Archive for the ‘MYTHS & LEGENDS’ Category

Was Carlos Gardel a grifter?   Leave a comment

Was Carlos Gardel a grifter?
A criminal investigation suggests that the changes of identity and places of birth were done to evade his police record.


His scam was “el cuento del tio” which takes advantage of people’s trust and ambition of easily getting great benefits.

Carlos Gardel was a grifter. This is the conclusion from a comparative study of fingerprints that leaves no room for doubt: before being established as a singer, Gardel lived off the money he got from the victims who fell into his cuento del tio, a swindle that was quite common at the time. Typically a person would go to a bar for several weeks claiming to have had received a multimillion dollar inheritance from a relative, an uncle, for example, who lived far away from Argentina, but lamenting that he had no money to pay for the fare. He would con someone into entering in some sort of agreement that stipulated that the scammer would cede part of his heritage in return for the scammed paying for travel, accommodations and sometimes attorney fees.

The conclusion about Gardel‘s criminal background was reached after a comparison of fingerprints from 1904, 1915 and 1924 using the AFIS (Automatic Fingerprint Identification System), and explains why the Argentine artist altered his identity and birthplace. Through changes in the spelling of his name and frequent change of address,  he avoided police records, as published by periodical Pagina/12. The criminal investigation revealed for the first time the actual police records of Carlos Gardel, known at the time by the alias of The kid Carlitos, a “swindler that uses the scam of the uncle.”

The copia obtained by Pagina/12 (no one knows who has the original) is dated August 18, 1915 and it is a great discovery: Gardel had his rap sheet destroyed by order of President Marcelo T. Alvear, but someone managed to save two in the province of Buenos Aires, the one shown above and one from 1904, when Gardel was a kid and fled home. Forensics Raúl Torre and Juan José Fenoglio determined that the fingerprints were from the same person. Even more significant is the fact that in 1904, when he run away from home and his mother was looking for him there was no reason for lying when she identify him as Carlos Gardez, born in 1990 in Toulouse, France.

Torre and Fenoglio compared the fingerprints of the run away from home kid in 1904, the 1915 police records and a 1923 passport, apparent from men of different ages, different parents and born in different places. The work was done in the Department of Forensic Science and processed in the AFIS, Automated Fingerprints Identification System. This software converts the fingerprint into a three-dimensional shape and makes the comparison. It is impossible to find two people with the same fingerprints. The computer established that the fingerprints were an absolute match. To further their findings, Torre and Fenoglio did ​​a manual matching process , which verified the existence of 18 characteristic points in all fingerprints. In jurisprudence only 12 matches are required for a result on an individual’s identity to be unquestionable.

Connecting the dots

It’s well documented that a very young Gardel sang at conservative party headquarters in the neighborhood of Avellaneda, one of the most important production centers of Argentina at the time. Raúl Torre relates that Gardel was close to Juan Ruggiero, a bully on the conservative party’s payroll. The party boss was Conservative leader Alberto Barceló. It is said that in 1922 Barcelo prompted President Marcelo T. de Alvear to take care of Gardel police records. And, at the request of the President, the Federal Police got rid of the singer’s arrest records. The Federal police also asked the province of Buenos Aires police to destroy Gardel‘s records, but it seems that a copy was saved.

Tango poet and researcher Martina Iñíguez found a few days ago a copy of the 1915 application Gardel filled out to get an identity card. All traces of this record was assumed to be lost until now. The province of Buenos Aires police had asked the Federal police if Gardel had a police record, and on August 18, 1915 the Police of Buenos Aires (as it was called then) answered that Gardel was known by the “nickname of Pibe Carlitos and he was syndicated as a specialist on the con of the Cuento del Tio.”

Another curious fact emerges from much of the first songs sung by Gardel. Its author was Andrés Cepeda, who was called “the poet of the prison.” Cepeda spent many years of his life in prison and ended up dying in a knife fight on the downtown porteño. He wrote numerous lyrics for the Gardel-Razzano duo. In medical records reviewed by Torre, Cepeda was also listed as a scammer of the Uncle story variety. Everything suggests that Cepeda and Gardel shared escapades.

One hypothesis suggest that they may have shared prison or detention in police stations. Torre says that at that time they clearly segretated offenders in prisons. There were those who committed crimes with guns, known as the “heavy ones”, because they were carrying a .45, a heavy weapon at the time. And the “light ones” who were grifters, scammers and con artists. This suggests that Cepeda and Gardel  hung out together as Cuento del Tio artists, or shared detention centers..

Carlos Gardel era estafador?  published Nov 12, 2012 by
El Pibe Carlitos published Nov 12, 2012 by Pagina/12

UNABASHED TANGO TALK   Leave a comment

Unabashed Tango talk
by Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 1998-2011, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 10, 1998, 4:30 PM, the Tango Week classes have ended but many tired feet lead to the conference room where in a few minutes, Nito Garcia, Pupi Castello and Roberto Reis will hold the last afternoon Tango talk with the public. Sleek, beautiful and gifted translator Debra Marchesvki is about to embark in an experience that’ll bring a smile to her face every time she remembers this day. At ring side, Elba Garcia, Cathy Richardson (who assisted Pupi in his classes) and Nora Dinzelbacher, between mate and mate, caught every wit, pun, put down and raw candor of the three masters.

Welcome everybody. First, our guests will introduce themselves and then you may ask questions.

My artistic name is Roberto Reis. I’m an Argentine Tango professional dancer. I try to be a teacher. I took several lessons with several teachers… like them (he points to Nito Garcia and Pupi Castello, laughs) and others.

I’m Ernesto Norberto Castello, better known as Pupi. I thank Nora for bringing me for the first time to this country. I’m very happy to have students so intelligent like yourselves (he says it with tongue in cheek, laughs). That’s a little white lie (more laughs). I began dancing at 15 and I’m still dancing.


My name is Juan Aurelio Garcia, also known as Juan Mondiola…


Do they call you Juan Mondiola because of your apparatus?


No, no! There was a cartoon character that appeared in the Rico Tipo (a popular comic magazine). He wore a white scarf and when I was young I, too wore a white scarf and a hat…


Isn’t it true that Juan Mondiola fancied other men? (big laughter)


Let him talk, please!


Better known as Nito…


Better known as Nito, especially in all the police stations in Mar del Plata. (tongue in cheek)

Seriously, starting with the visit of all of you and people from Europe to Argentina, many of us who had stopped teaching, if we had ever done it; later we resumed or began to teach. That was because of the large number of students that came to Argentina. At least, this is my case and that of many others. So, I thank your intentions, the intention to learn, the will, a thing that I don’t see in Mar del Plata with the people there. Nor the sacrifice that you’re making to learn. That’s why I thank all of you for that devotion you feel toward the Tango.

Among other things, a first cousin of my grandfather, Francisco P. Maroni has his name recorded as the co-author of La Cumparsita.

I don’t know whether it was that, since I was a kid, but the influence of my uncles (who did not live in the city, but in the farmland) that I liked the Tango.


Go ahead, ask questions from any of us but I prefer that you, who are young in the Tango, direct your questions to El Cachorro, (he points to Roberto who’s nickname means puppy in Spanish) because he is relatively new, but he is one the principal figures that are dancing in Argentina. Because we can talk about our memories and we are going to lie to you (burst of laughter). Old people like us live on lies (more laughter). I have friends who taught El Cachafaz how to dance but El Cachafaz died in 1942 so imagine… (laughter)

Yesterday Nito told me that he was Pedro Infante. You lied, you lied from the beginning. (more laughter)

Question for Roberto:

When you are in Buenos Aires what do you like to dance?


I started to dance many years ago, Argentine Folklore music. Then when I was 18 years old I tried to dance jazz, I did it for a while. Then you know, when the show Tango Argentino became a success, there were no professional dancers in Argentina, they were all on Broadway. So, when people came to my country to see Argentine Tango professional dancers we got “invented”. They told us “go to the stage and dance Tango.” I said, “What!? I don’t know how to dance Tango.” “You just try it, man!” (big laughter) I began looking for a teacher because at that moment I did not like Tango, I hated Tango! Yes, for me it was like for many young people in my country, “Tango is for old people,” that was my perception.

Then my father said “Are you dancing Tango?” Well, I had to try it because you know I have to work. And he said, “your life is going to change. You will not be able to stop dancing Tango because the Tango will capture you.” So, I said, “yeah, yeah, yeah!” (big laughter) But it was true, my life changed.

