Bandoneonist, composer and leader
(24 February 1892 – 29 September 1924)
Every tango lover has a personal vision towards the artists’ values, and that is all right, our taste and personal experiences define us in the choice of ones or others.
Certainly, when we talk about tango as song, there is an unanimous agreement in the incomparable figure of Carlos Gardel, something that does not happen when the opinion is about orchestras or the rest of the musicians or singers.
The case of Eduardo Arolas, is another exception, his extraordinary talent as composer, places him one a rank above the rest, what is a merit even greater if we take into account that in his time the major tango creators appeared. Let us remember musicians of the category of Agustín Bardi, Vicente Greco, Arturo De Bassi, Juan Carlos Cobián, Roberto Firpo, among so many others.
So Gardel and Arolas are, in my opinion, the basement of modern tango, the former, born French and porteño (Argentine from Buenos Aires) by adoption, the latter, Argentine with French parents.
Gifted with an incredible melodic creativity, he stepped into the musical environment as a modest player of guitar, his first instrument, introduced by his friend Ricardo González, (Muchila).
But the bandoneon will be responsible for his consecration and the faithful witness of his genius and his tormented life. Continue reading.
Pianist, leader and composer
(7 January 1903 – 12 January 1960)
He, as nobody else, knew how to combine the rhythmic cadence of tango with a harmonic structure, apparently simple, but full of nuances and subtleties.
He was not enrolled for any of the two streams of his time. His was neither a traditional orchestra, styled after Roberto Firpo or Francisco Canaro nor a follower of the De Caro renewal.
Di Sarli imposed a seal of his own; a different musical profile, which remained, unaltered throughout his prolonged career.
In the beginning, his sextet reveals us the influence of Osvaldo Fresedo. And certainly, I think there would have never been a Di Sarli had not existed a Fresedo. But, only as necessary forerunner of a style that, with time, would become a pure model with its own and differentiated nature.
He was a talented pianist, maybe one of the most important, who conducted his orchestra from his instrument, with which he mastered the synchrony and the performance of the outfit.
In his orchestral scheme there were not instrumental solos, the bandoneon section sang at times the melody, but it had an essentially rhythmic and danceable role. Only the violin was showcased in an extremely delicate way, on a brief solo or on a counter melody. Continue reading.
Singer and composer
(6 January 1922 – 24 February 1999)
Listening to Roberto Rufino when he sang “María” or “La novia ausente” or “Malena” or any of the tangos he had chosen for his repertoire, was to realize that that tango was unraveling little by little and that the words sprang up separately, without forsaking the whole that gathered them, with the proper strength they had to have in their context.
Rufino was that: a storyteller, a phraser, an interpreter that perfectly knew which was the meaning of what he was singing.
He was born on January 6, 1922, on 753 Agüero Street —in the heart of the neighborhood of el Abasto—, son of Lorenzo Rufino and Agustina Guirin, although in his birth certificate is written the day he was filed on the records, on the 8th day of that same month and year. A little bit yonder, on Agüero and Guardia Vieja Streets, the café O’Rondeman was placed, where Carlos Gardel attempted his early songs. A premonition? Maybe, because Rufino as well started at the old café of his neighborhood, which still was run by the Traverso brothers. But there is a further coincidence: in the same year, 1935, his father and Gardel died. And in 1936, a few days after the cortege which was mourning Carlitos to his final abode had passed along Corrientes street, El pibe del Abasto —as he was called since the early days at O’Rondeman, made his professional debut; he was also called El pibe Terremoto— at the Café El Nacional, as vocalist of the Francisco Rosse typical orchestra, to switch, a little bit later, to Petit Salón, with Antonio Bonavena orchestra, composer of “Pájaro ciego” and uncle of the would-be boxer.
But we are still in the singer’s prehistory. Continue reading.
In 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 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.
In 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”.
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.” He 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.
Roberto 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”.
His 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.
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
shared 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.
Not 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.
They 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.
In 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.
He 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.
It 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.
Canaro 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.
Also 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.
Canaro 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.
In 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!”
The 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.
After 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:
“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.
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.
In 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.
Canaro 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:
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…
Another 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.
Around 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.
Canaro’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.
On 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”.
Another 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”.
These 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.
“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.
When 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”.
Many 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”.
Young 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.
However, 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.
The 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.
Young 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.
The 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).
By 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 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”.
In 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.
In 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.
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.
When 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.
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”.
In 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 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.
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.
This 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.
From 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.
In 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:
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.
It 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. During 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.
The 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 by 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 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 “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.
One 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”.
In 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
Enrique 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 … ”
Mamita, 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.
Carmen 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.
Luciana 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.
Joaquina 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.”
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.
Elías 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 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 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…
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!”
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 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.”
Juana 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.'”
Filiberto, 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.
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.
Pedrín “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.”
I 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?
On 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.