Analía V. Aprea

Molar - Interview with Ben Molar

n his Buenos Aires office located on the corner of Corrientes and Montevideo streets, Ben Molar looks after Argentine myths. There is a bust of Jorge Luis Borges, a portrait of Ernesto Sabato, paintings, magazines, photographs, posters and sheet music by the tango greats: Julio De Caro, Aníbal Troilo, Astor Piazzolla, Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos Gardel and Hugo Del Carril, among others. And he is there too, he is a myth as well, because of his background and his struggle for the Argentine popular culture, because he frequented Borges, Cadícamo, De Caro, and many others. And he even saw Gardel.

Furthermore, he discovered and promoted many artists, such as Mercedes Sosa and Litto Nebbia, today renowned. He is an outstanding member of the Academia Nacional del Tango and of the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo. Also Illustrious Citizen of the City of Buenos Aires, member of the Board of the ORT Technological Schools, member of the Board of the Instituto Cultural Argentino-Israelita, Honorary President of the Asociación Gardeliana Argentina, founding member of the Argentine House in Holy Land, member of the Board of the Asociación Amigos de la Calle Corrientes.

Due to his initiative, at 40 corners of Corrientes Street bronze plates with the names of renowned, still living, tango figures were placed, among them: Libertad Lamarque, Marianito Mores, Enrique Cadícamo, Horacio Salgán, Tania, Tita Merello, Raúl Lavié.
He is author of popular songs, among them: “Final”, recorded by the most famous singers; author of musical comedies tunes, among them: “Paren el mundo..., quiero bajar”, “Mame”, “Dos Virginias para un Pablo” and “Te casarás Gaspar”. Author of Spanish versions of songs by The Beatles, Paul Anka, Elvis Presley, Bill Halley, Chubby Checker, among many more, and of the famous “Silent Night, Holy Night”, “Jingle Bells”, as well as songs included on many films.

It is also worth-noting that back in the 60s, when Buenos Aires was inebriated with foreign rhythms, Ben Molar began his struggle to establish December 11 as the National Day of Tango and eleven years later he achieved it.

By that time he reunited fourteen painters, musicians and poets, and put forward the great event known as Catorce con el Tango, perhaps the last important tango release in the twentieth century.

Question: —Did the placement of Gardel´s monument in El Abasto mean a heavy task for you?

Ben Molar: «We, the members of the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo sponsored this effort, made thanks to the support of the Asociación Amigos de la Academia Porteña del Lunfardo that got the money to build that statue two meters and forty tall with a basement a meter and a half wide. This is very important if we remember that for so many years in the Argentine Republic there was only one statue, and I am sorry to say it, it was only at the Chacarita cemetery. In Costa Rica there are six monuments, and at different places in the world there are several ones. Then why shouldn't Gardel have one in our country? (I was about to say at each corner, what is a lot). Now we ask ourselves why he is going to be given only a block that is an alley 120 meters long when he is at the level of one of the greatest miracles that happened Argentina. In the world of art there is no singer-composer with Carlos Gardel's quality, heard day and night in different parts of the world, and there are places where even he is as much worshipped as here.

«He is a miracle unique in the history of popular music. And what is funny is how is it possible that we do not have what he deserves?. In every neighborhood there must be a Gardel's bust, in every province, in every town. I think that due to this effort, people will say "look, there are a lot of tourists that go to see him, let us do the same, out of respect and because he deserves it, so as to have Gardel nearer". And then at Villa Urquiza or at Villa Crespo, at La Boca, Almagro or at Pompeya, there will be busts or statues of our dear Gardel that represents us in all the world; and as Julio Jorge Nelson used to say "he sings even better every day".»

P.: —Did you meet Gardel?

B.M.: «There is a plate at the Teatro Blanca Podestá, on 1200 Corrientes Avenue, that remembers that event. I was on the corner of the street that we went to every night, Corrientes and Talcahuano, where La Real tearoom was placed, where the whole high-level artistic world used to go to have tea or coffee. One evening I saw two Buenos Aires mythological characters going out to the opposite side of the street. One of them introduced somebody else to the other at the theater that was then known as Smart. Years later, the poet César Tiempo confirmed this to me. He crossed the street with Gardel, and Federico García Lorca was at the theater hall so they embraced each other. Because of that the plate says "At the hall of this theater Carlos Gardel and Federico García Lorca embraced, taken by the hand of the poet César Tiempo. Eyewitness: Ben Molar". I'm sorry if this seems to be boastful, but unfortunately I couldn't hold his hand or talk to him.»

