Tani Zerja

Real name: López Sala, Soledad
(1909 - 18 November 1961)
Place of birth:
Valencia Spain
Ubaldo Tuqui Rodríguez

t is worthwhile to say that Tani Zerja, despite being a Spaniard, shares a spotlight in tango alongside our most remarkable female singers such as Mercedes Simone, Rosita Quiroga, Libertad Lamarque and Azucena Maizani.

Even though I have checked many enciclopaedias and books about tango and that I have also requested information to several Spanish libraries, I did not succeed in finding a biography about her. Tani’s figure is lost with the passing of time. Because of that, I will try, with the material I’ve got, to answer a question that many make: Who was Tani Zerja?

I guess that like Gloria Guzmán, Tania or Anita Palmero, Tani may not have avoided being called “Galleguita” here in Argentina. After looking at her photos I can assure that she fitted to the first stanza of the tango that bears lyrics by Alfredo Navarrine and music by Horacio Pettorossi:

Galleguita la divina,
la que a la playa Argentina
llegó una tarde de abril,
sin más prendas ni tesoros
que tus lindos ojos moros
y su cuerpito gentil.

(Little Galician, the divine
that on an April afternoon
reached an Argentine seashore
with nothing else but
her pretty Moorish eyes
and her little gentle body.)

We can have a look at two of her pictures. One in which she is dressed as a Spanish singer and another whichs shows her transvestited as a male tango singer.

In the first one, her face is quite peculiar. Below her thin eyebrows and eyelids with makeup, we are impressed by her round, clear eyes. She wears a Spanish costume and gold bangles on her wrist, much in vogue at that time.

She was a quite seductive woman and surely more than one guy may have fallen under the spell of her charms. In the foreword of the Álvaro Retana’s book Historia Del Arte Frívolo —about Spanish female singers— she is introduced as: «Tani Zerja: Valencian, performer of Andalusian songs».

The other photo, published in the El Tango De Moda magazine, shows her dressed as a man with hat, jacket, tie, and laced up shoes. Even though her pose is quite masculine, on the contrary her face evidences feminity through her eyes and her lips with lipstick.

I transcribe the description that the El Tango De Moda, magazine made of her in its number 54 published on October 12, 1929:

«On our front cover we publish today a real and positive value: Tani Zerja, the gentle Spanish artist who has learnt the canción criolla in Buenos Aires itself. She has achieved a very important showbusiness career and appeared to great and unanimous acclaim in the fatherland of Maizani, Gardel and other “aces” of the Argentine song.

«It’s been a year since the gentle doll Tani Zerja has returned from America and in this period she is known in Spain, where so many improvisations were staged with criollo performers, as one of the best singers devoted to the Argentine song. As anything that is worthwhile soon is known abroad, it is possible that Tani Zerja will travel to Mexico where they are offering her tempting proposals. Despite it is an honor for us, it is a pity because if the gentle artist decides to cross the sea, we shall be deprived of one of the most positive values of the canción criolla. J. M.»

Tani Zerja appears at the General Record Catalog of His Master’s Voice of January 1933 as soprano with guitar accompaniment by the Hermanos Ricardo under the heading “Cantos varios argentinos”. The numbers she recorded were the following:
Tango mío”, “Mejor no recordar” (José Ricardo), “Margaritas”, “Taconeando, “Malevaje”, “Hacelo por la vieja”, “Te odio”, “Rosas de otoño” (waltz).

I had found all the numbers through the Internet, something rather uncommon, because it is difficult to find songs performed by female singers of that time. These are found in the compact discs «Buenos Aires En Madrid, 1927-41» and «Soy Un Arlequín, Tango Ladies, 1923-47».

In an article of the Tango Reporter magazine, «De Buenos Aires a Madrid» written by Pat Robson and Bruce Bastin and translated by Carlos Groppa, she is presented as: «One of the greatest discoveries of recorded tango despite her antecedents are unknown». They say that she was at two recording sessions in the late 1931 with the Hermanos Ricardo and later she was again in the studios in the early 1932 with an orchestra that had never before played tango. They also say: «There is no information if there was any connection between Tani Zerja and the Hermanos Ricardo or if the latter chose her among the artists of the Gramófono studios...»

