven las cenizas de todo lo que fue.
Un plomo de venganza te busca de repente.
Se aflojan los resortes violentos del compás.
Se pinta en tu pañuelo la rosa de la muerte
y el tango del destino te marca su final.”

“Ramayón”, Homero Manzi, Cristobal Herreros, by Nelly Omar and guitars (listen).

Juan Bautista Passo, el Ñato Posse, had been imprisoned for his criminal adventures, but thanks to his contacts with a leader of the Conservative Party, who paid for his services, fast out of jail.

The movie “Historia de 900” (1949 -watch), written, directed and performed by Hugo Del Carril, portrays the relationship between the upper class and the marginal “orilleros” of Buenos Aires in the framework of tango: they accepted the same ideals of virile manhood, courage, true to their words, and a vision that sees life and love as a game to be played with your whole self.

Mariano “Maco” Milani was another handsome and very elegant young man of the Argentine high society, of straight hair and very white skin. When he began drinking too much, lost his shape  and got a red nose. Tall, impeccable, he lived a truly pompous life.

La Rubia MireyaMargarita Verdier, or Verdiet, whom some called “La Oriental “and “La Rubia Mireya”, resident of the neighborhood of Almagro, Castro Barros 433. Daughter of French parents born in Uruguay, had a reputation for “night owl”, given to the “dance of the compadritos”, as tango was stigmatized by then. She was immortalized by Manuel Romero and Francisco Canaro in the tango “Tiempos viejos” (listen). There a few movies in which she is portrayed:
“Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Manuel Romero 1937 – watch), “La Rubia Mireya” (Manuel Romero 1948 – watch), and “Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina” (Enrique Carreras 1969 – watch).

Elias AlippiElías Alippi, tango dancer, actor and theater and film director, playwright of comedies and sainetes (1883-1942). He debuted on the scene in 1904 dancing a tango with Anita Posed in “Justicia criolla”, zarzuela by Ezequiel Soria, music of Antonio Reynoso, who that season replied the company of Jerónimo Podestá. He was also one of the best dancers of the local “María la Vasca” and other nightspots of that time, as well as on stage. He danced for the last time in the film ”Así es la vida” (1939 – watch), with the actress and singer Sabina Olmos. As playwright, he included tangos in many of his works. The troupe Muiño-Alippi played a decisive role in the advent of the tango-canción: on April 26, 1918, in the sainete of José González Castillo and Alberto T. Weisbach, “Los dientes del perro”, which premiered in Theatre Buenos Aires, appeared, in a cabaret scene, Manolita Poli accompanied by the orchestra of Roberto Firpo, singing the tango by Samuel Castriota and Pascual Contursi, “Mi noche triste” (listen).

La Parda Deolinda shined in the Academias de Montevideo, milonguera and owner of a dancing place. Pintín Castellanos tells us that she was “gifted with a gorgeous body and a hell of a character, and an extraordinary ability to dance with ‘cortes y quebradas’ (…) the men, despite their proven courage, did not risked much with her. “Between 1880 and 1886, Police Chief Apolinario Gayoso deported her because of the many squabbles in which was protagonist, to Buenos Aires. Here, he continued with her dancing and bravery … She died in a duelo criollo!”.

La Parda Loreto, also know for her willingness to get into fights, was born in 1860 and danced in the 80s, in the “peringundines” of Suipacha and El Temple (Viamonte), in the “Milonga de la Calle Chile” (actually called Patria e Lavoro, located in Chile 1567), in the Teatro Politeama (Corrientes 1490, demolished in 1950, today a parking), and already older, in the Salón San Martin, popularly known as “Rodríguez Peña”. When her charms were dissipated, worked -always faithful to her environment- as manger of a burdel.

La Parda Refucilo danced in the early 80s in the academia located in Independencia and Combate de los Pozos, famous for “la gente de bronce” that frequented it and the prestige of the dancers, and was partner in the milongas and in life, of a famous milonguero of that time nicknamed el Biundín.

Francisco DucasseFrancisco Ducasse, one of his dancing partners was named Mimí Pinsonette. He was married to the actress Angelina Pagano. He used to frequent «lo de Hansen». Francisco García Jiménez says that the very charming princess de Murat was intertwined with the tango skill of the fine handsome young man of Buenos Aires, on tour in Paris, in a tango competition organized by the journal Excelsior at the Fémina theater on the avenue of the Champs-Elysées. Obviously, they were awarded the first prize. He was born and died in Buenos Aires.

María La Tero: In the article about tango published in Crítica newspaper on September 22, 1913, “Viejo Tanguero” included her in a list of prestigious female dancers that went to the well-known dancehall on Independencia and Pozos. Julián Centeya, in his book “El misterio del tango”, describes her as tall and skinny.

La Parda FloraLa Parda Flora was very well known by 1880, so much that she is mentioned in “Milonga de Tancredi” (“The other night at Tancredi / I danced with Boladora / was the Brown and Flora; / what he saw me, he estriló”). She showed up her art in La Pandora of La Boca, in peringundines of Corrientes and had its own academia in 25 de Mayo and Viamonte, to spend her final years in Flores. It is also remembered in the milonga “En lo de Laura” (listen), of Enrique Cadícamo and Antonio Polito:

“Milonga de aquel entonces
que trae un pasado envuelto…
De aquel 911
ya no te queda ni un vuelto…
Milonga que en lo de Laura
bailé con la parda Flora…
Milonga provocadora
que me dio cartel de taura…
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Milonga de mil recuerdos
milonga del tiempo viejo.
Qué triste cuando me acuerdo
si todo ha quedado lejos…
Milonga vieja y sentida
¿quién sabe qué se ha hecho de todo?
En la pista de la vida
ya estamos doblando el codo.
Ah… milonga ‘e lo de Laura…
Amigos de antes, cuando chiquilín,
fui bailarín compadrito…
Saco negro, trensillao, y bien afrancesao
el pantalón a cuadritos…
¡Que baile solo el Morocho! -me solía gritar
la barra ‘e los Balmaceda…
Viejos tangos que empezó a cantar
la Pepita Avellaneda…
¡Eso ya no vuelve más!”

“En lo de Laura”, Enrique Cadícamo and Antonio Polito, by Ángel D’Agostino and Ángel Vargas (listen).

There is a movie, made in 1952, “La Parda Flora” (see here).

Sisters Balbina (Rosa and Maria) acted in the Stella di Roma, in Corrientes and Uruguay, known as El baile de Pepin. It was the first dance house which was established in the center and the most famous doe to the attraction exerted by the Balbina sisters. This house was one of those that adopted the system of covering the organito with a mattress, so that the sound couldn’t be heard at the street and reach the ears of the police authority.

La Gaucha ManuelaLa Gaucha Manuela, referred by Roberto Firpo in an interview with Dr. Benarós: “I started playing the piano at the Velodrome, in 1907, with Bevilacqua. Then I was twenty years old and came from the Corrales, of Rioja and Caseros. The owner of The Velodrome was Pesce, I believe the father of who was later the owner of Luna Park. The place occupied an area of about four blocks. In the center was a mound of dirt. Inside, a track, used by cyclists. To get there you needed to go through a dirt road, which sometimes became mud. It was two blocks from Hansen. Drinks were served on tables placed under the trees. It had rooms, also. From The Velodrome you could see when music was playing in lo de Hansen. The Gaucha Manuela was a regular there, and was the kept woman of a rich young man called Del Carril, which I believe expended on her four or five millions. She was brunette, very pretty, and very ‘criolla’ when speaking. She was a wonderful dancer, capable of grabbing a knife and start with the blows. I dedicated a tango “La Gaucha Manuela”(listen) to her. We were asked for these dedications, and sometimes the person asking for it payed us a hundred pesos. I dedicated the tango “To the distinguished Miss Manuela Lopez.” I earned one peso a day and some tips. There were no women. Each men had to bring his own.”

