Franciso Febres Cordero

09. What i know and what i don´t know about tango

t was not a gray afternoon of those when you feel like weeping, as later I heard described by Julio Sosa's voice. No. Mine was a sunlit morning because I had managed to deceive my parents with the story of my illness, by means of a happy mise en scene of a cruel sorethroat which prevented me from getting up to go to school. Then, at about ten, accompanied only by my Zenith radio, I heard him.

It was him, but I didn't know that he was. He sang, yes, the same song which more than once I had heard on the magic voice of my uncle Alfredo who must have had something of Le Pera. It was not because my uncle Alfredo was Le Pera. The pear (la pera) was mine and no one else's but mine. But Alfredo, and the pear and that what I heard complemented each other to perfection at that happy moment of my triumph.

Gardel, said the speaker when the song was ended.

And to me, then, what a happiness! A happiness of eight years old, which made me be beside myself. To such an extent, that this stanza was stuck to me: «golondrinas de un solo verano/con ansias constantes de cielos lejanos».

Later (would I be on vacation?), I always tuned in to a program which I discovered by chance on radio Quito. Tango, solamente tango I think so was called and was broadcasted around noon. The one I liked most was «flaca, tres cuartos de cogote, una percha en el escote bajo la nuez». It made me laugh because it reminded me of the old woman, but forever Miss, who taught us piano lessons who, besides the three quarters of neck, below Adam's apple had a bad breath which reached her armpits. But milongas were what bewildered me with their rhythm: «Cuando tú pasas caminando por la calle, repiqueteando tu taquito en la vereda».

I don´t know if it was because of my father´s birthday, that there was a big party at home. My sisters and I spied on from the stairs. From the "victrola" (my grandma so called that thing that I would rather call a radiola) tangos were coming out which the very elegant guests danced, the men with striped cashmere crossed suits and very wide ties, and women with dresses which reached far below their knees. Men got in with overcoats, hats and scarfs which, when crossing the door, aloofly handed to the usher. Years later, seeing one of Gardel´s movies on which he sang “Mi Buenos Aires querido”, I understood that tango was like that: scarfs, hats, cloaks and beautiful women. More hair gel.

My brother Rafael also sang in duet with my cousin Margarita, in family soirées where what I enjoyed most was to perform a comedy about Christopher Columbus. I can´t remember what songs they sang, besides the Spanish ones by Joselito, but I think there were tangos in the repertory because when I recall my brother´s face at that age, his smile had something of Volver (return). Where to? I don´t know where he would like to return, because he never got out of the house, but if he was to return, he returned.

To die without dancing a tango
The only woman I heard singing tangos, besides my cousin Margarita, was Libertad Lamarque who then was exactly the same age she is now. Imperio Argentina, frankly, I don´t remember her. And Susana Rinaldi, even less. I discovered her not many years ago, I don´t know if it was because she started singing not long ago or because in my childhood nobody paid attention to her, maybe because, she was devoted to theater. But, honestly, had I listened to her when I was a child I would have fallen in love through that incomparable, magic, precious voice. Maybe by hearing her in time I would have tried, made a sacrifice, an effort until achieving something I always longed for and never was able to: dancing a tango.

With Susana Rinaldi´s voice, I surely would have learnt. Because I know (I have tried it in secret and also playing football or bullfighting indoors) that my legs can stretch much so as to open like a compass, to immediately fold and stay close as if both were only one and, then turn around, rotate, in a swift surprising movement to, at last, run striding and abruptly stop. But no. Two steps and one, mamma told me what had to be done and caught my hand and guided me. But I, nothing. I stumbled. I stepped on her. I made mistakes. Later, when I discovered love, something of it re_toped incomplete.

Bolero is a different thing. But love without tango, is half love. It's as if the consequent kisses were lacking the necessary antecedent. A justification. Or a pretext.

And I am old enough to try it now. I have resigned myself to die without having succeeded to dance a tango, what is as sad as tango itself, like that one which says «percanta que me amuraste en lo mejor de mi vida, dejándome el alma herida y espina en el corazón».

Piazzolla? Also much, much later. Like Rinaldi, who knows why he was not broadcasted through the radio. Perhaps it could have been because the creole speakers did not like that the two loved each other. Because at other places he was already famous; didn't he? “Tres minutos con la realidad” had become a boom, even though he still had to wait eleven years for his “María de Buenos Aires”, that I think was something like his definitive consecration.

Julio Sosa was called el varón del tango and a record of his with a coffee-colored cover was the first I bought with my own money, when I was going downhill along the slope of my first job. There was, of course, a gray afternoon and I felt like crying. However, thinking it over, I don't know if I bought that record, stole it to Juan Acosta or won it at a poker game. Maybe. Yes, I think I stole it because when I beat him at poker his caps were what I got.

