Néstor Pinsón
| Ricardo García Blaya

The legend of a premiere

enerally José Luis Roncallo is remembered by the fact of having premiered the Ángel Villoldo’s tango: "El choclo".

Roncallo led an orchestra of "light" repertoire -themes from zarzuelas, popular waltzes, native music- at an elegant restaurant called "El Americano", located on Cangallo Street (today Presidente Juan Perón) facing the Carabelas thoroughfare.

According to what some say, and everybody repeat, on one occasion, his friend Ángel Villoldo called on him to suggest that he would premiere his new tango there. This is said by Francisco García Jiménez in his book "Así nacieron los tangos", whose first publication dates back to 1965.

The writer spices the story introducing a series of, of course, fictional dialogues. In one of them, Villoldo asked the pianist: «-Will you premiere it?...» «-Me, are you nuts? At “El Americano” where all the cream of Buenos Aires goes to, a tango?... There it’s taboo!...» The supposed argument was solved with the introduction of the number as a “danza criolla” performed to great acclaim.

As for this story, Hugo Lamas and Enrique Binda are categorical and disqualify it: «According to what was said we infer that “El choclo" was not a tango, or that the audience was a group of imbeciles, who naively swallowed that it was a zamba or a vidalita». (“El tango en la sociedad porteña 1880-1920”, published by Héctor Lucci in 1998, page 211)

Later they accuse García Jiménez as the author of this and other foolish lies, such as those to make us believe that tango was outcast and rejected before 1910. In order to refute him, among other considerations, they cite the ads that Editorial Breyer published in the La Nación daily paper. For example, the ads on May 18, 1905 announcing the publication of the tango “El purrete” by Roncallo, and on May 29 of the same year, another tango by the same composer: “El porteño”.

With this they demonstrate that tango was known among "the cream" (the public, that according to García Jiménez frequented the restaurant, who surely read La Nación). And they criticize the abovementioned dialogue because later the brothers Héctor and Luis Bates regarded it as historically true in their book “La historia del tango”.

Another controversy arose about the date of the supposed premiere. Some authors place the event in 1903 while others, in 1905.

If we take into account a program of El Americano dated on February 7, 1903 with a list of pieces to be played by the Roncallo’s sextet, we see two “Danzas criollas”, one by Roncallo and another by Villoldo. The latter maybe would be “El choclo”.

If to this we add a research about Roncallo’s life made by Juan Silbido, it reveals that the composer moved to Rosario in 1904. Then, if he premiered the piece, it evidently happened in 1903.

Lastly and going back to the book by Lamas and Binda, they discarded García Jiménez’s story and did not accept the theory that the tango was disguised as “Danza criolla” to avoid being disapproved by the owner or the diners of the restaurant. Everything which was considered as native music, including tango, at that time was labeled as danza criolla or música criolla. The said authors think, I repeat, that behind this story what in fact exists is the justification of the legend of a banned tango, a tango not accepted by the Buenos Aires society.