Union CivicaJuana Rebenque, referred by Juan Santa Cruz -brother of the author of “Unión Cívica” (listen) – (quote from Dr. Benarós): “She lived in small tin roof house, like all the houses at ‘El Pueblo de las Ranas’. You get inside you had to bent down. She did not even had a rate. She charged whatever you gave her. She never came to downtown. She was tall, thin, with a big nose, and beautiful. She lived with a man called Fernandez. She was mentioned in some famous verses of the time: ‘Hará cosa ‘e una semana / que un canfinflero mistongo / me convidó pa’ un bailongo / en el Pueblo de las Ranas. / Las principales bacanas / de la ranil población / cayeron a la función / lindamente enfaroladas, / porque habían sido invitadas / con tarjetas de cartón.’”

El Flaco Saúl: A landowner who stands out among the first tango dancers. According to “Viejo Tanguero”: “he was able to interpret tango in two styles: the original, vivid, complex, full of figures and ‘quebradas’, of great agility, with strength and character, and the smooth tango, which developed at the time called the ‘Guardia Vieja’, as a necessity to adapt to female dancers who would not follow the primitive style, which later was defined as the characteristic style to dance the tango of the so called ‘Guardia Nueva’, or ‘cabaret tango.'”

Bailarines de patioFiliberto, Juan “Mascarilla”, father musician and composer Juan de Dios Filiberto. Eminent tango dancer of the first period; natural and spontaneous creator. Owner or administrator “Bailetín El Palomar”, then the “Tancredi” (c. 1882), nearby recreational Suarez and Necochea, in the heart of La Boca. We quote from an interview by ‘La Canción Porteña’ (Buenos Aires, 1963) in which his son tells us: “‘My father was cheerful, a bit careless of all things, but simple and good, had an easy laugh and good sense of humor in his eyes and always good jokes escaping from his mouth. He sang in a nice tenor voice, which I liked to listen. Dancer by nature, of the best tango dancers of La Boca; his reputation was well recognized. According to his character he worked on the most different and contradictory jobs, from owner of dance halls to sailor, wrestler or construction worker. He was a friend and often also bodyguard of Pepe Fernandez, strongman and leader of La Boca, which was first supporter of Mitre and then of General Roca. He possessed an extraordinary power, often acting in the circus Rafetto wrestling and weight lifter.”

Mariano, mentioned by “Viejo Tanguero” (1913) as a regular of “Scudo de Italia”. He was one of those which popularity was earned thanks to the correctness of his dance. The tango lovers stopped dancing and made a circle to watch hind dancing, to admire and applaud the difficult execution of figures invented by him and that no one else could imitate. He owned a large commercial establishment that was located on the street Sarmiento and Carlos Pellegrini.

1903 - Caras y Caretas - el tango criollo Arturo De Nava, composer, singer pre-gradeliano. Was born apparently in Paysandú in 1876 and died in Buenos Aires, where he had settled since his youth, on October 22, 1932 …. Initially, a natural dancer with great style, he was the first one to earn fame on the stage, prior to Ain and Alippi, dancing tangos in plays since 1903 in the Podestá troupe. He was very handsome. Because of his appearance, unmistakable, his photographs appear illustrating several editions of the popular magazine Caras y Caretas of Buenos Aires, in 1903. ”

Pancho Panelo, he belongs to the category of rich dancers. Domingo Greco told that this man had so much serenity to dance, and did it with a glass of champagne in his head without spilling a single drop of liquid.

Domingo GrecoPedrín “La Vieja”. Domingo Greco says in his memoirs: “Then came a certain Pedrín, that was my classmate: we nicknamed him ‘La Vieja (The Old Lady)”. He used to live at Chile street, between Tacuarí and Piedras. He brought tango to its maximum refinement. Even before 1900 he was the best dancer known. He had a lot of initiative. He was elegant, very musical, and with an amazing speed in his legs. In a word, he was the best of all times. Benito Bianquet “El Cachafaz” emerged as his only imitator.”

1900s Men PosingI have been asking myself why dancers often have a reputation for being sexual, feisty, rebellious, irreverent, marginal, indifferent to what people say about them, but also elegant, tough, self reliant, respectable, admired…?
On one hand, I believe that a real dancer is a person for whom life is a dance (“La vida es una milonga”). This approach is not as easy to take as we may suppose. It requires strength and discipline beyond the majority of people’s possibilities and/or willingness. If not, why would a skill not make you rich, an approach to life that is not of great value from a utilitarian perspective on life, would be embraced with the passion, perseverance and stamina that to be a GOOD DANCER requires?
1900s Men PracticingOn the other hand, all negative qualifications attached to dancers come not from other GOOD DANCERS, but from those who are not. It is perhaps a form of revenge from the ones whom value resides in being useful to society -a laudable situation- against those whose major contribution is an uninterested and useless beauty which can’t be sold in the markets.
In my own experience, all the GREAT MILONGUEROS that I have met in my life, many of whom I had the fortune and the honor to have as my teachers, are (or were -in the case of those that have passed away-) GREAT PEOPLE, incredibly wise and have great sensitivity and common sense, reliable people, generous, respectable, and among many other wonderful qualities, the best at their day jobs and professions.
And the bottom line is that for me, everything that I have achieved in my dance has made me a better person.
And I still have room to improve.

Read also:

Bibliography:

History of Tango – Part 3: La Guardia Vieja

Part 1

Buenos Aires 1900Between 1860 and 1915 Buenos Aires experienced an exponential growth. The “Gran Aldea” (Great Village) became a cosmopolitan city, which, despite its isolated geographic location, was one of the greatest cities of the world.

It was during this period of time of multiethnic and multicultural interaction, that tango developed its unique characteristics and became a cultural identity, a philosophy of life and a lifestyle. Its name was not mention in well-mannered conversations. It was rising up protected and cared for by very strong people, the only ones who would not care about its bad reputation and defy the rejection by the comfortable, afraid and obedient society. It needed to develop in places that were prohibited to a society that denied that a completely new creature was coming to life. A creature that was not a child of a well established family, in the portrait of religions and hypocritical political speeches. A being that was happily excited to deal with the chaos of unpredictability, with all that can’t be rationalized, accounted for and fit in the big plan laid out by the ruling classes for the population of that corner of the world.

Even when tango began to enter family homes and broadly accepted social events, the name tango would not be used as the label to refer to it, nor would the musicians use this term to describe the orchestras.

The dance technique that today we associate to tango and milonga, the “cortes and quebradas”, was in its origins a dance technique created by the “chinas” and “compadritos” and applied to all kinds of danceable music played in Rio de La Plata: “mazurca”, “polca”, “habanera”, “cuadrilla”, “lanceros”, waltz (called “vals cruzado” when danced in this way), “pasodoble”, “Spanish tango”, tango and milonga.

Later this technique of dancing remained in Argentine tango (referred at the time as “tango criollo”), milonga and vals criollo, because these music styles were better suited to it.

On September 9, 1862, four men and two women were put in jail for dancing “tirando cortes y quebradas” at a conventillo of Paraguay 58 (today, in Puerto Madero). The police report does not mention tango or milonga.

It was on September 28, 1897, that for the first time we find that the “cortes and quebradas” are elements associated to the choreography of a particular music called tango. It is at the play written by Ezequiel Soria “Justicia Criolla”:

“Era un domingo de carnaval
Y al “Pasatiempo” fuime a bailar.
Hablé a la Juana para un chats
Y a enamorarla me decidí.
En sus oídos me lamenté
Me puse tierno y tanto hablé,
Que la muchacha se conmovió
Con mil promesas de eterno amor.
Hablé a la mina de mi valor
Y que soy hombre de largo spor,
Cuando el estrilo quiera agarrar
Vos, mi Juanita, me has de calmar.
Y ella callaba y entonces yo
Hice prodigios de ilustración,
Luego, en un tango, che, me pasé
Y a puro corte la conquisté.”

