Garufa Tango
Nostalgias Tango
Silencio Tango
Yira yira Tango
Claudio Mena V.

12. One tango and nothing else (With a milonga rhythm)

s tango says, «I was a purretito (little young boy)» when Carlitos Gardel died, but I perfectly remember that I had a painful impression. I heard for the first time the city of Medellín's name through the news told by an old RCA tuner. In my imagination I saw a hell of flames and above that holocaust Gardel's wide smile with his hat tilted «a la pedrada».

I don't know if it was since then or maybe sometime before, that I had directed my ear to tango not only because it was heard on the radio, but also because at home there was an old victrola on which acetate discs were played and among them there were, naturally tangos, one tango on each side. I still recall a black label disc, Victor label, which had on one side the recording of the tango “Yira yira” and on the other side, I think it was “Nostalgias”. When young, the melodies we hear are soon learnt and I probably learnt Yira with the same easiness as our National Anthem.

My mother played piano fairly well. She had attended classes in Europe and in Quito that great pianist named Gustavo Bueno gave her some practicising lessons. She played the piano reading the music and I recall several bookbound books of classical music lying at home, but there were some booklets with tangos as well and I sometimes liked to near my mom seated at the piano to hand her the tango booklet and ask her to play it. In fact, she did it with delight and I experienced a true pleasure. I still remember that tango, a part of whose lyric says: «De nada sirve el guapear, cuando es honda la metida. Pobrecita mi querida, toda la vida la he de llorar...» (To be brave is useless when you're deeply involved. Poor one, my darling, all my life I´ll cry over her).

A tango that seemed to me a sung tale was the famous “Silencio” which I heard so many times in the Zorzal´s voice. I imagined the little old woman with her five sons who were going to fight to the war front and later this little old woman with her five medals «que por cinco héroes le premió la patria» (awarded by her country for her five heroes). We cannot say this is a sad tango because that would be redundant, but I considered it as melancholic and tender, spiced with that leit motiv of the faraway choir of mothers who rocked new hopes in their cradles.

As for tango history I already was aware before Sabato taught me that it had been a banned dance or «a sad thought that is danced». My old folks were not unlearned as far as tango is concerned. My mother, back in 1918 maybe danced it in Paris because she danced it well and she taught it to me with no much difficulty. Furthermore, to know that "that" had been banned, at that crazy age it was exciting.

In Quito tango had been accepted without problems and it was played at parties with pleasure. A dancer unable to dance tango was discredited, as is now the one who does not dance salsa. The elegant parties in Quito at that time where those at the Club Pichincha and later in my teens, those at the Quito Tenis when it was placed on 18 de Septiembre and América streets.

The dear maestro Luis Aníbal Granja also contributed to widespread tango, he conducted his orchestra, recorded discs and run a record shop on Guayaquil street. The maestro Granja did not play bandoneon (an instrument almost unknown in Quito) but the accordion, the one with the piano keyboard on the right side.

By that time I remember that at a Quito Tenis party Raúl Iriarte´s orchestra appeared and some tangos were performed which were a boom like the famous “Adiós pampa mía” and “Una lágrima tuya”.

Tango was always connected to Buenos Aires thanks to the reference of many tango lyrics with its varied scenery: The neighborhood, «cuna de taitas y cantores» (home of tough guys and singers), the little street «donde sonríe una muchachita en flor» (where a little girl in bloom smiles), the café, the Riachuelo, Corrientes street, and a little farther, the bed, the home village, the ranch. Tango was the messenger not only for the outskirts but also for a whole urban and human landscape and at the same time it focused in the characters of the guapo, the malevo, the taita (tough guys), the sotreta (the coward), the percanta, the mina and the pebeta (women). Our chulla from Quito with his machismo, his self-assured way of living and his sudden infatuations, if he is not the equivalent of those malevos, he at least could have a tango-like aureole.