I told you that at that moment I was looking for a teacher. I don’t know why, but people did not want to teach and the dancers did not want to tell me where I could find a teacher. I went to the milongas looking for a teacher and the old people seeing how young I was, kicked my ass (sic) (big laughter). They said, “Get away from here!” I said to myself, “ah, ah, I want to learn, I will be here.”
Some of them told me, “you can’t dance Tango, you’re a horrible dancer” and I said, “OK, we will see in the future.” So, I found a teacher and I started to learn. I changed partners several times until I met Guillermina. I thought, OK, she can dance. That’s the story. Today I only dance Tango because I love Tango. I need to dance Tango.

Question for Roberto:

Who were your teachers?


My first teacher was, I’m sorry (he looks at Nito and Pupi) at least for me, the number one Tango dancer, Juan Carlos Copes. He was my first teacher. (applause)

Question for Roberto:

Who has had a major influence on your artistic career?


You know? I had very good teachers. Very good teachers. For example, Todaro was my teacher. He taught me over 300 steps. Then they (points to Nito and Pupi) taught me the technique. But the feeling of the Tango is just coming from me. They gave me the technique, steps, but the flavor is mine. That is my experience. When I started to dance Tango I said to myself, I want to be perfect. That’s why I learned a lot of technique and a lot of steps. Then I saw myself on videos and I said about myself, “this guy can dance steps and has good techniques, so now I can feel like an adult, mature dancer.” Now, I just try to be just myself. I try to feel the music and that’s it.

Question for Roberto:

Is there a difference dancing on the stage and on the floor?


Oh yes, yes of course! I mean, I need the stage because I’m a professional dancer. It’s not only for ego. It’s just because I feel that I belong being on the stage. But on the stage you have a lot of responsibilities. Sometimes you just don’t want to dance, but you have to. Socially, it’s different, you can have fun or just sit and watch. It’s really different. Also on the stage normally we work with choreography.

Question for Roberto:

Do you see new things happening with Tango?


Well, you know what? Yes, it’s very clear to me. When I came the first time to the USA to teach, it was three years ago; people just wanted to learn steps and stationary steps, jumps, big boleos, the kind of steps that people can see on the stage.

But now people are trying to learn the feeling, to dance socially and are interested about technique. Now people seem to want to dance well. Three years ago, those people just tried to dance like Valentino.

Question for Roberto:

I saw a National Geographic documentary where somebody was saying that the young people were just trying to learn the steps from the older generation instead of trying something new. How do you feel about that?


OK, that video is six or seven years old. That was true back then but not now. Young people are trying to do different things. In my case, after studying with different teachers I just try to be myself. I can find different things, different steps, different styles just for me. And I can see that in other dancers in Argentina. Maybe not many professionals, but normal dancers try to do different things, different styles. And you know, what? This is very interesting. Guillermina told me that she met Petroleo. I saw him just once and that’s it. That guy created a lot of steps more than 30 years ago and he said to Guillermina, “the steps you are doing right now are very old, we created them 30 years ago, so try to do something new because the Tango needs news things, new steps, new faces, new style.”

That’s the reason why I defend Piazzolla for example. I love Piazzolla and I think and I feel that Piazzolla is Tango because when I hear Piazzolla I feel he’s Buenos Aires, his music is from Buenos Aires. So, for me, that is Tango.

Question for Roberto:

Do you have the same feeling when you are doing a choreography than when you are dancing freely at a social level?


I try, I try, but I have to think about what people like. Not to think about myself, or what I like to do. So I try to find a balance. I know some people who are on the stage just for the people and you can see sometimes they do very crazy things. I’m interested in introducing the people to my dance. So, it’s very different.

PUPII want to clarify something because Roberto named Petroleo and maybe
you have no idea who he’s talking about. Petroleo was the father of all dancers. He’s the inventor of the “giros” and related figures.

Question for Pupi:

Many people have asked where does your nickname come from?


When I was born, an Englishwoman friend of my mother came to visit and she called me “puppy”. My mother understood “pupi” and that’s how I acquired my nickname “cachorro, pupi”. Cachorro in English (points to himself) and cachorro in castellano (he points at Roberto).
Then at that time nobody understood English so instead of puppy they nicknamed me Pupi. I only found out what it meant when I was older.

Question for Nito:

There are mentions about a time when you were dancing with the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese. Did you realize at that moment what it really meant?


No, no! Generally in that epoch I danced in Tango contests.
There was a TV competition called Bailando Tango and they selected two winners without completing the contest so they could attend a Tango Festival in La Falda (in the province of Cordoba). It was a festival as big as the Cosquin Festival (a major week-long outdoor series of concerts and performances by major Argentine folk artists also in the province of Cordoba). I think it was 1962 or maybe 1965, I can’t remember well. The orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese was one of the main attractions. He saw me dance and he liked it. And from then on I started to dance with his orchestra for about two years. To find a partner in those days was very difficult. We were working at El Dado Rojo, which was a milonga in Constitution (a working class barrio south of downtown). It also had another name. (Pupi and Debra both laugh at the implied dubious reputation of this place)


In 1962 I wasn’t born yet, so I don’t know. (tongue in cheek, laughs)


So my partner, between our performances decided to pass around the business cards of another dancing place. When the owners noticed that, they fired her and I lost my job. And it wasn’t easy to find another partner in those days. Nobody from classical, ballet, contemporary or folklore background considered Tango worth their efforts so I had to look for somebody at the milonga.


That sounds like a cabaret to me… (tongue in cheek)


No, I never danced in a cabaret… my religion does not allow it (returning the tongue in cheek, big laughter)


He was going to the cabaret just to buy girls.


No, seriously, I swear I did not realize when it happened… I wish I had realized…


Realized what…?


That I was dancing with Pugliese. Anyway the end would have come sooner or later.


For what reason?


When we were in the theatre, the Teatro Marconi, near El Once (another neighborhood with similar dubious reputation for cabarets and night people) Mayoral went to see the show. I think he was there for something else though (a very dense connotation which we prefer not to touch upon).

When the show ended we used to go out with Abel Cordoba (one of Pugliese’s last singers) to have a cup of coffee and Mayoral was there. He called me over and said, “look I want to congratulate you, but also I want to give you a critique. You have what we are lacking, milonga, but I recommend that you go out and study stage techniques and choreography and learn to dance a routine.”

Because what I was dancing with Pugliese in the theater was completely improvised. Improvising, and I don’t know for what reason, because I always maintained that you have to be a professional to get on the stage. To always dance diez puntos (refers to a scoring scale of 0-10).
The one who improvises one day can dance to a perfect ten, but another day he may be just a six.

Well, the thing ended soon and I did not follow Mayoral’s advice.
If I had, maybe I’d have ended up being a show dancer, like for example Eduardo (Arquimbau). He started with us at the Tango contests and later he became a professional. But he went to study like Juan Carlos Copes. That’s the main reason why I’m here with you (smile, delayed laughter, big applause). Wait, wait, the great ones like Copes have also come to Stanford to teach… also Eduardo.

Question for Nito:

I’ve never seen Eduardo dancing except in videos, but you are a lot better…


No, no, no! (visible uncomfortable by the stupidity of the statement) that’s a problem YOU have. Eduardo is a professional…


Every person is entitled to their own taste…


Here in the Bay Area there is a guy, a very good friend of mine, some of you may know him, Charlie Stewart. He told me once and I always repeat it, “up to a certain level there are good and bad dancers and good and bad teachers, but from that level on up they are all good and different.
There is no one better than the other. For diverse circumstances some like one over another…”


If everybody liked just one dancer, there would be only one dancer.


Of course I’m the most handsome, that’s a fact… (big burst of laughter)

Question for Pupi:

How did you get into Tango?


I got into it for a simple reason, like the Coca Cola, they induced it into my brain. You would tune in to any radio station and all day all you listened to was Tango. Everywhere you could listen to Tango, pure and exclusively. You sort of were born with the Tango inside you. That was in my times, after that the Tango was not listened to as much. But in those times you listened to Tango in the morning, afternoon and night. Your mother got up in the morning to do the laundry and she sang Tangos.


The most serious problem that made our mothers stop singing Tangos, was the washing machine. When the washing machine appeared, our mothers never sang again by the sink. (big laughs and applause)

My mother did the laundry by hand and sang.


He’s right, but in Buenos Aires in the year 1962 you couldn’t find a bar of soap. (more laughs at the “poverty” reference)


I always was a person of fortune. I always had a washing machine.


We used to see a sandwich go by and we applauded (continues his take in reference to a period of very bad economic fortunes for Argentines).

Who, in 1950, owned a washing machine or a refrigerator? If you had a refrigerator, it was the kind that a delivery man would fill up with ice every day.

Question for Pupi:

What is the meaning of the word milonga?