And also:

“Qué cosa más rica…! Cuando bailando un tango con ella, me la afirmo en la cadera y me dejo ir al compás de la música y yo me hundo en sus ojos negros y ella dobla en mi pecho su cabeza y al dar vuelta, viene la quebradita… Ay! hermano se me vá, se me vá… el mal humor.”

Rosendo MendizabalThe following year, in 1898, “El entrerriano”, the first Argentine tango registered by a known author, was published. This was the time before recordings, when the music was commercialized by publishing it in music sheets. The author, Rosendo Mendizábal, was an Afro-Argentinean born in 1868 (and died in 1913). Coming from a wealthy family, he was able to study piano. His lifestyle made him squander his fortune, and so he began to teach piano lessons and to play in all kind of brothels and dancing houses, from the ones of the poorest clientele, to those visited by the wealthiest people, like “Lo de Laura (Monserrat)”, in Palermo, Paraguay 2512, where he premiered “El entrerriano”, and dedicated it to Ricardo Segovia, a landowner born in Entre Rios, who gave Rosendo a $100 bill. This was a common practice among composers, before the benefits of authors’ rights.

Before the publication of tangos, they became known only from the authors playing them over and over again in many places. When a tango was fortunate enough to be accepted by the audience, it was frequently requested, contributing to the recognition of the piece and its creator. Sometimes another musician would like a song and learn it by listening to it, and then incorporate it to his repertoire. But since the time that it began to be written, it was easier to propagate it. Eventually, musicians were able to play more and more varied songs, city sponsored orchestras, military and police bands and club’s orchestras would be able to play them, contributing to a greater and more efficient divulgation of tango. It was also the way it could surreptitiously enter the family homes, hidden between piano methods and Chopin’s waltzes. And, it made possible the printed rolls for “organitos”, which played a major role in initial spread of tango, and prepared the ears of those who liked tango from the beginning to accept a new instrument that became central to tango and transformed it: the bandoneon.

El ChocloEnrique Santos Discépolo’s father, José Luis Roncallo (who was presumably the one that first suggested tango music for them) and Ángel Villoldo (who probably wrote “El Choclo” to be played through this media) were involved in the construction of the first locally made cylinders for organitos.

Related to this need of mobility that the primitive tango required to spread itself and survive, was the portability of the instruments of its origins. The guitar was the “criollo” (autochtones) instrument par excellence, which the payadores choose to accompany their singing. It is, indeed, a privileged instrument to accompany the human voice, but the payadores that were already laureate and socially accepted, wouldn’t, in general, risk losing their contracts playing such dubious music. The violin was also a very popular instrument. Wind instruments rose in popularity to the extent that they showed up more and more in bands and theatre orchestras of the time. The harmonica also played a powerful role, especially in the hands of Ángel Villoldo.

These instruments that first played tango allowed its music to be frisky, lively and shaky because they were high pitch and light instruments than can easily be played fast. Later, with the introduction of the “bordoneos” (melodies and bridges played in the lowest pitch range of the guitar strings), the incorporation of the concertina and the Italian accordion, it will start a process of slowing down that will reach its depth with the bandoneon and the lower pitch string instruments. It is during this period that the bandoneon became the most characteristic instrument of tango.

In 1899, “El Pibe” Ernesto Ponzio (1885-1934) publishes “Don Juan”.  “El Pibe” Ponzio played the violin “sacando chispas” (extracting sparks from it), according to the testimony left to us by Gabino Ezeiza. When his father (also musician) dies, he needed to help his family, and went to play in canteens, dance parties and on the streetcars. Soon he was asked to play at the most famous places of the time, like “Lo de Hansen”, “Lo de Laura”, “Lo de María La Vasca” and “Lo de Mamita”, Lavalle 2177, among many others. At this last one, it is said, he premiered “Don Juan”, dedicating it to Juan Cabello, a well known “compadre del arrabal” porteño.  This tango was the first one recorded with bandoneon by Vicente Greco and his orchestra in 1910.

In 1924, when playing in Rosario, he shot and killed a man, and was condemned to 20 years in prison. He had other previous violent incidents on his record, but he was pardoned in 1928 and returned to playing. According to his wife, he was not a violent person. He was handsome, kind and always smiling, even when playing, but his talent, his overwhelming energy and charm as musician, dancer, artist and person, provoked the envy and jealousy of those for whom beauty does not regard respect and tried to impose their mediocrity with shear force. “El Pibe” Ernesto considered a lack of honesty with himself, with those who he loved and with his art, to retreat in the cases of being insulted by disrespectful attitudes to people and what it is beautiful in life. He stood for his thoughts and ideals in every moment, even difficult ones, and dealt with the consequences.

The only recording of “El Pibe” Ernesto Ponzio is in this scene from the first sound film made in Argentina, “Tango!”, of 1933, playing his most celebrated composition:

In 1899 they closed the last “Academias” that remained in Montevideo, while the tango came to wider audiences entering the theater, tents, circuses, dance halls and cabarets. Following this development, the original “tango canyengue” was transformed and made more “decent”, smoothing or eliminating completely the “cortes y quebradas” and the most straight forward sexual elements of its practice, giving birth to the tango “salon”, also known as tango “de pista” or ‘liso”.

Most of the precursors of tango music were also well recognized as great dancers.

Angel VilloldoÁngel Villoldo (1861-1919) is considered by many “El padre del Tango” (The father of Tango), and unanimously considered the most representative artist of the Guardia Vieja. Little is known about his childhood, and the information about his youth is many times contradictory. From an interview made to him by the newspaper “La Razón” in 1917, we know that he was “cuarteador”[1] of “La Calle Larga” (The Long Street, today’s Montes de Oca) at the time that his interest in music appears, and that he sung and played guitar and harmonica.

Between 1879 and 1886 he was typographer at the newspaper “La Nación” and Jacobo Peuser’s print, conductor of the carnival choir “Los Nenes de Mamá Viuda”, libretista for choir societies, herdsman in two slaughterhouses of Buenos Aires, clown at “Raffeto” circus.

Around 1900 he began to be known as payador, composer and singer in “Corrales Viejos” (Parque Patricios), Barracas, La Boca, Constitución, San Telmo, Palermo, and in Recoleta for the celebrations of the Virgen María in September. At these celebrations, big tents were erected for several days. They started to be frequented by “compadres” and “cuchilleros”[2], so its original character was replaced for another, less family oriented, of alcohol, dancing and knife fighting. At these gatherings, in which the life of a man was of little value, everyone respected Ángel Villoldo, who performed there his first tangos.

Cochero de tranvíaThe tango was still in development and had not yet achieved a defining shape. The first works of Villoldo were milongas of payador style that described characters and current events of the places that he frequented. These first songs are very valuable testimonies of these times and its people. Like this milonga that makes reference at the known rivalry between cart drivers (carreros) and streetcars drivers (cocheros):

“El Carrero y el Cochero”, listen…

Villoldo’s lyrics are “cheerful, wittily talkative, sometimes in jest, but never bawdy. The compadres of his stories are reliable criollos, as its creator, who recently left the horse on the outskirts of the city, men in whom the knife is not yet ostentatious bravado, but defense of honor and cause”[3].

El porteñitoHis rise to fame came in 1903 when the singer Dorita Miramar sung “El Porteñito” in the varieté Parisiana, of Esmeralda Street, obtaining a great success. Pepita Avellaneda had already sung several of his compositions a year earlier on Avenida de Mayo. Soon other female singers included his songs in their repertoire. In the same year, 1903, José Luis Roncallo premiered “El Choclo” at the restaurant “El Americano”, labeling it as “danza criolla”, since the category of the place did not admit including tangos in the playlist. After the truth was known, the audience demanded it to be played every night. It was not publish until 1905.

