Néstor Pinsón
| Ricardo García Blaya

Carnival, tango and the streamers in the wee small hours of the morning

ccording to the definition of the Enciclopedia Sopena, for the universal catholic flock, carnival —a pagan festivity—, is celebrated on the three days preceding Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. Then the popular holiday when are formed the masquerades, the comparsas (carnival groups), the dances and other lively, hilarious delightful events begin.

Nearly all the countries in the world celebrate it, whatever their religion, according to their customs and traditions. That rapture, that makes a break in routine life, has been the origin of love affairs and disappointments, joys and sadness and even duels of passion.

Our carnival was not much different. The most popular fancy costumes were those of Colombine, Pierrot, (Italian)cocoliche, harlequin, clown, the dangerous grizzly bear —whose use was banned because on several occasions they were set on fire (the costumes were made of wool and would burn soon—; and many others. Even a simple mask added to plain clothes meant some kind of sympathetic support.

And people used to play with streamers, with confeti and with flasks containing perfume that caused a rash on your eyes if someone would spray into them. Furthermore there were naïve flasks filled with water.

The crowded street parades were along the main avenues of the capital city and the most renowned is the one held along Avenida de Mayo. Likewise the most traditional streets in each neighborhood had their own. And, mainly, there were big carnival balls eagerly awaited by the young.

Tango testified to this expression of the people including carnival and its rites, firstly with their titles and, later, with their lyrics. In the twenties the best numbers were born, many of them became classics.

The old times with the large orchestras, which were forced to increase the number of their members to compensate for the noise of the environment, were longed for. In some cases they exceeded the number of fifty members. The most renowned was the one which gathered the ranks of Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo’s in order to appear at the Teatro Colón of Rosario, province of Santa Fe, for the carnival balls of 1917.

With the advent of the lyricist’s artistry we see a varied treatment of this subject matter. On the one hand, carnival was shown as a social depiction, sometimes accompanied by a brief romance and betrayal: «Where are you going in a Manila shawl/ where to with so nice fancy costume?/ No less than to a luxurious ball/ where the entrance fee is quite expensive/ You’re doin’ fine, gal!/ You’ve changed percale for silk.../ Dressed up as a rich girl you’re cute/ the best thing I’ve seen in carnival». (“Carnaval”)

Another example: «Tonight under Life’s arch/ carnival is parading its madness/ the world plays the cornet of its laughter/ and wears a goodness mask...» (“Serpentinas de esperanza”)

On the other hand, carnival in a more philosophical and metaphysical sense, with a story containing a complaint, resignation, failure, and some kind of moral: «when the winter of your life/ begins to be felt/ you’ll be sorry for/ having led a carnival life». (“Callejera”)

And another one: «At dawn as fugitive shadows/ luck and laughter will depart./ All my hours will hold a gray loneliness./ On my lips I’ll feel the ashes of her new rebuff/ and they’ll only be remains of a dream./ A perfume blowing in the air/ and a small mask on the floor». (“Otra vez carnaval”)

Also it appears as a temporary refuge, as a denial of reality: «If love mistreats you./ Who cares about love?/ You put on another mask/ that will hide your heart...» (“Todo el año es carnaval”)

Dante A. Linyera in “Yo me quiero divertir” makes his character say: «Tonight I’ll play the fool./ Disappointments by Fate are like sparks/ if life is death in disguise/ and tonight is carnival./ Our souls are dressed up like clowns,/ our faces wear the mask of joy/ in the mad whirlwind of orgy/ let’s laugh to forget...»

We can notice in the lyrics that the vision the authors had about carnival was not only a description. They saw beyond the fun, the human behavior, the unrequited loves, the need to evade the daily reality to abandon themselves to an easy happiness. In sum, they were verses with profound, dramatic issues.

Te conozco mascarita”, by Martín Quijano, possibly the oldest number, dates back to 1902 and “La cumparsita”, the most famous tango (1916).

