Tangos concerning soul
he pieces whose title include the word “alma” (soul) are a very large number as well as the lyrics of many, many tangos, milongas and waltzes that contain that word. Likewise in our everyday language, not always its meaning is the same, on the contrary, various are the usages given to the word.
For the Hebrews and the Greeks, the soul is the union of body and the breath of life or spirit. A soul living outside a body is not thinkable. «His soul came back to his body!», we generally say when someone recovers from a serious situation. Therefore, maybe it is something invisible and immaterial that the living beings have.
The Real Academia de la Lengua Española has many definitions for “alma”, the first of them: «Principle which shapes and organizes the vegetative, sensitive and intellectual dynamism of life». It follows: «In some religions and cultures, the spiritual and immortal substance of human beings». Later it gives several example of its usage. In tango pieces it happens the same but with some nuances.
With the very title of the piece you can imagine the idea even though many times it is ambiguous. On some occasions the illustration of the sheetmusic helps us to discover the concept. In the case of lyrics, metaphors can make easier its intention, regarding the context that surrounds the term throughout the plot.
In order to better analyze all this, we have researched titles in sheetmusic publications and discographies. Furthermore, we have looked for the lyrics of known pieces. When the word at issue is in the title and the piece has lyrics the matter is usually cleared out soon.
There are two tango numbers entitled “Alma”, one of them, the one with wider spreading, bears lyrics by Juan Sarcione and makes use of the word in the strict sense given by the Greeks and Hebrews: «Soul, never give up hope ’cause if you die, you’ll kill my heart». It is something that you cannot severe from your body, here soul means life.
There is an omen of death in “Yo también” when it says: «I’m feeling old/ behind dawn life goes away./ Today I saw my face in the mirror/ and I feel that my soul is overcome». And if there is some doubt, it ends saying: «Fighting when defeated it is not life/ chills of oblivion that make you die».
In the waltz “Desde el alma” there is a slight change: the hurt soul, the deep feeling of the one who experienced a disappointment. Here, disillusion torments, causes pain to our soul, it does not kill but it does not abandon our body. «Soul, if you’re been so hurt/ why do you reject oblivion?». Similar is the case of “Alma en pena” when it says: «Soul... stray with sorrow/ go to her door/ beg her crying». In “Almita herida”, Enrique Cadícamo uses a more than eloquent title or in “Nostalgias” when he says: «My puppet soul weeps/ lonely and sad on this night...»
As we see it the pain in our soul is hard to heal but can be soothed like in the case of “Mi noche triste”: «Woman, you left me/ in the best time of my life/ injuring my soul/ and piercing a thorn into my heart», and later: «there is no comfort for me/ and because of that I get drunk/ to forget your love».
Another different point of view is found in “Alma de bohemio”: in these lyrics by Juan Andrés Caruso the soul expresses a feature of the personality, its bohemian inclination: «Wanderer and dreamer/ I want to sing/ my fantasy/ and the crazy poetry/ that is in my heart». It could have been: “in my soul” instead of “in my heart”.
In “Alma de loca” there is an allusion to an apparent way of life which is not the one within his true soul: «Lively girl dancer that pretends to be a crazy soul, and with her merry laugh, makes the cabaret quiver...» But later adds: «Who would think, little girl dancer.../ that you were to show your true self by turning serious and sad/ before a cheap worthless little poor doll». Finally her real soul comes to the surface.
In “Alma mía” everything seems easier, it is the loved woman. The man sees her sleeping and calls her alma, almost a Christian name but things get worse in the repetition of the first section when he says: «alone I wander in the still of the night/ to find out if you have a soul...». Here, instead, he wonders if she is good. The same as in “Ya estamos iguales”, but in this case, with the certainty that she is not: «beauty without soul, ice statue...»
Eladia Blázquez in her tango “Con las alas del alma” makes use of the term as energy of the spirit and gives it wings: «With the wings of my soul displayed in the wind/ I figure out the essence of my own existence...». There are a tango, a waltz and a milonga with the name “Con alma y vida”. Disregarding their lyrics we can say that that title conveys energy. It is an expression used to denote an extreme effort.
Another different use but frequent in a large number of tangos is the one mentioned in “Yo llevo un tango en el alma”. It is a very meaningful title that alludes to the place where essential things are. It establishes a paradigm that will be repeated in many numbers in which it is said that tango is held deep inside, kept in our soul. Likewise, referring to a double paradigm, we find in “Alma porteña”: «Tango, you’re the soul of Buenos Aires...». Tango and its city are seen like symbols that represent an archetype of the inhabitant of Buenos Aires. Another case in “Mi ciudad y mi gente”: «¡Buenos Aires! for my soul there’ll be no better geography than the landscape of your streets...». Or in “Almagro”: «Neighborhood of my soul...».
Also the other way around, the city with soul like in “Melodía de arrabal”: «Neighborhood... neighborhood, you have the restless soul of a sentimental sparrow». The inhabitant of Buenos aires grants a soul to his most loved place.
That is to say, for tango, places and even objects can have a soul, in this sense, we cannot obviate “Alma de bandoneón” and the exquisite metaphor said by the protagonist when he discovers its existence in the instrument: «Right now I quite understand the desperation that stirs you up when you moan. You’re a caterpillar that wanted to be a butterfly before dying!».
Also soul may mean the principal part of any thing, the one which brings vigor and strength, the one which tempers it. Under this meaning it appears in “Cordón”: «Hard like the soul of a court wall...».
Another variant is in “Volver” in which the soul is shown as the shelter of feelings but also as the breath of life: «To live with one’s soul tied to a sweet memory that I cry after once again». The same in the lines of “La cumparsita” by Pascual Contursi and Enrique Maroni: «If you knew that still in my soul I keep that love I had for you». This idea of storage or refuge, either of love or fear and nostalgia feelings is in thousands of tangos: «Even though I would like to love you I can’t because there is fear in my soul», central passage of “Tarde”, that beautiful piece by José Canet.
The soul is so ethereal that, on some occasions, is contained in the lyrics and it is not mentioned by its name, like for example in “Una canción”: «Come on, woman! Bring some more rhum and fasten up your percale robe ‘cause I saw on the glass your naked heart shivering when you heard this song». The man uses a quite beautiful metaphor with a subtle erotism, almost imperceptible, and admits he saw her breasts and reached her soul.
The cases of absent-minded or mistaken souls are an excellent perfect end for this short essay. The first one is found in “Tres esperanzas” in which the character admits: «fool soul within me». And the second in “Che bandoneón”: «If the soul is offside». In both the soul is foolish or mistaken, outside the circumstances of the situation, out of focus. These metaphors, so crude, sarcastic but at the same time cheerful, are undoubtable evidences of the originality and the huge talent of two pillars of tango: Enrique Discépolo and Homero Manzi.
“Alma”, by Federico Scorticati and Juan Sarcione