Luis Adolfo Sierra

ango poetry, which is probably the only popular musical manifestation of our time with lyrics formally reasoned, has its precise and unavoidable rules, from which it is not possible to step aside without the risk of incurring in lack of authenticity or adulteration of its definite and unmistakable character. Such rules constitute a temperamental sensitivity and a thematic approach inalienably typical of the River Plate tango.

We are not talking, of course, of strict laws conventionally established, which will grant characteristic features to the poetic creation of tango. The lyrics enclose brief stories in verse, preferably sentimental, nostalgic or evocative, within a typically national environmental frame. Sometimes even, picaresque or laughingly humorous.

But originally structured to be coupled to the music of tango. And to no other popular musical genre different from tango. Because inversely, when a standard poetic composition, of those which indistinctly fit into any popular musical genre without identifying any one, is intended to be adapted to tango music, we plainly find that the intended tango is not tango any longer. Hence, then, that the classic poetical repertoires of tango with lyrics, which reached wide acclaim between the twenties and the forties keep on prevailing with unaltered permanence.

Before so peculiar and rigorous poetic precepts as the abovementioned, there is nothing better than accepting that the authentic creators of literary composition in tango are but a few. Of course, much fewer are the fundamental names in poetry than those in music.

Let us see that such formal orthodoxy that the rules before mentioned seemed to impose, admits the natural renewal of ways of expression and of conceptual approaches with projections of unquestionable literary level. That is to say that the treatment of a permanent and immovable thematic choice —nostalgia in first place, the resigned reflection to failure or disappointment, the heart-rending attitude tinted of serene skepticism— which is substantial premise, opens definite esthetic perspectives in the poetic dimension of tango lyrics. And for that search of a versification more literarily refined, successfully followed José González Castillo, Enrique Cadícamo, Francisco García Jiménez, Héctor Pedro Blomberg, Cátulo Castillo, Homero Manzi and José María Contursi. And that process of poetical development of tango, according to our point of view, culminates with Homero Expósito. The most original, the most important and the most representative of the poets in tango, since the brilliant generation of the 40s. And forever.

Homero Expósito directed his literary inventiveness devoted to popular song, towards the confluence of two temperamentally opposed, but equally admirable poetic attitudes: Homero Manzi's nostalgic and evocative romanticism, and Enrique Santos Discépolo's grotesque sarcastic dramatism. Of so subtle stylistic and thematic combination Expósito, unintentionally, managed to define a novel and very original modality of interpretation for the lyric of tango.

Always in search for a greater poetic dimension, he brought a novel formal innovation of expression, making use with singular dexterity of the free verse technique. And furthermore achieving conceptual approaches of remarkable literary imagination. But, invariably it has been said, about the permanent, unalterable and immovable thematic choice —we insist— that is inherent in the natural essence of tango.

Homero Expósito's lyrics appear strongly influenced by the refined idiomatic versification.... And this remark is corroborated by that differentiation we have many times made between the simple versifier or lyricist who exclusively writes for the coupling of music, and the poet, completely poet, who writes beautiful poems to be read and to be sung as well. This is the exact place of the literary labor of Homero Expósito in tango.

Let us say from now on that the lyric of tango is essentially elegiac, that is to say, the poetical composition of lyrical genre and definitively sad subject.

It is the song to the lost possession. Because of that so keenly José Gobello observes that «tango has not been made to sing about what one has got but about what one has lost». And because of that it is besides sentimental and nostalgic. Which are the two configurative notes of its permanent argumentation. If inversely, by mere spirit of renewal that immovable temperamental premise of tango were altered we would inevitably fall into its distortion. Hence the worth-praising authenticity of the definitively elegiac Homero Expósito's argumental poetry.

With his never ending poetic inspiration, Expósito has achieved with evolved and original literary sense the charm of reverting some of the characters, of the situations, of the circumstances, of the legends, corresponding to the thematic choice of tango. It is undoubtedly that the artistic expressions are beautifully valuable because of its intrinsic esthetic contents, but with absolute ignorance of the inexorable passing of the calendar days, which in no way can be considered the standard for the force or the caducity of determinate expressions of creative inspiration.

