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Tango History / Music

These blog posts focuses on the iconic and influential figures of tango history - the musicians, singers, lyricists and dancers. Also includes the lyrics of songs from the Golden Era of Tango

What your favourite orchestra says about you (according to tango snobs)

posted Dec 14, 2016, 3:49 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 14, 2016, 3:55 PM ]

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image: ToTango

Couldn't resist sharing this humorous take on tango snobbery from Elmer Pascal - a tango aficionado from Canada. Love his take on Fresedo!

Which describes you best? 

Canaro 

Canaro was a sellout, and you're a sellout for liking him. I bet you love Starbucks and watching reruns of 'Friends'. 

D'arienzo 

If you need the beat screamed at you and hate layers, sure. You must be a beginner.

Di Sarl

This is what orchestra people say when they don't know what to say. Boring and predictable. 

Troilo  

A hipster's answer. You're trying to appear knowledgeable and as an advanced dancer. You pretend to "get" Troilo and talk about his "nuanced layers." Your ruse isn't fooling anyone. 

Pugliese

Of course you like Pugliese. Everyone likes Pugliese. I bet you also loooove gaunchos and volcadas, and the beat is a mystery to you. 

Biagi 

You like to memorise strange beat patterns then make your partner feel bad when they "can't follow/lead them.

Donato 
Do you even understand what tango is about? It's about soul-crushing sadness, not all this silly happy, upbeat mess. 

Fresedo 

Worse than Donato. I don't want to get diabetes while I dance. 

Tanturi / Calo / Demare 

This answer is actually acceptable. 

Laurenz

What, did you listen to Alma de Bohemio once? 

De Angelis

I hope you're joking. How can you stand those violins? It's like sucking on a lemon. 

OTV / De Caro / Firpo / Lomuto

Aw, grandpa over here loves to tango, if by "tango" you mean shuffling around the floor for 12 minutes.

D'Agostino

All of his music sounds the same. Your typical breakfast is unbuttered toast with plain oatmeal, and you like to tell stories no one cares about.

Rodriguez

You know he's almost never played in Buenos Aires right?

Piazzolla

Get out.




 











Which accountant was known as the 'Ace of Tango'?

posted Apr 3, 2015, 5:25 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Apr 3, 2015, 5:25 PM ]

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Who was the tango musician from the Golden Era who was nicknamed the 'Ace of Tango'?

A lesser known name of Tango to be sure. He was a bandoneonist, leader, arranger and composer. He's not in the top 20 names that immediately come to mind when we talk about Golden Era musicians. 

'El As del Tango's' given name was Salustiano Paco Varela. His stage name - Héctor Varela! 

Born on January 29th, 1914, Varela was born and raised in Avellaneda in the Buenos Aires Province of Argentina, where he trained as an accountant. His mother liked to joke that her son was an accountant who had never practiced a single day in his life! 

Varela's tango debut came with Salvador Grupillo in 1930 at the tender age of 16. In 1934 after some back and forth with a few orchestras,  Maestro Juan d'Arienzo hired him as lead bandonista! 

During Varela's tenure with D'Arienzo, he composed many songs including Chichiponía, Bien Polenta, Te Espero en Rodríguez Peña, Salí de Perdedor, Sí Supieras que la Extraño, and Don Alfonso

In 1950, after 10 years with D'Arienzo, and at the time of the orchestra's greatest success, he left to form his own group. Audiences and critics were expecting something similar to the old style of D'Arienzo, but Varela surprised almost everyone when he presented his own unique tight outfit of rhythm and sound.

It's not surprising that D'Arienzo had a major impact on Varela's musical style and interpretation, just as it did with another D'Arienzo cohort - Rodolfo Biagi. Surprisingly while Varela composed hundreds of pieces, only about 10 to 15 are well known today.

Varela was a musician criticised by the innovative players but loved by the fans of dancing and popular tango. Many critics consider his best artistic stage to have been in the early 50s. 

It's a real treat to hear Varela's songs played at milongas because often when you first hear one of his songs you think it's D'Arienzo and then you know it's Varela when the orchestra changes rhythms and relents - unlike D'Arienzo who was entirely relentless, continually pounding one's senses!

Varela died on 30 January 1987, one day after his 73rd birthday.

You can hear some of Varela's best here...

"The female of the species is seen as a demon-sent emissary..."

posted Mar 23, 2015, 4:23 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Mar 23, 2015, 4:24 PM ]

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Sharing this post by Alberto Paz published in El Firulete, The Argentine Tango. This quote particularly attracted my attention...

