Caminito Tango
Silencio Tango
Yira yira Tango
Nicolás Kingman

10. That wicked tango

n the captive Quito of yore, a city with narrow and limited boundaries, with taciturn steep streets, senile bell towers, houses with bent balconies and deep doorways from where —among prayers— the ghost echoes of the past oozed. In that drowsy and nostalgic, foggy city, to which, always delayed, news about world events arrived by mail or by cable; also fashions (like the boyish hairdo and short skirts in women or Oxford trousers and no-hattism in men), not to disquiet zealous churchgoers and to avoid excommunications, appeared when in other latitudes (according to versions brought by brave travelers) were considered already ancient and had long ago been replaced.

A similar thing happened with the music born in the entrails of distant and different nations. Late came to us zarzuela, cuplé and bolero, just like one-step, foxtrot and charleston. But, oh! Ancestral spirits of the jubilant soul of the peoples, they fortunately arrived when they were still in vogue.

Tango («that wicked tango, for distressed spirits») arrived at our tropical beaches to get along well with pasillo and very soon climbed to these Andean altitudes. It seems that this happened (according to testimonies of night walking chroniclers of that time) in the early 20s when it, as experienced world traveler, had already conquered Paris and embarked into risky adventures in faraway lands of the globe. What shows that in its daring route it did not forget us, having come to us initially modest, parvo and abridged on discs played back by aphonic gramophones with crank, spring and horn, on whose box the picture of a gentle dog could be seen carefully listening to «his master's voice».

That was the first. Later, strolling comic players —wandering actors— on appearing at theaters so humble as La Puerta del sol or the Popular, danced and sang tangos arrabaleros, (included in their repertories as a concession), succeeding in moving nearly to paroxysm those in the gallery who demanded by shouting its reprise, So, unpretentiously, tango in its early stage was making itself be known among us, spreading without hesitations among common people who lacking big shows and amusement —adopted it like a prodigal son—, getting ahead of the haughty great gentlemen of the bourgeoisie (as in Buenos Aires happened) who after many hesitations and only to be in harmony with Paris fashion, accepted it to surreptitiously introduce it into their exclusive clubs and elegant salons.

By that time and when it was necessary a long two-day trip on a thirsty train which stopped for water every twenty or thirty kilometers to arrive at Quito; at the times of la tranvía (streetcar) , of the early snoring Fords, when the bell toll from matins to dusk, established the parsimonious rhythm of its inhabitants; by then, at city squares and parks, badly dressed appeared, three guitarists and singers (born blind) who managed to attract crowds with their tangos.

They were satisfied with the contributions of those who listened, but their songs were so touching, so tender and pathetic were the dramas told in them, that for many members of the audience it was impossible to hide their tears. The night cover sheltering the neighborhood, the bitter outskirts stuck into life like the condemnation of a curse, the malevolent tough guy with insolent look, that ugly little gal doing her best so that the world would not see her, the street barrell organ at twilight, the meager woman dressed like a teenager, 348 Corrientes street without either janitors or neighbors; and finalyy, a complete blend of characters and a poetic description of Buenos Aires landscapes and neighborhoods, were the subjects of those moving songs which left a deep mark in the popular soul. But one day....

A zealous police superintendent, after careful investigations, discovered that those singers were not blind and by pretending to be so —he reported— they had badly cheated the Quito naive public, enough reason to punish them by not allowing their stumbling wanderings with no blindmen's guide and, especially, singing again.

That was only a picturesque and passing incident in the charming and, from «those days», active and lasting life of tango on this Ecuadorean land. Agustín Magaldi was already devotedly heard thanks to the selections which arrived here, when the trio formed by Irusta, Fugazot and Demare appeared at the Teatro Sucre, beating all the cashbox records. Soon we would listen to Carlitos Gardel and with him many unforgettable tango songs such as “La cumparsita”, “Yira yira”, “Caminito”, “Silencio”, “Lo han visto con otra”, “Anclao en París” and “Esta noche me emborracho”... (Tonight I'll get drunk) even though it were “La última copa” (The last drink).

Why speaking of the sad day when we knew of Gardel's death. It happened when we were anxiously waiting for him to see him in person to express our admiration. Why going further with that painful memory?. What for, when we very well know that his death is but a legend, because every moment Gardel is with us giving us his voice, his soul and his tangos.

Nicolás Kingman: He was born in Loja in 1918. His first book appeared in 1978 with a foreword by Benjamín Carrión, after a long career as publicity agent and journalist in different broadcasting media in Ecuador. This first literary evidence was a collection of stories titled Comida para locos. His second book Dioses, semidioses y astronautas was awarded, in 1982, the Primer Premio Nacional granted by the Quito City Hall. Novoa Arízaga says that «there is a breath of harmless humor, as a constant of a novel which because of its originality is ready to fight for its place in Ecuador literary panorama». Kingman at present holds the direction of Quito newspaper La Hora.