Oscar Del Priore
| Irene Amuchástegui

La Morocha, a tango for export

o other tango so strongly influenced by zarzuela, among those of the early period of the genre, lasted in the repertoires with the same strength like Saborido’s and Villoldo’s “La Morocha”. Its incomparable story embraces all the generations of female performers of tango. In fact, it unites two extremes: Flora Hortensia Rodríguez de Gobbi and Susana Rinaldi.

About the circumstances of its premiere, Enrique Saborido himself provided different versions, but which are not irreconcilable.

Raúl Lafuente, based on an interview published in the newspaper Crítica on November 1, 1925, affirms that “La Morocha” was dedicated to the members of the Ball Club on 400 Piedras Street and was premiered at the local Tarana, previously called Hansen, where «by that time Saborido headed a trio that included the latter on piano, Genaro Vázquez on violin and Benito Masset on flute».

In the same edition of Cuadernos de Difusión del Tango that includes Lafuente’s work, the collector Eduardo Visconti transcribes, from his personal archives, an interview published in Caras y Caretas on September 1, 1928, in which Saborido affirms that “La Morocha” was premiered by Lola Candales. Undoubtedly that could have been an informal premiere, presumably at the Bar Reconquista, prior to the performance of the trio that Crítica mentions. The interview of Caras y Caretas that here we transcribe, also details the history of its birth:

«— Was the tango inspired, maybe, by a pretty little criolla of that time?
Saborido thinks. It seems that in his mind there is a revival of scenes of that unforgettable time.
- By that time the Bar Reconquista run by the popular Ronchetti still existed. I used to go there frequently and also the pretty Uruguayan dancer named Lola Candales used to go...
- Was she your muse?
- I will tell you. One night the rendezvous was extremely lively. Among the patrons were the boys Victorica, Argerich, the deputy Félix Rivas and others. As they noticed that I was very delighted with Lola who was an exquisite brunette, they challenged me by saying that I would not be able to write a tango that she could sing successfully. The spree went on and, already at dawn, we all left the local. I went to bed and I was about to fall asleep when I remembered the challenge.
- And right away did you write your tango?
- At once. It was five o'clock, and I sat down at the piano. At half past six I had already composed the piece. One hour later I was at the place of my friend Ángel Villoldo requesting him that he would write the lyrics. By ten in the morning, lyrics and music matched and, at noon we both went to visit Lola.
- To play the new tango for her?
- So it was. She learned it by heart, she rehearsed it and that evening, in front of all that memorable coterie, she herself sang it for the first time.
- A complete victory!
- Absolutely. She had to repeat it eight times, among the applause of the audience, and the deputy Rivas sent 200 pesos to Lola as a prize for her success.
- And later?
- I took it to Luis Rivarola who was the main music publisher. He printed it and, one month later, everybody in Buenos Aires was singing it, I think, like a tango was never sung before. It was an unexpected triumph, and few times I felt as happy as then."

Let us say that Héctor and Luis Bates, stemming from an interview of 1935 with Saborido, included in their Historia del Tango (History of Tango), date the birth of La morocha at the Christmas of 1905.

As for the conditions of publishing of this tango, the versions are contradictory. Again Lafuente, based on Crítica, affirms: “Immediately after he composed it, he took it to the Rivarola publishing house and he assigned his royalties to the publisher. The latter rewarded him by giving him a piano and paid a voyage to Montevideo for our man”.

But the Bates, on the other hand, denounce: «Published by Rivarola, 280.000 copies were sold at $0.70 each. However, for Saborido "La Morocha" didn't mean a single cent. Nonsense, inconceivable but exact! An individual, alluding rights that nobody had given to him, turned up at the Odeon company, saying that, as Saborido was dead(?), he was the only one authorized to have and to hold the tango piece. Firstly recorded by Mrs. Gobbi, and after that "authorization" by almost all the orchestras and singers, the supposed executor collected all the rights. For the composer was only left the glory.»

Certainly, in any case, Saborido was very far from obtaining with "La morocha" a proportional benefit to the enormous level of spread of the tango piece.