Back in my University years, and please excuse my distance, a buddy had a bandoneon and ¡oh, surprise! He played it; as the fuelle is made for tango, Carlos Arízaga skillfully got from it laments in two-four. At the age of infatuations, of «today a promise and tomorrow a betrayal», we took the morlaco with his cased bandoneon along the streets of this Franciscan city to serenade our girls. I still remember, as if I were seeing him, the "blindman" Arízaga seated on the side of the street launching tangos to the cold of dawn. By then I was vocalizing some other tango and since then Arízaga told me "Che Mena". What a pity! The hurricane of life drifted him and his bandoneon away forever. I arrived in Buenos Aires for the first time around 1952 when Perón was declining and Evita was dying. With a fellow compatriot, the "Chihuil Yépez" settled down there, we walked the streets and listened to tangos. On Corrientes street there was a café, El Nacional known as «La catedral del tango» where the customers went to have a coffee and listen to the typical orchestras which were featured; “Salto mortal” was the first tango I heard at El Nacional.

An unhabitant of the city of Buenos Aires, Ariel Fernández Dirube, who became very close to me, introduced me more seriously into Buenos Aires and tango.

Thanks him I read in one session Scalabrini Ortiz´s unsurpassable essay: «El hombre que está solo y espera», a radiography of Buenos Aires man. On one of those days Ariel with a certain discretion took me to attend a lecture by a writer not at all devotee of the Peronist régime. On the second floor of a house and at a crowded room, while standing up I heard Jorge Luis Borges talk about metaphor.

From that trip I brought to Quito some tangos like the classic “Corrientes y Esmeralda” which ends saying: «On your creole corner any fool dreams of Carlos Gardel´s mien».

For the extremely orthodox (I would call them the tango sunnitas) Alberto Castillo, the physician-singer, maybe he is not the top, but I have liked his way of singing, just like those humorous tangos which found in his voice a suitable vehicle: “Garufa” and “Se acabó tu cuarto hora”.

As this tango-article is becoming a milonga I´m going to finish right now. Now I remember of a story. In one of those years I was in the city of Lima and my friends drove me to a cabaret or boite where a blind musician was playing the piano. Some one had the odd idea that I sang a tango so I chose “Yira yira”. I approached the piano and waited for the introduction to start with «¡cuando la suerte que es grela...» but the blindman launched the tango from beginning to end without a stop and I re_toped with my mouth closed, motionless until the end. The laughs of my friends embarrassed me and that great friend who was Ernesto Valdiviezo told me: «Congratulations! this is the best tango we´ve ever heard». Since then I developed a little complex which still I cannot get rid of.

At last, and here this ends, when I dared to write verses, I made one for Carlos Gardel which fortunately I don´t remember but, like tango, parodying Vallejo, has slept in my blood like weak cognac, I wrote one I named it Tango which unashamedly I transcribe:

Desde este muelle en sombra
contemplo tu silueta
hundiéndose en la tarde
mientras hay un oleaje
que me empuja a tu orilla
(oculto un sol de enero
va enfriándose en la esquina).
De pronto baja el tango
desde un piano lejano
trayendo un malevaje
de fuelles y violines
trenzado con un canto
que apenas es lamento.
Tu mirada se enciende
y queda en claroscuro
el fanal de tu cuerpo
que en brevedad resume
la sombra de un cuchillo.
Vuelve perverso el tango
con Troilo al bandoneón
conquista tu cintura
y mis brazos te fijan
en una voltereta
que tiembla en la baldosa.
A tu mástil se aferran
los últimos compases
pero el tango no acaba:
Esta metido en tí.

From this wharf in shadow
I look at your silhouette
sinking into the afternoon
while the motion of the waves
pushes me towards your margin
(a hidden January sun
Is cooling on the corner).
All of a sudden a tango comes
from a faraway piano
bringing an evil force
of bandoneons and violins
interwoven with a song
which is hardly a lament.
Your glance glows
and stays in half darkness
your body's lantern
which briefly cuts down
The shadow of a knife.
Perversely tango comes
with Troilo on bandoneon
conquering your waist
and my arms hold you
in a somersault which
trembles on the floor tile.
To your mast
the last bars hold to
but tango never ends:
It is inside you.

Claudio Mena V.: He was born in Quito in 1928. He studied law at the Universidad Central. He was council-man and member at the Quito Board of Lawyers. A journalist and poet, among his works these are the outstanding ones: "Trazos", "Cumbre y melodía", "Velásquez" and "Las líneas de tus manos". He was awarded by the periodical "Diario El Universo" for his poetry. He is professor at the Universidad Central del Ecuador. He is member of the Colegio and the Club de Abogados of Quito and member of the Sociedad Jurídico Literaria de Ecuador.