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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

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


The music man of Villa Urquiza
By Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart
Copyright (c) 1997, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved

Visitors coming to Buenos Aires to experience the Argentine tango first hand quickly notice the codes and rituals of the milongas. One of the most impressive sights that captures the imagination of foreigners tangueros is the crowd that converges on the dance floor as soon as the music starts. What seems like an invisible spell that draws dancers to the floor is actually the work of the music man of BuenosAires. On April 24, 1997 we interviewed Felix Picherna at the Club Sunderland’s dining room.

Couples, mostly in their senior citizen years move with an attitude of having been there before. They take a place on the dance floor, they proceed to embrace, and they begin to move through paths that seem very familiar to them. Younger dancers, out of respect for the elder, wait until the first flow takes over the floor before entering themselves to jockey for a place. As the music progresses, the multitude of shoulders and heads seem to move ever so orderly, yet showing a disconcerting unpredictability as to where they will move next. When the music ends, everybody stops at the last beat. Soon another song plays but nobody moves, except to discreetly glance at the people around them or to engage in private small talk with each other. Suddenly as on cue the human mass begins to move around, forming circular human layers that cover the entire dance floor in the shape of the rings of an onion.

Those who pay attention see this ritual repeated three or four times until a total different musical melody seems to sweep the dancers off the floor. An invisible curtain has ended the tango act in four songs. If you happen to be at Club Sunderland on a Saturday night, you will hear a voice through the loudspeakers thanking the dancers, “Gracias señores bailarines!

It is sixty year old Felix Picherna, the dean of deejays in Buenos Aires. For the last ten years he has enjoyed the bonanza the Argentine tango has brought to Buenos Aires, becoming a very well respected and popular “musicalizador.” We have been followed him for a couple of weeks before we asked him for an interview. “Meet me for lunch at Sunderland,” the voice on the phone says. “I eat there every day,” he adds, “I get there by 1 pm.

The aperitif

Crossing Buenos Aires in an automobile during lunch time can last a lunch time… It’s 2 pm when we finally arrive at picturesque Club Sunderland in Villa Urquiza. The lunch crowd in the dining room looks like the whole neighborhood is there to eat. Red sweater, eagle eyes, Picherna spots us from a pay phone in one corner of the ample room and points to a table. We take our seats and a series of exchanges take place between our host and the waiter. A few minutes later the table is styled with red wine bottles, sparkling mineral water, and fresh bread. The air fills with the scent of T-bone steaks, and heaps of crisp and colorful salad contribute to the mouth watering experience. Topping it off “papas fritas,” the Argentine version of french fries.

Felix Picherna wanted to be a telegraph operator. He was 14 and soon found out that his chosen vocation did not have much of a future. He then turned to electronics. Later he worked on the first black and white TV sets just beginning to become popular in Argentina. Those who may laugh at the notion of tango being a way of life would be baffled to hear Picherna say that his life is a tango.

At age 8 he used to sing Remembranzas. By age 14 he could hum all 900 tangos from Gardel’s repertoire. He remembers the “conventillos,” tenements that lined up what is today Avenida 9 de julio where he grew up. In the years 1942-43, one could be nurtured by the tango because life was a tango. He sold newspapers and magazines along Calle Corrientes earning enough to buy a “cafe con leche,” the hot milk with a shot of coffee breakfast for poor kids. “Every 100 meters there was a tango place,” he says. “I realize now that I saw the Miguel Calo orchestra, the Roberto Firpo quartet. I heard Fiorentino sing with the Jose Basso orchestra.” He witnessed the first presentation in public as a soloist of recently deceased tango crooner Alberto Moran at Cafe Nacional. Without realizing it, he may have sold newspapers to Juan D’Arienzo and Anibal Troilo.

He earned first salary at age 11 working as an extra in a play at Teatro Colon. One day, as he juggled a ball outside the theater, the manager sent him out to buy cigarettes for a generous tipper. Later he found out that the generous tipper was none other than tenor Beniamino Gigli.

His tango learning began at age 15 at Club Pinocho practicing with other men. In those days women were not allowed to socialize and practice with the men. He learned to dance tango, milonga, vals and jazz. With another kid, they began to recognize the sounds of different orchestras and to memorize the titles. He claims to be able to recognize 3,500 tangos in his head.