And Pichuco? And Troilo? He was a bandoneon magician, so the speaker said, but to me, with the awful ear I've got, what I liked most were lyrics: «Garufa, pucha que sos divertido, Garufa, vos sos un caso perdido». I knew that by heart and many others. Of course, none of them complete.

There were impossible words which hampered any attempt of learning by rote. Certainly, later I came to know that that was lunfardo (slang) because tango has an origin etc. etc, but that those words were a drawback, they really were. And I didn't know if in reality the bill was to be paid by Lothar (lotario) or by a silly one (otario) or by a notary (notario) and, what is worse, what the hell any of these three words meant, so it was better to forget them for not playing the fool before myself, because I dare not to sing tangos in front of anyone else.

Gardel. Impossible not to go back to his voice with which he played with the same facility as I do play football. He dribbled. He went forward. He misled. He bluffed. And he scored such goals against the blues!

Certainly then mine were not yet the blues, but something like a hopeful illusion. But it was also the sadness of a low mark, the punishment for some prank, a «fair-haired girl» who did not return to see me.

For example, I did not know who or what Leguisamo was, now that I remember it.
But one day I learnt he had been a jockey, then horse races were my obsession for a time: “Leguisamo solo”. And in Gardel's voice they were a Derby in which I bet all my fortune on him.

Gardel duetted with Magaldi, didn't he? Once I heard a record of his through a Colombian short wave radio. The best tango program I have ever heard and the most dignified homage to Gardel that, I guess, has ever been produced: three consecutive days of pure Gardel; his songs, testimonies of those who had known him, interviews to musicians who had worked with him, commentaries and an ending which, being a commonplace, was the only one possible: he sings better each day.

Mariano Mores came to Quito with a Miami-styled tango show and there I met him. But, after the talk, I realized that tango is better in the distance. His manners annoyed me and I guessed he did it for the money and only that was what he, full of hopes, was after.

I have to hang up. This article is turning out much longer than it was supposed to be. And Diego Araujo asked me to write it to say something about Piazzolla, who is dancing cheek to cheek his tango with death.
Something about Piazzolla. Well, I will say something.

Besides having given another look to tango, I love his harsh provoking phrases. One day he said he was a musician for minorities. And added this which deserves being hung on a wall with a frame: «Fortunately because majorities have bad taste». Jazz entered in that phrase too, didn´t it? But, in the background tango is playing.
He was always ahead of his time. And, because of that, without a bit of modesty, he also said: «I will go on composing, as usual; but afterwards, when I die, I don´t know what will happen to tango».

In reality, tango after Gardel, was him. Without voice. But him. Without hair gel, but him. But with a bandoneon, which he forces to contort with those big hands of his which rather look like those of a pugilist than those of a musician until he starts to play, of course. If tango is bandoneon, bandoneon is Piazzolla as well.
Because Piazzolla is tango. A tango «not so sad, not so boring, not so solemn», to go on with his words.

A tango with improvisations, as well. And embellishments. And violins. And piano. And come what may. But above all, with genius, with personality, with fantasy.
More than four hundred works are his.

When Astor was thirteen, Gardel heard him play the bandoneon. It was in New York, when Gardel was going to shoot El día que me quieras. And the Mudo invited him to appear on that movie as a newspaper vendor. A later meeting was spoiled by the cursed flight which departed from Medellín...

The meeting was in New York because Piazzolla lived there with his parents, Vicente Piazzola (an amateur acordeonist and barber by profession) and Asunta Maneti (a manicure), who had moved to the United States from Mar de Plata in 1924, that is to say, three years after Astor's birth.

His tuition was that of a classical musician. He was awarded a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Afterwards, jazz. And only later, tango. An irreverent tango that this superstitious man —fond of burning incense to drive away bad spirits— was building. And who is dying today.

What is going to happen with tango? Well, that each day “Balada para un loco”, “Rapsodia porteña”, “Balada para mi muerte”, “Tangazo”, “Milonga en Re”, “Se fue sin decir adiós”, will sound better each day too.

My complete works are Samuel and Valentina, Catalina, Retratos con Jalalengua, Alpiste para el recuerdo, Cazuela de verde y otras biografías and El duro oficio: vida de Alfredo Pareja Diezcanseco. If you exactly fold the century in two, you will know the year of my birth. At the university I started to study law and got a piece of cardboard, something they call a master's degree. Soon I shifted to theater, an art I never studied but which I performed for ten years. Later I flew to journalism, a science that I did not study but in which I have fun as long as they stand me. I am so serious, clumsy, nervous, unsure and anguished, that I often turn to humor to hide my faults. I think I don´t know anything at all. I want that my coffin be buried in earth, with no pomp. I hate the curriculum vitae as much as funerals.