Barro Tango
Gitana rusa Tango
Los despojos Tango
Nada Tango
Julio Nudler

Gitana rusa - The Jewish Gypsy

hat made that a tango called “Tus ojos”, written in Ucrania in 1940 by a certain Saverio Sadán dedicated to his brand-new daughter-in-law in Buenos Aires, finally became the biggest hit of the orchestra led by the bandoneonist Juan Sánchez Gorio, who recorded it as his own under the name “Gitana rusa” (Russian gypsy)?

«I have something amazing for you, that I shall deliver to you in Buenos Aires», Juan Carlos Cáceres told me on the phone, from Paris. Some days later he displayed before me, on a table at the Tortoni, five yellowish music sheets, written in black ink. It was a tango, dated on August 10, 1940 at the small Ucranian town named Umañ, halfway between Kiev and Odessa. The texts were in Russian. It had as title, “Tus ojos” (Your Eyes), and a dedication «to dear Celia». Its music belonged to a certain Saverio Sadán, and on the last page there is a long lyric signed by D. M. Glinberg. But those notes handwritten by someone unknown do not result strange at all. They are those of a tango which reached great accclaim in Argentina after 1942 and was the greatest hit by the orchestra of the bandoneon player Juan Sánchez Gorio and his singer, the Uruguayan Luis Mendoza: “Gitana rusa”. Until the time when Cáceres put the worn-out original on the table there was no reason to doubt if Sánchez Gorio had composed it, even though it was his only lasting piece. But the story of this tango is no less exotic than its theme, and can be told like this.

The red-headed Demetrio Sadán, who became head of the Cables section at the Crítica newspaper, was born in Ucrania in 1910. His mother abandoned him when he was a few months old when she separated from his father, Saverio, a Jew that, as usual, was a violinist. Meanwhile, she emigrated to Buenos Aires turned into the wife of an Argentine diplomat. After the Russian Revolution and the ensuing civil war, Demetrio was sent to Argentina to meet his mother, for what he had to face all by himself, he was just eleven, a never-ending journey by train and by ship. Eight years later here he graduated from the Liceo Internacional at Olivos, and he entered Crítica. In 1938 he married his secretary, Celia Piva, and two years later from Ucrania his father sent as a gift for his unknown daugther-in-law, a melodic tango in European style that Saverio —who had married again, this time, a Jewish-Polish opera female singer— had composed, and to which a friend of his had added a very romantic lyric, that evoked a love rendezvous in spring, among trees and under the stars.

With the intention of finding some useful destiny to it, Demetrio handed his father´s work to a friend of his, Horacio Basterra, who by then was beginning his career as successful lyricist. Signing as Horacio Sanguinetti he wrote tangos so cherished as “Nada”, “Tristeza marina”, “Barro” or “Los despojos”, among many others. Demetrio had allowed him to do what he wished with those pages. And, as we now know, Horacio decided to trust them to Sánchez Gorio, and add them new lyrics, in Spanish, that would become a good sample of kitsch. Its protagonist is a Russian gypsy woman looking after her man in the taverns, but she will be unable to find him because he committed suicide by drowning in the Don.

Sánchez Gorio changed slightly the music notes and with Sanguinetti filed the piece as his own. Singers like Orlando Medina and Oscar Serpa contributed to the sudden success of the easy listening tango with Oriental-Slavonic flavor. Many years later, Cáceres, then married to Demetrio´s daughter, played on piano Saverio´s original composition for his father-in-law. But El Colorado did not liked it: he had forever in his heart the rhytmical and striking Juan Sánchez Gorio´s rendition. About Saverio, the violinist we never knew anything else, except that he was killed by the nazis.