Antonio Rodríguez Villar

Tango and our native music

Allow me, firstly, to express my recognition to the excellent page TodoTango for this invitation to share some interests about Tango and our native music.

It is a subject matter very vast, rich and fertile because it has to do, precisely, with the origins of tango itself, an enigma not yet resolved. The most respected researchers had not yet cleared it out with a definitive certainty.

I would like to pay homage here to two well known researchers who provided fundamental hints to enrich and show the way to those who dive into the origin of our musics: Carlos Vega in Argentina and Lauro Ayestarán in the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. And with them, my respectful homage to all who devoted and devote their efforts to look after our musical sources.

I. The sources

When the sources which gave birth to tango are tracked down, we find ourselves with fascinating and quite valid hypotheses and theories. But the researchers themselves do not reach a full and definitive coincidence.

The so-called Música Criolla (native music), —in this case the Música del Sur (southern music) and its Spanish sources—, has had an enormous influence on our Tango.

Many years ago, —in the early sixties—, although the reader does not believe it I was young, with hair on my head, somewhat good looking and over some coquette twenty Aprils... At that time I studied and worked in New York. On a day, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing the maestro Andrés Segovia.

One morning —I recall— that we were walking through Central Park, don Andrés was telling me that he had recently played a concert in the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires. He told me about his love for our country and for the quality of its public. But what I remember most vividly of that conversation was his comment about Tango: «what mysterious music and what exceptional poetry». And immediately, stopping his step, —slow but firm—, he asked me: «How was Tango born?».

Before I was able to answer that I did not precisely know it, he said: «It's funny. Long ago while in Montevideo, I heard various tangos whose air reminded me of ancient melodies that were played in Linares». Linares is the Andalucian city where maestro Segovia was born. Don Andrés was much in contact with Tango when he lived a time in Montevideo. At that time he was very close friend of the Brazilian singer Olga Praguer, that maybe someone remembers because she performed many times in Buenos Aires, then with the name Olga Praguer Coelho.

And that question of maestro Segovia: «How was Tango born?», is the one that still has not been answered with definitive conviction.

Carlos Vega, attributes its antecedents to the Spanish Tanguillo. Lauro Ayestarán acknowledges this influence, but also he highlights some far-removed reminiscences of African rhythms introduced by the slaves brought to the River Plate after the XVIII century.

The origin of the word Tango was not exactly defined either. The hypotheses about its African derivation that we all know are not final. Our friend and respected researcher José Gobello has an excellent work on this subject: I am talking of Tango, vocablo controvertido.

It is likely that those «tambos» or places where the groups of slave and free blacks used to meet to dance, were one of the roads or antecedents of its name. Of course, not the only one. That the word Tango comes from Spain cannot be discarded either. Or even from Portugal, as it is not discarded by Gobello himself.

In like manner as «tambo» and successive transformations and popular changes could have originated tango, also fandango may have been the root of the word tango. I heard this possibility stated by Camilo José Cela on several rendezvous in Madrid where I was present. And we cannot reject it either.

I cannot decipher precise rhythms or musical forms in Tango that indicate or prove that it had been influenced by the African culture.

The theories that I have heard or read are interesting but not convincing for me. They are respectable presumptions and conjectures that still have to be checked.
In a work called Antología del Tango Rioplatense, the Instituto Nacional de Musicología Carlos Vega states that there is an event of strictly musical nature that establishes that the origin or antecedents of tango are not African but clearly European. The research asserts that «There is nothing in common with the tribal or ethnographic music that was known later, proceeding from the same races which provided African slaves».

In African music predominates percussion. In many of the creole rhythms of Latin America where there is a major black ethnic influence that origin stands out with definitive evidence.

Such influence of African rhythms —and we put aside the Andean pentatonic gravitation— is fully observed in our America from Peru towards the north and, very especially, in the Caribbean area.

That is not the case of our country, of Uruguay and of Chile, where the Spanish musical influence is more overwhelming and tangible. Of course, I am not talking of the popular Uruguayan «candombe» in which the evidence of its African origin relieves us of any analysis.

But still in the Pacific and Caribbean countries of Latin America there are many rhythms or songs in which the transformation and evolution start from its Spanish origin. For example la Marinera peruana, that up to the War of the Pacific, in the last century, was called «chilena» and which derives —among other origins— from the Spanish jota. The six-eight of la Marinera is mother of our zamba and our cueca and of the Chilean tonada and cueca.