La MorochaAt Christmas day in 1905, Villoldo is woke up at 7 am by Enrique Saborido who was up all night writing a song and needed a lyric for it. He knew that Villoldo was fast, that he could improvise verses as a payador. The night before, at Christmas Eve, Saborido was mocked by his friends for paying too much attention to the Uruguayan singer Lola Candales. They challenged him to write a song for her. He took the challenge and promised to have the song ready to be sung by Lola next day. At 10 am they presented to Lola La Morocha”, which she premiered that night. This tango was of great success, not only in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Argentina and Uruguay, but copies of the music sheet were taken to many port cities around the world by the school-ship Fragata Sarmiento.Fragata Sarmiento, in Puerto Madero

Villoldo finds humor in daily life events. In 1906 the Police Chief of Buenos Aires ordered a fine of 50 pesos to those who say “piropos” (compliments) to a woman in the street, and Villoldo composes  “Cuidao con los 50!”. He tries to get extra advertisement for his song, so he goes to the street and start to “piropear” to every woman he sees, expecting to be denounced and fined, making of his song a way of protest, but all he got was a sweet “viejo enamorado” reply from one lady.

Around those years, “El esquinazo”, another of his compositions, is prohibited to be played at “Lo de Hansen” because the crowd beat their glasses on their tables accompanying the song, breaking them, making it too expensive for the business.

Alfredo Eusebio and Flora GobbiIn 1907 he was sent by the department store Gath y Chaves, the most successful of Buenos Aires at the time, to make some of the first tangos and Argentine music recordings to Paris with Alfredo Eusebio and Flora Gobbi (the parents of the great  orchestra conductor Alfredo Gobbi). The recordings of Villoldo songs, already successful, potentialize their success.

Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. The sound quality on the phonograph was bad and each recording lasted for one only play. Edison’s phonograph was followed by Alexander Graham Bell’s graphophone. It could be played many times, however, each cylinder had to be recorded separately making the mass reproduction of the same music impossible with the graphophone.

GramophoneOn November 8 1887, Emile Berliner, a German immigrant working in Washington D.C., patented a successful system of sound recording. Berliner was the first inventor to stop recording on cylinders and start recording on flat disks. The first records were made of glass, later zinc, and eventually plastic. A spiral groove with sound information was etched into the flat record. The record was rotated on the gramophone. The “arm” of the gramophone held a needle that read the grooves in the record by vibration and transmitting the information to the gramophone speaker. Berliner’s disks (records) were the first sound recordings that could be mass-produced by creating master recordings from which molds were made.

These inventions where taking place at the time that tango was becoming more and more popular, and are of vital importance to the history of tango.

Being in Paris, Villoldo subscribed to the Authors and Composers Association of France, following which then created in Buenos Aires in 1908 “La Sociedad del Pequeño Derecho”, precursor of “SADAIC”, created by, among others, Francisco Canaro, Osvaldo Fresedo, Augusto Berto, Agustín Bardi, Enrique Santos Discépolo and Francisco García Jiménez. This institution and its precedent, “Círculo Argentino de Autores Compositores de Música”, and “Asociación de Autores y Compositores de Música”, play an important role in the history of tango and its existence, since thank to them, the authors, composers and musicians of tango were able to make a living.

Back in Buenos Aires, in 1908, we could find Villoldo playing in La Boca, at the “Café Concert” of Suarez and Necochea streets, the center of tango of the moment, where, in different places, Canaro, Greco, Firpo and others were playing. Villoldo performed a solo act, playing guitar, harmonica (attached to his body in the manner of Bob Dylan), singing, storytelling, and standup comedy and dancing.

From that year is his milonga “Matufias, o el Arte de Vivir”, which is seeing as precursor of Discépolo’s “Cambalache”.

Villoldo was also journalist and wrote plays.

In 1913 he writes the lyrics for “El 13”. This will be his last great hit. Tango changes and “La Guardia Vieja” is giving place to “La Guardia Nueva” and the tangos that Carlos Gardel recorded with Contursi’s lyrics. In 1917 the duet Gardel-Razzano made their first recording with a Villoldo’s song; “Cantar eterno”. It was the magic of tango linking the two eras.

[1] Was a person whom driving a team of horses pulled a vehicle that was stuck in the mud or in need of help in a hill climbing.

[2] Quarrelers who use knives to fight.

[3] José Gobello “Historia del Tango”, “La Guardia Vieja”, Editorial Corregidor 1977, page 364.

Read also:

Bibliography:

  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango – La Guardia Vieja”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Silvestre Byron, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
  • http://www.todotango.com/english/

History of Tango – Part 2: The origins of Tango

The origins of Tango

How tango came to be is unknown. What we have is information about the history leading up to the rise of Argentina as a state. From these facts, all we can do is speculate about how tango came to be.

In 1805 and again in 1807, England tried to invade Buenos Aires, but was repealed successfully by the population, not by the Spanish army, which abandon the city. This paved the way for ideas of independence, which eventually led to the end of the Colonial system and, after a war against Spain and a civil war, the Argentine Republic unified during the decade of 1860. Most of the references related to tango point to this time to signify its origins.

Railroad networkThe first Argentinean Presidents promoted the immigration of the European workforce, defeated the indigenous people who had still claimed part of the Argentine territory, favored an economic model of production and export of agricultural goods, in accordance with British led ideas of international division of work, and invested in the technology and infrastructure that made possible such model. A modern port was constructed in the area of the Puerto Madero, and a railroad network that transported the whole production of the entire country to this port. Buenos Aires greatly benefitted from these changes and grew exponentially. Between 1871 and 1915, Argentina received 5 million immigrants, mostly Europeans. Almost all of them stayed in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires, known at that time as “La Gran Aldea” (“The Great Village”), also received other immigrants from the countryside who had been displaced. The gauchos’ natural environment was the Pampas, which became private property of the new landowners. Also, the “chinas”, who were indigenous women whose men were killed in battle, defending their territory.

ImmigrantsAll these new arrivals to Buenos Aires had few resources and were very poor. They could only afford housing in the poorest neighborhoods, where the Afro-Argentineans, descendants of the African slaves, had been populating since 1813’s abolition of slavery. They were the locals. If any newcomer wanted to know something about Buenos Aires, they had to ask the Afro-Argentineans, who, before this massive immigration, constituted one-third of the population.

Juan Manuel de RosasBetween 1820 and 1850, before the Argentine Constitution was written and immigration was promoted, Argentina was under the administration of Juan Manuel de Rosas. During this time, the Afro-Argentineans enjoyed a period of greater participation and freedom of expression.
Rosas was a landowner in the province of Buenos Aires with a very good resume. When he was only thirteen, he fought heroically against the English invasions. Later on, he proved to be a very efficient administrator of cattle ranches and a successful businessman. Rosas created, financed and trained his own militia of gauchos, which would go on to be integrated into the state as an official regiment. They soon earned a reputation of being highly disciplined, and Rosas was able to establish order at the border with the indigenous populations. In 1819, Rosas put this militia at the service of the Governor of the province in order to quell an uprising against him. This is how Rosas became known as “El Restaurador de las Leyes” (”The Restorer of Law’).
Afroargentineans during RosasHe became the Governor of the province of Buenos Aires, and during 1835 and 1852 was the main leader of the Argentinean Confederation. This period of Argentina’s history is referred to as the “Era of Rosas.” He obtained the necessary support for his administration from the poorer sectors of the population of the City of Buenos Aires (integrated for a majority of Afro-Argentineans), and the gauchos of the countryside close to the City (many of whom were also Afro-Argentinean.) During his tenure, Rosas attended the “candombes” (celebrations) of the Afro-Argentineans as an honored guest. Also, it was during this period that the carnivals began in Buenos Aires.

“Abuelita Dominga era muy vieja
y vivía en el barrio de los candombes.
Del carnaval de Rosas no se olvidaba
al cantar esta copla roja de amores:

Rosa morena,
de la estrella federal,
yo se que tu alma está llena
de un pasión que es mortal.
Rosa morena,
todos la vieron pasar,
en su garganta morena
sangraba un rojo collar.

Abuelita Dominga siempre lloraba
al recordar la historia de amor y sangre.
Y me dio esta guitarra para que un día,
la cante como nunca la cantó nadie.