In accordance with what was stated referring to the character of tango lyrics contents, Homero Expósito delved into the long-consecrated subjects which bestowed on our urban song unmistakably personality. Then, for example, the drama of the humble girl in the neighborhood who fell into fault, and who was immortalized by Samuel Linnig in the touching verses of “Milonguita (Esthercita)” and “Melenita de oro”, raising her to the status of a heroine of tango, is recreated twenty years later by Expósito in “Percal”. Perhaps with other names and other social influences, impeccably coated of renewed literary elegance.

Another of the fundamental aspects, that Homero Expósito's work brings to the literature of our popular music, is its overwhelming capability of synthesis. Admirable capability of synthesis as should be exactly qualified. That capability of synthesis so much admired by Enrique Discépolo, who unendlessly pondered the impeccable clever finding of the tango “Percal”, where everything is expressed within those two brief verses that say: «te fuiste de tu casa / tal vez nos enteramos mal...»(you left your own place, maybe we got wrongly to know). Or when he sums up with a natural simplicity that of «Pobre piba, por tu error / ya hay muchos tangos» (poor girl, because of your failure there are already many tangos). «How would I like those admirable observations by Expósito, for some of my lyrics», Discépolo said with touching sincereness.

Also something revolutionarily innovative in Homero Expósito is the handling of metaphor. Understanding for metaphor the figure of speech through which the meaning of a word or phrase is transferred to another image by means of an elaborate imaginative comparison. In the avant-garde metaphor there would be an undisguisable Lorca-influenced deeprootedness, so frequent in Homero Expósito. An unquestionable happy finding in the tango-based art of our poet, images so well conceived as «malevo que olvidaste en los boliches / los anhelos de tu vieja» (you, bully who forgot your mother's yearnings in cheap barrooms).

On November 5, 1918 Homero Aldo Expósito was born in Campana, province of Buenos Aires. Son of Don Manuel Expósito. A respected prestigious merchant of Zárate (a city near Campana and the city of Buenos Aires) who never hid, with his proverbial dignity, that he was anonymously born in the Casa de Niños Expósitos (house for abandoned children) placed on Montes de Oca street in the city of Buenos Aires. Exactly there the Expósitos' genealogical tree and the origin of their surname starts.
Homero was born in Campana, at the house of his maternal grandmother. But the Expósitos were already deeply rooted to the native soil. So much so that Homero always said «I am a Zárate man born in Campana».

He lived his childhood in Zárate, where he attended grammar school. When Homero was six, a little brother was born, who was named Virgilio Hugo. The two brothers were always together in the history of tango and life. They were always together among bushes, sky and summer. Out of that fraternal union come the inspired metaphors of “Naranjo en flor”, “Farol”, “Oro falso”, “Pobre piba”. Later another Expósito was born. The third and last was named Luis María. Without literary or musical inclination. Another destiny.

Among rebelliousness, playing truant, scholar indiscipline Homero finished grammar school. Maybe he brought in his blood his irrepressible cultural vocation. He said when he was already widely acclaimed as author that «no one can write a tango if he does not know how to write a sonnet».
Don Manuel Expósito, humble and honorable, suffered the pride of culture, of the literary knowledge, of the historic knowledge. Besides owning a prosperous pastry and confectionery shop, he knew the English language, speedwriting, typewriting and philosophical readings densely assimilated. Putting aside his confessed anti-clerical vocation, he decided that Homero entered the prestigious Colegio San José of Buenos Aires. Exemplary boarding school pupil during the five years of high school, he totally put in order his intellectual behavior. Later he was cadet at the military academy. And then his admission into the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, his great vocation, whose graduation he interrupted and resumed many times, always dedicated to the unpostponable necessity of living.

The cultural disciplines of his choice found in Homero Expósito the studious man unconcerned about all doctoral consecration.

