Lydia Orsi

Federico and tango

eauty cannot be killed.
To Federico García Lorca, executed by a firing squad in August 1936 (Spain)

Federico is a stream of waters and doves that is raised from language to carry the seeds of the unknown to all the human borders. (Pablo Neruda)

You cannot kill the beauty that is in the shapes and color, that is in the words, that is in sound, you cannot kill the beauty that is hinted by an idea. But art is dangerous, metaphor is dangerous and that danger destroy lives: Picasso with his badly wounded and painful “Guernica” in France, Rafael Alberti’s exile (over 30 years outside Spain), Antonio Machado’s “dying far from home, was covered by the sky of a neighboring country”, Miguel Hernández, dead in prison, his oeuvre dead by concealment and Federico dragged and molten into lead at age thirty-eight when he was leading a fruitful creative life.

Federico was born in June 1898 in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, where he was raised until his teen years. From 1919 to 1928 he was based in Madrid. He met Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Pedro Salinas and other artists of the generation of ‘27.

In his style of poet and musician will always appear Andalucía... Andalucía... Andalucía. In his stanzas and on the music staff we will find “cante jondo” with all it involves and in all the variations of the genre.

That special guitar that will join Federico and Manuel de Falla in his charm will play: “En la redonda encrucijada, seis doncellas bailan”... (at the round crossroads six maidens dance)

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil callarla.
Es imposible callarla.
Llora monótona
como llora el agua
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible callarla.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana,
Y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh, guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

An avant-gardist, he loves his roots and that birth scenery will be the axis of his poetry.

Sobre el monte pelado,
un calvario.
Agua clara y olivos centenarios.
Por las callejas
hombres embozados,
y en las torres
veletas girando,
¡Oh! Pueblo perdido,
en la Andalucía del llanto.

In 1929 the government of Primo de Rivera banned his theater play “Amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín”. This event and other private circumstances led him to New York. Save for the important influence that Walt Whitman and the events connected with the world economic crisis had on him that made him pay more attention to social subjects, in the United States he was only attracted to the music played by Black people!

In 1930, when in Cuba, La Habana fascinated him with its art of Black and Spanish roots, with the warm tropical atmosphere and the warmth of its people (Nicolás Guillén), with its brightness, by its rites.

«I was thinking of Buenos Aires as a deserted plain, a plain for the nine joys, where herbs form a tiny clamor of hope, a plain for children and a pure fountain of clear water.»

Between October 1933 and March 1934 he lived in Buenos Aires and visited Montevideo where he lectured. He arrived at the time of the fraudulent democracy when the general Agustín P. Justo was president. Lola Membrives premiered his theater play “Bodas de sangre” and staged it for over 150 performances. Also on the billboard were “Mariana Pineda” and “La zapatera prodigiosa”. “La casa de Bernarda Alba” starring Margarita Xirgu will be on a future occasion. It will be premiered here in 1945 (by the end of World War II) and in Spain in 1964.

Buenos Aires regards him as his own child. His Hispanic tour along Avenida de Mayo: the luxurious Hotel Castelar (accomodation and the “SIGNO” coterie, at the basement), Teatro Avenida (hits), the Great Tortoni (socializing).

He met “la Argentinita”, a Spanish dancer, spent his evenings of fun and words with Oliverio Girondo, Norah Lange, Raúl González Tuñón, César Tiempo. At the house of Pablo Rojas Paz he started a close friendship with Pablo Neruda (then Chilean consul) that would go on in Spain until and after his death. The joyous temper of one and the taciturn features of the other were complementary.

Federico and Pablo, on November 20, 1933 at the Pen Club held an unforgettable original chat that they called “discurso al limón”. The bull fighting jargon defines with this term the situation of two bullfighters that can fight at the same time with the same bull with the same cape. Replacing bullfighters by writers, one word said by one would be continued by the other, putting together in such a way an improvised lecture.

El tango, Federico, hoy es tu tango.
En setenta balcones florecidos
amaneció la Alhambra en el Abasto
con su traje de luces y obelisco. (Gloria Marcó)

A legend says that César Tiempo, walking along with Federico, met by chance Carlos Gardel and so the former introduced each other. At the apartment of the singer, the latter touched the poet’s heart by singing “Caminito”. He would later write:

«Buenos Aires has something that is alive and personal: something full of a dramatic beating, something that is unmistakable and original amidst its thousand human races that appeals to us: TANGO. All Buenos Aires has the heartbeat of TANGO».

On January 4, 1934 when “Bodas de sangre” was premiered by the company led by Lola Membrives at the Teatro Avenida, thanking the applause by the audience, Federico said: «I look for the sharpest profile of Buenos Aires among its ships, its bandoneons, the asleep music of its soft Spanish and the homes of the people where Tango opens the twilight of its best ranges of tears».

And the bandoneon sound will amaze the poet... That instrument which during his stay was part of the Guardia Nueva del Tango, more precisely the “Decarian period” with the formula: “Tango is also music”...