In the Instituto Nacional de Musicología's work, is also said that the «black slaves in America, do not keep THEIR African music. They are adapting, with the morphologic and stylistic adjustments of the case, the music of the colonial society».

All this is part of the magic, mystery and seduction that surrounds Tango. And another subject for the researchers.

But where is in Tango the source of the Música Criolla? Even though some discrepancies about certain original influences spring out, a complete coincidence does exist among most researchers: The immediate antecedents of tango are quite clear in the habanera and the milonga.

Either in Argentina or in the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, one of its first and major sources —that at the same time comes from Spain through, among others, the habanera— is the música del sur or surera: the milonga, the estilo, the cielito, the cifra, the vidalita.

The music of the Pampa —as a result of the geographic frame in which it is developed— is melancholic. But not sad. Hence that the air of the Habanera has been welcomed so deeply and quickly by our countryside man. The gaucho found his way of expression with those rhythms so closely related: the milonga, the estilo, the término, the vidalita, the cifra, the triste, the cielito...

By the middle of the second half of the last century, here in the city and its outskirts those countrymen began to mix with the native citizens and the immigrants to shape that new River Plate music that the popular wit and imagination named Tango.
Those payadores (itinerant singers) of the turn of the century and of the early years of this century, that on both margins appeared in theaters, circuses and neighborhood stages, were as well –among others- forerunners of Tango. Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón, José Betinotti, Pablo Vázquez, Ramón Barrera, to name only a few, expressed themselves with milongas, cifras, estilos and cielos.

The cifras and the milongas dealt with the daily experience of the countryman's life: the ranch, the horse, the Pampa, love, poverty, disillusion.

Besides the habanera and the milonga, I think that the cifra, with its breaks, its silences, its intention and its broken accompaniment, had much to do in the birth of our tango.

I will allow myself to transcribe here a cifra –that in earlier days I used to sing with my guitar, when my voice had not yet been gone...- by unknown author and coming from the late years of the past century. It was collected by Lauro Ayestarán in Sarandí del Yi and he supplied my father with the lyrics in Montevideo, at the place of don Elías Regules. Years later, Amalia de la Vega taught me the music, an extraordinary Uruguayan singer that has it in her repertoire.

Mi rebenque plateao (Cifra)
Collected by Lauro Ayestarán.
Music by Amalia de la Vega.

Tengo un rebenque aparcero, (bis)
¡pucha, qué rebenque hermoso!,
si hasta llegó a ser famoso
por lo pesao del talero.
Y no hubo ningún pulpero
que no lo haiga codiciao,
si hasta me le han ofertao
la plata que no valía,
¡todo el mundo lo quería,
a mi rebenque plateao!

Cuando a una carreras juí (bis)
y mi talero llevaba
porque no se me olvidaba
ni se apartaba de mí.
Y si alguna vez corrí
algún caballo porfiao,
nunca me he visto apurao
y he ganao con mucha suerte,
eso sin pegarle fuerte
con mi rebenque plateao.

Me ha dicho más de una moza (bis)
que si se lo regalaba
y si ese gusto le daba
le pidiese cualquier cosa.
Alguna de caprichosa
al ver que no se lo he dao,
el saludo me ha negao
total, por esa pavada,
por estar enamorada
de mi rebenque plateao.

II. The immigration
The European immigrants in the late years of the XIX century and early days of XX century, made an invaluable contribution to the rise and consolidation of Tango. With their hope, they brought their music and their instruments and, deep inside, the memory of their far distant land.

We have to take into account the process of social, political, cultural, economic and ethnic transformation that by then Buenos Aires –the Big Village- and Argentina were undergoing. I am talking of the 80s onwards. It is the time of the great immigrations, either from abroad or from the interior. It is also a time of very deep political fervors. And that mysticism, that social dynamics coincides in time and circumstance with the birth of tango.

How was that encounter between the gaucho and the immigrant? What did they have in common in spite of their differences? They were tied and identified by the sadness of parting, the pain of distance.

The gaucho, that had left his home village to seek fortune in town or in its outskirts, was likewise a kind of expatriate. Like the immigrant, he had to change his world as well. He suffered an uprootedness in his own land!