Gardel marked an entire period to the youngsters of his time. Gardel was a mystery. His life, the way he was, the way he dressed and the way he sang. It is hard to explain. Life in the conventillos was a reflection of the tangos that Gardel sang. The minas, percantas, pungas (women, prostitutes, pickpockets) were ever present in his life. That’s why he never took the easy way out of vices and temptations, except perhaps for the cigarettes that were very appealing to the young kids hia age.

At age 23 he was asked to DJ at Club Viento Norte in Villa Urquiza. He had already experienced some sensational deejaying at Club Sabores in Villa del Parque. He never saw the face of that DJ but the music he danced to at Villa Sabores can’t be matched, except that modern technology affords a better sound quality. Later on, he started dating, got married and raised a family. He reminisces the pleasure of visiting Miami after his family had raked in a lot of money during the ‘sweet money’ period. Upon his return from Miami, he soon encountered difficulties at home and ended separating from his wife. He faced a new way of life, and for a variety of reasons he decided to dedicate his work to playing music for dancing.

He resorted to the knowledge and talent from his younger years and began to try his fortune as a deejay. Soon if a hundred people were where Picherna played music one night, then 150 would show up the next Saturday.

Through the tango he restructured his life both financially and sentimentally. To this day, he can’t get started in the morning if he does not listen to tangos. “It’s the kind of addiction you get from ‘falopa’,” he smiles using the jargon word for recreational drugs. His experience has become very important these days because there are a lot of youngsters who are dancing tango. He begins to notice that gradually young and older generations people alike stop him after the milonga to praise his music selection. Through the years he draws from his experience and now at age 60 he tries harder than ever to be the best deejay there is.

One of his dreams is acquiring the latest high tech sound equipment and to try to get the 3,500 tangos he carries in his head on CDs. The country’s economy hinders his wishes. About 20% of the downtown clubs have acceptable sound systems. Many times Picherna, who doesn’t own a car, rides the bus with a briefcase full of cassettes and his own cassette player which he uses to enhance the delivery of the music. He makes a point to single out Club Almagro and DJ Horacio Godoy who works with very modern equipment.

For a man riding the wave of popularity, rather than listening to himself talk, Picherna is curious about the state of the tango abroad. He wants to know whether in the USA there is a revisionism of tango, the way it is happening in Buenos Aires, where 18-25 years old are coming out to join the very old. He remind us that a couple of generations were lost to the tango. He wants to know if the dancers in North America are mostly Latinos with an Anglo minority. He gets taken aback when we say that Hispanics like the sentimental aspect of the tango song and are more interested in what food will be served rather than who’s the deejay at the milongas.

He is even more perplexed to hear that the great majority of Americans who are into tango, are for the most part dancers. He clarifies that there is no racial undertone intended and says, “The Anglo dancers tend to take things more seriously but although they approach the tango with passion, they still use the Latin feeling as a point of reference.”

He’s also intrigued by the Europeans that come to Buenos Aires. “They are very serious. They know the date of the first recording of Mala junta, the first one that Pugliese recorded. I hear Mala junta, I dance to it, but heck, what do I know about the date it was recorded by Pugliese,” he concludes.

It comes as no surprise to him that some foreigners get bored quickly with the younger music groups that travel abroad. Obviously it is a thrill to hear a young man playing the bandoneon, or to hear the old sound of the flute, but the novelty stops soon when the promotional hype attempts to define some of these groups as “heirs” of the legendary musicians of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Most of the European and American dancers have done all their training and have walked their miles to the sounds of the best recordings of Troilo, Tanturi, Di Sarli, Pugliese, and many other giants of the music.

Indeed,” he nods, “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.

The entree

More and more foreign visitors in Buenos Aires had begun to recognize his voice, his words of appreciation after a tanda, but above all, they are appreciating the creativity of a man who is in charge of getting hundreds and hundreds of very demanding dancers onto the dance floor night after night. His musical delivery is not predictable, his selections are not played in an expected order and somehow he is like an artist creating on the canvas of the dance floor. Showing a genuine sense of modesty, he acknowledges the compliment. Saving the considerable distances, he suggests, it’s like when Gardel sang or Maradona improvised a play. I improvise with the music on the spot based on what my fantasy of life expresses at a particular moment.