Two bandoneonists shared the success in the Julio De Caro orchestra: “The two Pedros”, Maffia and Laurenz who created revolutionary forms wrapping the sound with a singular expressiveness.

Anselmo Aieta, (a great admirer of Eduardo Arolas), with his own group offered a warm, confidential, sonorous, phrased tango.

Ciriaco Ortiz, who had a very personal style, played with Roberto Firpo, with Francisco Canaro, in the Orquesta Típica Víctor and also in his own groups.

Aníbal Troilo was beginning to appear with the orchestras led by Juan MaglioPacho”, Vardaro-Pugliese, Julio De Caro and Ciriaco Ortiz. Troilo’s bandoneon then stood out due to its gentle sound, its harmonic brightness and its octaves. In 1937 he would begin to lead his famous orchestra.

All the names are not given and they end with the great Elvino Vardaro who was highly successful in 1933 but quite evolved for his time. The recording companies did not regard him as a profitable element.

He may have heard the words and the tango situations said by who was his buddy in his night chats, Carlos Raúl Muñoz y Pérez, widely known as Carlos de la Púa, prestigious journalist and poet, author of the “Criolla Bible” entitled “La Crencha Engrasada” who was mentioned by Celedonio Flores in the tango “Corrientes y Esmeralda”: «Te glosa en poemas Carlos de la Púa / y el pobre Contursi fue tu amigo fiel / en tu esquina criolla cualquier cacatúa/ sueña con la pinta de Carlos Gardel.» We do not have to make a great effort to imagine Federico’s eyes like a boy amazed when listening (maybe without understanding) the famous lunfardesque quatrains of:

Era una mina bien, era un gran coche,
era un Packard placero, era una alhaja:
Auto que siempre trabajó de noche
llevando siempre la bandera baja.

from “Línea 9”
Era un boncha boleao, un chacarero
que se piyó aquel 9 en el Retiro.
¡Nunca vieron esparo ni lancero
un gil a la acuarela más a tiro!

He also kept a close relationship with Enrique Santos Discépolo, another frequenter of the Buenos Aires nights. When the visitor arrived his ever-present tangos were already known: “Chorra”, “Esta noche me emborracho”, “Malevaje”, “Secreto”, “Soy un arlequín”, “Victoria”, “Qué vachaché”, “Qué sapa señor”, “Yira yira”.

In these, with the exception of the latter two, the excluding subject was woman. A woman who decides: deceives, wins the hearts of others, obsesses, displays her passion, is elusive, indifferent, and leaves when she wants. Man is an object that undergoes the situations... These writings pose the question if there is machismo in tango... What would have Federico thought?

The truth is that the tango philosopher, according to Tania’s narration, continued his relationship with Federico on a travel they made to Spain in 1936.

The man of Granada found that tango, like his beloved “cante jondo” was a social creation, music of the people, anonymous in its beginnings. The true tango, the intimate one, the one he saw being danced at the Peña Signo, at the basement of the Hotel Castelar, with his sensitiveness of musician he compared it to the ceremony of true flamenco, dances of concentration with music that, even without shouting, keep inside a piercing ow!

When he left he said: «I know that there is possibly a nostalgia of Argentina from which I won’t get rid of and from which I don’t want to get rid of because it will be good and fruitful for my spirit».

When he returned to his hometown he wrote: «Nobody knows, far distant Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires open at the bottom of the stem of my voice, the interest and the colorful restlessness that overwhelms me when I recall your tragic vitality».

Then 1936 comes, beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The last thing that Federico saw was his Granada seized by the supporters of Franco and the body of its socialist mayor, Fernández Montesino, carried away and shot. He was the husband of his sister. Later, the guards carried him on August 16 and probably shot him the following day.

Why a murder? Speculations: Because of pending affairs between families of Granada, because of his friendship with Fernando de los Ríos, an outstanding figure of the contemporary Spanish socialist ideas, because he was homosexual, because of his testimonial literature for the people, because he supported the Frente Popular...

In fact, they shot his artistry thinking that his murder would lead to oblivion, but his oeuvre grows bigger when dictators or tyrants try to conceal it, by staying, getting brighter and remaining in the mind and the feeling of the generations to come.

A la muerte del poeta Federico García Lorca
(To the death of the poet Federico García Lorca)

¡Qué muerte enamorada de su muerte!
¡Qué fusilado corazón tan vivo!
¡Qué luna de ceniza tan ardiente
en donde se desploma Federico!

Los menudos rumores de la muerte
alrededor del esqueleto niño
cuando suben y bajan las mareas
en donde se desploma Federico.

¡Qué amor al que cayó por el acero
de un alba de asesinos y de obispos!
¡Qué olor a siempreviva apasionada
en donde se desploma Federico!

¡Qué aire de antigua voz de estatua rota
rodea su sepulcro amanecido
cuando suben y bajan los claveles
en donde se desploma Federico!

(Raúl González Tuñón, 1905-1974)