Roberto Selles

Garufa - Story of the tango “Garufa”

n 1922 the Troupe Ateniense was created in Montevideo. It was one of the most well known carnival groups of the neighboring riverbank like the Oxford or Un real al 69, among others.

But the Troupe Ateniense was as well the origin of memorable tangos composed by musicians and creators of the level of Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, Ramón Collazo, Adolfo Mondino, Alberto Vila, Juan Antonio Collazo, Víctor Soliño and Roberto Fontaina.

Together or separately, these artists gave birth to pages that not only were widely acclaimed in Uruguay but also they crossed the River Plate and were welcome forever by the Buenos Aires public. As a sample we have these: “Agua florida”, “Maula”, “Patoteros”, “Araca París”, “Pato”, “Negro”, “Mama yo quiero un novio”, “Adiós mi barrio” and “T.B.C.” (with music by Edgardo Donato), among many others.

One of these associations, Juan Antonio Collazo in music and Víctor Soliño and Roberto Fontaina in lyrics, produced between 1927 and 1928 two tangos that made fun of certain characters of the period. The pieces successfully included in the songbooks of Alberto Vila, Rosita Quiroga and Tita Merello were: “Niño bien” and “Garufa”. Another tango of these three authors, but with much less acclaim, was “Qué reo sos”, recorded by Vila and the Carlos Di Sarli Sextet with Santiago Devin singing the refrain.

Garufa” —that is the piece we are interested in now— was recorded by the oriental singer Alberto Vila and was soon premiered in Buenos Aires by Rosita Quiroga, official performer of the troupe this side of the River Plate.

Like “Niño bien”, “Garufa” is a response with much humor to the melodramatic contents of some tangos then in fashion. The authors fortunately reprised a hit using the same formula.

There was, in fact, a drawback when changing the tango from Vila's vocals to Rosita's voice. What would mean in Buenos Aires the allusion to a street of Montevideo?

Tu vieja dice que sos un bandido,
porque supo que te vieron
la otra noche en la calle San José.

Yes, San José Street. Because that was what precisely the original version of its lyrics said and still today the Uruguayan vocalists keep on singing it like that.

Obviously, the Buenos Aires public would not connect that name with a street of Montevideo but instead with our San José Street, and then the piece would fail its witty remark.

Cleverly, Soliño and Fontaina succeeded in replacing the name of that street by Parque Japonés (Japanese Park), an amusement park, a place for public recreation which also had dancehalls, placed in front of the terminal train station of Retiro. It is located where nowadays the Sheraton Hotel of Buenos Aires is.

What was not modified in the lyrics is the barrio La Mondiola, a generic name of the coastal area where a bohemian kind of life, more permissive, was common. There the Troupe had a small house which they kept as their headquarters.

Director's Note:
We do not know which is the source taken into account by Roberto Selles to affirm that the original lyrics of this tango said San José Street instead of Parque Japonés. We precisely know that either the original sheet music by Perrotti or the first recorded rendition, no less than by an Uruguayan, Alberto Vila, say Parque Japonés.

All renditions until the mid- 40s are identical and the later ones too, except for those by Donato Racciatti and his singers who include the street instead of the park. Later, other Uruguayan singers did the same. But neither the latter nor those who spread this thesis explain on what documents they are based.

Recordings of the tango “Garufa”:

Alberto Vila, con guitarras (1928)
Orquesta Luis Petrucelli, instrumental (1928)
Carlos Spaventa, con guitarras (1928)
Orquesta Rafael Canaro, Carlos Dante (1929)
Orquesta Típica Argentina Bachicha, Alberto Larena (1929)
Orquesta Héctor Stamponi, Alfredo Arrocha (1948)
Alberto Castillo, con orquesta dir: Ángel Condercuri (1951)
Orquesta Donato Racciatti, Nina Miranda (1953)
Alberto Castillo, Orquesta Osvaldo Requena (1960)
Tita Merello, Orquesta Carlos Figari (1968)
Edmundo Rivero, con guitarras (1975)
Orquesta Antonio Cerviño, Alberto Rivero (1978)
Conjunto Malevaje, Antonio Bartrina (1985)
Trío de la Guardia Vieja dir: Teddy Peiro, Gillian Peiro (1996)
Hugo del Carril (h), Orquesta Alberto Di Paulo (1997)
Gabriel Reynal, conjunto Salvador Grecco (1998)
Conjunto Facundo Díaz y sus Amigos, Alejandro Martínez (1998)
Real Tango Ensemble dir: Raul Jaurena, Eduardo Nijensohn (1999)
Trío Hugo Díaz, instrumental
Los Muchachos De Antes, instrumental
Elba Berón, Cuarteto Miguel Nijensohn - A Puro Tango
Orquesta Donato Racciatti, Luis Luján
Alina De Silva, con orquesta
Carlos Almada, con orquesta
Enrique Dumas, con orquesta
Cuarteto Che Paulino, Guillermo Álvarez
Trío Carlittos Magallanes, Carlittos Magallanes