Other titles:

“Agua de pomo”, by Francisco Fiorentino
Carnaval”, by Anselo Aieta and Francisco García Jiménez
Carnaval de antaño”, by Sebastián Piana and Manuel Romero
Carnaval de mi barrio”, by Luis Rubistein
Carnavalera” (milonga), by Piana and Homero Manzi
“Carnavales de mi vida”, by Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Cadícamo
Cascabelito”, by José Bohr and Juan Andrés Caruso
Cocoliche”, by Eugenio Nobile, Luis Cosenza and Francisco Lamela
Colombina (Teresita)”, by Julio and Francisco De Caro with Cadícamo.
“Colombina”, by Matteo Cóppola.
“Cotillón”, by Juan Carlos Bazán
Después de carnaval”, by José Amuchástegui Keen.
“Dios momo”, by Alfonso Lacueva and Enrique Carrera Sotelo.
Disfrazado”, by Antonio Tello and Alejandro Da Silva.
“Disfrazado [b]” (same title), by Aieta and Francisco Laino
Disfrazate hermano”, by Antonio Bonavena, Antonio Solera and Francisco Gorrindo
“El rey de la serpentina”, by Graciano De Leone
En el corsito del barrio” (milonga), by Abel Aznar and Reinaldo Yiso
Esta noche en Buenos Aires”, by Ángel D’Agostino, Eduardo Del Piano and Erasmo Silva Cabrera.
“Esta noche me disfrazo”, by Juan B. Vescio.
Este carnaval”, by Luis Caruso and Miguel Caruso.
“Hasta el otro carnaval”, by Julio De Caro and Dante A. Linyera.
La enmascarada”, by Paquita Bernardo and García Jiménez.
“La murga”, by Peregrino Paulos
“Máscaras”, by Pedro Vilella and Luis Rubistein.
Mascarita”, by José Monzeglio.
Melenita de oro”, by Carlos Geroni Flores and Samuel Linnig.
“Mi carnaval”, by Alberto Gambino.
“Mis carnavales de ayer”, by Carmelo Imperio, Romeo Gavioli and Juan Carlos Patrón.
Otra vez carnaval”, by Carlos Di Sarli and García Jiménez.
Papel picado”, by Cátulo Castillo and José González Castillo.
Pobre colombina”, by Virgilio Carmona and Emilio Falero.
“Pobre mascarita”, by Salvador Granata and Orlando Romanelli.
“Quiero disfrazarme”, by Roberto Prince and Francisco Sorrentino.
Ríe payaso”, by Virgilio Carmona and Emilio Falero.
Sacate el antifaz”, by Orlando Romanelli and Alberto Munilla.
Sacate la caretita”, by Luis Cosenza, José Schumacher and Juan A. Caruso.
“Serpentina”, by Miguel Caló and Francisco Federico.
Serpentinas de esperanza”, by José Canet and Afner Gatti.
Siempre es carnaval”, by Osvaldo and Emilio Fresedo.
Siga el corso [b]”, by Ricardo Brignolo
Siga el corso”, same title like the above, by Aieta and García Jiménez.
Soy un arlequín”, by Enrique Santos Discépolo.
Tirame una serpentina”, by Aieta and Juan Sarcione.
Todo el año es carnaval”, by De Caro and Dante A. Linyera.
“Tu disfraz”, by Ángel Danesi.
Yo me quiero divertir”, by De Caro and Dante A. Linyera.

Nowadays carnival is no longer what was then, it is not spontaneously celebrated by the people, despite a large number of costume bands have appeared in the latter years to increase the number of the historic ones that survived with much effort.

We as well see the effort of the government of the city of Buenos Aires in programming official carnival parades and shows which gather public but who lack the enthusiasm of days gone by. The decline of carnival represents one of the many changes that the Argentine popular habits underwent after that dark night that followed the fall of Juan Domingo Perón’s government.

To end the story, an image and a thought which are haunting me since childhood, when carnival was fashionable. When everything is over and the streets are empty, is there anything more distressing than the sadness caused by seeing a hank of tangled streamers swept by the early morning breeze?