'In general, the Tango lyrics as a whole, have roots in a medieval Christian concept where the female of the species is seen as a demon-sent emissary whose purpose is to incite the men to sin in sexual ways. "

Spanish speaking tango dancers often speak about the exquisite poetry of tango music, which cannot be denied. But I often wonder what is the affect of these lyrics on the psyche of people who listen to this music and understand the lyrics? This post does not answer that question. It's something I may explore at a later time.

This quote also attracted my attention:

"Tango lyrics as a whole, are a condemnation by the working class, of the ethical, judicial, religious, cultural and political norms and canons of a bourgeoisie society.

Alberto's Post provides a categorical overview of the political and cultural context of the lyrics.

The Tip of the Iceberg
February 1998

Like an unsinkable gigantic vessel steaming across the waters of an inexorable destiny, some people’s lives proceed night after night with a certain degree of complacency, trusting that the sun will rise again and another day will soon be past.

Suddenly those lives unexpectedly take a hit and a flood of shivering emotions begins to inundate their innermost feelings. Dumfounded by the experience, they begin to sink into a gorge of sounds and silence. The next day someone may notice that these people have been hit by the Tango and have sunk into a deep ocean, their bodies held in close embrace, sort of a dancing ritual done to the sound of wailing instruments. And that Tango was just the tip of an iceberg, the visual experience projected perhaps from a stage or from a movie screen.

Below the surface, the Argentine Tango’s massive structure widens into an enormous density of musical, poetic and traditional values that only those, who sink deeper below the surface than the dance presents, can appreciate and enjoy.

Take for example the Tango lyrics. They have chronicled periods of time along the base line of evolution of a city and its inhabitants. In general, the Tango lyrics as a whole, have roots in a medieval Christian concept where the female of the species is seen as a demon-sent emissary whose purpose is to incite the men to sin in sexual ways. This resulted in an antagonistic conception of the human roles where the immoral female disdained and disregarded the male efforts and betrayed him through infidelity.

After 1910, the lyrics began to show some tolerance, comprehension and even justification for the shortcomings of the females. Gradually, as the medieval roots began to disappear, the males began to accept the sexual activities of the females as a result of their need to participate in them on demand, especially if their need was strictly physiological.

By 1920, the male writers and singers were reflecting a certain lack of interest in spiritual and material self-improvement as a result of an economical, social and political set of conditions established by a capitalistic society where the distribution of wealth was limited to a privileged few, who in the Tango sense, used their power to lure decent women from their humble abodes into a life of sin and excesses.

Along the way, the Tango lyrics have casually been labeled sad and summarily dismissed as interfering with our dancing joy. Perhaps, remembering that one can only see the tip of an iceberg, we could acknowledge what most historians have said, and that is, that the Tango lyrics as a whole, are a condemnation by the working class, of the ethical, judicial, religious, cultural and political norms and canons of a bourgeoisie society.

Fortunately, a renewed effort is underway to disseminate and publicize the contents of Tango lyrics as a way to understand more and more that flood of shivering emotions that inundates our innermost feelings when we dance a Tango.

You may enjoy these related posts:


Should you know the lyrics?

posted Feb 16, 2015, 1:00 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 16, 2015, 1:01 PM ]

Cupid cries over a bag of gold;a man pines over his tragic loss. 

Sharing this post from the Tango Therapist about the importance for tango dancers to understand the lyrics of what they are dancing to.

A Tango DJ and dancer friend of mine Nelson Mastrodomenico has been urging me to learn the lyrics of tango songs. He says that he can't understand why dancers would not want to understand the lyrics which are so rich in poetry. Knowing the lyrics also helps to understand the appropriate mood in which to dance the song. Although the melody should give some indication of this knowing what the song actually means helps. Smiling through a tragic song (as I have seen in some tango performances) seems disrespectful to the song and just plain wrong! I know one non Spanish speaking tango teacher who refuses to perform any song with lyrics for this reason.

This is one of the reasons I am learning Spanish, but a knowledge of Lunfardo is also required to fully grasp the meaning of tango songs from the Golden Era. 

Tango lyrics: Dangers in not knowing a few songs

Perhaps there is some beauty in just listening to the music when you don't speak Spanish. But I am sure that you will be convinced by this post that knowing the lyrics of at least a few tangos can be very important, especially the lyrics for a song you might want to perform or use for a special occasion, such as a wedding.