We call milonga the place where we go dancing. When a guy is a very good dancer, we say that he is a good milonguero. Now they’ve come up with a “milonguero style”, that I don’t know what it is…

Question for Pupi:

Was it your parents and friends who encouraged you to dance Tango?


No, no. It was like it happened here. There was a time when all you could hear was rock and roll music so you grew up dancing rock and roll. Same there, we listened to Tango everywhere and when we wanted to meet girls we decided to learn the Tango. It wasn’t like somebody was trying to convert you. I started dancing when I was 15.


Where, at the milonga or on the street, in your neighborhood?


I started at a practica then I began to go to the milonga, but the practicas were really like a milonga.

That’s why there is sometimes confusion about the methods in my era. Practically everybody had the ability to teach, but there were no teachers. Somebody would teach you something, you would then teach something to someone who knew less than you and it was like sharing acquired knowledge.


But all was done among men…


Yes, of course, they were all these guys dressed in black.
Now, some ended up being a couple (Nito and Pupi interchange impish looks).

There were some milongueros that had a natural talent for playing the woman’s role (laughs), some got to bite
the pillows many times (laughs, quizzical looks at the reference to homosexual participation in the practicas of Tango in
the early days. Debra is flustered and can’t believe what she is hearing. A men in the audience tries to explain what Pupi meant by “biting the pillow”


(Addressing that man in the audience)
Don’t repeat it but if you’d have lived in those times they would have blown air on the back of your neck too! (laugh and

(The guy answers) How do you know?


I can see you are the type… (everybody is laughing now)

Question for Pupi:

We keep hearing about the men practicing with each other to learn to dance so they wouldn’t embarrass themselves when they danced with the ladies.

PUPIIt’s a great advantage when the man learns to dance like the woman, because you always are going to practice with somebody that knows more than you. Then he knows how to mark your steps. You feel la marca, how he marks you, how he whispers sweet things in your ears while he carries you in his arms.(He can’t resist the tongue in cheek).
Then you are feeling the mark and you begin to learn how to mark.


When we played soccer, the worst player got to be the goalkeeper, and generally he was the owner of the soccer ball…


The owner of the ball was a stupid little fat kid! He had to buy a ball so they would let him play.


In the case of Tango learning, those who were just beginning to dance, logically had to play the woman’s role.


That’s why I’m saying that it is a great advantage when you feel how they are carrying you, holding you sweetly in their arms while you surrender yourself gently, mildly, meekly (more laughter).


Then you learn how to carry a woman around the floor.


To know where the woman places her foot, to know everything. It is a tremendous advantage for the man.

Question for Roberto:

Did you also had to learn to dance that way?


No, no, I was a professional dancer before I tried to learn to dance Tango. At one time I made some choreography, I don’t know how, and then when I started to study with real teachers I already had a partner so I did not need to dance with other men.

However, many times when I had a problem, the male teacher would dance with me so I could learn how to mark certain steps.

Nowadays, young people learn in a very different way. Now, we have teachers. Long time ago, they were no teachers, all they had were friends.


Also, the women did not go to class. It was not proper for a woman to socialize in public.


Some used to go, but accompanied by their mothers…

Now, for the women it is totally self-defeating to learn to dance like the man. (Many “whys” are voiced throughout the audience) Because they get used to using force to carry and then when they try to dance as a woman they backlead and anticipate the man’s mark. And they do carry you around. (Laughs)

Some guys actually need it because they are kind of slow. (More laughs)


To wrap it up, why don’t each of you give the American men some advice to become better dancers?


Listen to a lot of Tango. Lots of Tango. I don’t even like to practice without music. These are habits, of course. You have to listen and listen.
Us, we travel a lot; it happens that I arrive at an airport. They come to pick me up. We get in the car and the man who immediately plays Tangos always dances well. The times when somebody picked me up and played salsa or some other kind of music, by coincidence they never danced well. I don’t know why, but in my case I would like them to listen to a lot of Tango.


I agree. Listen to the music. Learn how to walk instead of dancing steps, because steps anybody can do. Stand up well, adopt a good posture.
Even we can dance steps, so imagine that it is not difficult to learn steps.
What’s very hard is to walk the Tango. The proof is that every time I go to a milonga I see everybody doing steps and nobody walking. Obviously the steps are easier than walking. (Polite laughs)
After you learn how to walk, the steps come by themselves (spontaneous oh and ah at the revelation).

Finally, I don’t want them to learn a lot because then who is going to take classes with us! (Thunderous applause and
loud cheers


Try to live your experience from inside. Don’t try to copy the other dancers. Try to listen to the real teachers. Tango teaching is a business. That’s OK, but don’t buy second hand Tango. That’s it.


Thank you very much.

(Long, heartfelt, cheerful applause closes 45 incredible minutes of candid, provocative, at times inspirational, at times down to the nitty gritty, unabashed Tango talk, Buenos Aires style.)

Posted March 9, 2011 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS


The notion of the existence of a rioplatense tango has been peculiar to the River Plate region. Whatever the motivations, Uruguayans have used the universal success of La cumparsita (originally written as a second line parade march for carnival and later redressed and arranged as a tango by Roberto Firpo), as a good enough reason to claim joint paternity of the tango. They also claim the nationality of Carlos Gardel.

In 1929, author Mariano Bosch wrote “History of the origins of the Argentine National Theatre,” partially in response to “National Theatre rioplatense,” a book by Vicente Rossi published in 1910. In clear terms and with plenty of evidence Bosh shows the impropriety of assuming an Uruguayan co-protagonism in the development of the Argentine national theater.

Similarly, in spite of the non existence of musical sheets or recordings by Uruguayan composers during the first decades of the twentieth century, there have been efforts to assume a shared partnership in the tango during that period. The habit of rights misappropriation may well be the consequence of an inferiority complex created by the enormous shadow that the brilliance of Buenos Aires cast over the small country on the oriental shores of the River Plate.

At the international level, there has never been any doubt about the country of origin of the tango because it has been known as tango Argentino since the beginning of the twentieth century. With a few exceptions, the global expansion of the tango has not carried explicit or implicit any reference to an alleged Uruguayan contribution to the birth or to the wealth of tango music.

We know that half way through the 1990’s, a Uruguayan bandoneon player took residency in a German city, and became romantically involved with a French expatriate who ran a tango school in Hamburg. His name was Hugo Diaz, not to be confused with the Argentine harmonic player folk musician who cut a couple of tango albums towards the end of his career. The late Uruguayan Hugo Diaz played a lot of vanguard Piazzolla compositions, and his various groups became very popular in certain German tango communities.

It was during that period that some zealous German entrepreneurs began to add the “rioplatense” handle to the tango represented by Hugo Diaz. As the appellation made it to the incipient Internet tango lists, a few others, with a nationalistic bone to pick adopted the “rioplatense” adjective attached to the tango they promoted in the USA. A sad occurrence of denying Caesar what rightfully belongs to Caesar’s.

The time has come to stop calling the tango “rioplatense,” and accept the undeniable fact that the tango is exclusively Argentine. In a recent article written for Todo Tango, author and historian Enrique Binda carves with the skill of a surgeon a time line that dissects the claims of joint tango paternity on the part of Uruguay. He uses tangible evidence and verifiable research to put to bed once and for all the ridiculous attempts to deny Argentina sole bragging ownership rights of the Argentine tango.

It has been documented that something that people called tango existed in Buenos Aires since at least 1890. By 1900 published sheet music scores suggest that a “tango criollo” had become very popular. Something still not clearly defined was danced on theatrical plays on stage, and on the dance floors around the city by all elements of society from the upper to the lower social classes. There were hundreds of composers, performers and definitely a mass audience. This preceded the appearance of the well known works of Angel Villoldo, Enrique Saborido and others at the turn of the century. During that period whatever may have been happening in Uruguay had nothing to do with the tango movement being developed not only in Buenos Aires, but also in cities of the interior, like Rosario and Cordoba.

To avert suspicions of bias Binda resorts to the testimony of a witness protagonist: Uruguayan pianist Alberto Alonso and his essay entitled “La Cumparsita – History of the famous tango and its author,” edited by Mosca Hnos S.A. Montevideo in 1966.

In the prologue, Eduardo Colinet refers to the author as “one of the pioneers of our tango”. The author himself acknowledges later that he formed his first orchestra in the fall of 1916. Binda compares this date with what had already been done by then in Argentina. There already existed compositions such as “Alma de bohemio, El entrerriano, Rodríguez Peña, El amanecer, Sans Souci.” In 1916 the following classics were being composed, “Re fa si, La guitarrita, Comme il faut, Ojos negros, Mi noche triste.”

