Sergio Pujol

Betinotti and the New York blondes. Fox-trot in Carlos Gardel's repertoire

n his last and hardly known appearance in the movies, Gardel sings Amargura and Apure delantero buey, backed by other Latin figures. The editions are released in The Big Broadcast of 1935, a film which like a musical revue includes interpretations of Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Ray Noble, Amos'n Andy and the Choir of the Children Singers of Vienna. Gardel has not returned to Buenos Aires since 1933. He will soon die in Medellín, at the peak of his career.

His fame has built the unmistakable folkish and tango profile, forged since 1913. However, Gardel performs in Long Island having got acquainted with the United States music in his own country. Even more: before rubbing elbows with Bing Crosby, listening to jazz in Harlem, going to a show of "Roberta", musical comedy by Jerome Kern, and following Reinhardt's instructions so as to project his image within the discovered code of sound, the creole hero has recorded shimmies and foxtrots in a cosmopolitan and modern Buenos Aires. It has nothing to do with the recordings that represent that "essential" Gardel that discs, tapes, photos and memories have canonized. But it is an interesting material. For the moment, it is worth remembering that we are not talking about a couple of isolated pranks: 19 numbers catalogued as shimmies and foxtrots nurture a discography which also includes 5 French songs –with accompaniment by the jazzman Kalikan Gregor, a French-Armenian who shared the spotlights with the singer on the luxurious nights at Niza–, a somewhat free version of Dance of the dragonflies by Franz Lehar and an exotic chest with fado, pasillo colombiano, Russian ballad, pasodoble, rhumba, jota and that canzonetta publicly despised by Carlos de la Púa.

At a fair appraisal of its sociocultural significance, Simon Collier asserts that Carlos Gardel must be placed at the same level of Maurice Chevallier, Al Jolson and Bing Crosby, all them emergent out of a mass society which undergoes a process of accelerated internationalization and commercialization that subjects its products to the gratification of vast sectors of the world population. Gardel shares with the artists previously cited a standard of quality unaccustomed in the cultural industry. This places him at a privileged site; he controls, as he is not a prefabricated product, its movements within the limits imposed on the consolidated star system. With modern greediness, launched without prejudice towards a constellation of mediations –disc, film, radio, photo, journal article, etc.–, the singer is consciously inserted into a complex cultural fabric that runs between tradition and modernity. If the estilos and the zambas he so well sang at the times of Saúl Salinas and José Razzano, affiliated him with the folk song of the pre-immigratory Argentina when he wanted to be no longer "the little French", the "international" repertory –never set against the others– places that "Gardel-image" on a stand to which not all singers are entitled. Between those extremes the tangos are, always equally distant from Betinotti's echo and Tita Ruffo's friendly lessons.

The situation of the Gardelian phenomenon in the early thirties can be linked to the transformations which took place at different ambits of the popular urban culture.

As valuable repositories of the new cultural state we have the copies of magazines like "El alma que canta", "La canción moderna", "Sintonía", etc. Throughout the twenties it is already noticeable from "El alma que canta" the growing space devoted to "modern" songs. The section "Lo que canta el pueblo" (what the people sing) is a mosaic: together with tangos, themes from zarzuelas and tarantellas. El afilador is considered "rhumba-song", while Fiesta is introduced as "rhumba-foxtrot" (January 12, 1932). The songs are not alone; the Opera cinema-theater acts as a strong incentive and collaborates in the gradual evolution of the popular taste. Sharing pages with advertisements for bandoneons and tango<