The Ricardo Brothers (José and Rafael) were already prestigious in the tango milieu. José had been Carlos Gardel’s guitarist.

Tani adds a special flavor to her tangos because her Spanish accent is not perceived when she uses many lunfardo words which she knew how to pronounce with a proper intonation and also knew their meaning. Her repertory includes numbers with a peculiar feature because they had been sung by performers such as Carlos Gardel, Rosita Quiroga or Azucena Maizani. If I had to mention one of our singers so as to define Tani’s style, my choice would be Rosita Montemar. Her singing is close to operatic singing (bel canto). Her merit is that she does not fake other female singers, she stamps her personal touch.

She also recorded the Spanish songs “Manolo Reyes” and “Coplas y flores [b]” around 1933. In the Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía we found a record by Tani Zerja. The data of the recording are: “Coplas y flores [b]” (pasodoble) / Raffles [lyrics] and Quiroga; “Manolo Reyes” (zambra) / R. de León, "Kola" [lyrics] and Quiroga. 1 lacquer disc: 78 rpm; 25 cm; Date. ca. 1933; Barcelona: Compañía del Gramófono La Voz de su Amo AE 3857 (green label) Performer: Tani Zerja.

It was customary that in the 20s many Spanish theater companies came to Argentina to stage different theatrical plays and they were succesful appearing to great public acclaim. Tani surely came to Argentina with one of those companies.

Tani’s figure in the theater is rescued by Carlos Marambio Catán in his book «60 Años De Tango: El tango que yo viví». He had been summoned by the Teatro O'Higgins of Valparaíso because the audience asked more tangos and in the play only two were sung: “Siga el corso” by Julia Alonso and “Fumando espero” by Tani Zerja.

About this, Marambio Catán recalls: «The company was comprised by actors like Gracidiano Batista, Lopecito, Tota and Marambio Catán... In the company there were two extraordinary interpreters of that genre: Julia Alonso and Tani Zerja. The first one used to shock me with her brilliant rendition of “Siga el corso”. And the other, a very young Spanish girl, who performed an Iberian tango, much in vogue at that time: “Fumando espero”, used to obtain a roaring and justified ovation. In fact, it was a tango tournament that the audience received with great pleasure».

The company appeared at several theaters in Antofagasta and Iquique. Later they went to Peru. They made their debut in Lima at the Teatro Forero, the main, the biggest and the most luxurious theater. The show appeared to not a great acclaim because they were accustomed to the Spanish revue and not to the French style. When the season ended, the company disbanded and Tani Zerja returned to Spain. It is important to appreciate the fact that she brought our music not only to Spain, but also to other places of America like Chile, Peru and Mexico.

I’ve chosen two songs, a tango and a Spanish song —“Tango mío” and “Coplas y flores [b]”—, to outline her persona.

Tango mío”, a number very deeply ours which was sung, among other female singers, by Azucena Maizani and Mercedes Carné. It tells about the identity of the porteño, of his feelings. It speaks about Corrientes Street as an emblem that represents the city of Buenos Aires. Tani interprets this tango with the same feeling as Azucena and Mercedes do. Maybe the material I mentioned above allows us to understand that she had lived in Argentina and was touched by tango. In her voice this tango has a nostalgic flavor. She sings it like a porteña.

“Coplas y flores [b]” is a typical Spanish tune. She is accompanied by castanets. She sings it with much joy and feeling because it belongs to her land. Spain is her fatherland.

Perhaps the rhythms are different, different words are used to express the same idea, and present us different experiences but these songs are loaded with elements that represent our identity. These pieces so close to our feelings have something in common for an Argentine or a Spaniard: they are sung by Tani from the deep of her soul, something very difficult to get at these times.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank Javier Barreiro, a tango researcher that gave me information and photographic material, and Jesús Jiménez Pelayo who allowed me to listen to Tani singing Spanish songs by means of the Centro de Documentación Musical de Andalucía.