As far as orchestras are concerned, Roberto Firpo, Eduardo Arolas, Juan Maglio “Pacho,” Vicente Greco and Francisco Canaro among many other directors were already quite established and very popular with the public. Binda compares Uruguayan pioneer spirit or beginnings, against the full aesthetic and stylistic maturity of the Argentine tango.

In the first chapter of his book, under the heading “The outpost of the tango,” Alonso, writes, “Montevideo, was lagging in the tango race that it had begun propitiously in the neighboring shore where it had developed with well defined characters. And even though there were some guitar players early on, there were no proper tango musicians here.” The evidence presented is conclusive. Montevideo was really straggling, as Alonso writes. Lagging the evolution of tango in Buenos Aires by at least 25 years.

Paraphrasing Binda’s words, young Alonso turned enthusiastically to the tangos of Angel Villoldo, because he understood “how much education was contained in the works of the teacher.” Consequently, it can be said that the genuine precursor of tango in Uruguay was Angel Villoldo and not a native Uruguayan. Later, Argentine pianist Prudencio Aragon, arrived in Montevideo around 1907, and “it can be said that he initiated the authentic tango era” in Montevideo.

Such conclusive statement of facts should support the challenging of the claims of a “rioplatense” paternity of the tango. For that to have happened, a joint parallel development should have taken place, and that didn’t happen. Binda acknowledges that by applying the proper elements of chronology, the idea of tango movement on both shores of the River Plate could be specifically applied from the mid-1930s onwards.

Alonso also writes about the arrival of other musicians from Argentina. The timing is unclear, but one can deduce that it refers to the first decade of the twentieth century. The arrival of these musicians contributed to “the tango efforts in our environment.” The alleged rioplatense tango was being mainly nourished by Argentine elements.

Another important fact that Binda extracts from Alonso’s book refers to Minoto Di Cicco. Until 1914, the pioneer of the Uruguayan bandoneonistas was better known as a talented accordion player. He adopted the bandoneon many years after Juan Maglio “Pacho”, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco, Agustin Berto, Genaro Espósito, Arturo Bernstein, and Vicente Loduca have been shining in the tango firmament of Buenos Aires. A conclusive difference both in timing and numbers.

A very special event took place around 1914 or 1915 when “the famous Argentine orchestra of Juan Maglio” played in Montevideo. But perhaps the event with historical implications was the arrival to Montevideo of a quartet led by Roberto Firpo, who made its debut at Confiteria La Giralda early in 1916. It was in this instance that Firpo arranged, added an introduction and converted a carnival march into La cumparsita, a song that would go on to become the undisputed sound of the tango around the world. The success of Firpo’s performances at La Giralda inspired young Alonso to form an orchestra following the model of the famous quartet, a novelty since “… until then, all the typical combos were mostly trios.”

This is another forceful difference, as Binda points out, because in 1916, the typical Argentine orchestras already included a piano, a bandoneón, two strings and a flute.

As Alonso says, he made his decision, because “he was convinced that there were a few local musicians who qualified” for such an undertaking. This affirmation indicates that he was conscious of the difficulty to finding musicians for that purpose.

Enrique Binda continues to draw a clear time line reminding us that in 1916 nothing of transcendence came out of Uruguay while in Buenos Aires, Eduardo Arolas introduced Anatomia and Rawson, Agustin Bardi released, Independiente Club and Vicente Greco premiered Racing Club, to name just a few tangos that would go on to become classics. Concordantly, that year according to Alberto Alonso, he was forming what it would be the first orchestra or rather, a quartet equivalent to the one led by Roberto Firpo.

Soon after forming his quartet, Alonso’s orchestra, quickly became outdated because in 1917 the typical Argentine orchestras grew richer in innovations. In new recordings, Eduardo Arolas added a violoncello and Osvaldo Fresedo incorporated his bandoneón next to the one of Vicente Loduca, among others examples.

Finally, putting aside the Alonso book , Binda analyzes the Uruguayan discography from those times. Only three bands recorded between 1917 and 1929: The Tipica Alonso-Minotto (1917), Minotto (1922) and Donato-Zerrillo (1929), the latter, almost 20 years after the first recording of the Orquesta Tipica Criolla Greco (1910).

Three Uruguayan orchestras in a dozen years, point to a significant difference compared with the amount of Argentine orchestras who had access to recording studios during this period as well as their already vast published repertoire. Binda does make a reference in relation to the marketing of records, admitting that Uruguayan and Argentine markets were actually one and the same, but fed almost exclusively by Argentine artists.

The evidence is overwhelming and conclusive regarding the concept of “tango rioplatense.” It simply didn’t exist. There isn’t a shred of evidence to refute the time line and chronology exposed by Enrique Binda. When it comes to history it is important demonstrate what it’s being said, and Binda does that like the best on his profession. We can appreciate those musicians who have come out of Uruguay, such as Hugo Diaz, Raul Jaurena, Miguel Villasboas, Donato Raciatti, and respect with admiration their talent for being such faithful interpreters of the Argentine tango.

Posted May 19, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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It took more than a century but the controversial claim that tango was first danced between men has finally been proven and verified. It turned out to be that a few special men danced with men the dances that men and women danced openly around the city. While a hundred years ago, the men dancing with men were called “invertidos”, and the places where they danced with each other were seedy taverns along the riverfront, today they’re called “tango queers”, and they dance all over the city sponsored by the National Institute Against Discrimination (INADI), the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Culture of Buenos Aires.

In an old hall of the Apple of the Lights, Jorge and German are dancing a tango. On a beat up wood floor, Jorge leads with a strong and decided hug. Until a moment in which the chords of music suggest a giro and in the vortex of the turn, their forces are confused. With no visible change, German is now the one who marks the step of the pair.

This is the tango queer, a style that from Friday to Sunday evening will be danced in different points of the city of Buenos Aires within the context of the “Queer Tango Marathon”, an event supported by the National Institute Against Discrimination (INADI), the Ministry of Justice of the Nation and the Buenos Aires Ministry of Culture. “We did not call it tango gay, because that term implies a sexual condition. We prefer to say tango queer or free, and that means the enjoyment of dancing with each other regardless of individual choice”, explained Carola Ojeda, professor of dances and organizing of the seminary “Shall we dance in freedom?”

“As well as in a marathon where people run 42 km, our queer marathon lasts 42 hours” said dancer Jorge Casi.

“This way to dance is much more popular in Europe, but I believe that here, little by little, it’s being more accepted,” reflected Ingrid Saalfeld , a German who ten years ago founded a dance school on Hamburg, where the tango queer originated. Next to her, Kalé, a Welshman who lives in Tokyo, indicated: “In the dance I like to be lead, but the most beautiful thing about queer is to be able to change roles”.

In the seminary of “Jumps in tango”, the pairs doubt, they laugh and try it until they finally loosen up to doing the firuletes that embellish the dance. “Yes, to learn to dance it this way, without a defined role, is much more complex – says the tango queer professor Maximiliano Avila, but who claimed that to be free was something simple.”


Courtesy of

Posted March 28, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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What monkeys see, monkeys shouldn’t do   1 comment

What monkeys see, monkeys shouldn’t do
By Alberto Paz
The tango tourist travels either physically or imaginatively into the universe of a tango that promises to fulfill a desire to escape and perform, to swap one’s identity with that of the “exotic other.” They see or hear buzz words about certain traditions or cultural traits and based upon certain assumptions and presuppositions, they go wild creating texts in social forums that are intelligible to other tango tourists. One of the fascinations of this crowd is the cabeceo, a word that becomes a cute verb inserted into English tango talk, and gives free rein to expressions like “let me cabeceo home.” I made that up.

According to the excellent reference source Gotta Tango, cabeceo is a nodding movement signifying “Shall we dance?” prevalent at the traditional dance halls of Buenos Aires. The gesture is used by the man as an invitation to a lady, who allows eye contact to be made from a distance. A lady’s nodding of the head, or any other subtle facial movement, indicates “Yes, you may dance with me.”

The operative words are, “gesture used by the man,” “lady allows eye contact.” It goes without saying that by avoiding eye contact women can blow a lot of people off. There is a reason for this.

In the 1940s World War II distracted the U.S. entertainment industry from promoting their music abroad. In that vacuum, as Argentina remained neutral, the 1940s unleashed a period of glory for the tango and its music.

These golden years were the pivotal time in history when the tango dance, the music, and the poetry reached every corner of the city of Buenos Aires, traveled across the interior of Argentina, and crossed the borders into most of Latin America. There was very little influence from the rest of the world, which was preoccupied with the war. As a result, the art form was kept in a rare state of purity and authenticity. The dramatic changes in the music, the dance, and the poetry of the tango once again matched the structural and social changes of the city of Buenos Aires.

