José María Otero

rom time to time tango needs a touch of make-up to include new numbers in the repertoire, to be updated, to conquer new audiences and to keep itself in vogue. Heterogeneous yeast of all the peoples of the world, María Isolina Godard, María Luisa Carnelli or Maruja Pacheco Huergo were pioneers in treading on the male territory of the Buenos Aires song.

Other women dared to act as carrier pigeons and behind the talented Eladia Blázquez and her strength a female crowd gathered in clusters, putting aside standard patterns, are shaping the new idioms that populate the city and its strange topography. These poetesses and female composers walk along the darkened streets that once were luminous and with trees, and take out of them the new sounds, the poems that reveal secret, intimate stories of that territory intrinsically belonging to Buenos Aires.

Others come from other musical environments, with different experiences like Carmen Guzmán, singer, songwriter, composer and a high level guitarist from Mendoza. Daughter of musicians and singers, she began her music studies at age 7 and appeared at concerts of classical music when she was an eight-year-old girl. By age 14 she graduated as guitar teacher.

Born in a land well-known for its sunny days, its snowy mountains and good wines, she learnt from her brother (composer, musician and singer of Los Trovadores de Cuyo) the basic elements of accompaniment before the latter’s untimely death. She started her romance with tango in 1944 by appearing at a talent contest. In the 50s for the first time she was awarded as composer for her tango “Y ya no estás” and was signed for 6 months on the radio.

Like the generous ditches that irrigate her city, Mendoza flooded our country with balladeers, singers, folk singers, musicians and poets. The always reluctant Buenos Aires had already been conquered by people like La Tropilla de Huachi Pampa, Antonio Tormo, Félix Palorma, Alfredo Pelaia, Montbrum Ocampo, like now Carmen Guzmán, Tito Francia, Tilín Orozco, Fernando Barrientos, Tuti Vega, Gabriel Correa or the bandoneon player Rodolfo Zanetti do.

In 1963 the Manifest of the New Song (Manifiesto del Nuevo Cancionero) was launched from that province. It was originated in a letter from Mercedes Sosa and her husband Oscar Matus to Armando Tejada Gómez. It said that: «The New Song intends to find the integration of popular music with the diversity of regional expressions of our country in the creative richness of the Argentine songwriters and players. That way it is expected to purge the musical heritage, either of folk or popular origin, of conventionalisms and traditional taboos».

Those who adhered to it throughout our country were then criticized and even persecuted under the accusation of being communists or Peronists, despite the adherents expressed themselves only in aesthetic terms. The musicians of the Cuyo region had a musical training rather unusual. They never lost sight of the rhythmic identity, and not only did they not stray away from the landscape but they included Man in it, with his work and his dreams. Standing firmly on poets like Tejada Gómez or musicians like Tito Francia, among others, the manifest was spread throughout all Latin America, and Silvio Rodríguez himself affirms that the Nueva Trova in Cuba was inspired in movement of Mendoza.

It’s worthwhile to remember that Tejada Gómez wrote songs with Carmen. She cut her first record for Philips in 1958 and settled in Buenos Aires three years later. Married to a brilliant musician, Pedro Belisario Pérez —now dead—, she shared love and a huge number of compositions crafted in partnership, with the lifting imposed by modern times and the talent of both in an aesthetic blending. She appeared alongside greats like Aníbal Troilo, Roberto Goyeneche, Enrique Francini, Mercedes Simone, Astor Piazzolla, Lucio Demare, at a venue on Cangallo and Libertad. «That time was beautiful. I recall that Piazzolla used to tell me: «Come on, Brownie, pick up your guitar and sing to me a milonga...». With Osvaldo Berlingieri she recorded her song “Porque vas a venir” with words by Mandy (Amanda Velazco).

That bohemian substratum no longer exits, annihilated by materialist globalisation and now the message transmits other realities. Her creation of the milonga brings to mind scents of the wild pampas and the beat of paving stones carved by time. It’s a landscape different to the one described by Homero Manzi, Enrique Cadícamo or Sebastián Piana, but the feeling is the same. Carmen handles a repertory of striking generic nobleness, with the delicate and humble accompaniment of her guitar and her musical syncopation. Her voice charged with melancholy faithfully conveys the nuances of our folk songs, especially the milonga, with remarkable shyness and delicacy.

In 1985, with “Siga cantando nomás”, she won the first prize of the «Certamen Gardel de la canción», remembering the 50th anniversary of El Zorzal’s death. The members of the board were: Héctor Stamponi, Oscar Cardozo Ocampo and Homero Expósito. The lyrics were written by Héctor Negro. Carmen’s compositions are included as material to be studied in guitar courses. Susana Rinaldi sang her pieces abroad, for example the widely acclaimed “De Buenos Aires morena”. Precisely, La Tana perfectly defines her: «This teacher, composer, singer, I mean, this artist, allows the whole songbook to improve its importance and raison d’être...»

Always surrounded by luminous poets like the above mentioned Negro (she wrote over 20 numbers with him), Tejada Gómez, Cardozo Ocampo, Alberto Oviedo, Mandy (Amanda Velazco), Hamlet Lima Quintana, Mario Clavell, Teresa Parodi, Raimundo Rosales or María del Mar Estrella she has built on the music staff a fertile iconography which rhythmically forges numbers like: “Harina y pan”, “Patente de aprendiz”, “La magia de la lluvia”, “Cuatro pasos” (her own lyrics), “Milonga por tantas cosas”, “Decime cómo está”, “Palabras finales” (with Mirian Penela), “Milonga de andar con alas”, “Andar de a pie”, “Cuando uno canta”, “Los artistas”, “Soy de un lugar”, “Porque vas a venir”, heading towards allegory and summarizing an exemplary career of almost 60 years.

In 1993 she won the contest “Homenaje a Yupanqui” with her milonga “Guitarra desolada” with lyrics by Julio Fontana. And she is still there with her guitar dripping a time of haste and anguish, softening the declining life quality with her songs, recreating a habitat, blending refined art with popular craft in the texture of her musical melody. For some reason Eladia Blázquez says about her: «She is an exquisite composer, a ductile performer, an excellent guitar player that plays with a facility as very few women have managed to do».

Lucid surveyor of that vast field which is popular song she continues giving birth to new musical children through her guitar and the music staff, without abandoning the ideals that brought her to Buenos Aires, with a hope alive and alert, and with irreproachable professional ethics.

She knows that musical instruments have no limits and she keeps on studying daily so as to be able to build those magic minstrelsies which spring up from her guitar strings. Despite all her achievements she is almost unknown. Once again the unfair fate maybe will make her oeuvre achieve all the value it has just when her name enters the pantheon of the beloved names which the finger of Death has touched.

Published in the GILDA magazine. Women in tango. Madrid, December 2003.