Verónica Carreras Venturini
| José Pedro Aresi

Shusheta - The lyrics of the tango piece “Shusheta” and its inspiration

his tango song written by Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadícamo has facets that deserve to be commentated. Firstly, it is worthwhile to dive into the mystery of its title to find out if it refers to or if it has a direct relationship with some well-known character of the past in Buenos Aires.

Cobián composed it in 1920 and labeled it as «Gran tango de salón para piano», that is to say, a piece that today we would call an «instrumental». Different circumstances that link the composer with Martín Álzaga Unzué, widely known as Macoco, allow us to think with enough reliability that he is the person whom Cobián alluded to when he «baptized» this tango. Besides being his friend, Macoco met all the requirements to be considered a shusheta. The most direct meaning of this lunfardo term is petimetre (a dandy, a dude, a fop), a word that in the Spanish dictionary is mentioned as coming from French: petit maître, that is to say, señorito (playboy, young blade).

According to the opinion of many ones, Martín Alzaga Unzué was the last Argentine playboy. He was a young good-looking man, sportsman, millionaire and seducer. For these reasons his name fits perfectly the figure that this lunfardo term pretends to qualify. In conversations we had with people of the milieu, most them think that Cobián was inspired in his friend Macoco.

Shusheta”, in its instrumental version, was committed to record for the first time in 1923, played by a sextet led by its composer. Among others, it was as well recorded later by: Carlos Di Sarli, Juan Polito, Horacio Salgán, Héctor Stamponi, Ernesto Baffa, Carlos García as a piano solo, the Nuevo Quinteto Real, Los Astros del Tango, Pocho Palmer, Roberto Di Filippo (bandoneón), the Sexteto Ciudadanos del Tango and, recently, the Orquesta Típica de la Guardia Vieja.

Enrique Cadícamo in his Memorias tells us that in 1922 he met Cobián for the first time and then they became close friends. Thereafter the musician went to the United States and came back in 1928. One year later he asked the poet to add lyrics to several tango tunes he had composed, among them, “Shusheta”.

According to Juan Ángel Russo, a regular member of the Academia Nacional del Tango, the lyrics that Cadícamo wrote in 1934 are the following:

Pobre shusheta, tu triunfo de ayer
hoy es la causa de tu padecer...
Te has apagao como se apaga un candil
y de shacao sólo te queda el perfil,
hoy la vejez el armazón te ha aflojao
y parecés un bandoneón desinflao.
Pobre shusheta, tu triunfo de ayer
hoy es la causa de tu padecer.

Yo me acuerdo cuando entonces,
al influjo de tus guiyes,
te mimaban las minusas,
las más papusas
de Armenonville.
Con tu smoking reluciente
y tu pinta de alto rango,
eras rey bailando el tango
tenías patente de gigoló.

Madam Giorget te supo dar
su gran amor de gigolet,
la Ñata Inés te hizo soñar...
¡y te empeñó la vuaturé!
Y te acordás cuando a Renée
le regalaste un reló
y al otro día
la fulería
se paró.

It is important to say that these lyrics were never filed, nor were either included in any of the music sheets published by Breyer Hnos. and only on June 27, 1938 Juan Carlos Cobián filed the music of “Shusheta” in SADAIC’s record.

Cadícamo says that in 1944, Ángel D'Agostino asked him to make the lyrics of “Shusheta” suitable to those times, because by then the government had banned the use of lunfardo words in tangos. Cobián allowed him to make such a change and then “Shusheta” temporarily became “El aristócrata” and its lyrics are as follows:

Toda la calle Florida te vio
con tus polainas, galera y bastón...

Dicen que fue, allá por su juventud,
un gran Don Juan del Buenos Aires de ayer.
Engalanó la puerta del Jockey Club
y en el ojal siempre llevaba un clavel.

Toda la calle Florida te vio
con tus polainas, galera y bastón.

Toda la calle Florida lo vio
con sus polainas, galera y bastón.

Apellido distinguido,
gran señor en las reuniones,
por las damas suspiraba
y conquistaba
sus corazones.
Y en las tardes de Palermo
en su coche se paseaba
y en procura de un ensueño
iba el porteño

Ah, tiempos del Petit Salón...
Cuánta locura juvenil...
Ah, tiempo de la
sección Champán Tango
del Armenonville.

Todo pasó como un fugaz
instante lleno de emoción...
Hoy sólo quedan
recuerdos de tu corazón...

Toda la calle Florida lo vio
con sus polainas, galera y bastón.

On April 5, 1945 Ángel D'Agostino, with Ángel Vargas on vocals, recorded this tango but omitting the fifth and sixth stanzas for the vocalist. It is quite possible that maestro Ángel D'Agostino had sacrificed those lines for the sake of music itself, taking into account the dancing style of his orchestra.