Biagi's interpretation of "La Marcha Nupcial" (the Wedding March) is an excellent example! I know. I just was married, and the majority of guests were from the tango community. Sure, it was tempting to play "La Marcha Nupcial" at our milonga/reception after exiting a wedding palace in Strasbourg, France. However, this tango's lyrics would have created an ironic backdrop--once you know the meaning of the words (given in English below).



The story in "La Marcha Nupcial" is the painful drama of man of humble means, watching his lover marry a rich man. He hears the Wedding March as she leaves in a regal procession out of the cathedral. The whole scene is his love-tragedy, the first chapter in his book of painful, unrequited love. Perhaps this is not the best thing to play at your wedding? My translation follows:


La Marcha Nupcial (The Wedding March)
by Venancio Clausio – Armando Tagini (1932)

'I watched as you left the cathedral with your flamboyant husband,
enveloped by the strains of the Wedding March.
An aura of joy emanated from your countenance,
carrying yourself as if in a royal procession ...
Voices surrounded me with affirmations of your beauty.
I feel my emotions stabbing into my heart ...
my head--swept up in a whirlwind,
my heart--pounding in its distress!

Dear Precious Times, you're in the distance!
So many dreams! So many oaths!
I hear echoes of her voice, her laughter,
I still sense her fragrance...
Mere sandcastles, all windswept before me!

I was poor ... inebriated by the romantic moon above us ...
All I could offer you was my feather-light tenderness.
But tenderness could not balance out on the scale your beauty.
His money could! The perfect counterweight.

The painful drama still plays its verse in my head,
my ears still hear the strains of the Wedding March,
as I watch Cupid, crying over a bag of gold,
and my soul watches as my sentimental faith fades away.'

Note: I recommend this resource for translated lyrics: Poesía de gotán: The Poetry of the Tango. Since Derrick del Pilar, the tango lyric translator on this blog has not yet translated "La Marcha Nupcial," I was forced to do it myself for this post.


The dark history of Canaro's 'Poema'

posted Feb 3, 2015, 3:35 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 4, 2015, 3:10 PM ]


Sharing an excerpt from a post about the dark background of the much loved song 'Poema' . It surprised me to read that such a seemingly sweet and romantic song is in reality a 'a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer'!

So that's why "Poema" is hard to fit into a tanda...
By Dmitry Pruss
posted on May 19, 2014.


Most of of the practicing and aspiring DJs must have noticed that Canaro-Maida's superb (and much overplayed) 1935 "Poema" doesn't quite fit seamlessly into tandas. "Poema" is quite singular in its gently melancholic, softly nostalgic flow, while other Canaro's hits of the period tend to be more insistent and dramatic in quality, energetically driving rather than softly soothing.

One can't help noticing a few more peculiarities about this hit. Its popularity peaks overseas, especially in Europe, and reaches the low point in Buenos Aires. And no other orchestras in Argentine recorded the piece.

Thanks to German Nemoljakin's constant flow of stories from tango's past, I got an intriguing glimpse of Poema's special history, and couldn't resist digging deeper into it. To sum it up:

The beautiful "Poema" isn't quite an Argentine tango, it is as much a European tango, composed by the expat musicians who were singularly successful in transplanting tango to the musical scene of Paris.

Furthermore, Poema's lack of acceptance in Buenos Aires wasn't helped by the dark political undertones of its story, and the fact that its lyrics are a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer.

"Poema" is undoubtedly the best composition of Eduardo Bianco, an Argentine who lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, and who mastered the art of making the tango of Argentina sound the Parisian way. The oft-retold story says that Bianco and Mario Melfi, aided by others in their band, composed it on a train during a 1932 tour of Germany. What is rarely mentioned is that Bianco's lyrics tell his personal, and thoroughly suppressed, story from his final year in Buenos Aires. In 1924, Eduardo Bianco played the first violin in the orchestra of the famous Teatro Apolo at Avenida Corrientes. 

Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra, and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. As translated into English by Alberto Paz, Bianco's stanzas tell us how a dream of sweet love ended up awakening the heart's monsters, the chimeras which can never be fully grasped; the words "intenso mal" which Alberto Paz translated as "intense misfortune" may be better interpreted as "overpowering evil":

...You'll remember my love,
and you will come to know
all my intense misfortune.

Of that one intoxicating poem,
nothing is left between us,
I say my sad goodbye,
you'll feel the emotion
of my pain…

Here's my favourite performance of Poema...