The urban demographic of the 1900s, with five men to each woman, had long disappeared. However, the way in which couples resolved conflicts in life as well as in tango was still ingrained in their psyches. What had changed was that women were no longer the exclusive targets of blame for disappointments in love. Men shared the blame as well as the responsibilities and consequences of failure. The new generation of poets of the tango displayed in their lyrics an entirely new body of work that acutely reflected the transformations in ethics, anguishes, and hopes prevalent not just in Argentina but also worldwide.

In remarkable contrast to the generation of immigrants that descended from the planks of ocean-crossing vessels in the 1870s, the young generation that ruled the tango in the 1940s came from nearby provinces such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Santa Fé. They immigrated to the capital city of Buenos Aires, bringing along a meticulous musical education. They looked out for
one another, rooming together in boarding houses that soon became filled with the sounds of their instruments. The inspiration of these musicians as a whole was uninhibited. The fruits of their unusual talent resulted in an orgy of melodies that enhanced the repertoire of the best orchestras, delighting audiences with spectacular tangos, valses, and milongas. They introduced
the tango singer as a human instrument. Meanwhile, a new generation of dancers began to incorporate new concepts in order to differentiate themselves, since copying steps from other dancers was against the strict codes of conduct prevailing at the dance halls. Men and women developed a discreet and intimate way to invite, accept, or reject an invitation to dance. It was eye contact and cabeceo, or nod, a subtle movement of the head (cabeza) from a distance.

Men sought the best female dancers and vice versa, because part of tango dancing involved honor, prestige, and a desire to look the best on the dance floor. This required that both men and women first learn to dance well before attending a dance hall. The first public dances most men and women attended were with friends and relatives in a rite of passage into the world of the dance halls of Buenos Aires.

The ritual for asking, accepting, or refusing to dance afforded a distinct advantage to the female dancers. Prospective partners were judged on the basis of their skills, demeanor, and grooming. The ladies were seated in prominent areas around the dance floor based on a protocol that took into consideration their experience and reputation. From their vantage point, the women could assess the pool of male dancers. An invitation was allowed by making eye contact with the candidate. The men standing by the bar, or seated in special bullpens according to their reputation and seniority, scanned the room to make eye contact with those ladies who either had a reputation as dancers or had shown their skills on the dance floor.

As a man scanned the room, a connection might be made with a gazing lady. The man would nod his head in a silent invitation. Upon receiving the assurance of a gentle nod, a subtle smile, or a deliberate batting of the eyelashes, he would begin the journey toward her table with his eyes locked onto hers. This was necessary to avoid embarrassing situations in which more than one suitor might have misinterpreted and intercepted a lady’s green light.
When the man reached the table, then and only then would the lady stand up and take one step onto the dance floor, waiting for the man to stop in front of her. He would raise his left arm, offering his open hand, palm up, to gently wrap her hand with his fingers. She would then raise her left arm to allow him to embrace her while she rested her left arm on his shoulder. Then
they would take a side step to the left of the man and begin to move into the line of dance. This action of getting onto the dance floor was expressed in Spanish as “salir a bailar,” which translates as exiting to the dance floor, to begin the dance. It’s possible that the name of the Salida we learn in tango refers to that initial move.

The reasons for certain codes in the dance halls of Buenos Aires are the result of sociocultural behavior, and it has nothing to do with things that foreigners need to do in order to get certified as good tango dancers. No serious teaching professional nor seasoned dancer would ever suggests that tango tourists should dream about becoming instant dancing porteños by doing monkey see, monkey do. No matter how hard one tries to hide it with silly behavior, a tango dancing gringo will always be a tango dancing gringo. Gringo used with the most endearing of intentions.

Aspiring tango dancers should spend their time learning the techniques and the know how of the tango from the very few that actually know how to teach it. Then they should stop acting like fools with silly characterizations they heard on the grapevine,  and dance the way they are, be themselves, and be pleased they have learned a new skill. Nobody expects them to be anything else.

Reference source : GOTTA TANGO by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart – Published by HUMAN KINETICS, Champaign, IL 2007

Autographed copies of Gotta Tango can be purchased HERE.

Posted March 22, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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The divine poet of the jailhouse
By Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 2000-2012, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

At around 6 in the morning on March 30, 1910, three British sailors witnessed a knife fight among a group of five men who had spent the whole night drinking and dancing at Cafe La Loba Chica, steps away from the corner of Mexico and Paseo Colon. It is not known whether what they saw would ever make it into the embarrassing and offensive lore of British tales that have been written about Argentina and particularly about the tango. They might not have known either that making deep cuts into the groin area, where the blood of sex flowed, was the way homosexuals solved questions of honor at knife point.The Englishmen alerted policeman Juan Quintana who upon arrival at the pool of blood immediately recognized Andrés Cepeda. The cop had seen him in innumerable rounds of recognition, manyamientos as they were called, a common practice of parading suspects through all the precincts so they could be known by all the cops. The action was also called yirar, where the term “yira, yira” that inspired Discepolo‘s tango of the same name originates.Andrés Cepeda, a poet, small time delinquent, anarchist and homosexual, was a legend in the Buenos Aires lunfarda at the beginning of the 20th century. His tangos were sung by Carlos Gardel. What the British sailors did not know then was that they had witnessed the death of “the divine poet of the jailhouse.” One of the first poets of the Argentine tango, Cepeda was a friend of Carlos Gardel, Fray Mocho, Gabino Ezeiza, José Razzano: of men who somehow marked forever the Argentine culture. One hundred years later, a group of researchers continue to discuss heatedly the details of the life of Andrés Cepeda.Why is there so much debate about a delinquent with more trips to jail than poems? It could be the fascination provoked by a man who could have been the star of his time but preferred to be faithful to his disquieting convictions. In spite of many discussions and the well-intentioned sugarcoating of this story at the time, and invented romances with women, there isn’t a single researcher that can avoid the topic of homosexuality, even when most of them would have preferred to do so. Cepeda did not give them that opportunity even when he also made sure to leave a heap of false tracks about his personality.

He was born in 1869. Like many children of his generation he ran away from home at a very early age, and became part of the invisible population of homeless kids roaming the streets of Once, Paseo Colon and the shantytowns of Pompeya and Boedo tugging along their shoeshine boxes, and peddling newspapers on the street corners. He was part of a generation of rebel and homosexual children who lived and slept in makeshift huts near the port. At age 15 he fell so ill that he was taken back home where his sister nurtured back to health while reading to him and instilling his interest for the written word. That signaled the birth of the boy poet of the street.

When he turned 20 Andres Cepeda got a job writing for an anarchist publication. By the time he was 24 he had become a frequent target of arrests and brushes with the police. His lifelong police record included a collection of burglaries, public intoxication, disorderly conduct and carrying illegal weapons. He was never booked for his anarchist militancy. There was never any mention of his sexual orientation.

The available research on Cepeda shows a willingness to believe in his heterosexuality and to reject any clues of homosexuality. Some have gone as far as assuring that he lived with a woman, based only on rumors that Cepeda always denied. It is a fact that he routinely falsified information about his life. Still, his biographers insist, without any proof, that as an adolescent, Cepeda fell in love with a girl and it was her rejection of him and her cheating ways what led him to drinking and the bad life. And since there is no solid evidence to back up their belief in his heterosexuality, they also swear that an impossible love with a high society girl drove him to a life of vice.

It is evident that his biographers don’t seem to have wanted to peek into the abyss of Cepeda‘s personality. They deduce that his poems have always been about heterosexual love. There seems to be a real problem in maintaining a dialog regarding the history of homosexuality in times when it seemed tolerable for it to coexist with sexual diversity. Even so, there was still never any admission of homosexuality allowed on the record. It was so unthinkable as to imagine that Carlos Gardel could had written, sung and published songs about the love between two men. Composer José Razzano, Carlos Gardel‘s friend, and also a friend of Cepeda, years after Cepeda’s death went as far as say that the police used to lock him up for being an anarchist, in an attempt to clean up to his image, perhaps out of guilt for having misappropriated the rights to Cepeda compositions. Anarchist sounded more romantic than quarrelsome thief. The police records were so unreliable and so prone to invent causes, that there was not much that could be assured on the matter. Most likely the man was a mix of lunfarda life, a bohemian underworld character who could meet all those characteristics.

By 1906 the city had become one a big continuous prison for Andrés Cepeda. He was systematically persecuted . If he crossed from one precinct to another he was arrested for the manyamiento, the yira, the customary parade in front of the beat cops in order to keep them acquainted with him. He was ill, sad and felt that the world was like a giant foot of an elephant pressing against his chest. He wrote a letter to the Chief of police that read:

“This is terrible, Mr. Chief, and I know the magnanimity of your heart. I am ill and since I’m being denied medical assistance I appeal to you asking for your help in being sent to a hospital. I am a human being and as such I esteem my existence even if it is so miserable and sad.”