Rosa morena,
muerta en los cercos en flor
la vio una noche serena
todo el Barrio del Tambor.
Rosa perdida
aún dice el viejo cantar
que le quitaron la vida
porque quiso traicionar.”

“Rosa Morena (Abuelita Dominga)”, Héctor Blomberg and Enrique Maciel.

“Están de fiesta
en la calle Larga
los mazorqueros
de Monserrat.
Y entre las luces
de las antorchas,
bailan los negros
de La Piedad.
Se casa Pancho,
rey del candombe,
con la mulata
más federal,
que en los cuarteles
de la Recova,
soñó el mulato
sentimental.

Baila, mulata linda,
bajo la luna llena,
que al chi, qui, chi del chinesco,
canta el negro del tambor.
Baila, mulata linda,
de la divisa roja,
que están mirando los ojos
de nuestro Restaurador.

Ya esta servida
la mazamorra
y el chocolate
tradicional
y el favorito
plato de locro,
que ha preparado
un buen federal.
Y al son alegre
de tamboriles
los novios van
a la Concepción
y al paso brinda,
la mulateada,
por la más Santa
Federación.”

“La mulateada”, Julio Eduardo Del Puerto and Carlos Pesce.

Juan Manuel de Rosas’ regime affected all aspects of life in Buenos Aires and the culture. After his fall in 1852, local actors who were popular under his regime were dismissed, and the theaters of the City received foreign companies in their place. The Spanish theater companies from Andalusia were the most popular at that time, with the “sainete” being the main genre offered by these companies. This genre was comprised of shorter pieces, including elements of humor, songs and dance. Soon, the music and dance of tango could be seen on these stages.
Also, after Rosas was exiled, the candombes were prohibited in open spaces, so the Afro-Argentineans had to continue them inside. This change of venue forced them to dance closer to each other, shaping the choreographic elements of their dance which eventually fit the embrace of tango. During this period, the word “tango” referred to any dance performed by the Afro-Argentineans.

All the necessary elements for tango to appear were there: the Great City of Buenos Aires, the Afro-Argentine culture, the criollo and the gaucho, the native “chinas”, the massive immigration, the reconciliation with the Spanish heritage after the end of the War of Independence, and the open door to the rest of the world through the port.

In our modern society, dancing is viewed as a specialized activity, such as a profession or a hobby. For the people of the 1800s, dance was integrated into everyday life. A person was not special because they danced, but they stood out if they did not or could not dance.

The Renaissance was the beginning of dance as a modern social activity. Before the Renaissance, dance was a purely ritual activity, with the aim of maintaining a connection between the human realm and the Cosmos, which involved mythological and religious connotations and rationales.
Then with the development of the modern city and its lifestyle, and the consequent secularization of all aspects of life, dance assumed a role of facilitating social interaction.

Minuet 1738In the origins of social dances, we observe no physical contact between partners; then they take each other hands, developing the “minuet” during the 1600s; which led to dancing in each others arms, with the “waltz” in the 1700s. The direction of the evolution of social partner dancing becomes evident: a closing of the distance between the partners that culminates in the embrace of tango.

There are two explanations for why the embrace happened in tango, which are not contradictory. The first is the eclectic origins of the dance, which combined techniques of opposite tendencies, like the continuous movement in acceptance of the inertia, characteristic of waltz, and the “figures”, detention of the movement opposing the inertia, characteristic of the dances with separate partners or solo dancers, performed, among others, in the Afro-Argentinean and Andalusian dances. The greater communication made possible in the embrace produced a social partner dance that could have both, the partners united in each others arms, and the figures from the stops of the solo dancers. The other explanation is emotional: the consolation that the embrace gave to all these humans left alone by displacement, economic exile, destruction of their families, cultures and lifestyles.

Other characteristics of the new dance were that it was totally improvised, favoring the skill and creativity of the dancers, their spontaneity, in contrast with the repetition of choreographed formulas that the other dances demanded; and the innovation that the woman walks backwards, which contradicted all previous approaches to partner dancing. These elements are rooted in the body language of the criollos, men and women, who were trained in the art of short knife fencing. Due to a cultural demand and the historical realities of the time, it was considered necessary to know how to fight, just as today it is considered necessary to read and write. In a historical situation of rapid transformation of the government and institutions, there was no reliable protection provided to the people, their families or their property.
Before the British, who were commissioned by the Argentinean government to construct the railroad network, brought futbol (“football” in England, “soccer” in the United States) to Argentina (effectively making it the most popular sport), the criollos of Buenos Aires practiced “visteo.” Visteo is a variation of fencing using a wooden stick burned in one end, or the index finger painted with grease or ashes, with the purpose of marking the white shirt of the opponent. This is something which was inherited from the gauchos. The popularity of this practice prepared the Porteños of the 1800s with the necessary skills to create the dance of tango.

The characteristic elements of the dance of tango were referred as “cortes y quebradas” (cuts and breaks).

Tango regionThis dance technique soon became the characteristic dance of the poorest inhabitants of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rosario, and the villages located south of Buenos Aires in an area known as “Barracas al sur”, Avellaneda and Sarandí.
These women and men received respectively the names of “chinas” and “compadritos.”

The massive immigration in Buenos Aires was intended to populate the countryside, but a failure in the implementation of the necessary policies, corruption and the “Panic of 1873” (the great financial crisis that triggered a worldwide economic depression), conspired to detain almost the entire human wave in “The Great Village.” The City was not prepared to receive this amount of people, and housing quickly became one of the most urgent problems to solve.

ConventilloThe Andalusian style houses of the Southern side of Buenos Aires, San Telmo and La Boca, were soon creatively transformed into rooms to rent.
This type of construction, typical of the Colonial time, constituted a string of rooms aligned one after the other, with doors that opened to a patio or corridor connecting them. Their owners simply made each room a separate apartment to rent.
The huge demand for rooms made them expensive, so sometimes more than one family would rent one room and further divide it to make it affordable. This created a very crowded living unit, which was called “conventillo.”

Yellow feverIn 1871, Buenos Aires suffered a yellow fever epidemic that killed 8% of its population, most of them living in these houses. The situation was so dire (with more than 13,000 people dying in 4 months) that it was necessary to open a new cemetery in the area of La Chacarita.

A great proportion of immigrants were male because they did not want to risk their families in the adventures of a “new world.” This created the conditions for the rise of prostitution as a very profitable business.
After the 1871 yellow fever epidemic, the authorities of Buenos Aires became more concerned with public health. Among many public health measures, prostitution was regulated. The unintended outcome of this was the differentiation between foreign women and the locals. Foreign women, who did not understand the language and the culture, were lured into being sex slaves by an international network of human traffickers, and had to accept these regulations, fees and taxation. The locals, Afro-Argentineans and native “chinas,” together with the Spanish and Italians, went into hiding. This also satisfied the demand of two different sectors of the market, in accordance with their purchase power, making the “loras” (“parrots”, due to the language barrier) the better off, and the “chinas” (Quechua word for “woman”) the less favored. The legal business, called “casas de tolerancia” (“houses of tolerance”) were located downtown, in the area of Corrientes Street, San Nicolas, Palermo, San Cristobal and Barracas. The clandestine ones were called “cuartos de chinas.”

“Milonga del tiempo guapo, milongón de rompe y raja,
la bulla del empedrado va marcando tu canción;
soy porteño del 80 y al compás de tu canyengue
desfilan por mi memoria los recuerdos en montón.

Te conocí en los fortines
que cuidaban la frontera
reclamando los amores
de una china cuartelera.
Animando las retretas
del Parque de Artillería
y en la barriada bravía
de las Barracas del Sur.

Milonga del tiempo guapo, milongón de los milicos,
de “kepises” requintados y bombachas de carmín;
con tu música sencilla fuiste ley de los porteños,
grito de los cuarteadores y alma del piringundín.