Leopoldo Federico R.I.P

posted Dec 31, 2014, 5:13 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 31, 2014, 5:16 PM ]

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“I’ve always had the luck to see my dreams come true: playing alongside Horacio Salgán was a gift from fate, Astor Piazzolla was a one-of-a-kind experience, I remember myself with Julio Sosa and just wish I could start all over again to do exactly the same,”

Tango legend Leopoldo Federico died on December 28 at age 87. He was one of Argentina’s leading bandoneonists, and performed with the orchestras of Astor Piazzolla, Horacio Salgan and Mariano Mores.  Federico rose to fame due largely to his collaboration with Uruguayan tango singer Julio Sosa.

Sharing an except from an article about Federico released December 29 by the Buenos Aires Herald:

Popular bandoneonist Leopoldo Federico, one of Argentine tango’s leading musicians who performed onstage in Astor Piazzolla’s, Horacio Salgán’s and Mariano Mores’ orchestras, died yesterday at age 87. Federico’s remains were taken to the Juan Domingo Perón Hall of the City Legislature, the Argentine Association of Music Performers said in a statement yesterday.

The iconic tango musician and composer was born in the neighbourhood of Balvanera on January 12, 1927. His first steps as an apprentice-musician were guided by Nicolás Ingratta, and then Paquito Requena and Félix Lipesker. Federico made his professional debut in the early 1940s with the Di Adamo-Flores orchestra in the Tabarís and other BA cabarets. Speaking about his precocious beginnings, Federico said in an interview: “I was a big boy. The first few months, when I would go out at four in the morning, my dad would wait for me at the street corner where we’d take the tram to Once. And then he had to get up at eight to go to work. I had to persuade him to let me go on my own because the musicians were starting to mock me.”

A traditional-minded musician, Federico performed alongside new tango prophet Astor Piazzolla, with whom he would often clash. He also played with the crème of local tangueros, from Alfredo Gobbi to Osmar Maderna, Horacio Salgán, Carlos Di Sarli, Mariano Mores, Lucio Demare, Florindo Sassone and Alberto Marino.

In 1952 he joined efforts with Atilio Stampone to create a new orchestra with which he performed at the Tibidabo cabaret and Radio Belgrano. He also established an orchestra with pianist Osvaldo Berlinghieri.

In the 1950s he played for a short time in the ensemble Pa' que Bailen los Muchachos, but he rose to fame during his collaboration with the Uruguayan tango singer Julio Sosa, which extended until Sosa’s death in 1964. No less than 60 records survived from Federico’s years with Sosa, including huge hits such as La cumparsita, El firulete, Cambalache, Mano a mano, En esta tarde gris and Qué me van a hablar de amor.
Sosa’s death took a toll on Federico and their group, which is why he later created the San Telmo Quartet alongside Roberto Grela, Ernesto Báez and Román Arias. The newly-formed ensemble made numerous appearances on television and on several radio stations.

In 1970 Federico performed as soloist at the premiere of Juan José Ramos’ suite Siete variaciones para bandoneón y orquesta sinfónica (Seven Variations for Bandoneon and Symphonic Orchestra) at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata.

Federico also formed a trio in 1972, alongside pianist Osvaldo Berlinghieri and double bass player Fernando Cabarcos — who died five years later and was replaced by Rafael Del Bagno.

In 2007, Federico’s Orquesta Típica — one of the last remaining orchestras of the great tango ensembles — included Antonio Príncipe, Héctor Lettera and Horacio Romo (bandoneons), Damián Bolotin, Pablo Agri, Briguita Danko and Mauricio Svidovsky (violins), Diego Sánchez (cello), Horacio Cabarcos (double bass), Nicolás Ledesma (piano) and Carlos Gari (voice).
Federico was the president of the Argentine Association of Music Performers and he became the first tanguero to record a CD — in Japan, in 1987. He wrote a series of popular tangos, including Milonguero de hoy, Sentimental y canyengue, Cabulero, Tango al Cielo, Siempre Buenos Aires, Minguito Tinguitella, A Ernesto Sábato and the milonga Calentísima, among other compositions.

Federico also wrote music for film — Rosa de lejos and Buenos Aires tango — and starred in a few documentaries, such as Por la vuelta (2002), Si sos brujo: una historia de tango (2005), Café de los Maestros (2008), Mercedes Sosa, cantora; Un viaje íntimo (2009) and Pichuco (2014).

