Ojos negros Tango
Roberto L. Martínez

El Piñerista and the Radical revolution in Rosario

he tango world is surrounded by mysteries, secrets, myths and legends that are hard to explain because, with the passing of time, have disappeared or the documents that would prove the many assertions made about the characters of the genre and their works never existed.

We must not forget, especially, when we deal with issues connected with the so called Guardia Vieja (old trend), that its protagonists did not know that they were giving birth to the richest cultural expression of the Argentines and, hence, were not aware of the need of leaving a testimony of what, for them, was their job.

When we try to disclose some enigma, in most cases, we have to resign ourselves to the collection of elements that would allow us to come to conclusions without the sufficient supporting documentation. This is what happened when the sheet music of “El Piñerista” came to our hands. It is a tango older than a century whose author was Prudencio Aragón, known by his contemporaries as El Johnny.

There is not, or has not been found yet, the pertinent explanation of the meaning of the name and we only have three elements to attempt to solve the mystery. The first of them is the sheet music; the second, the analysis of the social and political context of the time when Aragón composed the piece; and the third, the life and work of the author.

The sheet music shows a drawing in which we see a man dressed with a suit and leaning on a walking stick, an accessory that was usual to enhance the masculine elegance until the beginning of the last century. What is striking in the image is a sash across his breast and a white cap that covers the head of the character. In a box, apart from the man’s image, some tents are shown. They may represent the bivouac of a group of revolutionaries where a national flag is hoisted.

The white flat cap is the garment that has characterized the Radical militants since the Revolution of the Nineties which gave rise to that party. Its adoption as symbol has much of a fortuitous reason. The cold weather in an early morning of July, when the revolution burst out, forced the members of the civic battalions to go to a shop in the vicinities of the Parque de Artillería (Ammunition depot)(today Tribunales) to buy caps to cover their heads. According to popular history, the ones available in large quantities were only the white ones. Since then the garment has become a symbol, not only for the revolutionaries but also for the members of the party that later was created. The crossed sash that the character in the sheet music cover wears was also part of the attire of the revolutionaries who followed Hipólito Yrigoyen. Everything makes us think that the person that appears in the sheet music is a Radical militant and whom we may place in the political and social context of the epoch.

To link that context with the character of the sheet music cover we must remember that in 1893 a Radical revolution took place that, in fact, had two manifestations. The first one burst out on July 28 that year and was encouraged by Hipólito Yrigoyen and Aristóbulo del Valle. It was defeated on August 25. The second of the revolutions was propelled by Leandro Alem and broke out on September 7 and was crushed on October 1. Surely, this tango is not associated with this event.

But, instead, it can be connected with the civic-military revolution of 1905, led also by Yrigoyen and that broke out in the night between February 3 and 4 that year. The revolution began in Buenos Aires and continued with uprisings in Bahía Blanca, Mendoza, Córdoba and Rosario, besides other manifestations in different cities of the country. The outbreak in Rosario is especially important because, besides the civilians, the 9th Regiment of Infantry and the 3rd of Artillery stirred up to revolt.

The city lived in a state of social unrest because, between October 1901 —after the police killed a striking worker in an unprecedented event— and December 1902, that city was the scene of a large number of strikes. After October 1903 the press in Rosario talked about the Radical reorganization after the frustrated uprising in 1893 which had caused many dead and wounded people in the city. The saying: «Even the stones are Radical in Rosario» was attributed to President Roca.

Finally, let us say that the composer of the piece, Prudencio Aragón, was one of the most outstanding musicians of the Guardia Vieja, to whom Eduardo Arolas dedicated the first of his tangos “Una noche de garufa”, composed in 1907 and in whose sheet music it is written: «To the appreciable friend Prudencio Aragón».

His oeuvre had the distinctive feature of posing many mysteries. One of them was his tango “El talar” which was probably composed when Aragón was only nine years old, which may make him the most precocious of the authors of the genre. Even though the composer said that this statement was true, Fernando O. Assunçao, makes reference to a report of the Club de la Guardia Nueva of Montevideo, that says that the number at issue may have been composed towards 1906 or 1907 when Aragón worked on Yerbal Street in the Uruguayan capital at a whorehouse with the same name as the tango. Another thing that has remained shrouded in mystery is the authorship of the tango “Ojos negros” which he may have given to Vicente Greco who later filed it in the record.

There were always mysteries around the artist and his oeuvre but the detail of his life that interests us to unveil the mystery of “El Piñerista” is the fact that around 1903 he settled for a time in the city of Rosario and that on June 19, 1902 the Piñero commune was created and was 14 kilometers far from the city and within the department of Rosario.

Because Aragón was based in that city, because of the drawing that appears in the sheet music which represents a Radical civilian, the Revolution of 1905 with the participation of civilians in it, the existence of numerous cantons distributed near the city, it is quite possible that one of those cantons would be in Piñero and it makes us guess that the name of the tango would be a homage to a combatant civilian of that locality in Rosario. We reiterate that there is no reliable documentation about the reasons that Prudencio Aragón had to name that tango. But it seems possible to us that the elements described may throw some light about the issue.

The author is Staff Academician of the Academia Nacional del Tango.