Néstor Pinsón

From “La morocha” to El Garrón. Tango conquers Paris

hance, commercial agreements and thirst for adventure converged so that, in less than ten years, a new and strange music rhythm —which had come from the most distant country of South America— would shake the body and soul of Parisian citizens. As it usually happens with exotic novelties, certain levels of society were its early followers: segments of the aristocratic range and of the art world showed curiosity for this plaintive and sensual music that allowed people to dance hugging each other.

The first record we have concerns somebody who had the crazy idea of shipping around a thousand sheet music copies of the tango “La morocha” on the Sarmiento frigate when it was about to sail on a worldwide voyage with the brand-new officers of the Argentine Navy.

It was 1906. The official history says that the sheet music copies were left at every harbor. In what other way could that tango piece have been known in Europe? It is not clearly known if that was the first step, but up to the present it is a valid speculation. Some state that sheet music copies of “El choclo” were also shipped.

The commercial agreement took place one year later. In 1907 the Gath & Chaves company decided to sell records with its label. Then the business grew quickly when three artists were sent to France for recording tango music. The chosen ones were Ángel Villoldo and the Gobbis (husband and wife). The imminence of war made them flee from Europe but they appeared at different venues until they finally returned to Uruguay, first, and to Argentina, later.

The thirst for adventure tempted the members of the first tango embassy, in fact, only two boys. One, the music composer of “La morocha”, also a pianist and an excellent dancer: Enrique Saborido; the other, an outstanding musician and composer: Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores. They arrived in the Old World a few years before the beginning of World War I, it was 1911. Saborido stood out by teaching to dance, especially, to a large number of ladies that required his services.

In 1913 this conquest of Paris reached its turning point with the arrival of three musicians and a couple of dancers: Celestino Ferrer (guitarist, later pianist), Vicente Loduca (bandoneon player), Eduardo Monelos (violinist) and El Vasco Casimiro Aín and his dancing partner Martina. The musicians were hired at the Cabaret Princesse which was located on the upper story of the rue Fontaine, number 6 bis. Downstairs there was the Deux Masques Theater, later modified into the Cabaret Palermo.

Soon thereafter, Loduca had an offer to travel to Brazil not to appear as musician but as magician. That was his hobby and he wanted to take a chance. It did not last long, but it was enough so that Ferrer had to call to Buenos Aires to get another bandoneon player, Güerino Filipotto. Later another hindrance appeared, this time more serious, Eduardo Monelos got ill. He came back to our country and died of tuberculosis. He was replaced by another violinist whose background is almost unknown, José Sciutto.

The work of the boys was interrupted by the war. Ferrer got acquainted with a tycoon connected with horse-racing, the North American Mr. Ryan, who suggested them to appear in his country. Sciutto stayed and the rest of them went to the United States. But frustration soon came: tango was of no interest in the United States. Then Ryan found jobs for them. One became a candy seller, the other a car washer. Vasco Aín made his living by teaching how to dance. Then a curious story took place. They rented a room with three beds, two were occupied by Ferrer and Filipotto and the third already had its occupant: El Tano, an Italian boy that worked as bricklayer. The latter, after the movies invention, became the worlwide famous star Rodolfo Valentino.

When the war was over their instruments went on spreading tango music again in Paris. Then 1920 comes, the final clause of this stage. After a series of hardships Manuel Pizarro and El Tano Genaro Espósito arrived. They immediately met Ferrer, Filipotto, Aín and Sciutto who were not doing well.

Pizarro became friends with an aristocratic Argentine boy who liked tango: Vicente Madero. The latter did his best to introduce him to Ely Volterra, the new boss of the Princesse, so that he would hire the former. Madero made his recommendation and the boss agreed to run the risk. Tango had to be a good business at that time because it was estimated that there were over four thousand Argentinians in Paris and most them were acquainted with the venue.

Pizarro put together an orchestra with the above boys and with some French guys. They had to wear gaucho outfits because as an extravagant attraction they were allowed to appear by the union. And then came the debut. Enrique Cadícamo wrote that “El entrerriano” was the first number played.

Since then we can state that tango has cast a spell on Paris and, similarly, it has been anchored to that city.

In a previous chat, when they were all reunited, Ferrer said: «Volterra thinks that when the cabaret is filled by Argentinians he will get rid of those freeloader French guys (garroneros) that are like a disease». When the impresario knew the meaning of that word he decided to change the name Princesse for El Garrón. And it turned out the historical venue of tango and the banner of a triumph: having imposed our music in Europe, in the admired nation that so much had to do with our culture in its time.