Te conocí en los corrales
de los viejos Mataderos,
hecha jerga en los quillangos
del recao de un forastero.
tu canto fue la corneta
del cochero del tranvía
y el Palermo de avería
tu escuela sentimental.”

“Del tiempo guapo”, Vicente Fiorentino and Marcelo De La Ferrere.

The demand was always greater than the supply, meaning customers had to wait. The owners of these houses soon realized that they needed to offer something to these customers while they waited, to keep them from leaving and to entertain them. They began to hire musicians as a form of entertainment. The most popular music at the time was polka, habanera, milonga and a new kind of rhythm called… tango. Sometimes the men who were waiting would dance, which led the owners to the realization that perhaps the dance in itself could generate business.

The first “academias” began to open during the 1870s. These were places where men could go and dance with a superb female dancer, improve their skills, and try some new moves, all for a fixed price per song. These women shared the customer’s pay with the owner of the hall. The better dancers were more in demand and would dance nonstop for several hours, song after song, man after man. They did not need to be pretty or possess any other quality outside of being great dancers. The academias were located mainly in the area of Constitución and San Cristobal, and were also very popular in the City of Rosario. The owners and managers of the academias were mostly Afro-Argentineans.

Outside the circuit of academias, in 1857, the Spanish musician Santiago Ramos provided a distinctive Andalusian contribution, which in turn recognized Afro-Cuban and African roots. He composed one of the first tango flavored songs known as “Tomá mate, che”, a proto-tango with “Rioplatense” lyrics and Andalusian style musical arrangements. It was part of the “sainete” “The Gaucho of Buenos Aires,” which premiered at the Teatro de la Victoria. Also from that time came the proto-tango “Bartolo tenia una flauta” or simply “Bartolo”, derived from a classical XV century Andalusian melody, and the Montevidean “candombe tangueado” “El chicoba”.

Lo de HansenThe first Andalusian tango to reach mass popularity was composed in Argentina in 1874. The title is “El queco” (slang for ‘brothel’, of Quechua origin), from the Andalusian pianist Heloise de Silva, which makes open reference to the “cuartos de chinas.” Also, a candombe called “tango” with the title “El merenguengué” became very successful at carnivals organized by the Afro-Argentinean population in Buenos Aires in February 1876. In 1877, the restaurant “Lo de Hansen”, located in Palermo, was the first in a series of restaurants, cabarets and pubs where the youth of high society would socialize and dance tango.

The year of 1880 is when some authors mark the transition between the gestation of the tango and “La Guardia Vieja” (“Old Guard”.) There are some others who prefer to wait for the further evolution of the genre and the appearance of the first scores. In this decade, the tango and milonga are confused with one another, and both began to impose their dominance over habanera. During this time is when tangos began to multiply, “Señora casera” (Anonymous, 1880), “Andate a la Recoleta” (Anonymous, 1880), “Tango # 1” (José Machado, 1883), “Dame la lata” (Juan Pérez, 1883), “Qué polvo con tanto viento” (Pedro M. Quijano, 1890.)

In 1884, the Afro-Argentinean Casimiro Alcorta composed the oldest famous tango, “Concha sucia”, with openly pornographic lyrics referencing life in the brothels. Three decades later, Francisco Canaro changed the lyrics and the title to “Cara sucia” (“Dirty Face”), definitely making it the inaugural tango. Casimiro also composed “La yapa” tango which was later recorded as “Entrada prohibida”, then signed by the Teisseire brothers as the composers.

Casimiro Alcorta was also a celebrated tango dancer, together with his companion “La Paulina”, of Italian origin.

Around the same time, another Afro-Argentinean, the “payador” Gabino Ezeiza, introduced the “contrapunto milongueado”, linking the milonga to candombe. He told another payador, Nemesio Trejo, that “contrapunto milongueado” is ‘pueblera’ (‘of the city’) and a daughter of African Candombe, and while hitting his fingers against the edge of the table began to hum “tunga … tatunga … tunga …” to demonstrate with an onomatopoeia the link between the milonga rhythm with the Candombe (In an interview to Nemesio Trejo, made by Jaime Olombrada, published in the newspaper “La Opinion” of Avellaneda -Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina- on April 15, 1916).

At this time, the most common tango ensemble was guitar, violin and flute. In the following years the guitar and the flute disappeared, and the piano and then the bandoneón were integrated, which shaped the “Orquesta Típica.”

OrganitoIn those years the “organito,” a portable player, had a major role in the initial spread of the tango. It was made of tubes or flutes and a keyboard which is operated by the cylinder, enabling the passage of air to produce the different notes. Air is generated by bellows which are activated simultaneously with the cylinder by rotating a handle. The “organito,” like the organ and the bandoneón, is a wind instrument. It is important to differentiate the “organito” from the “organillo,” which is more common in Spain and produced its sound from strings. The sound of the “organito” prepared the ears of the Porteños for a natural transition to the bandoneón in tango, when it finally arrived in 1880.

It is around these “organitos,” where men were seen dancing tango in the street, practicing “cortes y quebradas.”

“Las ruedas embarradas del último organito
vendrán desde la tarde buscando el arrabal,
con un caballo flaco y un rengo y un monito
y un coro de muchachas vestidas de percal.

Con pasos apagados elegirá la esquina
donde se mezclan luces de luna y almacén
para que bailen valses detrás de la hornacina
la pálida marquesa y el pálido marqués.

El último organito irá de puerta en puerta
hasta encontrar la casa de la vecina muerta,
de la vecina aquella que se cansó de amar;
y allí molerá tangos para que llore el ciego,
el ciego inconsolable del verso de Carriego,
que fuma, fuma y fuma sentado en el umbral.

Tendrá una caja blanca el último organito
y el asma del otoño sacudirá su son,
y adornarán sus tablas cabezas de angelitos
y el eco de su piano será como un adiós.

Saludarán su ausencia las novias encerradas
abriendo las persianas detrás de su canción,
y el último organito se perderá en la nada
y el alma del suburbio se quedará sin voz.”

“El último organito”, Homero and Acho Manzi.

Read also

Bibliography:

  • “Antología del tango rioplatense”, Jorge Novati, Irma Ruiz, Néstor Ceñal e Inés Cuello. Instituto Nacional de Musicología “Carlos Vega”, 1980.
  • “Crónica general del tango”, José Gobello, Editorial Fraterna, 1980.
  • “El tango”, Horacio Salas, Editorial Aguilar, 1996.
  • “Historia del tango – Sus orígenes”, Rubén Pesce, Oscar del Priore, Editorial Corregidor 1977.
  • “El tango, el gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro, Editorial Argenta, 2009.
  • http://www.todotango.com/english/

SaveSave

History of Tango – Part 1: Women and men of the Colony

Women and men of the Colony

The dance of tango originated in the second half of the XIX century, in the area designated Rio de la Plata, on the outskirts of port cities like Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Rosario.[1]

Historically, this area was an important part of the Spanish Colonial Empire, which gained its independence from Feudalist Catholic Monarchic Spain towards integration into a Western capitalist globalized economy. This economic revolution was led by the United Kingdom and the United States, in the beginning of the 1800s, as a direct consequence of the transformations that swept through Europe due to the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

The elite class that led this process of transformation, although not unified – as many internal conflicts arose after the final defeat of the Spanish Army – were inspired by the ideas of the French and American Revolutions, and saw the industrialized countries like the United Kingdom as beacons of civilization, superior to the models of a feudalist Spain, and Aboriginal Native nations of America.

Since the arrival of the first Spanish expedition to the Rio de la Plata under the command of Juan Diaz de Solís (1515), the changes that affected this territory were very slow for almost 300 years.

Monopoly routeDuring that time, Spain allowed its colonies to only trade with Spain and other Spanish colonies. To avoid ships being captured by enemy’s nations and pirates, Spain established a unique route for the transit of goods between the colonies and Spain. This route was not at all favorable to Buenos Aires, making goods too expensive and scarce to the inhabitants of Rio de la Plata. As a consequence, smuggling became the only profitable business for its population and the only way to acquire what they needed to survive.

