Roberto Selles

Ataniche - Story of the tango “Ataniche”

bout the origin of the tango “Ataniche” somebody said —and many more repeated it— that Ernesto Ponzio had been inspired by a certain lady that used to go to the Tambito on a carriage whose horse was adorned with small silver bells. It was a pure legend. Pibe Ernesto himself once told a reporter that, in fact, he had dedicated it to a girlfriend of his of that time, and its title was no other thing but the anagram of «Che, Anita».

And probably its title comes from Ponzio —we know he signed it in 1900—, but the authorship of the melody presents serious doubts.

In 1914 Roberto Firpo recorded the same tango but under the title of “Los Guevara” and with his own signature. A year later another recording was released, this time by Celestino Ferrer, on which Firpo also appeared as composer but its title showed a deliberate diaeresis: “Los Güevara”.

Time later, in 1924, the composition underwent other mutations. Juan Carlos Bazán now appeared as its author, published by Ortelli Hnos. with the title “Ataniche” (the sheet music says: «arranged for piano by Juan Carlos Bazán Molina») and, on the other hand, Firpo recorded it again, this time for Odeon, as “Los Guevara” and he appeared as arranger. All this was written by Daniel Cárdenas in his Apuntes de tango (1975).

Lastly, it was only in 1935, one year after Ponzio’s death, when Alfredo Perrotti published it with Pibe Ernesto’s signature and the title “Ataniche”. Three years later Firpo again committed it to disc as Ponzio’s “Ataniche”.

Who is then the real composer of the old tango? Evidently Firpo wasn’t —he might have taken its title from a theater play: Los Guevara, in which, surely, the composition was included—, because he said, time later, he was the arranger and thereafter he recorded it while Ponzio appeared as its composer. Then it would be a piece by Ponzio or Bazán. In the latter case, the question is why both men had said they were authors of the same piece, especially, if they were close friends? Maybe it’s because it is a tango or a milonga by an anonymous author.

As for it, Daniel Cárdenas comments that Rafael Rossi and Felipe Amadeo Lastra assured that it was no other thing but a tango by an unknown author. Furthermore, José Gobello, in his book Conversando tangos (1976), holds that: «it’s a tango by Ernesto Ponzio that was spread as anonymous and that the latter claimed as his own after the recordings by Firpo made it widely known. Then nobody argued about its authorship and Firpo himself recorded it again as a Ponzio’s piece. Finally, someone composed the anonymous tangos. And that someone, in the case of “Ataniche”, why wasn’t Ponzio?

But there’s still a question unanswered: if the tango belonged, in fact, to Ponzio, why his friend Bazán regarded it as his own? Perhaps the El Pibe had given it away to Bazán or to Firpo. Enrique González Tuñón says that Ponzio gave it away some day, but he does not clear out to whom.

Furthermore, Ponzio’s wife, Adela Sabino, told the researcher Miguel Ángel Lafuente: «Firpo liked “Ataniche” very much and taking advantage of Ernesto’s absence he entitled it “Los Guevara” but it was “Ataniche”. Bazán took “Los Guevara” away from Firpo and entitled it again “Ataniche”». Let us remember that El Pibe spent several years in prison and served his last sentence between 1924 and 1928.

Setting aside the different circumstances of tango, everything seems to indicate that Ponzio must have adapted an anonymous milonga to compose it. Its first section does not seem to be a different thing due to its cadence and the fact that it is only eight bars long. A typically primitive structure that is repeated to reach sixteen bars.

Luis Adolfo Sierra confirmed to us his suspicion when he pointed out that Ponzio himself had told him on some occasion that he had adapted a popular air to compose his tango. Also he said it to Tomás de Lara in a letter dated on December 27, 1983 and included by the latter in Los veinte tangos iniciales del tango (Boletín de la Academia Porteña del Lunfardo, volume VIII, Nº 17-20, 1984): «As for the tango “Ataniche” I have to say that I was a friend of the famous Pibe Ernesto’s (...) The first explanation in connection to the tango at issue was said by Ponzio himself. His tango was initially an anonymous composition, that is to say, an authentic folk tune, without a known author and that he had adapted to the musical forms of tango».

As for the second section —there is also a third one, which does not appear in the Ponzio’s sheet music—, maybe it is also based on an anonymous tune but it has a greater development. In it it is evidenced the hand of a musician that was not a milonga guitar strummer; maybe a violinist... In other words, El Pibe Ernesto had brought his personal contribution to it.

Some recordings of “Ataniche”:
Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra (1936, Buenos Aires)
Roberto Firpo Quartet (1942, Buenos Aires)
Juan Cambareri Quartet (1948, Montevideo)
Lorenzo Barbero Orchestra (1951, Buenos Aires)
Eulogio Viola y su ritmo del 900 (Uruguay)
Mouro-Maquieira Quintet (Uruguay)