He claims to remember up to 3,500 titles in his head, a gift he feels very fortunate to have because, for example, he will remember from our conversation that I like Tanturi with Ortega del Cerro (who was Tanturi’s first singer) and the next time I’m in Buenos Aires he’ll play Tanturi with Ortega del Cerro for me.

This is the spark he carries over from his childhood when being very active and mentally alert allowed him to earn a living by gaining the sympathy of the people. I wish I would have used that talent for financial gain, he admits, but God gave me something better instead. He refers to his health. In ten years of activity he has never missed a day of work, working almost every day of the week. I thank God for a hearty health, he repeats very seriously. Of course at age 60, his eyesight and his stamina are not as good as they were many years back, but he continues to provide the basic element for the enjoyment of the dancing crowd: the music.

He has been thanking the dancers at the end of every tanda ever since a very hot summer night, seven or eight years ago when the unbearable heat boosted the attendance at an outdoor milonga at Club Estudiantes del Norte, in the neighborhood known as Saavedra, not too far from Villa Urquiza. That night he played music for his largest crowd ever, 508 persons. During the course of the evening he noticed the presence of a very young, good looking and already extraordinary dancer. He then made the following announcement: Tonight, we’re honored to have the presence of a great tango dancer at Club Estudiantes del Norte. Making his triumphal appearance here is the Blue Prince, Miguel Angel Zotto. Thank you very much señores milongueros! A lady approached him and reminded him that the gentlemen dancers had partners and that she was one of them. He then rephrased the salutation that has become his trademark to this day: Thank you very much dancing couples!

He jokes about sometimes attempting to greet French and German visitors in their language but his vocabulary is very limited. He reaffirms here his admiration for Carlos Gardel, who sang tango Los Indios from Francisco Canaro in Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay. The versatility of Gardel’s talent was also shown in the vals Perfumes de Oriente, sung in the Arabic tongue, Hija de Japonesita in Japanese, and of course many regional songs from the Argentine folklore. For Felix Picherna, the image of Gardel is frozen at a time when the 30 year old singer was singing all the tangos we hear today, accompanied by just two guitar players. Ventanita de arrabal for example is one of the greatest legacies of the Gardel who later became commercially popular around the world.

The lunch spread at Sunderland

This conversation is taking place while we partake of a very traditional ritual among Argentines. We’re having a leisurely lunch at Club Sunderland, and the sizzling steaks brought by the waiter momentarily become the subject of our conversation. Argentines are very proud of the freshness, tenderness and flavor of their meat, and Picherna is curious about the dietary habits of Californians. He thinks that what makes the USA a great country is the use of two words: United States. Unity creates strength, says a very popular refrain. Jose Hernandez immortalized the thought in his classic book Martin Fierro: may the brothers be united because that is the fundamental law, since lacking unity will lead them to be devoured by outsiders. A toast for unity and for the great future of Argentina closes the short digression.

Carlos Di Sarli is his favorite orchestra. Felix Picherna repeats what he has said on television and often at Confiteria Ideal. Pugliese was a carbon copy of Julio De Caro. What happened is that the pupil transcended the teacher with a different set of technical elements not available in the ‘20s. Troilo is akin to Julio De Caro. D’Arienzo before 1935 was one of a bunch of neighborhood orchestras. When a young kid named Rodolfo Biagi joined D’Arienzo at the piano, there was a dramatic change in the sound of the orchestra that brought a new life into the tango dance. Another orchestra dubbed the All Stars owed its success to the existence of a 23 year old bohemian known as the Chopin of tango , pianist Osmar Maderna. Without him Miguel Calo would not have reached the popularity he has enjoyed.