As anyone except a romantic like him would have expected, nobody paid attention to his plight. To be sure there is some other loose, generally contradictory information about Cepeda’s life. It seems that he wrote all his poetry while in jail. His works were popularized by word of mouth by the old roaming troubadours from the porteños districts. Of the first fourteen recordings made by Gardel in 1912, five were authored by Cepeda. Actress Lola Membrives also included works of Andrés Cepeda in her repertoire.

In 1925 when Carlos Gardel was asked to include the tango hit Tiempos viejos (Old times) in his repertoire, he agreed on the condition that a verse that mentioned Cepeda was changed because it wasn’t kind to the memory of his friend. Gardel‘s version says,

Remember brother, Mireya the blonde
whom I took away from the crazy Rivera (
instead of Cepeda), at Hansen’s?

Death for Andres Cepeda came from a short deep cut, red and fast. He knew why the knife cut into his groin. The groin where the blood of sex flows. Researcher and popular minstrel Victor Di Santo wrote that the reason for the fight was never revealed officially, since there were no arrests and no witnesses willing to talk. For decades a version circulated that the fight was about settling a dispute among homosexuals that went wrong. This opinion, although never confirmed, was not denied either. Yet Di Santo must have known about two papers from the Porteña Academy of Lunfardo, that clearly confirmed Cepeda’s homosexuality. In one of the reports, academy members had interviewed an old poet named Martín Castro, with whom they talked about popular old writers. When the conversation turned to Cepeda, Castro said that he had aberrant sexual inclinations. An individual humiliated by Cepeda had become the target of ridicule from his friends and acquaintances. For that he had emigrated to Montevideo, but later returned to Buenos Aires and got his revenge by stabbing Cepeda.

The other paper said something similar with a twist. In an interview with an old scoundrel who had shared jail time with Cepeda, the old man assured that the death of Cepeda was the epilogue of a dispute for the possession of a young boy between Cepeda and his killer, who were both homosexuals. Andrés Cepeda fancied young flesh.

Whether it was an act of revenge or a dispute over a young guy boy as a sexual trophy, is difficult to know. What it is known is that for the assassin things didn’t go so well. Just a short time later in Palermo, on Tagle street, near the railroad tracks, he was stabbed to death. The debts of the suburb always were paid.

Andrés Cepeda had the opportunity to identify his assassin seconds before he died, when asked by officer Quintana. He did not do it and that gesture inspired two tangos that Carlos Gardel would sing years later. Barely disguising some names, the “deed” of Andrés Cepeda was recorded in Sangre maleva (Blood of a fighter), with music by Dante Tortonese and lyrics by Juan Miguel Velich and Pedro Platas:

Through La Boca, Avellaneda, Barracas, Puente Alsina,
Belgrano, Mataderos and in the entire suburb
strutted his bravery the southpaw Cruz Medina,
who was a good friend, without any ostentation.
Tempered up in the suburb, he was brave and bold among louts,
He lived weaving dreams there on the alley,
where the cops walked their beats at night
and in the neighborhood café moaned a bandoneón.
He was brave without cheating, without godfathers and without glory;
without crumbs of as much history, but good looking and all action.
Caseros saw him take a risk without relaxing a bit,
and in the ninth precinct is recorded his courage as a man.
But one dark night he fought in Avellaneda,
and in a corner of the tragic suburb
three shots sounded and on the sidewalk
fell wounded a man brandishing his knife.
Help came running and the police arrived
finding the smiling audacious and brave bully on a pool of blood
mortally wounded, rebellious in his agony,
with the full manly voice, without blinking he spoke;
Don’t ask me officers who the man who wounded me is,
that will be a waste of time because I’m not a snitch.
Let me die and nobody be astonished,
that a male to be a man, must not be an informer.

Another tribute written in code is the tango No fue batidor (He wasn’t a snitch), with music by Enrique Mora and lyrics by Germán Rein:

The porteños districts, saw him walk by
showing off his silhouette in every occasion.
And there in Mataderos, he went to take refuge,
imposing his manhood as a man of action.
As a fair man he conquered for himself,
not only great fame, but someone’s heart,
for whom one night he gambled his life
in a duel against another one man.
With no sponsors nor witnesses
the rivals face each other
and a shot broke the silence of the night.
And the fighter handicapped
because of the unequal weapons
fell there with his chest stained by blood.
Suddenly came help to the alley
and laying on the street they see the the man
that yesterday ruled among brave bullies
and today a romance his hands handcuffed.
Surrounded by cops, the rebel holds out,
does not give in a bit and in as much pain,
with rage gesture, his lips he bites,
to not give the name of the one who wounded him.
And the fighter already beaten,
anticipating his agony,
watching at the police,
begged in his pain:
“Let me die in calm,
without disclosing his name
that the man to be a man
must not be a gossip monger”.

It is reassuringly impressive to read the lack of prejudice on the part of the authors who obviously knew about the homosexuality of Cepeda or the myth about his sexual orientation. Nevertheless, they spoke not only about his “male courage”, his “deep male voice”, and his “manly attributes as a man of action” but they made him an example of masculinity for not being an informer, a finger pointing gossip monger, snitch.

Although it was not a common knowledge that the two tangos were inspired by Andrés Cepeda, those in the know knew perfectly well that they were. For them it was quite clear that it was a tribute to a famous anarchist with a reputation as a delinquent and a homosexual. In neither of the two songs did they use the subterfuge of the woman for whom the man might have died, which would have added exactly the heterosexual interpretation that the authors were not willing to do.

Andrés Cepeda, blonde, face pricked from smallpox, with an enormous mustache, lived fast and died at forty. His poetry was sad, very sad. He had the virtue and the disgrace of being the comet that embodied the spirit of the turning of the century.

He shone, he spread fire, he disappeared. The police raided his funeral and arrested everyone. With his death, Buenos Aires lunfarda also began to disappear, bearing too many betrayals from then on. And as the name Andrés Cepeda didn’t show up in the songs he wrote, and the songs continued to be sung well into the twentieth century, the muddy world from where he originated was also denied to him. The police took care of arresting everyone.

Reference source : HISTORIA DE LA HOMOSEXUALIDAD EN LA ARGENTINA by Osvaldo Bazán – Buenos Aires: Editorial MAREA, 2004

Posted March 11, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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No minors allowed   2 comments

No minors allowed

By Alberto Paz

Almost every time an elder habitue of the milongas in Buenos Aires goes “on tour” (insider euphemism for passing away) a perennial myth is recycled . The one about this or that dancer [who] “began dancing at age 14.” Assumptions about a teenager making the rounds of the milongas and beginning to show a talent that many years later would be discovered by some American with a movie camera are immediately part of the awkward folksy tales told by people dealing with the death of someone they really didn’t know.What is missing in all the stories that attempt to establish some historical context in the wonderful world of tango fantasies is the concept of time, chronology and the living testimony of people who lived through the period and still remember the moment in time when all these wonderful happenings were supposed to have occurred.

In 1950, when someone born in 1936 would have been 14, boys wore short pants with their legs beginning to show the darkened hair of puberty. The long pants would only become a rite of passage at age 16. Two years later they would qualify for military service, voting and admittance to X-rated movies and admission to a milonga. The few who would actually be welcomed at these places for adults were limited in their dancing to sisters, cousins and the occasional dancing with the wife of a mentor. None of the romantic and exotic quixotic images that modern day experiences try to attach to life in the past really existed. The world of the milonga has been, was and to a lesser extent still is cruel and cold when it comes to the motives and expectations of those who become revelers of the night.

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the popular music of Buenos Aires coexisted in the great dance halls with foreign rhythms such as the foxtrot, bolero, rumba, and jazz. Above all, the rhythm of the tango and its lyrics were always present on the airwaves, at the theater, in the movie houses, in the printed media, at the downtown tea houses, at the cabarets, at both grand and modest neighborhood clubs, and of course at the exclusive hangouts called milongas where patrons listened to and danced only tangos, valses, and milongas.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s the recording companies were back in force and the tango began to languish. It was replaced by a succession of dances coming from pop music and rock ’n’ roll. Until then, the recording companies had been making money reproducing the sounds that people sang in their homes and wanted to hear on records they bought. That applied equally to classical and popular music. Once the recording labels exhausted everything that could be remembered, improvements in technical quality kept making money for the companies without adding anything in terms of novelty. Soon more improvements such as long-playing records (LPs) came to satisfy listeners, but the recording industry eventually ran out of material and it set out to invent a form of music that could be repackaged in a variety of ways with a massive marketing campaign aimed at the younger generations.

