La morocha Tango
Hugo Alemán

04. He was Tango

t is said that on April 3, 1901, when Gardel was eleven —and naturally eight years after his arrival in Buenos Aires— «he was enrolled as apprentice of craftsman in the colegio de San Carlos». Furthermore, it is said, that in 1904, after eleven years of stay in the Argentine capital, he concluded grammar school in the colegio de San Estanislao and attempted various trades. Such assertion is in agreement with a brief information: «this humble origin of Gardel has been pointed out by a great number of texts».


Everything makes us think that from 1904 to 1910, it was the time when he dwelt in Montevideo. Those six years when his name was not heard in Buenos Aires, was the time during which «he was considered dead». Even the Uruguayan magazine Capital del Plata, says that «It was his first home and that was, on the other hand, the place where Gardel was most at ease...»

El Morocho, cordial nickname with which he achieved his fame, «lived all day long in the street. The Teatro Apolo, where the Podestás had "anchored" his theater company, exerted upon him an extraordinary attraction. Within his being, his fiber of artist was already vibrating». And it was added: «The grocery stores were his early stages... Little by little all cafés and neighborhoods were getting acquainted with the boy who knew how to go very deeply, with his wonderful voice, into the people´s heart...»


Nobody, before Gardel, had sung tangos. The latter were known at their early times, as easily danced music. But as long as years passed, tango, thanks to its own evolution, «has climbed from feet to mouth», in a proverbial phrase by Enrique Santos Discépolo. In the earlier days, no one had written lyrics to tango, except Angel Villoldo who did it to Enrique Saborido's “La morocha”. That far distant intent, besides a passing one, evidenced the cuplé's contagious influence; it was excessively elementary, without consequence, and was unable to thrive. More than a decade later, Carlos Gardel retook the rhythm with personality, provided with lyrics written by Pascual Contursi, especially at the beginning. Some time later, they would be written by other authors and, exclusively, in certain cases. Let us remember “Mano a mano” by Celedonio Flores —with ample command of lunfardo jargon— and many tangos and songs by Alfredo Le Pera, who besides wrote scripts for revues and feature films which starred Gardel and entered into the history of cinematographic art.


Because in Gardel there is something that is above any other consideration: his spiritual nobleness and his human generosity, exercised with a never boasted high feeling of philanthropy. This virtue has been generally acknowledged. And it is the strongest reason —aside from the supremacy he achieved as unparalleled interpreter of the River Plate music— to having penetrated into the deepness of popular affection. Through his plain and cordial way of being, his personality was shaping, until reaching levels of admiration and gratitude. That is why it's been said that «he had been shaping that personality on the same crucible in which tango was developing its lyrics. So much so that in the enumeration of his own personal conditions, all the human contents of our tango themes are toply defined: he cultivated friendship up to the widest extremes, even reaching sacrifice for a friend's sake, and always with the modesty which hightened him, by hiding his gesture... he was a sentimental one living the grief of humble people as if it were his own...»

To be great, understood and praised, the true tango singer must keep for his own privacy, like in a nontransparent flask, all the happiness springing from the understanding soul and which is evidenced in shelter and relief to others' misfortune and misery, carrying them out with silent generosity.

«Perhaps what Gardel had was precisely that, tango itself within his soul, consubstantiated with his own personality: «He was tango». Someone expressed a similar thought: «Gardel more than the best tango singer, he is Tango himself, with capital letters». That identification with the genre had already been foreseen by the singer himself: «My fame is not mine —he even said— is my country's, is my people's. That whom the public applauds is not Carlos Gardel; is our popular art which, by a happy coincidence, I had the chance to interpret, just like any other American singer would have done... I'm no one. It's tango the one who succeeds».


Then, in this intent of profile, abridged into minimal stories, and sometimes interrupted, for fear of making it too long, we rather have to pick up, preferably, aspects, sides, which offer essential features of that disquieting life, which failed to complete forty five years and, however, destined to perpetuity, while mankind —not completely alienated— keeps the virtue of enjoying the musical caress and the vibrating expression of sentiment, through the melancholy of a tango, quintessenced in Gardel's voice, which goes on free from oblivion, disengaged of silences…

Hugo Alemán: Poet and essay writer, he was born in 1898. He belonged to the Grupo de Quito an outstanding group of poets led by the bard Jorge Carrera Andrade. He held the direction of the Biblioteca de la Universidad Central and the Biblioteca del Instituto Nacional Mejía. He was director of the magazines Letras del Ecuador columnist in the newspapers El Día, La Tierra and El Comercio of Quito. Out of his poetry work we can stand out De ayer (1947), Tránsito de generaciones (1950); Distancias (1959); Sucre parábola ecuatorial (1970) and Poesía (1981). The excerpts included in this volume belong to his essay Mundo y tango -semblanzas y facetas (1978).