Oscar Del Priore
| Irene Amuchástegui

Bandoneón arrabalero - Story of the tango “Bandoneón arrabalero”

achicha was one of the pioneers of tango in Paris. He had played in the Roberto Firpo Orchestra in Buenos Aires, and in 1922 he traveled to Spain as member of the theater company led by Enrique Muiño and Elías Alippi. Soon later he went to Paris with a tango orchestra he had put together with the violinist Eduardo Bianco. This orchestra became widely known. Bachicha’s name was, in fact, Juan Bautista Deambrogio. He was from the neighborhood of La Boca and he swapped his profession of bandoneon player with another in which a bellows, but of a different kind, was as well used: he was a blacksmith.

When the Bianco-Bachicha Orchestra disbanded, while the former became a sort of Marco Polo for tango, Bachicha stayed in Montparnasse. Some times he returned to Buenos Aires, but briefly, because his world in Paris called him. His sons, musicians as well, played with him. He died in Paris on November 28, 1963, still in activity, since he was playing with his orchestra in La Coupole. He composed many tangos, such as “Buena pinta”, “Renacimiento”, “Avellaneda”, “Montparnasse”, “Oración”, and “Quebracho”. But the one that is most remembered is “Bandoneón arrabalero”.

According to what Enrique Cadícamo says in La historia del tango en París, this piece is not Bachicha’s but Horacio Pettorossi’s. This is Cadícamo’s story: «After a year of playing in the Bianco-Bachicha Orchestra (1925), Pettorossi made a deal, not quite advisable for composers, with the latter leader. The young guitarist was an inspired tango composer and one night nearing dawn, when the habitués had already left and the Palermo was beginning to clean the tables and to close its doors, he waited until his fellow musicians had finally packed their instruments and started to leave the venue to ask the nice Bachicha to listen to a tango he had recently composed. Bachicha, exhausted after playing for hours, pleasantly agreed to hear him. The composer began to play on his guitar a tune of inspired melodic line that caused a sincere admiration in his listener. When he finished playing, Pettorossi asked him:
—What do you think of it?...
—Very inspired. Congratulations!... —answered Bachicha yawning to make him understand that it was time to go to bed—. But Pettorossi suddenly answered:
—A thousand francs...
—What?... asked Bachicha surprised.
—I sell it to you... It’s now or never... —said the guitarist with a smile.

«Bachicha thinking he was helping the bohemian composer in a difficult situation showed the one thousand francs and, paying no great attention to the loan, offered them gently. But the guitarist, knowing he was not one of those with good memory to pay debts, he rejected the offer and said inflexibly:
—No debts... Bring me the thousand...

«With that sum of money, the piece “Bandoneón arrabalero”, such was its title, changed its owner. The deal was over. During Pascual Contursi’s stay in Paris, Bachicha asked him to write lyrics to its music and then the tango piece was ready to be published».

Up to this point we have Enrique Cadícamo’s story. But let us say now that Contursi, the creator of tango song with the sentimental features that we today know, had traveled to Paris in 1921 and later returned in 1927, surely the time of the story told even though Cadícamo places it two years before. The tango poet was mentally ill because of a syphilis (he came back to Buenos Aires in 1930 and was in hospital until his death). In Paris the symptoms of his madness worsened, increased by his excesses in drinking and the lack of affectionate and medical care. He used to seclude himself in his hotel with a toy model theater, and cutting silhouettes from magazines, he imagined new theater plays. One cold snowy evening he visited his friends with a fashionable summer costume: a palm beach. In Paris leaving behind his last successful lines, those of "Bandoneón arrabalero", he was sent on a ship to Buenos Aires but he was unaware that he was coming back home.

Paris returned to us the creator of tango song wrapped up in the dark shadows of madness. "Bandoneón arrabalero" was one of the hits in Paris of the Bianco-Bachicha Orchestra. The latter leader, the one who appeared as its composer, had a nice gesture: he dedicated the tango «to the well-known composer and best friend Horacio G. Pettorossi».

This tango was recorded in memorable renditions. In Europe, the Bianco-Bachicha Orchestra released it with José Cohan on vocals and, among the recordings made near the time of its premiere, we shall mention Francisco Canaro's with Charlo on vocals, Carlos Gardel's with his guitarists and the one cut by the Trío Argentino Irusta-Fugazot-Demare, with Fugazot on vocals. In later times it was committed to record, among others, by Roberto Goyeneche with Aníbal Troilo and later with Baffa-Berlingieri, Ángel Vargas with the Eduardo Del Piano Orchestra, Agustín Irusta, Floreal Ruiz with Francisco Rotundo, Libertad Lamarque, Nelly Vázquez with the Astor Piazzolla Quintet and Edmundo Rivero with Horacio Salgán.

Milva cut in Italy a curious rendering with Italian lyrics written by Bertini and with another story: a singer bandoneonist that used to play in a public square, later died and his bandoneon was left in the square. Osvaldo Pugliese and Raúl Garello recorded wonderful instrumental versions.

Excerpted from the book Cien tangos fundamentales, by Oscar del Priore and Irene Amuchástegui, Aguilar, Buenos Aires 1998.