Villoldo died in 1919. Saborido, in 1941. At different times, both ended up traveling to Europe and, at least, had the satisfaction of seeing their tango internationally known. Because "La morocha" is regarded as the first tango sheetmusic for export, the first one that crossed the Atlantic, a few months after its original publication, around 1906. «The Sarmiento frigate was on its second voyage to Europe -say the Bates-, and it carried 1,000 copies of the tango, leaving them in all the harbors of its route.»

Besides the original and consecrated lyric, Villoldo wrote other words on the music of "La morocha" that were recorded either by himself or by his buddy Alfredo Gobbi Sr. Firstly, a slight adaptation exists for a male singer of which the two players left renditions. This lyric replaces "Yo soy la morocha" by "Tengo una morocha" and, systematically, changes the first person by the third person, without other essential modifications.

But, also, Villoldo used the music of that tango to write and to record "La suba de alquileres", a humorous request from a tenant to the owner of a tenement house. In fact, it is an ardent protest against the rent increases. In like manner, Gobbi sang and committed to record "Los mamertos", with the same music that is the remote antecedent of "De puro curda" and of the many tangos with that subject matter.

Returning to the original lyrics, in works by Eduardo Romano and Ricardo Ostuni there are references to a possible source of inspiration. These authors point out that at the beginning of 1905, that is to say, before the birth of this tango, the magazine Caras y Caretas published a poem titled La morocha, written by Francisco Aníbal Riu that says: "Yo soy la gracia argentina/con mi garbo de morocha/la que un poema derrocha/de flores cuando camina..." (I am the Argentine grace/with my brunette's garb/the one who boasts a poem /of flowers when she walks...) The coincidences are more than suggestive.

Among the singers that recorded "La morocha", besides those above mentioned, let us highlight the forgotten pioneer Linda Thelma and the legendary Lola Membrives. Ada Falcón recorded it on two occasions with Francisco Canaro's orchestra: as vocalist and as soloist. It was as well recorded, at different periods, by Mercedes Simone, Libertad Lamarque, Virginia Luque and Lolita Torres. In instrumental versions it was recorded by the orchestras led by Juan D' Arienzo and Carlos Di Sarli.

Saborido himself tried, without too much luck, to reissue the success of La Morocha with a new tango entitled "La hija de la Morocha."

It is not the only tango linked to the one that concerns us. Around 1906 a piece was published with the following titles: "Yo soy la Rubia", Tanguito criollo. Response to La Morocha. Maybe the main curiosity is that lyrics and music were written by a woman, with noble title: the baroness Eloísa D'Herbil de Silva. Ricardo Ostuni reconstructed, through diverse sources, the history of this singular figure. She was the daughter of the French baron Joseph D'Herbil and the Portuguese duchess Raquel Angel de Cadia. She was born in Cuba in 1852 and she lived in Argentina since her childhood; she was a pianist and composer. Her lines, inspired by those of "La morocha", introduce the variant of roguish remarks: "Yo soy la rubia gentil/la de los cabellos oro/la que conserva un tesoro/en su lánguido mirar./Yo soy la rubia ideal/la que soñando la vida/a sus placeres convida/con su risa angelical./Tengo la gracia de la porteña/tengo de la francesa todo su chic/de la española tengo el salero/y de la rubia inglesa su dulce flirt./Soy cariñosa, soy hacendosa/y sé hacer unas cosas!/que sí que no./Cantar, bailar, coser, bordar y un mate amargo también cebar... (I am the gentle blond/the one with the golden hair/the one who hides a treasure/in her languid look. / I am the ideal blond/the one who day dreaming/ invites others to her pleasures/ with her angel's laugh. / I have the grace of the porteña/ from the French girl all her charm/ from the Spaniard I have the wit/ and from the English blond her sweet flirt. / I am affectionate, I am a hard-working girl/and I know how to do such things!/oh yes, oh no. / like singing, dancing, sewing, embroidering and serving a bitter drink...)