The priority of the industry being focused on ways to rake in profits seems to be the reason that recording executives ordered the destruction of master recordings of all the tangos that had been recorded at the studios of RCA Victor of Buenos Aires.

Around 1956, the recording industry created the new wave, la nueva ola. It was a massive marketing campaign that resulted in the sly conversion of the long-standing tango and jazz clubs into extra-large concert venues. Nobody could dance there because space was at a premium. Acho Manzi, a veteran popular poet, commented with sarcasm on the subject: “They even did away with our carnival celebrations, in addition to silencing the whistling from the streets.”

The nineteen fifties were marked by the generation of so called “petiteros” and “caqueros” born in the cribs of the upper class but immediately imitated by the adolescents of the middle and lower popular classes to the point that “caquero” almost became a synonymous for “adolescent.”

The “petiteros” were reputed to be anti-Peronist. In those years, the late 40s and early the 50s, whenever there was political turmoil, the Peronists went to the Petit Café on Callao and Santa Fe and broke its windows. The petiteros were on one side of the social equation, boasting of modernity, Yankee-fication, compliance with the latest fashions, and plenty of disposable income to follow those trends. On the other side were those who imitated them wearing the Oxford gray pants, blue jacket with two vents, the hair slapped with brilliantine (like a cow’s licking, as they used to describe it), the essential yellowish beige moccasins shoes, and striped tie. The social milieu of the youth was split in half.

The petiteros were one step above the high echelon of society with the best clothing, and with other music, far from the tango. The rest, the ones who tripped on their Oxford trousers and poured a bottle of brilliantine Glostora on their heads, gave away their origins because they couldn’t imitate the peculiar well-to-do accent, the very accentuated letter Y instead of the LL, and a way of speaking with the mouth almost closed, through the teeth, that was instilled from their cradle in the Barrio Norte homes.

One thing they all had in common was that nobody considered going to a tango dance hall conceivable. The true caqueros did not go to dance to the clubs, not even in carnival time, because besides the jazz (as they called the characteristic orchestras playing all rhythms), the musicians in the clubs played those tangos, milongas and valsecitos that splattered their gabardine trousers and Elvis-in-the-Army style of shirts with epaulets with “low class grease ”. They went to ‘asaltos’ where it was guaranteed that, except for some party crasher, everyone there were ‘people like us.’

Rich or poor, everyone who claims to have began dancing in the 50’s went to “asaltos,” a sort of home invasions at somebody’s home where they danced on a tile, with arms stretched downwards, keeping the beat more with the shoulders than with the feet, and you sweeping the floor dragging our brown moccasins imitating the caquero style. The caquero only danced foreign music, such as Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Elvis Presley and others, nothing national. The middle and lower class kids learned the caquero codes from those whose parents sent him to the private schools of the well-to-do hoping for a better future.

Thus it was learned that narrow trousers and pointed toe, tall heel shoes with clasp to the flank were out of fashion. That when going to an asalto one should begin with the finger sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres because the cream cupcakes were for dessert. Not to ask for mints, to sip the pineapple gin fizz being served, and to transfer their Kent or Saratoga cigarettes to Chesterfield packs.

Half way through the 1950’s things began to change for the country of Argentine. Following the overthrow of the Juan Peron government in 1955 successive military governments began to gradually subvert individual liberties and eventually ruled for years under a state of siege. Almost an entire generation was lost to dancing, tango and otherwise. Much later, when the aging caqueros returned to the downtown clubs and began to apply their caquero style of dancing to a renewed interest in tango music, another legend says that people asking who were those older men who danced with young women hanging from their shoulders, someone said, “they are milongueros.” People who until then had a clear understanding of what classic salon tango looked like began to ask scornfully, “What is it that they’re dancing?” Some woman in combat boots seriously explaimed, “Close embrace, milonguero style.”

Reference: Gotta tango, Human Kinetics, by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Posted January 13, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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SHE WANTS TO MAKE IT TO 100   Leave a comment

She wants to live to be 100

By Gaspar Zimerman

Copyright (c) 2009, Clarin. All Rights Reserved

At 97 she still in full swing. A nature’s prodigy, the legendary singer recalls her intense life, talks about her love with Homero Manzi and her friendship with Evita, defends the Kirchners and refers to her relation with death. Shortly before her show at the Luna Park, she confesses a desire to have a boyfriend.

Nelly Omar sings “Desde el alma”

Nelly Omar is happy. It is a day for interviews: it is necessary to promote the Saturday recital at the Luna Park and the series of interviews, far from annoying her, seems to please her. Installed in the office of the recitals producer, she happily receives one journalist after another, proud for showing that time did not rust her mind nor her bones. It is necessary to follow her train of thought as she evokes her friendship with Evita, the 17 years of prohibition she endured after the 1955 military coup, the help offered by Tita Merello; she praises the (President Cristina and ex president Nestor) Kirchners, mentions (radio program) Palmolive on the air.” I do not know how you are not bored” , she lies, and smiles. At 97 years and with her voice intact she is, more than a tango living legend, a sort of a natural phenomenon, a prodigy who is about to step on a stage once again. “It troubles me a little,” she admits. “I am afraid of getting nervous and not remembering the lyrics. But I have faith: God is going to be by my side”.

Is this is a farewell recital?

No, the day I say good bye will be the day I’m dead. I have the support of the people, those who really love me. And not just the common folks: there are intellectuals, professionals who love me.

Where do you draw the strength to continue?

I love life, that’s why I’m alive. I dislike people who waste my time, I like people who are doing something. There are friends to whom I say: “You are boring. Go the hospital, to the square, take a walk: do not talk to me.” If I reached this age, it’s because I have to life to give. I have love which is what’s lacking in people. I want to get to be 100 and celebrate sparing no expense. To celebrate drinking a bottle of whiskey or champagne.

How do you imagine the recital?

Better not think about it, because if I do, I can’t sing. That’s what happened when they paid a tribute Guaminí. I broke down. I sang five songs and I could not continue. I was overcome by tears. I got sick, bah. They had given me, symbolically, the keys to the house where I lived when I was five: entering and seeing the rooms, the plaque they had put in the hall, and not finding relatives and friends once I knew…

Have you felt the loneliness of immortality?

Do you know what is like to get to be my age and not hear anymore from people who had been around? (singer Julio) Martel just left in July, a friend who used to call me almost every day.

How do you overcome the losses?

I believe in God. If He did it, may God have him in His glory. Recently another friend passed away. Tito Alberti had moved to Zárate. He invited me to visit, but I did not have time to go.

You must have a great capacity to make new friends.

Yes, absolutely. I have many friends. More men than women, because the women are very gossipy, and get into tangles and messes. But what I want to have is a partner who thinks like me, to find a partner who would not be embarrassed to be with a person like me. Then my happiness will be complete. But I do not know where are the men. Although first, they should give me a try, because they do not know how I am.

You must be tough.

Don’t believe that. I am a woman who knows how to be a woman. Who did Homero Manzi fall in love with? With Nelly Omar. And how many years he was in love? Since 1937, when I met him until 1951, when he died. But he did not want to follow through on his promise: get a divorce to marry me. And the one who suffered was him, not me. He composed many pieces dedicated to me, starting with Malena. Many people say that this is not true: I give a shit. That a man had fallen in love with me and dedicated tangos to me doesn’t change my way of being. It doesn’t put me in a higher or lower place . I’m the same Nelly.

Do you think about death?

No, not at all. The other day I was telling a friend: the only thing I regret when it’s time to go from this world is not having someone to grab me by the hand and say “you’re leaving, I love you a lot,” something like that. What I would not want to is suffer. I told my doctor: if you determine that I am not curable give me an injection of pentothal and say I had a cardiac arrest. I do not want them to open me, to remove the liver, a kidney, this, that. No, this is a martyrdom.

How would you like to be remembered?

Not as a singer but as a good person. I think I am. It hurts when I can’t help someone. But generally I can or do what is possible. And I do not expect retribution in return: when I give, I do it with my heart. If there is anybody who says I have a debt, let them come and I’ll pay it.

The conversation drifts. Nelly states that recently she was approached to run for a Senate seat but that she rejected the idea “because I do high level politics, not this kind of garbage”. She attacks the dissident Peronism (“It is a shame the scandal they make, they should unite and leave the current administration to finish its mandate”) and she remembers that she met Eva Perón in the Luna Park “during the aftermath of the San Juan’s earthquake. Eva still was an actress… She always helped me: when she found out that I had not worked for over a year she became furious… she said that I was the best Argentine singer”. “I root for Perón and Evita – she adds. What Evita did for the children, by the adolescents, does not have a price”.