He attended university through successive desertions and taking-ups-again of high studies, until nearly graduation. He achieved a solid philosophical and literary culture that he kept on permanently increasing in his unbribable eagerness for well-selected readings. Scholarly, cautious critician, his choices were shared with balanced eclecticism from the Greek and Latin classics to the modern literary trends. Good theater as well was a passionate interest since his early childhood. He was organizer, director and actor of numerous initiatives of artistic value at widely known formations of vocational theater.

He arrived at tango with a so1id literary training, which allowed him to descriptively treat his solid arguments with admirable anecdotic clarity. He admitted that he was always worried by the concern for language, achieving absolute freedom in the use of the idiomatic licenses of the current necessary lexicon. He used to say that impressionism had permeated through all the forms of expression, and there was no reason for considering tango lyrics as an exception.

Everything is encompassed within Homero Expósito's directory of works. Everything. From the description of the bully in “Te llaman malevo”, or the poetic exquisiteness of “Margo” and “Flor de lino”. And from the temperamental image of the big city viewed through the remarkable description of “Tristezas de la calle Corrientes”.

Once traveling by train from Zárate to Buenos Aires, Chupita Stamponi suggested to connect him to the nucleus of young musicians already consecrated in the Miguel Caló orchestra. So it was that with Enrique Mario Francini, Armando Pontier, Domingo Federico, Osmar Maderna, Héctor Stamponi, his introducer, and his inseparable spiritual brother Virgilio Hugo, Homero achieved a great creative coincidence through novel song forms, and of an indisputably innovative conception of tango. Well understood, within the subject matter and the temper invariably typical of our time, that characterizes the prolific work of realization of the brilliant generational promotion of the forties.

Homero Expósito started in the creation of lyrics around 1938. His first tango composed in musical collaboration with his brother Virgilio Hugo Expósito, titled “Rodando”, was premiered, with no consequence, by Libertad Lamarque on Radio Belgrano accompanied by the Mario Maurano orchestra.

The creative coincidence between Homero and Virgilio Expósito, touches a whole repertory, originally shared, and of permanent vogue among the most refined in tango-song. After that inconsequential “Rodando” of their debut as authors, “Farol” springs up. And subsequently, numbers which reached from the start an outstanding place in the genre.

Virgilio Hugo Expósito is a brilliant complete tango musician. Pianist, inspired composer, orchestra conductor, instrumental orchestrator of brilliant career. It is necessary to be said that the history of tango owes to the work of the Expósito brothers one of the most interesting chapters of permanent interest.

Some fundamental numbers are “Naranjo en flor”, “Absurdo”, “Maquillaje”, “Chau no va más”, the last they wrote together. “Percal”, “Yuyo verde”, “Tristezas de la calle Corrientes”, “Al compás del corazón (Late un corazón)” (with music by the bandoneonist Domingo Federico); with Armando Pontier, “Trenzas”; with Héctor Stamponi, “Flor de lino” (waltz), “Qué me van a hablar de amor”. With Enrique Mario Francini, “Ese muchacho Troilo”. With Aníbal Troilo, “Te llaman malevo”. With Argentino Galván, “Cafetín”, “Esta noche estoy de tangos”. With Atilio Stampone, “Afiches” and with Osmar Maderna, “Pequeña” (waltz).

One of the most notorious juvenile eccentricities of Homero, possibly following the commercial experience of his father, was to become a shopkeeper. In downtown Zárate he opened a small restaurant with selected menus and genuine imported wines. Lo de Homero (Homero's) was called. Categorical financial short term failure. His numerous friends visited the local to eat and generously drink for free, as if they were at home, with the least intention to pay. And the friends´ friends as well, laden with similar brazenness. Homero thought that the mentioned commercial mistake was due to the nearness of his acquaintances precisely in Zárate. He decided to change of territory. He settled in Mar del Plata (a sea resort city 400 km from Buenos Aires). Exactly in Punta Mogotes, on the corner of Falucho and Jujuy streets. El Sibarita was called now, with a more ambitious name. And a worse financial catastrophe than the one at Zárate. Always the legion of friends for free. He couldn't go on. He broke. He lost all he had. And he went completely into debt. Then he decided to put an end to his crazy gastronomic adventure. Businessman never more!