This lyric is the one the public knows best and the vocalist Ángel Vargas was who thoroughly identified himself with it. He recorded it again on August 30, 1957 with the Edelmiro D'Amario Orchestra. Roberto Goyeneche as well recorded it with the Sexteto Tango in 1984.

What is funny is that only on February 22, 1946 Cadícamo filed this new lyric in SADAIC. With a few changes it is similar to the one transcribed above.

For example, Vargas and later Goyeneche, use the phrase: «con sus polainas, galera y bastón», while the lyric filed in SADAIC, says: «con sus polainas, chambergo y bastón». Something similar happens when they say: «engalanó la puerta del Jockey Club», while Cadícamo wrote: «que engalanó las fiestas del Jockey Club». We think that these licenses must have had, then, the poet's approval. As far as we have found out this lyric so well-known and filed in SADAIC was not included in any music sheet of “Shusheta”.

The Society of Authors and Composers has informed us that the entity officially accepts only the lyrics that are included in the published sheet music. Then in the case of the tango "Shusheta" it only acknowledges as official lyric the one appearing on the issue released by Ricordi and whose lines had little to do with the ones sung by Vargas and Goyeneche.

We have held in our hands the written music published by the above mentioned house on September 22, 1965, that is to say, several years after the death of the composer of its music. We stress this because during Juan Carlos Cobián's life the front cover of the music sheet published by Breyer Hnos always showed a figure that wore a kind of top hat on his head, spats and a smoking pipe. The cane was absent. Instead, the cover of Ricordi's issue has a drawing in accordance with the «new» lyric included in it. So in it we can see before a background of low houses, a lamp post and, leaning on it, a man with the pronounced look of a tough guy, with lengue (neckerchief) and chambergo (broad-brimmed soft hat). Despite this last detail, the lyric makes reference to the use of a «top» hat and the whole lyrics are as follows:

Toda la calle Florida te vio
con tus polainas, galera y bastón.

Hoy quien te ve...
en falsa escuadra y chacao,
tomando sol con un nietito a tu lao.
Vos, que una vez rompiste un cabaré,
hoy, retirao... ni amor, ni guerra querés.

Toda la calle Florida te vio
con tus polainas, galera y bastón.

Te apodaban el shusheta
por lo bien que te vestías.
Peleador y calavera
a tu manera te divertías...
Y hecho un dandy, medio en copas,
en los altos del Casino
la patota te aclamaba
si milongueabas un buen gotán.

Ah, tiempo del Petit Salón,
cuánta locura juvenil...
Ah, tiempo aquel de la Sección
Champán-Tango de Armenonvil.
Todo pasó como un fugaz
instante lleno de emoción.
Hoy solo quedan
recuerdos en tu corazón.

Toda la calle Florida te vio
con tus polainas, galera y bastón.

The only known recording of this version was made in 1978 by Osvaldo Ribó accompanied on guitar by Hugo Rivas. In it, the interpreter entirely sticks to the lines transcribed above.

Juan Angel Russo says that the lyrics of “Shusheta” were inspired by Payo Roqué and he adds: «Our beloved and well remembered Cadícamo used to tell us this when we met at a café». According to chronicles of the period, it is worthwhile remembering that the above character who died in 1932 was: «a characteristic figure of the bohemian environments, whose name was Benjamín Roque and his sobriquet, El Payo Roque». According to those same commentaries «he was a friend for everybody, a wonderful whistler who had never worked because he had lived on the charity of his acquaintances». Either had his nickname been Roque or Roqué we doubt that such a guy would have been the shusheta that inspired Cadícamo. There are other persons, among them José Carlos Corbatta, that on a note published on September 11, 2000 in the site Historia del País on the Internet, says that he heard his father had said that the tango "Shusheta" was dedicated to Jorge Newbery.

Then we face an enigma not easy to solve, because of that we think that it would not be serious to say that the lyrics of “Shusheta” had had a determined source of inspiration. For that reason we think that it is important to repeat here what Cadícamo said to Juan Carlos Cobián about the source in which he found the inspiration to write the lyrics of “La casita de mis viejos”: «Any similarity with living or dead beings shall be a simple coincidence». These words may well explain to us about the many sources of inspiration that filled the poetic vein of Enrique Cadícamo when he wrote the lyrics of his tangos.

As if all these things were not enough, it is interesting to highlight that the sheet music published by Breyer Hnos. was «dedicated to Julio Martel» by Cobián. Obviously due to a question of chronology we realize the former was not the well-known singer. The one published by Ricordi, that we have checked at the library of the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo, was dedicated to Mr. Mango Guerrico by Cadícamo.

Before the end of this chronicle we wish to express our coincidental views with Roberto Selles when in one of his works he says: «in the research field no statement is absolute».