Those who some time have lived far from their roots know quite well what is loneliness...

The reasonable spiritual loneliness of the immigrant joined the solitude of the peasant from the River Plate plains.

And here took place a magic alchemy! The two solitudes, that of the immigrant and that of the gaucho, blended into a deep communion with the feeling of the native of town. And that communion was one of the sources, undoubtedly one of the most fruitful, that fertilized the birth of Tango.

First we have to imagine the gaucho, the peasant who arrives in town or its outskirts. He feels like a stranger in his new environment. His musical and poetic worlds are precisely the country airs: the estilo, the milonga, the cifra, the cielito, the vidalita, the huella.

But he has to adapt himself. Respecting, and without straying away from the essence and structure of his song, he reflects and sings the themes of his new world. It is one of the ways of inserting himself into the Big Village or into its outskirts, in its unique and unknown habitat or circumstances.

That countryman met the European immigrant, who quite probably —and surely!— had a musical training wider than what the peasant of our pampas had, who undoubtedly could not read music and played guitar just by ear. It has to be taken into account that in the River Plate, most immigrants of the second half of the XIX century came from Europe, especially from Spain and Italy. Not from Africa.

And that encounter of the peasant with the immigrant and with the native of the city generated a reciprocal creative force. As pointed out by the extraordinary Cuban writer and great musicologist, Alejo Carpentier talking of the Creole music in the Caribbean area, the black slaves brought to our lands, adopted the Spanish music and re-created it to re-export it again to Europe with new turns and airs, but neither losing nor denying its European, especially Spanish, origin.

Of course that in many countries of our America, the Negroes added their spice, their salt and pepper. But they neither imposed their music, nor created nor transformed the Spanish melodies that they found in their new and enslaved world. They enriched them, but they did not change them.

In its genesis, in the embryo of tango, the process of creative influences was different. The peasant, the immigrant and the creole, without a deliberate way, naturally gave birth to one of the richest cultures —music, poetry, dance, painting— in the world.

Within my childhood memories I recall very clearly the old big house of my grandparents in Villa Ballester where nearly every Sunday maestros of tango and the native music and poetry met: René Ruiz, Alberto Acuña, José Razzano, Luis Visca, Alfredo Pelaia, Homero Manzi, Sebastián Piana, Mario Pardo, Manuel Acosta Villafañe, Abel Fleury, Alberto Vaccarezza, Osvaldo Sosa Cordero, Lito Bayardo, Rosita Quiroga, Julio De Caro, Claudio Martínez Payva, Carlos Montbrun Ocampo, don Andrés Chazarreta, Virginia Vera, don Santiago Rocca, Yamandú Rodríguez, Omar J. Menvielle, Hilario Cuadros, Félix Dardo Palorma, Domingo Nocera Netto, Virginia Vera, Armando Pagés and Rosendo Pesoa (an exceptional guitar duet), César Bo, Félix Pérez Cardozo, Gualberto Márquez —Charrúa—, Enrique Uzal, Néstor Feria... The list would be endless.

There either Música Criolla or Tango was heard. And what is very important to emphasize: all these maestros indistinctly sang, played and accompanied Tango and Música Criolla because they naturally considered both as the same one. Both sprouts of a common stem.

Tango, in the late years of XIX century and early days of XX century, begins to acquire its own different features in an evolution that still continues today.
With the milonga, instead, an interesting phenomenon takes place. Not in its rhythm, but in its lyrics.

It followed two directions: the Milonga Campera that until today deals with things related to our Pampa and the Milonga Orillera or Milonga Rea —in general jolly— in which the protagonists are the city and its characters. Mario Pardo had in his repertory, some picaresque milongas orilleras. Before repeating the second verse of the line, he made an interlude with a merry whistling.

I will transcribe another lyric: “Cargamento”, a milonga from the outskirts —of my days of singing dreams «de berretín de cantor»— in that picaresque style, with lyrics by Arturo Gallucci and music by Raúl Hormaza. I recall when I sang it for the great fun of Alejo Carpentier when he listened to it in our unforgettable and yearned for Parisian meetings and also when we met in Isla Negra, at the place of my ever-present Pablo Neruda.

Cargamento (Milonga)

De tanto tirar la bronca
ya comentan en el barrio (bis)
que soy un coso ordinario,
un caradura y un ronga.
Y que vos sos una tonta
porque aguantás mi torpeza,
en cuanto falto 'e la pieza,
le ortivás a los vecinos
del fangote que tuvimos
te vi'á romper la cabeza.