P.: —You always accompany and sponsor the Manoblanca Chorale.

B.M.: «Had you seen me clapping my hands before they finished singing you should have realized you ought not have made that question. Firstly, because I am grateful. Secondly, because it is a sensational group, deserving recognition in our nation and in the world. That is why I would like things change as they were in the past, and I could call them every ten minutes to tell them: "Boys, you have to be tomorrow in Montevideo, the day after in Rosario, you have to travel to Chile, Brazil and many other places". I hope a time comes back like when we, the Argentines, used to back our things a little more. It is a sensational choir, very well conducted. Their interpretations touch me very much, sincerely. I am lucky to hear them from time to time.»

P.: —What do you think about the relationship between young people and tango?

B.M.: «Now there is an interest about tango dance. There is not yet that interest we had, the young ones of then, the teenagers that listened to a beautiful poem, to a beautiful melody, to a way of interpretation by singers and orchestras. It is not enough for our tango yet. With a little happiness but also with sadness, I have to say that in Finland and in Germany, there are much more orchestras than in Argentina, and more radio programs, the same happens in Holland and it is growing strong in the United States. Throughout the world it is considered something important, but especially the dance, and that has its effect in Argentina because the information saying that in those countries our tango is quite busy arrives through the Internet, through television, through communications mass media. The "Day of Tango" is coming and a month before it from the most distant places they call me to know about anything. It intrigues me and I say to myself: "how nice that our things have an international acclaim. At this time it is one of the most important Argentine flags in the world".»

P.: —How do you envision tango from here to the future?

B.M.: «I have always seen a good future for our tango, even though our country is having a hard time and communications media are oblivious. But that is a sign of the times, when something new appears somewhere in the world it is immediately seen throughout the world on television, consequently the young are interested because they see the impulse that dance, painting and groups are gaining.»

P.: —What kind of project would you like to see accomplished by the new authorities when they take office in the government of the city of Buenos Aires, in connection with tango?

B.M.: «First, they have to explain to the officials in charge of newspapers, magazines, radios and television channels that tango has roots so deep that justify its blossoming all over the world. Then we have to encourage it. This was what happened in the 40s, a period that tango lovers are proud of, when there were a hundred orchestras with ten, twelve musicians, and a hundred singers, that like the great painters, each one had a style of their own. I hope that the communications media, through this that I am asking to the future officials of the City of Buenos Aires, will make possible a much stronger support to our tango.

«It would be wise that the leaders of our culture opened the gates to allow composers, musicians, singers of all kinds, painters, sculptors to join us. So that these great artists during their lives, have our recognition, our applause, to avoid being a people that honor their glorious dead. Let us go on honoring them but let us begin to honor our living glories, these people that leave us a heritage for hundreds of years, with the gifts of their voices, of their poetic or musical inspiration. So I insist, please, do not let these people die with sadness or unknown.»

P.: —Many historical coffee shops and tearooms are closing, for example, San Juan y Boedo, El Molino. Which is your vision of this and your suggestion?

B.M.: «I was struggling for over a year taking care of the Corrientes and Esmeralda street corner, which is the one that my dear friend Celedonio Flores had named as Tango Corner. I remember that I asked to different artistic associations to place thirteen plates and made hang a notice saying: "Please post no bills on this corner". Every night during a year, it was a way to protect it. But later the elections came and they began to paint on the plates. I asked the Asociación Amigos de la Calle Corrientes to take them out, and with the help of God they shall be back when the authorities come to know that those historical corners are of the highest value. If you go to Spain, France, or other places in the world, you will see how much care is given to corners, coffee shops, historical buildings. Recently they promised me that a museum will be built in the house where Gardel lived, and that at the corners of Rivadavia and Rincón Streets, Corrientes and Esmeralda Streets, and on Corrientes 348, they will show that they care for them.»

P.: —Who's the one to do it?

B.M.: «The Government, but I never was and I'll never be in politics. I always make my requests through the Secretaries of Culture. So I was eleven years arguing with Secretaries of Culture either of the Municipality or of the Nation to get a decree be passed to celebrate the National Day of Tango in the world. I had this idea when I was going to Julio De Caro's birthday party, in 1964, and I thought How funny a day like today Julio De Caro and Carlos Gardel were born, and they are two of the tango ways: music and voice. Then, I struggled eleven years to make that December 11 be established as the National Day of Tango.»

Published in Coral Manoblanca (Pompeya)-Revista de Tango, nº 16, Buenos Aires, June 2000.