by Julio Nudler
Poet and lyricist
(November 1st, 1907 - May 3, 1951)
Family Name: Homero Nicolás Manzione
anzi has given, like no one else, poetry to tango lyrics. He was a poet who never published a book of poems. His poetry was evidenced only through songs, from country themes to urban music, the latter where he would be at his best. In this way he became immensely popular without giving up his poet feelings. He resorted to metaphors, even surrealist, but never so much as to prevent ordinary people from fully understanding his message. He never used "lunfardo" (Buenos Aires slang or argot) in his literary pieces, although his work was very much addressed to a popular audience. Unlike other great authors, his lyrics are not chronicles of the social reality nor do they convey moral messages. Longing and nostalgia are often present in his verses as in tango itself. Through them, Manzi depicts people and things with tenderness and sympathy. The poor -suburban- neighborhood is his great stage. His tango "Sur", 1948, with music written by the bandoneon player Anibal Troilo, possibly the most superb work in the genre in that glamorous decade, summarizes the essence of his work.
Homero Nicolás Manzione, as he was truly named, was born to an Uruguayan mother and Argentine father (as tango itself) in Añatuya, a railway junction in the Province of Santiago del Estero, a virtually desert province in the North East region of Argentina, on November 1, 1907. There his father tried to make a living as a modest farm owner. At the age of 7, Homero had already moved to Buenos Aires to start his studies at Colegio Luppi, a school in the humble and distant Pompeya district. Each component in that landscape -from the long wall along which he walked on his way to school to the railway embankment, as if a magic combination of city and pampa- would be caught in his lyrics to come, such as those of "Barrio de tango" (1942) and "Sur".
The waltz "¿Por qué no me besas?", 1921, was his first and later forgotten piece, with music written by Francisco Caso who -years later- would introduce Manzi to Troilo. That would be one of the most brilliant couples of tango authors. The early death of the poet, beaten by cancer on May 3, 1951, was mourned by Troilo in "Responso", a touching instrumental tango. That great musician and a Manzi in agony would pay tribute to another outstanding lyricist: Enrique Santos Discepolo in another remarkable tango: "Discepolín". Discepolo would die of a heart attack before the end of that year.
A decisive contribution by Manzi to the Río de la Plata music was his updating and enriching of the "milonga", a genre that shares its origin with tango. Together with the pianist Sebastián Piana, he wrote great classics such as "Milonga sentimental", "Milonga del 900", and "Milonga triste". Piana and Manzi wrote, furthermore, remarkable tangos such as "El pescante" and "De barro" and a waltz particularly beautiful: "Paisaje", not to mention "Viejo ciego" whose melody notes -following the poem- were written by Piana and Cátulo Castillo.
Another particular aspect of Manzi's works was his mimesis with the romantic fever caught by the tango in the 40s, to which he contributed valuable pieces such as "Fruta amarga", "Torrente", "Después", "Ninguna" or "Fuimos". The latter, written together with the inspired bandoneon player José Dames, is a poem with extremely daring images ("I was like a rain of ashes and fatigue /in the resigned hours of your life ...") considering that it was a popular song; however, "Fuimos" would charm both public and interpreters, remaining as a paradigm of the elaborated and aesthetically ambitious tango.
Manzi's rich and extensive production includes at least a number of outstanding tangos, mainly for their quality: "Abandono" with Pedro Maffia; "Malena"; "Solamente ella"; "Mañana zarpa un barco"; and "Tal vez será mi alcohol" (title that censhorship would require to change to "Tal vez será su voz") with Lucio Demare; "Recién" with Osvaldo Pugliese; "En un rincón", with Héctor María Artola; "Fueye", with singer Charlo; "Manoblanca" based on an old piece by Antonio De Bassi; the waltz "Romántica", with Félix Lipesker and "Romance de barrio", with Troilo, and particularly, two decisive tangos; "El último organito" with his son Acho, and "Che, bandonéon", with Troilo.
His short 44 years were also enough for him to indulge in journalism and teaching, to take active part in films and get strongly involved in trade unions and politics, that ended up with his enrolment in the political party led by Juan Domingo Perón. Tango lyrics were, however, his true medium, and they are what keep him alive.