Le vas a pasar el santo
enseguida a la encargada (bis)
si te encajo una patada
o te tiro con un banco.
Todo el barrio ya está al tanto
que soy un fiaca, un curdela,
es por culpa de tu lengua
que muchas veces te fajo,
sabés que si no trabajo
es porque sufro del reuma.

Hiciste correr la bola
primicia del conventillo (bis)
que yo tengo un calzoncillo
el mesmo de nuestra boda.
Pero acordate pipiola
que pa' nuestro casamiento
yo traía un cargamento
de duraznos y bananas
y para comprar la cama
los vendí a cuarenta el ciento.

Después de todo, aclaremos:
qué tanto sacar los trapos, (bis)
mi desgracia de ser pato,
es San Isidro y Palermo.
Y aflojá porque estoy lleno,
rajá pa' otro camarote,
porque del primer cazote
te lo juro Catalina,
va a faltar penicilina
para curarte el marote.

III. Final conclusion
From a distance, as it usually happens, the theories about the origin of tango contradict each other or are complementary as Jorge Rivera wisely says in La Historia del Tango published by Ediciones Corregidor.

If for Carlos Vega tango comes directly from the Andalucian Tanguillo, for the maestro and old protagonist of the pioneer stage, Luis Teisseire, (author with José Eneas Riu of that jewel that is “Farolito viejo”), it derives —on the contrary— of the Cuban dance, in a clear genealogical line.

And the cousins Héctor and Luis Bates, in their Historia del tango, establish, as Rivera points out, a synthetic and conciliatory formula that sums up and synchronizes the combined influences of the melodic-sentimental line and the emotive strength of the habanera, the choreography of the milonga and the rhythm of candombe.

There is an indisputable fact. Those interpreters that in the late years of the XIX century and early days of XX century were beginning to create, play and sing tangos, had a repertory formed, in almost its entirety, by Música Criolla. And by Música Criolla I mean habaneras, milongas, estilos, vidalitas, cifras, cielitos, huellas, tonadas, gatos, chacareras, etc. They also included polkas, mazurkas and waltzes. All these musics and rhythms were of European, especially Spanish, origin.

And these tango creators did not abandon the Música Criolla. On the contrary, it was one of the sources of inspiration for their compositions.

Let us take for example the Gardel-Razzano duo. And even before these legendary maestros, the early artists of our tango composed and interpreted música criolla as well and when they composed Tangos, they called them «tango criollo».

Mario Pardo, whom my mother knew from Chascomús because he had been his guitar and singing teacher in her teens, used to often come to my paternal grandparents home in Villa Ballester. Only for your information, I would like to say that Eduardo Arolas dedicated the tango “La guitarrita” to Mario Pardo.

I remember that don Mario always said: «now I'm going to play a tango criollo». In many of the early sheet musics of the beginning of the century, they were labeled as «tango criollo». Composers, authors and interpreters considered tango —which was beginning to have its own identity—, a natural result of the música criolla.

Such is the case —for example— of Ángel Villoldo, who besides being one of the most important and influential pioneers of our tango, composed a great number of estilos, milongas and native songs. For example: “Mi prienda”, (estilo criollo), “Cariño gaucho” (native song), “Decime que sí” (provincial song), “Pasionarias” (vidalita).

The respected researcher and dear friend Oscar del Priore in a work about Villoldo and his age says, «Tango was still in development and as a perceivable form it was not yet defined. The early works by Villoldo were mostly milongas in the payador style, that described characters and events common in the environment frequented by Villoldo. These early songs are a valuable testimony of a time and its people.»

A great number of early tangos, bear names precisely referred to subjects or situations of our pampa. Let us see: “Hasta la hacienda bagüala”, “El fogón”, “El orillero”, “Expresión criolla”, “Recuerdos de la Pampa”, “El gaucho”, “La yerra”, “El pangaré” “Campero”, “China moderna”, “El arroyito”, “Criollo viejo”, “El flete”, “La gauchita”, “El alero”, “La criolla”, “El talar”, “Mate amargo”, “El matrero”, “El ombú”, “El palenque”, “Expresión campera”, “Lamentos de un criollo”, and many more...

The great Vicente Greco composed “El estribo”. And in the sheet music of this tango we can read: «Inspired in a vidalita».

Eduardo Arolas himself: “Campo ajuera”, “El chañar”, “La trilla”, “Palo errao”, “Viejo gaucho”.

Agustín Bardi: “Chuzas”, “El abrojo”, “El buey solo”, “El cuatrero”, “El pial”, “El rodeo”.

Here is another example: the great maestros of our tango, Pascual Contursi and Eduardo Arolas, composed “Era linda mi gauchita”, a provincial song, as by then were known those type of musical expressions.

And if we analyze for example “Qué noche”, that classic piece written by Bardi, we shall see that the second part is and has, undoubtedly, the sweetness of a Pampean vidalita. That southern air is also perceived in many of the tangos composed by Bardi himself, by Arolas, by Aróztegui, Firpo, Aragón, Martínez, Saborido and Canaro.

And more recently, but not less greater, I would mention “Aquellos tangos camperos” that maestro Horacio Salgán and Ubaldo De Lío composed as an homage to the creators of our tango.

The early recordings by Gardel-Razzano and later those of Gardel himself when he started as soloist, include milongas, cifras, estilos, tonadas, etc. which are anthologic. Just to mention some of those estilos: “A mi morocha”, “El pangaré”, “Pobre gallo bataráz”, “El sueño”, “La mariposa” or “El moro”, whose music Gardel-Razzano dedicated —and so is written in the original sheet music— to Mariano Villar Sáenz Peña, first cousin of my maternal grandmother.

I remember Aníbal Troilo, at El Viejo Almacén, when the last patron left to avoid an encounter with the morning sun, that sun that curiously causes so much displeasure to my dear Tuco Hipólito Paz, in spite of his old familiarity with those encounters... A small group of lucky guys then stayed in the upper stories of El Viejo Almacén.

At that magical round, Troilo kindly used to ask me to sing some milonga, a estilo or a cifra. «The tango singer has to know, always, a estilo and a milonga. Otherwise, he is not a good tango singer», this was one of his phrases.

«Tango comes from the south», used to say Troilo and as an example, he made reference to, —I remember— one of the stanzas of “La Morocha”: «“Yo, con dulce acento / junto a mi ranchito, / canto un estilito / con tierna pasión, / mientras que mi dueño / sale al trotecito / en su redomón”. This —said Troilo— is a portrait of the Pampa...»

And to end these commentaries about the Música Criolla and its relation with Tango, I will allow myself to thoroughly bother your patience by transcribing for you the lyric of “En un feca”.

It is a tango that a close friend of my parents taught me, Mr René Ruiz first voice of the legendary Ruiz-Acuña duo, later member of the Ruiz-Gallo-Pérez Cardozo trio and even later of the Ruiz-Gallo and Ruiz-Palorma duos.

With great affection I taught this tango to my fraternal Edmundo Rivero who even recorded it. “En un feca” has the peculiarity of having been written in stanzas of ten octosyllabic lines, as in general the old payadores (itinerant singers) of the turn of the century or in the early years of the twentieth century used to express themselves.

Troilo —that knew it but like René Ruiz did not either know who its author was— told me that it was a tango of southern musical and poetic structure, even though, it is already a lyric whose subject matter takes place not in the countryside but in town. And not precisely at a Trappist monastery...

En un feca (tango)

En un feca de atorrantes,
rodeada de escabiadores,
una paica sus amores
rememora sollozante.
En tanto, los musicantes
pulsando los instrumentos
llenan de tristes acentos
el feca tan concurrido
donde chorros aguerridos
triste sue...
triste sueñan con el vento.

Con tu pinta de diquera
me hici...
me hiciste mucho aspamento,
me trabajaste de cuento,
como a un otario cualquiera.
Y de la misma manera
me hici...
me hiciste tirar la daga
y pa' colmo de mi plaga
yo punguié por tu cariño,
me engrupiste como a un niño
pero esa...
pero esa deuda se paga.

Como tu fin ya está escrito,
fácil es de imaginar,
muy pronto irás a parar
a manos de un compadrito.
Y cuando ya esté marchito
ese cuerpo compadrón
algún oscuro botón
será el llamao a cargarte,
nadie quiere el estandarte
si es lunga...
si es lunga la procesión.