Horacio Belmaña


riting a chronicle of the tango “Caminito” poses a beautiful challenge to justify the existence of one of the tangos that after “La cumparsita” and “El choclo”, in that order, has traveled around the world most successfully, but it brings back curious paradoxes:

a) It is a tango of simple plain beauty. Let us remember that it is one of the tango pieces with fewer notes and bars.
b) It belongs to a sub-genre that Filiberto named “canción porteña”, far distant from his classic work “Quejas del bandoneón” of pure city style.
c) Especially, and we think that this is no longer at issue, because musician and poet found their inspiration in sources completely different and with twenty years of distance, to such an extent that there is only one tango “Caminito” in our country but there were two caminitos (alleys) officially celebrated. Is this possible? How does this rare duplicity take place which in no way poses a conflict?

The meaning of the word art can help us when it is defined as “the subjective expression of an experience”. Both artists inspired in experiences totally different knew how to blend them as if two painters put together their canvases producing a picture of a higher category.

The authors

Juan de Dios Filiberto was born in the neighborhood of La Boca and was the son of Juan Filiberti (aka) “Mascarilla” and Josefa Rubaglio. As a curious information, we mention that he was great-grandson of the Brigadier Martín Rodríguez and a Ranquel Indian, and his father was son of Genoese. This is sometimes evidenced in passages of his artistic life. The name of his son, Nahuel, means “tiger” in the Araucan or Mapuche language.

This mixture of Italian and aboriginal blood had a great influence on his musical output. Filiberto divided his heart between town and country. For him the word tango meant neighborhood but his first musical composition was the tango “Guaymallén”, written in the city bearing the same name in the province of Mendoza. Soon thereafter it was premiered by Eduardo Arolas. About it Filiberto said: «The Indian, great-grandson of immigrants, (sic) has nothing to do with tango, but I wanted that my first composition had a native name». This statement made by the author reveals his devotion for native themes evidenced in part of his output: “El pañuelito”, “El ramito” or “Caminito” itself.

The mood of his production always was on the bordering line between town and country, with the remarkable exception of “Quejas de bandoneón”, in which the musician pays homage to the musical instrument that brought the definitive rhythm to tango. The same happens with “Malevaje”. In the latter a new combination with different visions takes place. It was with Enrique Santos Discépolo. About that Tania said: «Juan de Dios was a musician devoted to tango; Enrique Santos, a tango poet. One drew landscapes, the other depicted aching souls. Both were influenced by the underground of the young big city».

He was an authentic fighter for the rights of the authors and had an important role in the passing of the copyright law 11.723 in 1933. He was as well a founding member of SADAIC in 1936.

His beginnings were hard. He worked in very different trades and his musical instruction was not an easy task. He himself used to say: «When I entered the Conservatory I was over twenty-five years old, and my shoulders were used to the work of stevedore, blacksmith, metal fitter and caldron maker. My fingers were stiff and clumsy for the keyboard and for the fingerboard». But his fingers became dexterous and that allowed us to enjoy the beautiful artistic work he produced.

Gabino Coria Peñaloza was son of Eusebio Coria and María Natividad del Señor Peñaloza, born in Tama (descendant of the Riojan political leader Angel Vicente Peñaloza (aka) El Chacho). The couple was based in La Paz, province of Mendoza, and there he was born on February 19, 1881.

In Chilecito (La Rioja) he married doña Catalina Oyarzún Avendano of Chilean nationality. Out of this wedlock two sons were born: Ricardo Facundo and Federico Gabino. The name of the former pays homage to the writer Ricardo Rojas and the Riojan leader Facundo Quiroga. The name of the latter, who died at a very young age, was given as homage to the writer Federico García Lorca.

All this is important to know his literary inclination displayed not only in tango lyrics but also in his three books: "Profeta indio", "Cantares" and "La Canción de mis Canciones".

Coria Peñaloza said: «I always liked poetry. I had crazy ideas in my mind. At age fifteen I left my parents' house in San Luis and went to Buenos Aires. My mother sent me money and that allowed me to live at the beginning».

About love he said: «You have to consider it seriously and not as people generally do, because women were born to be men's companions. Man has to raise his family and needs deep roots so that the tree starts to grow and blossoms into accomplishments. Peace is necessary for a spiritual creation. A man in war cannot produce any transcendental thing». Quite a definition!

Chilecito and tango mourned don Gabino Coria Peñaloza's demise on October 31, 1975 when he was 95.

Different experiences

The mythical neighborhood of La Boca was the scenario where Juan de Dios Filiberto's life was staged. No one can say that he has known Buenos Aires if he has not walked visiting La Vuelta de Rocha, the Plazoleta de los Suspiros, the barges in the docks that include the traditional Vapor de la Carrera that made a daily voyage from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and the house of the painter Benito Quinquela Martín. To that we have to add today the "Caminito" thoroughfare, a must for tourists and tango fans.

Those were Filiberto's streets. He used to walk every day along the stone pavement of Magallanes Street to meet his friends at La Vuelta de Rocha. He watched the small street that crossed the block and made the encounters nearer. It was a little road that he used to follow daily to get to his job when he worked as mechanic in the Mihanovich company. Then a young girl used to say hello to them from the windows of a neighboring house.

This narrow road and this girl's greeting inspired Filiberto to compose the first bars of his piece. But still the lyrics were missing. They would come after a long long way even though they had been written twenty years before.

The locality of Olta in the province of La Rioja is surrounded by a river which at the times of floods its flowing waters completely isolate it from the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan.