What happened with Di Sarli? Perhaps this is a very personal opinion but Picherna considers that Di Sarli did not need to imitate anybody. He created his own school. His personality is still the subject of controversy today. Di Sarli was a perfectionist that could not admit any mistakes. His style was unique although it is important to remember that Di Sarli was a pianist of the original 1920’s orchestra of Osvaldo Fresedo that traveled to the United States. So there is a certain resemblance between Osvaldo Fresedo with Di Sarli on piano and the Carlos Di Sarli that became a success after 1940 with his own orchestra.

The dessert

The subject pops in and out many times as we jump from subject to subject in the same delightful way as we attack the juicy steaks and crisp papa fritas generously washed down with a 1994 Cabernet Savignon (from the province of Mendoza, of course). Valorie wants to know what Felix’s taste is for contemporary music. Picherna hesitates and attempts to draw an analogy with soccer, the other Argentine passion. After seeing Pele and Maradona what else can anyone expect? A bionic man?

The answer is obvious: there is not much today in terms of orchestras that match or rival the giants of yesterday. “There has been a plateau for imagination and creativity, everything has basically been done in this world,” he says, although he admits that the reach for space and the exploration of other galaxies opens a whole new dimension in knowledge and imagination. That is why he considers that the young should not be told that everything is already done, because they merit encouragement.

And what about Astor Piazzolla?
He quickly volunteers that he is a fanatic of Piazzolla. But for a milonga he is worthless. “Piazzolla was a revolutionary of the tango as an art form,” he asserts. With his work, there is nothing left to be done in this century. He cautions that this kind of conversation is meant for mature individuals and not for young people who may get depressed very easily with this line of reasoning. “Take Pedro Maffia for example. His merit is that he invented a way to play the bandoneon when nobody else did it that way. People who learn today are doing so over existing foundations. Imitation prevails. After 20 years of Gardel’s death, Horacio Deval surfaced as his perfect imitator. If you listened to Deval’s El dia que me quieras from a block away, you would say that is Gardel. Yet, Deval did not create anything, but just imitated.”

Considering that the uncanny creativity of the tango players stopped a while back, then what is the future of tango music? It may sound depressing but in many ways it’s the same as waiting for another Gardel to be born, he responds philosophically. Nowadays many like to dance with recordings of second rate orchestras, namely Lucio Demare, Ricardo Malerva, Enrique Rodriguez, who in their time couldn’t compete with the Puglieses, the Troilos and the Di Sarlis. Faced with this competition, Enrique Rodriguez ended up playing pasodobles and fox trots. Yet, there is a tango, Llorar por una mujer (To cry for a woman), that vocalist Armando Moreno sung with the orchestra of Enrique Rodriguez. It touches the ladies very deeply in a very special way. Moreno had a very melodious voice and Picherna has to play it three or four times at least at Confiteria Ideal, a sort of modern day Lonely Hearts Club for locals and tourists.

For many of us, a tango is a tango is a tango and an orchestra is an orchestra, and so on. For those who lived the decades of the 40s and 50s, like Picherna, the memory of the great tango wars of the 1920s is still very fresh. There is a dark cloud that surrounds the controversy among the traditionalists who followed Canaro and the innovators who admired De Caro. Francisco Canaro was not like Julio De Caro who had a defined musical line and was recognized as a musician. Canaro was a merchant of tango known for his visits to the long line of bars along the port of Buenos Aires, where the Polish, Slavics and German immigrants gathered to feel sorry for themselves. Most of these immigrants, refugees from the European wars, could write a tango like Sentimiento gaucho after a couple of drinks and sell it to Canaro for a bottle of cheap wine.

“Francisco Canaro did not follow a particular musical line,” says Picherna, “he used his increasing wealth to take advantage of the artistic talent in which many destitute immigrants could cry a lost love or a painful separation. This is not to take away the merits of the Canaro orchestra with young Di Cico on bandoneon and Mariano Mores on piano.”