The first Spanish colonists that arrived to what today is Argentina and Uruguay could see that the land was great for cattle. The animals prospered and reproduced rapidly, creating a source of leather. In an area that had no other natural resources like stones, metals or wood, this new resource became the main material to create the necessary tools for everyday life activities. Leather was also the only product available to exchange for the goods being smuggled in to the area. Since the cattle were wild, there was no reliable tracking system in place, which was ideal for those in the area looking to make the most of this resource. Cattle producers (“estancieros”) were one of the main forces behind the process to gain independence, with the goal of ending the monopoly imposed by Spain.

In 1776, this territory was given more autonomy, becoming the “Virreinato del Rio de La Plata,” with the capital in Buenos Aires, mainly because Spain wanted to end the growing smuggling business in the area and profit by regulating the trade.

The isolation of this territory geographically – due to the enormous distance from Spain – and politically and economically – due to the strict trade policies – shaped the characteristics of its population, and created an environment that allowed for the appearance of first, the “gaucho,” and then later, the tango.

The early expeditions that arrived in Rio de la Plata were comprised of men who did not integrate well into Spanish society. In addition, the men who commanded these expeditions sometimes behaved in very authoritarian way, which is understandable due to the harsh conditions and the riskiness of expeditions at the time. Historical records show that the first gauchos descended from Andalucians and Moors of North African background, who accepted Christianity only as a way to avoid persecution. Once these men reached America, many broke loose from the expeditions and went to live as nomads, living off the wild cattle that rapidly populated the lands and coexisting with the natives.[2]

In “Tierras de nadie” (No man’s land), the area that is today the border between Uruguay and Brazil, the first gauchos (1771) lived off the land and hunted wild cattle, which they sold to the population of what is known today as Rio Grande do Sur, Brazil.

Gaucho with boleadoras

To hunt the wild cattle, the gauchos used various techniques. One method, which they learned from the natives, was the use of “boleadoras”, an artefact made of three balls of hard wood, stone or metal, lined with leather and tied together with leather strings, which they skillfully launched at the rear legs of the animal in order to make it fall and capture it alive, and keeping it in good condition, thereby maximizing its profitability.
Jesuit's missionsAnother origin of gauchos came from the Jesuit Missions after they were dismantled, in the area which is now known as the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, populated mainly by natives of the Guaraní nations. These missions were efficiently organized and very productive. For that reason, the missions attracted the attention of the powers of the time, who were suspicious of their prosperity.

The gauchos developed a new and truly local lifestyle and culture produced by the mix between the members of the expeditions and the American natives. They prized independence, self-reliance, honor, friendship, hospitality, loyalty, rejection of arbitrary authorities, courage, virility, resilience in the face of adversity, and appreciation for a life based on simplicity and in harmony with nature. These values are still the ones that guide the identity of Argentinians and Uruguayans. More specifically, these values permeate tango and are most evident in the lyrics, as illustrated in the song below.

“Tango que sos un encanto
De quien escucha tus sones,
Tango que atraes corazones,
Con tus dulces cantos
Y tus bandoneones.
Sos de cuna humilde,
Y has paseado el universo,
Sin más protocolo,
Que tu música y tus versos,
Para abrirte paso
Has tenido que ser brujo,
Por tus propios medios
Lograste tu triunfo.
Tango que sos un encanto,
Hoy vive tu canto,
En mi corazón.

¡Tango!, ¡Tango!
Tango bravo, tango lindo,
Tango noble, tango guapo
Tango hermano
De mis largas noches tristes,
Compañero de mi pobre corazón.
Tango bravo, fascinante,
¡Tango brujo!,
Tango bravo, combatido,
Tango bravo,
Tango gaucho
Que a pesar de tanta contra
Defendiste con altura,
Tu bravura de varón.”

“Tango brujo”, Francisco Canaro.[3]

The gauchos represented a continuity of the Middle Age Knights of Spain and Europe in general. They were skillful horseback riders, and were very proud of their ability in the fight. The gaucho’s weapon was the “facón”, a 16-inch knife – that could be seen as a shortened Knight sword. In general, the “facóns” were made from bayonets and used alone or in combination with the “rebenque” (a sort of whip) or the “poncho” (an outer garment designed to keep the body warm) rolled on the left arm and used as a shield.

Gauchos with facónThe “facón” was not only a weapon, but also an indispensable everyday tool, as well as the “rebenque” and the “poncho”.

The gauchos trained their fighting skills in a game called “visteo,” in which they used a wooden stick burned at one extreme, or the index finger colored with ashes or grease. They played inside of a small marked square called “cancha.” The main goal of the game is to force the opponent out of the square.

“Tome mi poncho… No se aflija…
¡Si hasta el cuchillo se lo presto!
Cite, que en la cancha que usté elija
he de dir y en fija
no pondré mal gesto.

Yo con el cabo ‘e mi rebenque
tengo ‘e sobra pa’ cobrarme…
Nunca he sido un maula, ¡se lo juro!
y en ningún apuro
me sabré achicar.”

“Mandria”, Juan Rodríguez, Francisco Brancatti and Juan Velich.[4]

The body language that came out of this physical training eventually gave shape to the dance of tango.

Gauchos and horsesThe gauchos were horseback riders by nature. In their childhoods, they learned to ride horses at the same time they learned how to walk. Similarly to the cattle that the Spanish brought, the horses brought over from Spain reproduced very quickly, providing the gauchos a plentiful pool of horses to use and trade. They use to call their horses “pingo”, and also “flete.”

“Pasó la tranquera y el pingo miraba,
tal vez extrañao de no verla más,
y el gaucho le dijo: ¡No mire, mi pingo,
que la patroncita ya no volverá!”

“Lonjazos”, Andrés Domenech and Jesús Fernández Blanco.[5]

During the 1800s, when the gaucho moved into the cities, he became the “compadre.” This move required him to give up his horse and shorten his knife. The “compadre” will show up again later in relation to tango.

Payador and guitarThe gaucho’s favorite musical instrument was the guitar (”guitarra criolla”), inherited from Spain (guitarra española.) The poetry of the gauchos accompanied by guitar is called “payada”, and the performer “payador.”

Gabino EzeizaThe “payada” evolved into “milonga” when Gabino Ezeiza (1858-1916), Afro-Argentine payador, introduced its rhythm derived from African Candombe[6].

Pampa's landscapeThe landscape of Argentina and Uruguay is said to have influenced the gauchos, deep into their character.

“Hay una hora de la tarde en que la llanura está por decir algo; nunca lo dice o tal vez lo dice infinitamente y no lo entendemos, o lo entendemos pero es intraducible como una música…”

“El fin”, Jorge Luis Borges.[7]

Courage, skillfulness, resilience and knowledge of the terrain made the gauchos vital elements of the Independence War, forming the core of the liberation armies. In honor of them, the Argentine writer Leopoldo Lugones coined the term “Guerra gaucha.”Los infernales de Guemes

Unfortunately, shortly after being praised as liberators of the new countries, they found themselves expelled from their habitat by the reorganization of the resources by the new leaders, dividing the precious productive land in plots suitable for large-scale agricultural production. Also, to foster the growth of the cities, in 1736 the new leaders prohibited hunting wild cattle without a license, which deprived the gauchos of their source of living. This prohibition forced the gauchos to choose between being excluded from society – as criminals – or being hired by the new owners of the land – as “estancieros” – or emigrating to the cities, where they would be partially integrated as “compadres.”