Federico was awarded a Latin Grammy in 2009 and a Gardel Life-Achievement Award. He was also named Distinguished Citizen of Buenos Aires in 2002.'

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Balada Para Un Loco

posted Dec 30, 2014, 5:49 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 31, 2014, 4:19 PM ]

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Posting this video and lyrics* of Balada Para Un Loco as a tribute to the great Uruguyan lyricist Horacio Ferrer who passed away on December 21 at the age of 81. You can read more about Ferrer here.

In the video Ferrer is reciting with great emotion the lyrics of his beautiful poem which Astor Piazzola put to music. This is one of my favourite Piazzola songs. He is accompanied by the Orqestra Typical Alfredo Marcucci. The location is Turin, Italy. The year is 2007 - Ferrer would have been 74 year at that time.


Here's the lyrics* in English and Spanish:

The afternoons in Buenos Aires have this… well, you know.
You leave your house down Arenales Avenue.
The usual : on the street and in me…
Then suddenly, from behind a tree,
he shows up.

Las tardecitas de Buenos Aires tienen ese que se yo, viste?
Salis de tu casa por Arenales.
Lo de siempre: en la calle y en mi…
Cuando de repente, detras de un arbol,
se aparece él.

Rare mix of the next to last tramp
and the first stowaway on a trip to Venus:
a half melon on the head,
a striped shirt painted on the skin,
two leather soles nailed to the feet,
and a taxi-for-hire flag up in each hand.

Mezcla rara de penultimo linyera
y de primer polizonte en el viaje a Venus:
medio melon en la cabeza,
las rayas de la camisa pintadas en la piel,
dos medias suelas clavadas en los pies
y una banderita de taxi libre levantada en cada mano.

Ha ha! But only I can see him:
because he moves among the people
and the mannequins wink at him,
the traffic lights flash him three lights sky-blue
and the oranges at the corner grocery stand
cast their blossoms at him.
And that this way, half dancing, half flying,
He removes the melon to greet me.
He gives me a little flag and he tells me…

¡Ja, ja! Parece que sólo yo lo veo.
Porque él pasa entre la gente,
y los maniquíes le guiñan;
los semáforos le dan tres luces celestes,
y las naranjas del frutero de la esquina
le tiran azahares.
Y así, medio bailando y medio volando,
se saca el melón, me saluda,
me regala una banderita, y me dice…

l know I’m crazy, crazy, crazy…
don’t you see the moon rolling through Callao;
a second line of astronauts and children
waltzing around me… Dance! Come! Fly!

Ya se que estoy piantao, piantao, piantao…
No ves que va la Luna rodando por Callao;
que un corso de astronautas y niños, con un vals,
me baila alrededor… Baila! Veni! Vola!

Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
As darkness sets in your porteña loneliness,
by the shores of your bedsheet I’ll come
with a poem and a trombone
to keep your heart sleepless.

Loco! Loco! Loco!
Cuando anochezca en tu porteña soledad,
por la ribera de tu sabana vendre
con un poema y un trombon
a desvelarte el corazon.

I know I’m crazy, I’m crazy, I’m crazy…
I see Buenos Aires from a sparrow’s nest;
and I saw you so sad… Come! Fly! Feel!…
the crazy desire I have for you:

Yo se que estoy piantao, piantao, piantao…
Yo miro a Buenos Aires del nido de un gorrion;
y a vos te vi tan triste… Veni! Vola! Senti!…
el loco berretin que tengo para vos:

Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
Like a demented acrobat I’ll dive,
into the abyss of your cleavage ’till I feel
I drove your heart crazy with freedom.
You’ll see!

Loco! Loco! Loco!
Como un acrobata demente saltare,
sobre el abismo de tu escote hasta sentir
que enloqueci tu corazon de libertad…
Ya vas a ver!

And so saying, the crazy invites me
to ride on his super sport illusion,
and we’re going to run over the cornices
with a swallow in the engine.
From Vieytes they applaud: “Hooray! Hooray!”,
the nuts who invented Love,
and an angel, a soldier and a girl
give us a dancing waltz.

Y, así diciendo, El loco me convida
A andar en su ilusión super-sport,
y vamos a correr por las cornisas
¡con una golondrina en el motor!
De Vieytes nos aplauden: “Viva! Viva!”,
los locos que inventaron el Amor;
y un angel y un soldado y una niña
nos dan un valsecito bailador.

