Leopoldo Díaz Vélez tells us about his tangos
hen several years ago I interviewed Leopoldo Díaz Vélez the chat turned out so pleasant for me that it continued for several afternoons in his apartment on Malabia Street.
On one of those meetings he greeted me when his phone was ringing. I sat down and waited while I was able only to hear some murmuring sounds. He returned with his customary smile on his lips. —«Do you know who I talked with?»; —«I guess it’s a woman» —I replied—. —«But what a woman it’s the thing!». So was Leopoldo, a philanderer and a romantic. He told me that in SADAIC he had 420 numbers filed in the record and right away he said to me:
“Qué habrá sido de Lucía”: «I was always asked who Lucía was because people may have imagined a sort of strange affair I had. But it was nothing of the kind, it was something quite simple which brought me certain melancholy. I lived in the neighborhood of Belgrano and, at noon, I went to my job in the Post Office supply department. I used to travel on the 63 bus and everyday also a group of girls who had their jobs in the same area and lived in Flores or Caballito were in the bus too. Time later we used to say hello to each other and talked with all of them but especially with Lucía, a pretty fair-haired girl who attracted my attention. I told her that I used to sing and she told me that she liked tango. It was a romance of mine, a secret one, the romance of a commuter».
—But did she care for you? Did anything happen between you both?
«No, maybe I was not interesting for her, perhaps she didn’t like a flirt with a tango singer».
—Did she tell you anything? Was there any other mood of conversation?
«No, one day she stopped coming. Not even her job-mates knew the reason. I don’t think it was my fault because I never told her anything. I used to get off on Rivadavia and Azul and a girl named Cacciatore got down with me. She was on the bus some more blocks. Several times we asked ourselves: «¿Qué habrá sido de Lucía?» (What may have happened to Lucía?) The phrase haunted me and then the tango came. Alberto Marino achieved a good rendition, José Basso recorded it with Carlos Rossi on vocals, Rubén Juárez and others more also sang it. Ah! Now I remember, I wrote it in 1947».
—Was there any tango number that stood out for being more successful than the others?
«Fortunately, there were several hits, but they are not all part of my life, all of a sudden any trivial event made me dream and a new lyric was born. I had a short nice relationship with a woman but I used to misbehave and when women realize it they forsake you. Something special happened to me after we broke up because I began to wonder who the man was that would be going out with her. And then it occurred to me: «¿Quién tiene tu amor?» (Who’s got your love?) The music is also mine and it was a boom because it was recorded on different beats. The melody was suitable for boleros and the like. At the Confitería Richmond, on Suipacha Street, I made Elsa Rivas hear it. She liked it and she brought it to Alejandro Romay on TV channel 9 and the latter passed it to Leopoldo Federico who was the leader of the staff orchestra. He premiered it at the Richmond and later he recorded it. But it was widespread when the Alfredo De Angelis orchestra committed it to record.
«I lived round the corner on Lavalle Street and, one afternoon, Argentino Ledesma chased me next to my door asking me a copy of the sheet music because he could not believe I had none. Some days later I got one for him. Unfortunately, there were difficulties with the record label and he was unable to record it. Thereafter, some Bolivian men came to see me and they wanted the tango sung by Ledesma because in their country the piece was a hit and they wanted to release it on the other side of Néstor Porto Carrero’s “Illimani”, a tango that mentions the famous hill. El Negro got notice of it and, with Jorge Dragone, tried to persuade those gentlemen to pick up another tango that sold well and that was already recorded. But they were only emissaries. They called the boss of the Bolivian label and it was no way. It had to be “Quién tiene tu amor” or no other. I got out of the matter. Later I came to know that they wanted ten thousand copies. I guess that Ledesma and Dragone had to run as fast as their legs would allow them to get to the recording company as soon as possible. They recorded it and surely they might have got their reward».
—If we are led by the title we might think that there is a connection with “Entre tu amor y mi amor” (Between my love and your love).
«Yes, it has a similar style to the other one, but it’s pure fancy in this case. The music belongs to Juan Pomati who was also an excellent music copyist sought after by all the orchestra leaders and, therefore, was in a good relationship with all of them, for example: Héctor Varela, De Angelis, Francisco Rotundo, among others. That allowed us to make them hear the new numbers and see if they were interested in them. I liked the rendition made by Armando Laborde with Héctor Varela. Pomati was bandoneon player of Tití Rossi for a long time. Another good copyist was Orestes Zungri. By that time the copyists were very important, there were no photocopiers and when a new number had to be included in a repertoire you eagerly had to wait for the work of the copyist. From the original score they copied a part for each musician».
—Another woman’s name appears in “Si es mujer ponele Rosa” (If it turns out to be a woman, name her Rosa) .
«Yes, but this is very tender. The idea came out on an August 30, Santa Rosa de Lima’s day. A sister-in-law of mine was staying at my place in order to be close to the maternity hospital because the time of giving birth was near. When in the early morning her labor pains began I took her to the Hospital Rivadavia. There were some preparations until the nurse that would carry her to her room arrived. I was leaving, but before tresspassing the door this phrase came to my mind: «Si es mujer, ponele Rosa». Then all of a sudden both started to laugh. Back on the street I left surprised by the reaction of both women. Then some lines began to haunt me with a milonga beat. Finally, it came out and the rendition recorded by Ángel Vargas was very good».
—Leopoldo, one more and for today we’ll stop. The one you choose.
«It can be the first number of mine that was recorded. It has its story. It is “Muchachos comienza la ronda”. But, in fact, my first tango was “Hoy quiero vivir” —for the carnival balls of 1937—, with music by Lalo Benítez, later pianist of Alfredo Gobbi. With him we put together an orchestra to take advantage of those balls and make some bucks. We appeared —I was featured as singer— at the Club Atlético Pilar, at that city and there we premiered it but it was not recorded. I had not even dreamed of being a lyricist but I began to write them and so “Muchachos se armó la milonga” was born. It was sung by Alberto Castillo with Ricardo Tanturi when they appeared at the Palermo Palace. On a section the singer says «Oiga que lindo compás/ aquí en el baile del lengue/ se baila canyengue…», but that belonged to the original lyrics which had lunfardo words which were banned by the authorities. It was the time when the rulers had the intention of teaching the people to speak well. They may be sung at dancehalls but not on the radio or committed to record. So I modified its words and its title and it became my first recorded tango. It was meant for Lucio Demare with Raúl Berón but Osvaldo Pugliese asked him permission to cut it first. Lucio granted him the right and was recorded for the Odeon Company. But it was not allowed that two orchestras would record the same piece for the same label. A little time before Ricardo Tanturi with Enrique Campos had recorded it for the Victor company. It was on August 6, 1943 and here there was a happy coincidence: that same evening it was premiered on Radio El Mundo, on my mother’s birthday. Another rendering, the one by Pugliese took place on the radio some days later, on the 27. The music was written by Luis Porcell, in fact, Porcellana was his surname. He was bandoneon player of the Carlos Di Sarli orchestra, among others».
—One more thing, Leopoldo, what about that plagiarism by Joan Manuel Serrat with “Fiesta” from “La milonga y yo”?
«Cute little boy! —he pinched my cheek—, we’ll leave that for the next time».