Alina De Silva

Real name: Lestonnat Cavenecia, Alina
Singer and actress
(16 March 1898 - 13 April 1972)
Place of birth:
La Punta (Callao) Peru
Ubaldo Tuqui Rodríguez

discovered her thanks to a friend that sent me to listen to “Ilusión”, a tango with lyrics and music by Manuel Pizarro, and with it not only I managed to recognize an excellent female singer with a very good voice, but also a woman that transmits his feelings in the purest state.

In Alina there is no mystery. She appears just like she is, in essence, tango, and makes the listener pay attention to that confession, by listening wisely to her words, so that in the recording her voice displaces the orchestra that nicely accompanies her to a second level.

She was born in La Punta (Callao, Peru) and died in Lima. His father, of French origin, Carlos Oscar Lestonnat, was member of the French Navy and her mother, of Italian origin, Emilia Armanda Tomasa Cavenecia, a housekeeper.

Who could have doubts that this brunette, with white skin and dark eyes, with her gaucho costume and a neckerchief, was not Argentine if what she sang evidenced a passion for our genre? She sang “Mi Buenos Aires querido”, “La canción de Buenos Aires”, “Adiós Argentina” or “Caminito” with the same conviction in her interpretation as Azucena Maizani and Carlos Gardel himself did.

The origin of her name —«from a far distant land»— would mark her path, one of arriving and making each place her own. We can find Alina with other names, like Alicia or Alma, in the press at different promotions of her shows, names that are connected and that have the same meaning.

Alina –according to information contributed by her granddaughter- arrived in Paris around 1925 together with her husband, the Peruvian musician Alfonso de Silva, and his orchestra. And there she lived for around 15 years.

Not only did she sing tangos. In the 30s she devoted also to spread Peruvian scenes with street cries of Lima collected by Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, when she toured Spain and the north of Africa.

She was an outstanding figure —«La estrella del tango»— in the orchestra fronted by Manuel Pizarro. A vedette of popular song in Paris, as such was described in a note in the Revista Mundo Gráfico, Nº 812, of May 25, 1927 under the heading: «The sweet poison of tango, Pizarro, the bandoneon wizard».

The different papers of the period presented her as: «The great female criollo singer», «The most popular and most beautiful Argentine female singer», «The Argentine Alina de Silva, with her never-ending hits in her criollo creations». «The main attraction: the singer Alina de Silva, unique in her genre», «The best stylist of Argentine tango». «Creation of the beautiful great criollo artist Alina de Silva».

In Paris other female singers performing our tangos were succeeding. They were unknown for many people and they were singers such as Emilia García, Sarita Watle, Teresita Asprella, Sofía Bozán, Rosita Barrios, Gracia del Río and Eva del Erso.

She was on the front cover of the magazine La Rampe Nº 507, on December 1, 1929: «Alina da Silva, the music-hall star that now succeeds at the Palace». The photo of the Pizarro orchestra was on the front cover of many sheet music copies and on them Alina was seen with a challenging gesture with her hands on her waist and dressed as a gaucho.

After the Alina’s success, comments Enrique Cadicamo —in his book History of tango in Paris— Pizarro included two female singers, Eva del Erso (known later as Blanca Negri) and the Spanish vedette Gracia del Río, in his aggregation.

The Parisian sheet music copies show her appearances in great theaters and cabarets. They display a woman with a very special beauty: “A media luz” (Un tango d´amour), “La muchacha de circo” (La gamine du cirque tango). The boom of the Palace and Empire theaters, “Mama yo quiero un novio” (Maman, je veux un amoureux). They were all published by Julio Garzón Editeur.

She was together with Gardel, the star of the cabaret El Garrón and they both recorded “Una noche en El Garrón”, a tango that was a hit in the mid- 20s.

She was vedette singer in a revue at the Cabaret Moulin Rouge of Paris in 1929. She appeared at different theaters of Spain, among them, the Maravillas and the cabaret Maipú Pigalle stood out.