The beautiful people come out to say hello.
And the crazy, my crazy, I don’t know!;
he causes a stridency of bells with his laugh,
and finally, he looks at you, and sings softly

Nos sale a saludar la gente linda…
Y El loco, loco mío, ¡qué sé yo!,
provoca campanarios con su risa,
y al fin, me mira, y canta a media voz:

Love me this way I am, crazy, crazy, crazy…
climb up into my insane tenderness,
don a wig of larks on your head and fly!
Fly with me now! Come! Fly! Come!

Quereme asi, piantao, piantao, piantao…
Trepate a esa ternura de locos que hay en mi,
ponete esa peluca de alondras, y vola!
Vola conmigo ya! Veni, vola, veni!

Love me the way I am, crazy, crazy, crazy…
open up your love, we are going to attempt
the crazy magic of reviving…
Come , fly , come! Trai-lai-lai-larara!

Quereme asi, piantao, piantao, piantao…
Abrite los amores que vamos a intentar
la magica locura total de revivir…
Veni, vola, veni! Trai-lai-lai-larara!

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Crazy him and crazy me…
Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
Crazy him and crazy me.

¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Viva!
¡Loco él y loca yo!
¡Locos! ¡Locos! ¡Locos!
¡Loco él y loca yo!

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Vale Horacio Ferrer

You may enjoy a related post: Farewell to Horacio Ferrer

* lyrics translated by Letras de Tango

































































Farewell to Horacio Ferrer

posted Dec 30, 2014, 5:38 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 31, 2014, 4:22 PM ]

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This is a tribute to the Uruguayan-born lyricist, broadcaster and reciter Horacio Ferrer, who died on December 21 in Buenos Aires from heart complications. He was 81.

“Tango is so attractive to poets because tango is entirely poetic in itself. The music is poetic, the dance is poetic, the singing is poetic, and the world from which the tango evolves is poetic: it’s the world of the night, it’s the bohemian world where money has little importance, and to be sure where love has a great deal of importance, triumphant love or destroyed love, the affections, distant affection, a love of looking back through space and time,” (Horacio Ferrer)

Ferrer rose to fame as Astor Piazzolla’s lyricist and longtime collaborator. He was particularly well known for the lyrics he wrote for Piazzolla’s tangos such as Chiquilín de Bachín and Balada Para un Loco. The latter is my personal favourite and you can read more about and listen to it here.

Ferrer was born on 2 June 1933 in Montevideo, Uruguay into an educated family. His father was a history professor.  His mother Alicia Escurra Francini (who was 11 years older than his father) spoke four languages. She was the great grandniece of 19th-century Argentine ruler Juan Manuel de Rosas. Ferrer had a close relationship with his brother, Eduardo, to whom he dedicated several of his lyrics.

Growing up in a home impregnated with art, it is not surprising that from his early childhood Ferrer was already writing poems, little shows, and plays. Later on he would write lyrics for milongas which he would sing to friends, while playing the guitar, in the cellar of a grocery store.

An uncle living in Buenos Aires, who Ferrer frequently visited with his parents, taught him to play tangos on guitar by ear. It was that same uncle who would introduce him to the nightlife of Buenos Aires night with its gallery of bohemian characters.  

Ferrer studied architecture and engineering for eight years but never graduated. After quitting his architectural studies he worked as editor for a Montevidean newspaper. Ferrer was also involved in producing the weekly radio programme Seleccion de Tangos in Montevideo which aimed to promote new developments in tango. 

Out of the programme grew El Club de la Guardia Nueva which he founded in Buenos Aires in 1954 to organise concerts in Montevideo for those musicians who were helping to revolutionise tango, such as Horacio Salgan, Aníbal Troilo, and particularly Astor Piazzolla and his famous Octeto Buenos Aires.

It was when Anibal Troilo personally requested Ferrer to write the lyrics for Piazzolla's song La Ultima Grela that his career as a tango lyricist really took off. Ferrer ended up writing the lyrics for over 200 songs. He collaborated with renowned tango musicians including Horacio Salgan and Anibal Troilo, but hia most prolific work was with Astor Piazzolla.

In addition to his work as a tango lyricist, newspaper editor and radio broadcaster, Ferrer was the President of the National Academy of Tango since its foundation in 1990. He also authored several books about tango, including Arte Popular de Buenos Aires (The Book of Tango. Popular Art of Buenos Aires) and El Libro del Tango.