Felix Picherna has been itching to tell us more about his idol Carlos Di Sarli and finally we manage to focus the conversation on the Lord of Tango. “Carlos Di Sarli was a creator of a very personal style. He had a great personality with a very controversial character. He was authoritarian, a sort of a Hitler-like leader with no tolerance for failure.” One night, about 7 years ago at Club Sunderland, somebody approached Picherna and asked him to play some Di Sarli recordings because Di Sarli’s son was present that night. Like most DJs worth their tanda, Picherna controlled his exasperation for being asked to do the obvious, prepared a tanda of classics, El cabure, A la gran muñeca, Organito de la tarde and Nobleza de arrabal, and went to greet Di Sarli’s son, whom he noticed was not a dancer. He was a mature individual with glasses, Picherna recalls.
– How do you like your father’s recordings?
-The recordings of my father are formidable.
– What do you think about your father?
– Don’t talk to me about my father, he was an s.o.b. Talk to me about Di Sarli, the director and about his orchestra.

Di Sarli disbanded his orchestra from 1948 to 1951 for reasons that nobody really knows. In 1951 he reassembled an orchestra. Picherna was only fourteen but he remembers that night vividly. The master of ceremonies was legendary radio announcer Antonio Carrizo. He introduced Di Sarli’s first theme, Carlos Di Sarli’s first interpretation on Radio El Mundo will be Salvador Felipeti’s Los 33 orientales, and teenager Felix got goose bumps. Di Sarli gave it all he had. The successful run on Radio El Mundo lasted 3 years. One day his musicians influenced by the activism of the Peronist labor unions went on strike. It’s not clear whether the strike was triggered by low wages or by the very difficult personality of Carlos Di Sarli as an employer. It happened then that five violinists from the Teatro Colon approached Di Sarli offering their services and suggesting that the director contract four bandoneon players. From this period, Di Sarli recorded 30-40 Tangos from his initial period including the classic Bahia Blanca using the five best violinists from the Teatro Colon, which was a real feat.

We wanted to know Picherna’s preferences in dancers. He draws another soccer analogy. Pele and Maradona were the greatest of the great. Yet, players today can probably run circles around the monsters of yesterday. Enough said. For a man with very traditional viewpoints, he surprises us with very progressive positions.

He is one of the first DJs who started using a tanda to highlight a parade of aces, Ronda de Ases, he calls it. He’s proud to say that hotshot DJ Horacio Godoy has adopted and improved on the idea, mixing different orchestras with similar styles in a given tanda. But he knows that there are places where his progressive thinking is not accepted. He would do anything to be 25 again. On this particular Friday night, April 24, 1997, in the upstairs lounge of Club Sunderland, an elite group of tango dancers will gather as they do with a religious fervor every week. Among them, names familiar to the world like Jose Vasquez Lampazo and Gerardo Portalea (when El negro stands up to the tune of Los 33 orientales, every single dancer of the newer generation folds). In spite of being close in age with these great dancers, Picherna finds it difficult to modify certain traditions which are followed religiously by these dancers. Like, for example, keeping the “purity” of a tanda, that is a demand that all tangos be of the same interpreter and style. Sometimes Picherna likes to mix Di Sarli with Florindo Sassone (very similar styles), but this particular group of dancers will not accept that. When it comes to milongas, there are certain liberties that he will indulge in, mixing milongas by D’Arienzo and Canaro. But the traditionalist old timers won’t admit “mistakes”, all four tangos of a tanda must be by the same orchestra and with the same style.

Valorie Hart and Felix Picherna at Sunderland

Valorie Hart and Felix Picherna at Sunderland

In his concept of a Ronda de Ases tanda, he can mix Pugliese with Pedro Laurenz because they are very close in style and arrangements. The younger set in Palermo accepts Picherna’s indiscretions: Amurado by Pugliese, Por que razon by D’Arienzo with Carlos Polito on piano and De puro guapo by Laurenz. He is grateful that the younger dancers will even dance to the Tubatango, while he knows that Portalea would shoot him and throw him out the window if he would dare to do that, upstairs at Sunderland.

The three hour almuerzo comes to an end and we leave with a full stomach and a happy heart. Our souls are richer with the experience of having walked around the memory of a man who chooses to play the music that makes people want to dance. He won’t play Adios Nonino at a milonga but he will play La bordona by Pugliese right after a Ronda de Ases with Calo, De Angelis and Tanturi. By sheer coincidence the sound of Pugliese’s rendition of Zum comes through the noisy comedor. He proclaims with enthusiasm. “What an occasion to have another toast!”