She was starred in four short movies for the Pathé label: Je t'adore mais porquoi in 1930; Paris Music Hall, 1933; La crise est finie in 1934 and Fort Dolores in 1938. On the French television she appeared alongside Maurice Chevalier, La Mistanguette, Charles Trenet and Josephine Baker.

In 1939 she returned to Lima where she appeared on radio and theater. In different sheet music copies of Peruvian songs we find her image and her name: “La Chichera”, estampa limeña with lyrics and music by Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales and “Tus ojitos”, a vals criollo of the old trend. She appeared as female singer on Radio Nacional of Peru in 1944.

By the end of her life she devoted herself to art, to make religious images and profane figures, altarpieces, virgins, harlequins, angels and medieval maidens. We can see that Alina is a learned woman, lover of music and poetry, that in Paris supported several Peruvian poets that were enrolled in the surrealist stream of which she is also part in an indirect way by showing reality through her emotions without obeying a special pattern.

Alina allows us to discover in her repertoire different kinds of tangos: sentimental, country style, comic, from the outskirsts and rough, to which she adjusts herself easily. As she was accustomed to work with orchestras she adapts herself to singing as a duo or with choirs. Furthermore, she shows us —in her different interpretations— the command of lunfardo, words that belong to our jargon that she —despite she was Peruvian— knows how to give them the true sense and value. According to Manuel Pizarro, in his orchestra they knew how to nurture her with tango knowledge.

The writer Javier Barreiro makes a precise description of her as singer: «In the singing of Alina de Silva is sensed her solid musical training. And her gift for learning because when Manuel Pizarro showed her the way of singing tango she easily crossed the line between the educated vocalization of conservatory and the self-confidence with which the tango of this time has to be sung. Self-confidence is one of the features that best outlines the singing of Alina».

From her wide songbook we can mention: “Cachito”, “Ilusión”, “Mano a mano”, “Ida y vuelta”, “Pobre paica”, “Araca corazón”, “Pobre pato”, “Malevaje”, “Ventanita florida”, “Añorando”, “Garufa”, “Confesión”, “Pero el día que me quieras”, “El aguacero”, “No te engañes corazón”, “Dónde estás corazón”, “Piedad”, “Yira yira”, among others.

She also sang Cuban songs and rhumbas: “La cucaracha”, “Negra consentida” and “Adiós mi chaparrita”.

Alina and her husband had a passion for music. Alfonso was a great figure of the Peruvian classical and popular music: a virtuoso violinist and pianist. Both were very sensitive people and evidenced it through their art.

Her eyes are a constant source of inspiration, the ones that allowed her to see success and read and interpret tangos, casting a true spell not only on her husband, but also on the audience that admired her. Alfonso de Silva wrote for her the tango “Tus ojos”, and its lines are as follows:

Tus ojos que contemplo con delirio
es a ellos que yo adoro con empeño.
Tienen la suavidad de tus caricias
y la dulce mirada del ensueño, ¡ay!
Y la dulce mirada del ensueño.

(Your eyes that I gaze at with passion
I adore them with great determination.
They have the softness of your caress
And the sweet look of a daydream. Ay!
And the sweet look of a daydream.)

(Editions Costallat. Lucien de la Cour, Editeur, 1929)

She was regarded as «the most popular and most beautiful Argentine female singer». Today it turns out difficult to measure what her figure meant for tango in Paris and in Europe. I think we have to place her in a special position in the history of Argentine tango for having made it her own and for the widespread fame she contributed. Her tangos bring us back a frank glance of life, the same that she succeeded in conveying through her dark and profound eyes.

Version specially excerpted for Todo Tango.

Acknowledgements: To Carlos Picchio that allowed me to discover her through the tango “Ilusión” together with other tangos and pertaining material, to her granddaughter Alina Abril de Vivero who contributed with graphic material and with whom I checked her biographical data, and to Javier Barreiro for his concepts about her.