María Luisa Carnelli

Real name: Carnelli, María Luisa
Nicknames: Luis Mario y Mario Castro
Lyricist, journalist, writer and author
(31 January 1898 - 4 May 1987)
Place of birth:
La Plata (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Néstor Pinsón

he was born in the city of La Plata, capital of the province of Buenos Aires, a half block far from the wood that is a feature of that city. Since an early age she liked tango. They were ten siblings and her brothers secretly listened to it because their parents did not want that that music was admitted at home at all. According to her own words, the kids took the horn out of the gramophone so that the record was hardly heard. On an occasion one of her sisters dared to dance to a tango piece at a family house and her father severely punished her.

In an interview released in 1980 by Tango, un siglo de historia, a magazine published by Editorial Perfil, the lyricist recalls: «Since I was very young I wrote poems. I attended grammar school and later I was married. Since then my career as journalist began. They were some contributions for El hogar magazine, and later in all the magazines and daily papers of Buenos Aires».

Her relationship with tango started in 1927, and the one responsible for it was the poet Carlos Muñoz, also known as Carlos de la Púa or simply Malevo Muñoz. He had to write lyrics for a tango piece by Julio De Caro, its title was precisely “El malevo”, but as he did not write tangos he switched it to Enrique González Tuñón but as the latter did not either write poems —the poet was his brother Raúl— he passed them to his friend María Luisa: «Unfortunately, De Caro in his memoirs mentions Muñoz as author, but I wrote the lyrics».

In all the discographies and commentaries about it she is the one who appears with her pseudonym Mario Castro although De Caro recorded it on February 2, 1928 instrumentally. She also wrote lyrics for “Moulin Rouge” composed by Francisco De Caro that his orchestra recorded three times, always without vocalist; and for “Primer agua” whose refrain was sung by Félix Gutiérrez in his only recording in this aggregation. Under the sobriquet Luis Mario, her other pseudonym, she wrote the lyrics for “Dos lunares”, the composition by Francisco De Caro which as well was recorded only as an instrumental.

«Around 1929 with Edgardo Donato I wrote “Se va la vida”. At that time almost all the tango pieces bore lunfardo lyrics and as I already knew that language through my brothers and the environment of journalists I frequented, I had to use it. When an homage to Filiberto was held my colleague Last Reason sat beside me. At that reunion the guest orchestra played “Se va la vida”. Then Reason commented that it was really a nice tango in spite of its lyrics. He talked openly against it and I finally told him that it belonged to me. It was a bitter situation for him. That tango was a hit in Spain in Azucena Maizani’s rendition. People liked it very much there to such an extent that Manuel Pizarro told me that the tangos most requested were “La cumparsita”, “Adios muchachos” and “Se va la vida”».

Then came the 30s and tango began to decline in the popular acclaim. The figures concernig the copyright royalties of our author were going down and, because of that, she asked advice to Sebastián Piana about something to work with and so they decided to create another rhythm which was neither jazz, nor tropical; it was the tam tam. But when they presented the project to the Secretary of Press the issue was filed.

«I wrote stories and poems, I traveled along 24 countries; from Spain I was correspondent for an Argentine daily paper during the civil war. I wrote tango lyrics because they live longer due to their popular acclaim and because with the lyrics of “Cuando llora la milonga” composed by Filiberto I earned more than by publishing eight books».

Her choices and opinions concerning tango turn out quite interesting: «I don't like today tango. There are many orchestra arrangements, much technique, but it was deprived of its porteño character. I like tango up to 1940 because of its exultant strength, a strength that comes from the country itself. Furthermore, it was not commercialized. There was a legitimate emulation, not the far-fetched one that came later. If a musician created something, another one tried to honestly surpass him. Tango songs reached their highest peak with Filiberto. After the war a decline began, many markets were lost, interest abroad diminished greatly, and an invasion of jazz music was accepted. Because of that I prefer the Guardia Vieja (Old Trend), and I also recognize the tango played between 1925 to 1940. Tango had not been given an adequate advertising. An imperialist penetration of fabulous capitals had taken place and it has greatly weakened tango, while the other rhythms have been smothering it».

When she alludes to singers her choice is Gardel in his early recordings. As for the present singers, she likes Jorge Sobral. As for the poets she is severe: « there is a special worship toward Discépolo and that's a mistake. People have said that he was like Schopenhauer for tango, but not due to his genius but because of his pessimism. That was his mistake. Almafuerte was a true apostle instead. A real poet. Navarrine and Manzi as well were because they have come closer to our feeling; take for example a number like “Gajito de cedrón”... I was a girl with literary ambitions in a bourgeois family who wrote tangos in lunfardo and that seemed really incongruous. My father never knew that I wrote them».

Besides the abovementioned titles, among many others, these belong to her: “Pa'l cambalache” (with Rafael Rossi), recorded by Gardel. “La naranja nació verde”, with the same musician. “Dieciocho kilates” and “Quiero papita”, with Ernesto Ponzio, the latter recorded by the Orquesta Típica Víctor with Alberto Gómez. The same orchestra with Luis Díaz recorded “Cómo me gusta”, with music by Ascanio Donato. With Filiberto she wrote the lyrics of “Linyera” and of a gato, “Azul de cielo”. With Luis Teisseire she wrote “Mano santa” and the milonga “Luna roja”. She as well wrote the lyrics of: “El Taura”, “Avellaneda”, “De quién es eso”, “Tardes pampeanas” and many lyrics more.

Some «poisonous tongues» have said that she did not write her most popular lyrics but the one who was her sentimental partner until his death in 1943, Enrique González Tuñón did it instead. But this is only a story.

As for “Cuando llora la milonga”, in the book Cien tangos fundamentales written by Oscar Del Priore and Irene Amuchástegui, Roberto Selles is quoted saying that the female lyricist told him: «It's my most popular lyrics, but it's not the one I like most, I had to write it somewhat accordingly to the taste of the composer».

And as for “Linyera”, a tango piece that was awarded the first prize at the Max Glücksmann's contests in 1930: «The term used is not the correct one. Because the story tells us about the misfortune of a man betrayed by a lover. Then he leaves his surroundings and becomes a drifter. Consequently he is a loafer or a lazy bum, that is to say a guy devoted to idleness, to loafing, an idler with neither job nor domicile, a lazy man, but never a linyera. The latter was a poor man looking for a job, a day laborer or peon that used to travel on trains going to the areas in the interior of the country for gathering in crops in harvests. He traveled with his linyera bag on his shoulder tied on a stick, for example, carrying a bundle of clothes and some food. Both, later, were called crotos, because of that governor of Buenos Aires, José Camilo Crotto, who allowed them to travel freely on freight trains».

In sum, María Luisa Carnelli was undoubtedly, a character of Buenos Aires, more lyricist than poetess, this woman lived the life and the bohemian mood of a time when tango was in full bloom and our national identity was a value that we, the Argentines, then tried to keep.