Totally free from his unfortunate gastronomic adventure, Homero devoted to the attention of his authorial repertoire, which required a permanent watch, even more in his full success, at the highest peak of spreading in the forties. That meant to permanently travel by day and by night, from Zárate to Buenos Aires, and from Buenos Aires to Zárate. Whether on train, or on a very old automobile in a deplorable condition, without folding top, that Homero drove with only one hand when it rained, holding with the other a discolored umbrella opened to avoid getting wet. All this with incredible easiness. One afternoon I found him very upset with Paco García Jiménez —always so solemn— because he had not accepted Homero's invitation to get into the carriage...

When D. Manuel Expósito made up his mind in 1945 to sell his well-known pastry shop in Zárate, Homero each time more saturated with the trips' hectic activity, definitively settled in Buenos Aires. Now devoted to his own trade, to spreading his successful repertoire. And he is admitted in the managing circles of SADAIC (Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores) (Argentine Society of Authors and Composers). He joined the juvenile groups of authors led by the vigorous talent of Homero Manzi, to remove and modernize the decrepit structure of the old society. Then Expósito would say «Zárate man born in Campana and definitively based in Buenos Aires for his authorial activity». The question is displacing the high officials of the until then Canaro administration, apparently impossible of being removed. A hard struggle which simply aims at the removal of Francisco Canaro to access a new presidency in SADAIC. An enormous task, but there was a great unity among the juvenile generations of authors and composers. And the time of undertaking the authorial conduction with definitive criteria of a complete renovation.

As treasurer, Homero Expósito is part of prestigious boards of directors in the 50s. Like that headed by Cátulo Castillo, with Julio De Caro, José Maria Contursi, Juan José Guichandut, Pepe Razzano, Manuel Parada, Ciriaco Ortiz, Vicente Demarco, Aníbal Troilo, Homero Expósito, Virgilio San Clemente and Armando Baliotti.

Years of hard organizative labor in SADAIC elapsed. But due to discrepancies, so frequent in the inner little world of musical authors, Expósito resigns to the treasury of the SADAIC Board.

And he immediately embarks on a long-awaited trip to Europe. He wanders, travels, knows, learns, and enhances his great cultural illustration. Europe. Spain, France. We met in Paris. We shared never-ending and unforgettable days and nights, guided by the refined Parisian knowledge of Panchito Cao and Héctor Grané.

Having definitively withdrawn from his authorial activity, and from the permanent auspices of his repertoire in the presence of the creative interpreters who developed the celebrity of what Homero Expósito wisely composed, he did not go far from the environs of his cozy downtown apartment on Lavalle street, a block far from SADAIC. He avoided encounters on the street, and excuses for evoking a whole life brilliantly devoted to the popular music of the city. The vigorous and communicative silhouette of the ever loved and admired poet was faintly fading away.

We have to admit that Homero Expósito's authorial output constitutes a full cycle of brilliant and inspired creativity in the poetry of tango. His way of composing left no followers. Perhaps a deep contrast, with the musicians of tango, whose style influences have been followed in every modality and in all the stages of its evolution. The inimitable originality of Homero Expósito so becomes a curious phenomenon that contributes to highlight with clearer outlines the outstanding creative personality of this exceptional popular poet of the city, whom we dare to regard as the great poet of tango.

On a day like any day, on September 23, 1987 Mimo, as his friends affectionately called him, Expósito left us. Mimo Expósito, the imaginative poet of «un arco de violín / clavado en un gorrión» (a violin bow nailed into a sparrow), silently departed. Like Margo, the long-suffering heroine of his beautiful poem, «sin canción y sin fe» (without song and without faith).

Originally published in the magazine Tango y Lunfardo, Nº 74, Chivilcoy 12 May 1992.