She also it remembers her three husbands – Antonio Molina, the folklorist Aníbal Cufré and journalist Héctor Oviedo, whom she met when she was 82 years old and he 57 – and she regrets not having had children. She mentions that she wanted to be an aviatrix and pauses, reflective: “All this can go on a book”. But immediately she discards the idea. She does want to record two albums: one of folklore and another one of tangos, valses and milongas, with an orchestra. She tells that she exercises every mornings and that, when younger, a professor of lyrical song prophesied: “You, like Gardel, have a voice with a natural resonance. You are going to sing until you’re 90”.

Just when we are having the desire to adopt her as our grandmother, she bids us good bye: “I swear that everything I told you is true. I do not have anything to gain nor anything to lose. Bah: I only hope to gain in the Luna Park. Later, God will say what will be of me”.

Translation by Alberto Paz

Posted April 29, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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The junta couldn’t kill it   1 comment

The junta couldn’t kill it
By Alberto Paz

Today March 24, 2009 marks the 33rd anniversary of the military coup that overthrew the government of Vice President Estela Martinez de Peron and thus began one of the darkest periods of political, economic, and social unrest in Argentina’s  history.  It was a horrifying time span of state sponsored terrorism with a dictatorship that kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Argentines.

“It’s good to know that there is no better political system  than democracy. And there is no democracy separated from human rights,” said yesterday the secretary of Human Rights, Eduardo Luis Duhalde.

Memory and Justice are the reassurance of our future as a nation,” noted Health Minister Graciela Ocaña.

The tango made an unexpected reappearance in Buenos Aires, around the time democracy was reinstated and a new democratically elected government assumed power in 1983. The significance of the renewed interest in tango is that it confirmed the resiliency and everlasting attributes of a phenomenon that, across many generations, has surged to incredible peaks of popularity followed by crushing chasms in which all  indications pointed to its irremediable death.

With the global popularity of the tango urban legends ran amok including one that is very hurtful and offensive to every Argentine who either lived, survived or saw friends and relatives live, survive or disappear victim of state sponsored terrorism. It comes in a variety of forms but the jest of the insidious tale states that the military junta engaged in a war to eradicate, proscribe, eliminate, etc., the tango in all its manifestations.

There is an corollary to the urban legend in question, and that is the absurd belief that Argentines let the tango die and it was the foreigners who came to the rescue, resuscitated and took ownership of the tango for the world. In other words, the justification for removing the Argentine from Argentine tango.

We hope here that an explanation of the facts will provide food for thought, and actually inspires everyone with good intentions to nip in the bud the cruel, insensitive and offensive tale about the junta going after the tango.

The main reason why the live performances of orchestras and the public milongas ceased to stay open for business for a long period, was because the political climate discouraged people from going out and risk being arrested during the frequent raids of the secret police did to all public places.

All public dances suffered the consequences of a state of siege and an edict that prohibited public gatherings.

People wanting to get married, for example, had to obtain a special permit from the police after providing a list of attendees so their personal backgrounds could be checked.

The excuse of looking for terrorists or extremists gave the repressive regime free rein to detain anybody without cause or habeas corpus. People stayed home, and all public venues shut down. Tango, jazz, rock and roll, etc. Simple as that, not just the tango but every conceivable artistic activity suffered.

The dictatorship in numbers

2818. Days that the dictatorship lasted from 24 March 1976 to 10 December 1983, when Raúl Alfonsín assumed the presidency after being elected earlier on October 30.

30 thousand. The number of persons, who, according to human rights organizations, were kidnapped during the illegal guerrilla repression. The majority remains disappeared.

500. The number of babies stolen from their mothers, or born in captivity in the clandestine detention centers. Almost 100 have been located and their identity reinstated.

500. The number of clandestine detention centers functioning during the dictatorship. The majority belong to  regiments, military installations, police stations or police detachments. The largest CDC was the one at the former Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Navy’s Mechanical School), where it is estimated that five thousand persons were processed.

46 billions. The amount in dollars of external debt accumulated towards the end of the dictatorship. At the beginning of the self defined National Reorganization Process (El proceso) the external debt amounted to 6.3 billion dollars.

517. Percentage of inflation registered between 1976 and 1983.

14 thousand. Number of soldiers, officers and conscripts sent to the Malvinas Islands after the landing of 1982 and the transient recovery of sovereignty over the archipelago.

694. The dead toll in the South Atlantic war with Great Britain.

Posted March 24, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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A mythical cafe   Leave a comment

A mythical cafe
By Alberto Paz
With the discovery of the brick floor of a building half a meter below the surface on the corner of Figueroa Alcorta and Sarmiento across the Planetarium in Palermo, a group of archeologists have fueled a lot of excitement among the fans of tango tales and those who repeat them and report them.Under a tent installed by the Ministry of Culture of the city of Buenos Aires, there is a piece of a bottle and a small piece of a brick floor. As the plans call for further excavation, another project is on the works to provide a walking area for people interested in getting an idea of how the city looked in the past. Close by, a fountain will be replaced with an art exposition dedicated to the tango.

According to city records, on the site of the discovery there existed a building that is believed to have belonged to mid nineteenth century ruler Juan Manuel de Rosas. Juan Hansen (1847-1892) originally from Hamburg, transformed the residence into a restaurant, beer garden and tea house that became known as Cafe Hansen.

The most surprising and totally unverifiable tall tales have been written about Cafe Hansen. That one person was killed there every day;  that several daily squabbles were common occurrence; that the mythical place was the cradle of the tango where “the best tango was danced because it was an elegant place;” that the Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro orchestras performed there. When the information is cross referenced to the date of birth of those allegedly having performed at Hansen, it shows how improbable is that that might have happened.

There is no a single reference to such happenings in the archives of publications researched nor in police reports of the times. To the contrary, an abundance of evidence contradicts the fans of tango tales and those who repeat them and report them. When it comes to the history of the origins of the tango it makes no sense to discuss things said, written and repeated by people unable to master the chronology of events. It’s like discussing grammatical rules with an illiterate.

Evidence found in publications and police reports at the General National Archives indicate that the establishment was small, that it employed two waiters. In the case of the investigation of an incident, a police report lists every person being interrogated, with no reference whatsoever to musicians, and without a single mention that there was a dance hall there. The details of the inventory demonstrate that it was a very important and well equipped restaurant, brewery and confectionery. The business continued operating until its auction and liquidation which took place on April 22 and 23, 1893. The municipal draft notice described it as Hansen Hotel, while the public notices called it a restaurant.

Francisco Canaro in his memories never mentions Hansen as a place where he might have performed. And then there is the often quoted Enrique Cadicamo, “It was a dance hall patronized by people of the night of different ranks. It was a tough but very fun place.

Cadicamo was born on June 15, 1900, so he was 12 years when the building was demolished. Either he is exercising some poetic license or he just repeats like a parrot the same fables without taking care of analyzing the chronology of the facts. How could he know that it had a brave but very funny atmosphere? What kind of amusement must have taken place in a nonexistent “dance hall, attended by people of the night of different ranks?”

It is possible that the confusion and contradictions about what went on in the area in the last quarter of the nineteenth century are a consequence of not knowing the characteristics of Palermo and the area known as the Bosques of Palermo. An orderly account of the place and the times might help people read history knowing how to explain it.

Before it was buried in a tube underground beneath Avenida Juan B. Justo, on both margins of the Arroyo Maldonado there were different military facilities and ammo deposits, next to precarious houses where fishermen, veteran prostitutes who served the military, and the families of soldiers lived. There were numerous cafes along what is today Avenida Santa Fe to the bridge over the stream.

Since the nineteenth century, Palermo was almost exclusively an area of recreation for the inhabitants of the city, a charming and delightful place with changing characteristics according to the time of the day.

Early in the morning, Palermo hosted sports loving and horse riding folks; around noon , those associated with the race track; in the afternoon, the tea time strollers; and at night the romantic dates and rendezvous. Late at night, after the theater, Palermo was the favorite place of licentious night owls accompanied by ladies of the night. Numerous concessions offered refreshments or food to a select segment of the population.

Consider the incongruity of the tales that link the tango with the underground and the lowest classes and simultaneously with places like Palermo, which was frequented by elegant people. Adding to the excitement of the brick floor discovery, the vice president of the Academia Nacional del Tango offered a tall tale of his own, “At Hansen they danced a very well danced tango because in his beginnings it was an elegant place”. He said that without taking in consideration that nobody really knows what or how people danced in those times, or that dancing tango well is not the patrimony of elegant people.

Posted January 19, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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