Manuela SáenzDuring the colonial time, the place of women in society was determined by racial and economic factors. The women of the elite class were subject to arranged marriages in order to create family alliances. The purpose of these alliances was to preserve Spanish traditions, promoting religion at home and consolidating the model of family life. Women had the responsibility of maintaining family honor, fulfilling the ideal of chastity. The most important moment of a woman’s life at the time was her wedding day, which she was prepared for since childhood. Women were expected to be docile, respect the authority of the husband and live within the confines of the home. To achieve success in this model, female education was entrusted to the Church, educating them in a domestic scheme of submission. The public role of a woman was to accompany her husband, attend charitable activities and Mass (a true female social center.) Women who were widowed took the reins of their husbands’ businesses and managed their assets; if they did so successfully, they entered the male world and were able to interact with civil institutions.

For the mestizo woman, life was not limited to the home as they had to engage in productive work or service outside the house: trade, domestic labor (maids, laundresses, seamstresses, etc.) and handicrafts (hand-spinners, candle makers, and cigar makers). They also worked in grocery stores, which meant they had more contact with the wider society.

Although marriage was an ideal in their lives, this did not have the degree of complexity as in the elite class because there was no obligation to continue the family lineage. This left more room for sentimental marriage. Although chastity and marriage remained an ideal for all women, the mestiza women were not held to the same standards and did not have to worry as much about maintaining their honor. They received instruction only through Catechism and the teachings of the Bible, as well as productive activities.

Initially, the mestizo in general and therefore the mestizo woman was frowned upon by both Hispanic-Creole and the Indians alike. But then, the whole society was crossbreeding, mixing, becoming a hybrid; after that the mestizo condition ceased to be defined accurately.

The role of indigenous people and the indigenous women varied depending on their position within their community; it was different to be an elite member of a native community than a regular native.

After the arrival of the Spaniards, native women were responsible for transmitting traditional traits of indigenous culture (housework, trade, clothing, etc.). With the imposition of monogamy, which opposed the polygamous structure of the indigenous society, many women were left alone. Also, the increased mortality of native men due to hard work left more women alone, which led them to look for work. They were employed mainly as housemaids, where they acquired great power and were essential, and were also active in trade. In this way, they learned to use the currency and learned the Spanish language even before the native men themselves.

With the reduction of indigenous peoples into personal service, slavery, etc., Spanish-Criollos imposed a new social structure, disintegrating the indigenous organization, resulting later in a total integration into the Spanish-Criollo society at the cost of the annihilation of the indigenous culture and social structure. Thus, the role of indigenous women in the colony was determined by the needs and ambitions of the Spanish-Criollos and the Spanish Crown.

Because of the indigenous population decline, black slaves were brought to America as labor force for agriculture, domestic service and work on farms. Urban slaves were mainly housemaids, bakers and laundresses. They were the property of married white women (becoming part of the homestead) and were considered objects, like property (living under worse conditions than indigenous or mestizo, although there were exceptions.)

During the Independence War, women had a prominent role, no less important than men.

The ideals of the women of tango, of the “milongueras”, were developed through these times. They value the nature of femininity, with its attributes of maternity, companionship with the male partner, independent minded, capable of successfully taking on the tasks traditionally attributed to men, when necessary.

Juana Azurduy de PadillaAn example of the ideals of women can be seen in the life of Juana Azurduy de Padilla (1780-1860).

Juana descended from a mixed family and was orphaned at an early age. She spent the first years of her life in a convent.

In 1802 she married Manuel Ascencio Padilla, and they went on to have five children. After the outbreak of the independence revolution on May 25, 1810, Juana and her husband joined the pro-independence militias of the area that today belong to Bolivia. In fact, Juana was one of many women who joined the fight.

Juana actively collaborated with her husband in organizing the squadron known as “Los Leales”, which joined the troops sent from Buenos Aires. During the first year of fighting, Juana was forced to abandon her children and was in combat on numerous occasions.

The government of Buenos Aires was impressed by her courage, and in recognition for her work, in August 1816, decided to provide Juana Azurduy the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. More recently, she was posthumously promoted to the rank of General by Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

“Yo soy la morocha,
la más agraciada,
la más renombrada
de esta población.
Soy la que al paisano
muy de madrugada
brinda un cimarrón.

Yo, con dulce acento,
junto a mi ranchito,
canto un estilito
con tierna pasión,
mientras que mi dueño
sale al trotecito
en su redomón.

Soy la morocha argentina,
la que no siente pesares
y alegre pasa la vida
con sus cantares.
Soy la gentil compañera
del noble gaucho porteño,
la que conserva el cariño
para su dueño.

Yo soy la morocha
de mirar ardiente,
la que en su alma siente
el fuego de amor.
Soy la que al criollito
más noble y valiente
ama con ardor.

En mi amado rancho,
bajo la enramada,
en noche plateada,
con dulce emoción,
le canto al pampero,
a mi patria amada
y a mi fiel amor.

Soy la morocha argentina,
la que no siente pesares
y alegre pasa la vida
con sus cantares.
Soy la gentil compañera
del noble gaucho porteño,
la que conserva el cariño
para su dueño.”

“La Morocha”, Ángel Villoldo.[8]

“¿Dónde están las mujeres aquéllas,
minas fieles, de gran corazón,
que en los bailes de Laura peleaban
cada cual defendiendo su amor?”

“Tiempos viejos”, Francisco Canaro, Manuel Romero.[9]

Read “History of Tango – Part 2: Origins of Tango”

Bibliography:

  • “El Tango, el Gaucho y Buenos Aires”, Carlos Troncaro. Argenta 2009.
  • “Crónica General del Tango”, José Gobello. Fraterna 1980.
  • “El Tango”, Horacio Salas, Planeta 1986.
  • “Historia del Tango”, Ernié, Del Priore, Sierra, Zucchi, and others. Corregidor 1977.
  • http://www.todotango.com/english/

[1] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tango

[2] http://www.tangoargentinaclub.com/sp/folklore/origin_gaucho.php

[3] Tango you are an enchanter
Of those who listen your sounds,
Tango you attract hearts,
with your sweet songs
and your bandoneons.

You have humble origins
And traveled the universe
without more attributes
other than your music and your verses.
To open your path
you had to be a sorcerer
with your own resources
you achieved success.
Tango you are an enchantment,
today your song lives
in my heart.

Sorcerer Tango!
Brave Tango, Beautiful Tango!,
Noble tango, courageous Tango!
Brother Tango
Of my long sad nights,
mate of my barren heart.

Fascinating courageous Tango!
Sorcerer Tango!
Brave Tango, Opposed,
Brave Tango!
Gaucho Tango,
that despite the odds against you,
with loftiness you defend your manly bravery.

[4] Take my “poncho”… don’t be sorry…
I’ll even share with you my knife!
Name the place of your choice
I’ll be there, be assured
without regret

I, With the end of my whip,
more than enough to collect
I swear I’ve never been a coward
And in no situation
You’ll see me retreat.

[5] He passed the fence and the horse watched,
perhaps wondering for not seeing her,
and the gaucho told him: Don’t look, my horse,
that she won’t come back.

[6] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabino_Ezeiza

[7] “There is an hour of the afternoon in which the plain is about to say something, it never says it or perhaps it says it infinitely and we do not understand  it, or we understand it but it is untranslatable as music …”

[8] I am the brunette,
the most graceful ,
the most renowned
of this population.
I’m the one to countryman
very early at dawn
provides a mate.
I , with sweet accent ,
next to my humble home,
sing
with tender passion ,
while my owner
goes at trot speed
in his horse.
I am the Argentine brunette,
I do not feel regrets
and happily live
with my songs .
I am the gentle companion
of the noble porteño gaucho
I keep my affection
for my owner.
I am the brunette,
Of ardent look

And in my soul feel
the fire of love.
I’m the one who to the Criollito
most noble and courageous
love with ardor.
In my beloved home,
under the arbor ,
in silvery night ,
With sweet emotion
I sing to the pampero wind,
To my beloved homeland
and to my faithful love.
I am the Argentine brunette,
I do not feel regrets
and happily lives
Singing

I am the gentle companion
Of the noble porteño gaucho
I keep my affection
to my owner.

[9] Where are those women,
faithful women, of generous heart,
that at Laura’s dances fought
each defending their love?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave