Ricardo García Blaya

The tango singer: His evolution along time - The national singer

he solo singer, from the late years of the past century until almost the mid–30s, was the so called «cantor nacional». The reason for the name was due to the nature of the repertory, in general, (surero) southern folk music —typical music from the plains of the province of Buenos Aires— which comprised cifras, estilos, zambas, milongas and, since the early years of the twentieth century included the «tango milongueado» with picaresque lyrics and, very often, by unknown authors, to arrive at last at the «tango canción» (tango with lyrics) some time later.

It turns out clear that our «cantor nacional» has a undeniable kinship with the payador —pioneer in musical and folk poetry— either by his repertory or his style of interpretation.

Carlos Gardel was, unquestionably, not only the greatest tango interpreter of all times but also the most perfect example of what a «cantor nacional» meant. In his beginnings he recorded for the Columbia Record label, fifteen numbers which are the testimony of this stage when he had a folk repertory which did not include tangos.

Since Gardel —around 1912—, up to Hugo del Carril —in the late 30s—, all the great tango soloists belonged to the «cantor nacional» category. So we can name Ignacio Corsini, Agustín Magaldi, Charlo, Alberto Gómez, Mario Pardo, Agustín Irusta, Roberto Díaz, etc.

It is true that when the «tango canción» appeared, its place in the repertories was modified and tango began to have more weight than the other genres.

The typical trios of the old stream (guardia vieja) —guitar, flute and violin— by taking up firstly the bandoneon and later the piano, turned out into quartets, quintets and sextets, which to inform the audience that they exclusively played tangos, added to their group name two words: «Típica» and «Criolla», or only the former.

The «cantor nacional», often accompanied only by guitars, lived together for many years with these orchestral units which played tango only instrumentally.

They were two tracks which run parallel to each other.

On one side, the soloists accompanied by small groups or simply by guitars, and on the other side, the orchestras, generally sextets which played tangos with lyrics, but the melody was sung by the instruments, either on solos or in duets, but without any singer, perhaps a brief chorus sung by the musicians themselves.