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You may enjoy a related post: Balada Para Un Loco

Why are Golden Era recordings preferred to live tango music by tango aficionados?

posted Dec 8, 2014, 1:53 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 1:57 PM ]

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Felix at work
source: Flikr

Why do tango recordings from the Golden Era still continue to be preferred over live tango music by hard-core tango aficionados? 

This is not a statement against the existence of live tango music which certainly has it's place in the world of tango. Live music is certainly pivotal for attracting new people into tango, and adding some spice and variety to our tango experiences. There is no doubt about that.

But the reality is that it is possible to have a milonga, tango festival / marathon with no live music (many social tango events don't have live music) - but you could not omit from these events recordings from the Golden Era.

The answer to the continuing preference for recordings over live music is explained here by Felix Picherna in the following excerpt from an interview and essay by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart. 

Although it was published in 1997 (and I am not sure if Felix is still DJ'ing at Club Sunderland) what he has to say still holds sway today...

“I’ve heard veteran dancers say, let’s take an orchestra, D’Agostino with Vargas for example, that everybody likes. Perhaps the rhythm was not very danceable but it fulfilled the desires of the dancers. If D’Agostino and Vargas were alive today in 1997. If they had the same musicians, the same instruments, they couldn’t record Tres esquinas the way they did it 50 years ago. Because there is something missing, I’m not sure if foreigners can understand this. The tramway no longer runs, the Lugones street where Sunderland is located at, was a dirt road in those days, the musicians had things with which to get motivated.

What motivates them today? A car racing at 200 km/h? It’s good that all that existed. It was quite an era. It’s like Beethoven’s Fifth, it happened once and forever. What happened in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with the tango, was a once in a lifetime happening, and it will never happen again.

We are lucky because everything got recorded and today we can enjoy it all. The 1941 Troilo orchestra for example. The Americans have not been able to recreate an orchestra like Benny Goodman’s. There has been only one Louis Armstrong. Where did they get their motivation from? That is my humble opinion.“

Felix Picherna (Tango DJ)

Q: Which tango singer would have been 100 yesterday?

posted Dec 7, 2014, 10:32 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 7, 2014, 10:44 PM ]

North Sydney tango lessons
Castillo singing with Canaro's Orchestra

A: Alberto Castillo
 
 
I tried to get this post out on 7 December, the 100 year anniversary of his birth, but to no avail...
better one day late than never!

What sets him apart?

Why was Castillo so idolised as a tango and candombe singer, and what are the features of his singing that distinguished him from other singers of his era?


1) He had a unique voice and nuance:

"...when Castillo faces deep themes, the tenderness he conveys is striking. Definitively, he is a "voice that does not sound like any other's voice", as the unforgettable Julián Centeya wisely said. Nor his style is like anyone's; when he himself said that his peculiar phrasing was what the dancers needed - "people moved according to the nuances of my voice" ...and he never deviated from that way of singing, of that natural style of tango, to which a detail of great importance must be added: his perfect intonation."1

2) His way of moving on the stage:

"His way of moving on the stage, his way of handling the microphone and bouncing it to and fro, his right hand close to his mouth like street vendor, his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, his shirt collar unbuttoned and the necktie, loose. All was unprecedented, everything produced sensation, even his improvised boxing fights when he sang  'Qué saben los pitucos!' "2

3) He had a tendency to go hoarse

4) He was the main interpreter of the black-oriented genres of candombe and milonga.  

Here's more on this celebrated singer, actor, lyricist and physician1...

Alberto Castillo was born as Alberto Salvador De Lucca in the Mataderos district of Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of Italian immigrants - Salvador De Lucca and Lucía Di Paola.

From early childhood Castillo showed a natural musical talent and inclination towards music.  He studied the violin and sang whenever and wherever he had the chance.

Afraid that his father might object to him singing professionally, Castillo alternated between the stage names of Alberto Dual and Carlos Duval. An amusing anecdote tells of his father listening to him sing on Radio Paris and saying "He sings very well; he has a voice like Albertito's"2

In the 1930s Castillo made his professional debut and in 1941 began a successful recording career. His first hit was with Tanturi's orchestra - a cover of the Alfredo Pelala song Recuerdo - which was released on January 8, 1941. At this time he adopted his last and everlasting stage name of Alberto Castillo.

A Physician

In 1938 Castillo stopped singing to focus completely to his training to be a gynaecologist. But tango was still his great passion and a year prior to graduating he joined he Typical Orchestra Los Indios. The orchestra which was led by the pianist Ricardo Tanturi who was coincidentally a dentist by training. 

