Ricardo García Blaya

Notes on Arolas and his times

rolas was a great and mysterious artist, hard to be understood unless viewed in the historic and cultural context prevailing at the turn of the century.

No question he stands as a true evidence of the immigrant's vital role in the development of tango.

He was the most genuine representative of the belle époque romanticism and modernism, both for his creative genius and his life and death.

This short and plain description purports to bring the character back to the political and social atmosphere of that time, to better understand his skills and contradictions, his genius and self destructive personality.

As to the development experienced by the artist, readers should refer to the excellent works by Hector Ernié (La historia del tango Vol. 5, Ed. Corregidor) and Oscar Zucchi (El tango, el Bandoneón y sus intérpretes). I will only stress here his musical ductility which allowed Arolas to shift from the guitar to the bandoneon so easily and quickly.

Such passion between the instrument and the artist gave way not only to a superb player and composer but also a brilliant director who contributed impetus and brightness to other performances of that time. «He was like a lightning, a flash, a thunder moving an entire generation of excellent musicians that followed him». (Jorge Gottling, Clarín newspaper, September 29, 1994).

Indeed, Arolas was daring enough to introduce -with his bandoneon- things that still today are modern.

In 1890 Enrique Arola and Margarita Saury, with their son José Enrique, arrived in Buenos Aires from France. That year would not be just another year.

«In 1890 the country was bankrupt with people marching in the streets» (Ernesto Palacio, Historia de la Argentina).

That year experienced a series of successive events: a revolution, the resignation of a president and the birth of a political party called to represent the revolutionary and popular spirit of the time: the Unión Cívica.

A country of contradictions: a governance style based on an authoritarian and liberal model open to immigration and progress though with a fraudulent and corrupt system. In this environment, the Arola family settled in Barracas neighborhood, at Salta 3378 (today Vieytes 1048), and there was born, two years later, on February 24, the protagonist of this story.

The Arola family moved several times but never left Barracas neighborhood where the Kid from Barracas grew up. In those years the country underwent a covert civil war with violent demonstrations at times, such as the 1893 and 1905 revolutions.

However, the country was recovering from the economic crisis of the 1890s and a prosperous and more peaceful environment was envisioned until it finally set up in 1900 when President Roque Saenz Peña took office and the Universal Vote law was passed (1912).

In fact, the New Century celebrations and the newly born political reality encouraged a feeling of welfare and ease typical of the so called belle époque.

Argentina became the world's barn, the Unión Cívica Radical political party took power with Yrigoyen and tango succeeded everywhere.

Arolas had the tunes in his head, he was elegant and arrogant and that decade rewarded him only with joy. On January 17, 1913 he procured his identity card and changed his first and last name to Eduardo Arolas.

Just as Lorenzo came to be called Eduardo, the Kid from Barracas inadvertently came to be known as The Bandoneon Tiger.

These were the times of splendor during which his bohemian heart produced over a hundred compositions though only some thirty of them were recorded. He had already become the greatest composer of our local genre.

Tango began to get around Paris and the aristocratic youth flirted with borderline musicians and characters, with a world co-inhabited by "show offs" and "well offs".

The night life, women and roaming about cafes and brothels as well as the success, fame and an early adolescence led Arolas to believe that life was a never ending party.

None of this was a concern for him: the fall of Bismarck and the consequent preparation for war in Europe; the inexorable loss of spanish colonies and the demographic boom in Buenos Aires as thousands of men and women were being expelled from the old continent.

The flow of immigrants came to a halt in 1914 when WWI broke out as a consequence of Archduke Fernando's assassination in Sarajevo. Europe would then bleed for four years. After such conflagration, democratic governments strengthened in Western Europe and the soviets' revolution put an end to the Czars' empire in the East.

Arolas followed up European events with interest because as any other tango singer he wished to succeed in Paris too, where he finally went in 1920.

An unexpected event unleashed his romantic end: the woman he loved betrayed him with his own elder brother.

«A virile man with a far-fetched elegance, not loved by the woman he had chosen to live with. With her, he would have survived even hurricanes. Without her, a slight breeze could tear him apart» (José Narosky, Clarín newspaper, January 28, 1992).

Alcohol addiction, a licentious life and a dark event in Montevideo, where he ran into a child with his car, would be his end.

In his last trip to Paris, he was a broken man, with a sound economic position but defeated by alcohol and sadness. He died alone at the municipal hospital in Paris at the age of 32. His death certificate read tuberculosis but everybody knew that he had died of grief.

He died on September 29, 1924 under the administration of Marcelo T. de Alvear but his remains were brought into the country thirty years after, during General Perón´s second presidency.