On a trip to Chilecito, Don Gabino, very young then, he was only 21, was surprised by this flood when he was starting his return to Mendoza via San Juan.

The young poet wanted to make amusing his stay in Olta by visiting friends. So he arrived at the house of Miss Filacelma Córdoba, where exquisite evenings were held. She owned the only piano in the locality which had been brought on a mule train from Chilecito.

When Gabino asked the host to play a song she apologized by saying that since her sister had died she had promised not to play the piano any more. But to solve the problem her family called a young pretty teacher named María. She lived in the area and was music teacher in the Escuela de Preceptores (School of Wardens). María was as well member of a traditional family. Her family name was carefully hidden by Coria Peñaloza and the close friends of the girl's.

María and the little trail that led to her domicile, a downward slope covered with clovers and rushes in blossom, were the source of inspiration of Coria Peñaloza. During the poet's stay in Olta both lived a passionate romance which gave birth to beautiful simple stanzas written more than a year later.

But the floods stopped and the young Coria Peñaloza returned to San Juan promising to come back soon and remembering those afternoons when they, hand in hand, walked along the path. He came back after more than a year later but María was no longer there. Her family had sent her to another province because she was unable to find comfort due to her lover's absence. It was then 1903 and the poet sang what he felt deep in his heart:

Desde que se fue
nunca más volvió,
seguiré sus pasos,
Caminito, adiós...
(She went away and never came back since then, I'll follow her footsteps, Little Trail, goodbye)

The tango "Caminito" is born

On one of the numerous trips that Coria Peñaloza made to Buenos Aires, through Benito Quinquela Martín, he met Juan de Dios Filiberto and they became close friends. When Quinquela Martín met Coria Peñaloza he regarded him as a "crazy poet" and he thought he was the ideal coupling for his temper as musician. The genial team of artists came to life as an association that began with "El pañuelito" and ended with "Caminito".

This beautiful tango was born in 1923 without lyrics. Music and lyrics were polished to be presented at the contest of native songs of the carnival parade of Buenos Aires in 1926.

That took place at a meeting held at a tearoom on 300 Florida Street. Then Filiberto told Coria Peñaloza that he had composed a tango inspired in his strolls along an alley of La Boca when he went to La Vuelta de Rocha. After humming several bars he asked his friend to write the lyrics. Gabino answered him that he had already some lines inspired in a juvenile love affair in Olta and then he recited them.

Filiberto thought a modification was necessary but the poet did not allow it. So the musician adapted the music to the lyrics and that afternoon of 1926 on 300 Florida Street "Caminito" was born.

It was premiered at the contest of native songs of the carnival parade of Buenos Aires in 1926 (Concurso de Canciones Nativas del Corso Oficial de Buenos Aires). Then Filiberto appeared with an orchestra comprised of a harmonium, ten violins and a vocal quartet. According to the newspaper La Nación, «the song awakened the attention of the audience that crowded that wide space and was awarded by a warm applause».

Filiberto bitterly denied such applause. Furthermore he talked about whistling of disapproval. They could have been justified taking into account that it was a "canción tango", a genre that did not succeed. Its melancholic beauty did not fit into the carnival parade and he comforted himself remembering that: «The same happened to Bizet when he premiered Carmen».

But soon thereafter a play by Alberto Novión, "Facha Tosta", was premiered at the Teatro Cómico. At that time Ignacio Corsini sang "Caminito" and this beautiful tango not only was a hit but also began to receive a worldwide recognition. Undoubtedly it is the most well-known composition of this musician with Coria Peñaloza, even though, maybe because of his mother's influence, he preferred "El pañuelito".

Caminitos are opened.

On October 18, 1959 with the presence of the Buenos Aires mayor, Hernán Giralt, and other authorities the street named Caminito was officially opened among the noise of fireworks and the howling of the ships' foghorns. Thereafter Tita Merello, Marta and Waldo de los Ríos and the municipal symphonic orchestra, among others, played.

The happiness of the people of La Boca was complete and the musician was acclaimed. Since then the Caminito of La Boca became a frequented place for Argentines and foreigners and it is included in the tourist books of most countries in the world.

Nobody would imagine that five years later people would see another transcendental ceremony but with a completely different meaning. It was on November 12, 1964 - the musician had died the day before - when the television screens in the world showed Filiberto's coffin carried by the firemen of La Boca that went through the Caminito backed by a «bandoneon, that as a funeral prayer was mournfully playing the music of "Caminito"». The one who writes this acknowledges a doubt: when he saw the black and white images on TV he thinks he heard "Caminito" but some other writer says that the tango played was "El pañuelito".

On February 19, 1971 in the locality of Chilecito (province of La Rioja) Gabino Coria Peñaloza lived the most touching time in his lifetime. It was the day of his 91st birthday. It was the time when a crowd of men and women of the locality and neighboring provinces attended to the opening of Caminito Street.

The governor of the province and other important provincial and municipal authorities were present then. Córdoba was represented by the Under-Secretary of Culture, the historian Efraín U. Bischoff. Buenos Aires was represented not only by journalists but also by Cátulo Castillo himself, on behalf of SADAIC.

Many artists contributed to the homage: Los Changos de Chilecito, Panchito Ormeño, the Romero-Moreno duo, the Cuarteto Vocal Norte, Luis Guzmán, the Schola Cantorum Juventus choir and the outstanding appearance of Florindo Sassone that, nearly at dawn, played "Caminito", sung by a choir that sometimes was silenced by the popular outburst. It was the time when the poet, with a broken voice and his jaws trembling due to the emotion, exclaimed: «Do I really deserve this?»