In 1942 Castillo graduated and started consulting as a gynaecologist in a room at his parents' home...

"So in the afternoons, doctor Alberto Salvador De Lucca left his consulting room for ladies and ran to the radio to turn into the singer Alberto Castillo. There were complications when in the waiting room of his consulting room there was no more space for so many women, mostly, young. There was an explanation: the singer had an incredible appeal on the weaker sex and as news had spread that he was a gynaecologist, those who found out where his consulting room was, run to be treated by him. 

Castillo remembered the story which revealed the never ending flow of ladies into his consulting room: "Are you ready, madam?", he asked to a patient that was undressing behind a folding screen, and she answered not at all embarrassed: "I am, doctor. And you?" "

"Those insinuations did not please much" (sic), he confessed, and finally he gave up the medical profession to fully devote himself to singing."3

Castillo also had some experience as a sport physician: 

"In December 1951, the Vélez Sársfield soccer team, which he supported, was on a tour of Brazil, and several players came down with heatstroke in Pernambuco, where Castillo was scheduled to perform. A member of the Vélez delegation contacted Castillo, who tended to the players and stayed with the team for the remainder of the tour, rescheduling some of his shows to fit the team's agenda."4

Castillo's medical background came in useful for the Argentine movie "Luna de Avellaneda"), where (in a fictitious story) he is summoned to deliver a baby right after finishing singing at a carnival fair. 

His medical profession also came in useful in another very useful way! It reassured the parents of his fiancee (Ofelia Orneto) that he was good 'marriage material'. They agreed to let their daughter (Ofelia Orneto) marry Castillo given that he was "more than just a tango singer"Castillo married Ofelia on June 6, 1945.  

Alberto and Ofelia had three children -  Alberto Jorge (gynaecologist, obstetrician), Viviana Ofelia (veterinarian and ago-engineer) and Gustavo Alberto (plastic surgeon). 

Castillo left Tanturi's orchestra around 1943 and from then on developed his singing career as a soloist. He started experimenting with candombe,  and including black dancers in his shows. 

His first candombe recording with Charol which was a hit both in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This success encouraged him to record further candombe songs: Siga el Baile, Baile de Los Morenos, El Cachivachero and a song that he wrote himself - Candonga

One of his most successful recordings was the tango vals song Cien Barrios Porteños. The song was such a hit and so identified with Castillo  that he would from then on often be introduced as "The Singer of the 100 Barrios".

You can hear Castillo singing Cien Barrios Porteños here:

Castillo's last success was in 1993, when he recorded the candombe song Siga el Baile with the orchestra -  Los Auténticos Decadentes.

I haven't been able to find footage of Castillo singing Siga el Baile in 1993 but here he is singing the song in the movie Ritmo, Amor y Picardia, released in 1954:


As previously mentioned, this multi-talented man was also a lyricist. Songs for which he penned the lyrics consist of:

Yo Soy de la Vieja Ola
Muchachos, Escuchen
Cucusita 
Así Canta Buenos Aires 
Un Regalo del Cielo 
A Chirolita
¡Dónde me Quieren Llevar!
Castañuelas
Cada día Canta Más
La Perinola” and “Año Nuevo (marches)

Castillo also had a natural talent for acting. Between 1946 and 1959 he appeared in a number of Argentine movies, debuting with Adiós Pampa Mía, and subsequently appearing in the following movies:
  
El Tango Vuelve a París
Un Tropezón Cualquiera da en la Vida  
Alma de Bohemio 
La Barra de la Esquina
Buenos Aires, Mi Tierra Querida
Por Cuatro Días Locos 
Ritmo, Amor y Picardía
Música, Alegría y Amor 
Luces de Candilejas

This idol of the Golden Era was still performing in 2001!.

"I personally had the pleasure to dance at the Centro Cultural Torcuato Tasso, last year, when he came to sing to this place. He was walking with some difficulty and had to be helped to step on the stage. But once over the stage, he captured all the audience, and sang for almost one hour without interruption. It was an unforgettable experience, to share the dancing with a lot of young people that came to see him.

He will be remembered as an authentic singer, one that sang for the people to dance, and also was a kind and humble man.

He liked to start his shows saying "I belong to the people, from the people I receive all what I am, and to the people I give all that I can." - Alberto Gesualdi (2002)

Castillo passed away in 2002 and is buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
 
References also from To Tango, Todo Tango and WIkipedia


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