Ricardo García Blaya

A millon tangos

n 2010 tango is going to be more than a hundred and thirty years old. But trying to avoid a never ending argument about its origins and etymology, we asked ourselves how many numbers have been inspired since its inception. We have to think the answer over and we foresee it is not simple.

Many ones take a chance with the numbers of pieces filed in the SADAIC record, others with the probable number of recordings and, as is a trademark among tango fans, the figures are discussed with emphasis and vehemence. But the truth is that no one can know, for certain, how many tangos there are.

With my students of the seminar Investigación, relevamiento y archivo del tango that I teach in the Academia Nacional del Tango, we have verified, on a number of around twenty thousand music sheet copies, that ninety per cent of them were not committed to disc. That is to say, that their musical contents remains hidden in the labyrinth of music staffs, turned into an almost metaphysical mystery.

Furthermore, there is an interesting conclusion: nearly fifty per cent of the pieces researched were not filed in the SADAIC record, whether because they had been conceived before the institution was created or for lack of interest or whatever.

Another question is the great number of existing pieces, even written by consecrated musicians like Ángel Villoldo, Eduardo Arolas or Agustín Bardi, that never became sheet music, that were never taken to a publishing house. All this leads us to think, in complete agreement with our friend Héctor Lucci, that there are a million tangos.

This seems to be a joke, but it isn’t. Our statement, despite it contains a metaphor, is as valid as any other quantification made.

Tango began to express itself as such around 1880. To place things into a real context, let us say that it was born thirty- five years before jazz.

From that moment on it accompanied the reality of its environment, becoming a witness of its time and of later times as soon as it was growing on.

It was a reality that encompassed either the social, economical and political events, or the merely daily facts. Furthermore, it brought testimony of different historical happenings or of outstanding events of the period. This that we say is mainly evidenced in the titles of the pieces, or in their dedications or, even, in the drawings that embellish the sheet music copies.

Let us remember that lyrics would come much later as from “Mi noche triste (Lita)”, first tango-song, recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917. In other words, forty years after the inception of the genre.

Tango was for two decades a fashionable music in the world and, as such, was a reflection of things that happened in the orb, especially in Europe and in the United States (“El Marne”, “Wilson”, “Eternamente”).

The disc labels, in a way, are another source of information, but connected to the recording companies, the performers, the composers, the recording dates that can be guessed from the disc number or the matrix or the release series.

In sum, due to its testimonial condition, sheet music copies and disc labels are for our subject, fundamental documents for research.

For our research we use a simple method that stimulates our curiosity and turns out very entertaining. It consists of establishing different subject-matters that would guide us in our research of music pieces.

Those subject-matters may be of the most varied origins and are expressed by their titles and in the dedications or in the illustrations of the sheet music covers. For example: tangos with a woman’s name (“Marianita”, “Gricel”, “Juanita”), with events connected to aeronautics (“Don Teodoro”, “La Ratona”), with flower names (“Clavel del aire”, “Flor de un día”), linked to the economic activity (“Dónde hay un mango?”, “Ley de jubilación”), to politics (“Unión Cívica”, “El socialista”), to labors and crafts (“El escobillero”, “El periodista”, “El baqueano”), to sports (“Taponazo (Che, Ferreyra)”, “El sueño del pibe”), to horse races (“La rodada”, “Moñito”), etc.

Take into account that many of the examples we present here are by well-known composers but those that are by unknown songwriters are many more.

This way, hundred of unknown authors start to appear, an infinity of people’s names, publishing companies, addresses, prices, subtitles, listings with other compositions on the back cover, photos and beautiful drawings. They are all elements that are subject to our analysis and research.

The object of our seminar is to give evidence of our task to future generations in (digital or standard) cards where all these data is written. Furthermore, we add the recordings we find, enumerating the versions and stating all other information appearing on the disc labels.

Many creators and interpreters would have been definitively forgotten had not been for the rescuing task of collectors and researchers. This action for recognition is, precisely, the objective of our Todo Tango site and also, of the seminar.

There are still many endless items to clear out. Some examples: Who was Horacio Mackintosh?, And who was Pedro Datta?, What does the title “El Piñerista” refer to?, How are those many unpublished tangos?, Which were the reasons for the dedications?, Who were the real composers of some tangos? and many more infinite mysteries.

The aim of every composer is to go beyond time through his work, that the latter may be included in the repertoires of other artists and that it be well-known.

Let’s stop a minute and meditate about the creative process. The melody and its parts haunt around the artist’s brain. When the piece is finished the composer writes it in a music staff. Later he will try to make it printed by talking to a publisher, but its sublimation as musical work, its tangibility only comes true when it reaches the ears of an audience.

That is to say that the piece that the creator imagined gets its artistic meaning and its materialization when it can be heard by another person.

Inside those pieces which were not committed to disc the sheet music copies hide a mystery —laden with notes, quavers and semiquavers—, just like in the lamp of the story. They are waiting for somebody that would free them like the genie of the story.

As a final example I tell you that one of those lamps was opened to us by Osvaldo Requena with his piano and we published it in Todo Tango to share it with our friends: the tango “Volcán”, an unpublished piece handwritten in ink by the Tigre del bandoneón himself that we delivered in the house of the maestro.