By Alberto Paz

Copyright (c) 1997-98 Planet Tango. All rights reserved


There is only one documented testimony, dated September 22, 1913, and published on the newspaper Critica under the title of Tango, its evolution and its history. History of times past. Who established it. The identity of the writer has never been revealed, and he is only known by the nickname he used to sign the article, Viejo Tanguero.

According to Jose Gobello, president of the Academia del Lunfardo in Buenos Aires , and a prolific writer about Tango subjects, Viejo Tanguero seemed to be a highly educated individual with a natural talent for writing. More important than Viejo Tanguero's education and writing abilities, is the date in which his testimony was published. Indeed, in 1913 almost everyone who witnessed the birth of the Tango and had been dancing it from day one, were still alive. We can assume then that it was not possible to digress, to fantasize or to doctor memories, without one being exposed to be challenged or contradicted. To this day, nobody has ever produced any evidence that any of Viejo Tanguero's testimonies had been contradicted or questioned.

My good friend Acho Manzi, the son of the great poet Homero Manzi, once said, "all the stories written about Tango are tales interpreted and repeated by people who read them or heard them from someone else." In other words, there aren't "original documents" that some lucky Joe  has kept to substantiate discourses on Tango history. The Argentine Tango appeared in Buenos Aires as an urban expression severely condemned because of its extravagant representation of the slums and its most undesirable characters. Before and after Viejo Tanguero's testimony, nobody seemed to give historical recognition to the hybrid product of a marginal sector of society.

 What I have intended to chronicle in these ongoing series of articles published in El Firulete, The Argentine Tango Magazine, are tales of Tango history based on personal experience and an educated interpretation of existing publications,  personal conversations with others who also heard stories from others, but above all I chose to draw a chronological line between two bandoneon players who besides sharing a recognized talent and an uncanny spirit of innovation more than fifty years apart, they also shared personal behavior that some considered somehow crazy. Juan Maglio was called "loco" by his father. The original Italian expression got transformed by the street lingo into Pacho. Astor Piazzolla had to be crazy to take the Tango and transform it in such a way that some would say, that is not Tango. He then, would ask, "which is the music of Buenos Aires ?" The obvious answer was, Tango. Then he'd add, "What I write and play is the music of Buenos Aires ." Crazy, isn't?

Chapter I

By the time we take a new step our past has been augmented by a great number of memories. Everything that belongs there no longer can be assumed automatically to be true and factual because many internal and external factors affect the recollection and description of events that have been internalized through our own personal set of values at the time.

At the turn of the century, Tango was for many individuals something that added character to their personalities. Being a man of Tango meant to be a man of Buenos Aires . To have a way to be, to think, to feel, to understand life. In many ways it was the rebellious lifestyle that the younger generation chose to feel porteño to the deepest roots of their existence. Today, the dubious brothel origin attributed to the early Tango is still a motive of lively discussions among the practitioners of the music of Buenos Aires . Some understand the times and circumstances surrounding the embryonic process that began forging the first recognizable steps of the Tango. Others, in an obvious state of denial, attempt to reflect their own personal experiences at a much later date to cleanse the sins of Tango. There is nothing new under the sun.

Way back then, middle class families were divided among those who tolerate and the prohibitionists. The latter ones to this day consider the dance of Tango an expression of people of low class. The kind of people that populated the sordid suburbs where the violent joy of the desire to live, coexisted with the strident sexuality and the lewd freedom that burned in the nocturnal slums. What fueled the intolerance of the prohibitionists was their perception that the tide of rumors coming from the slums did not represent typical people but the malandrinaje, the scroundel, the roguish element. Tango was not merely a music, a song, a popular and a familiar dance for certain happy hours. It was a representation of the worst elements of society. A consequence of the pandering and amoral character of the Tango dancing compadrito, the insolent braggart, show-off bully of the suburbs. In other words, Tango offended the deepest dignity of the nation.

Around 1880-1885 Buenos Aires had a population of about two hundred and fifty thousand souls. By the turn of the century the population exploded to over a million and a half. This was the result of the arrival of a massive wave of immigrants. The consequences of such an accelerated development were the throngs of young uneducated people that invaded the streets of the big hamlet that was created to be a fortress and unwillingly was becoming a city that was not supposed to be. The sudden invaders arrived with hurricane-force carnal appetites, lacking scruples of the moral kind. They could afford total freedom for dishonest adventures fueled by temptations and stimulus for their lowest instinctive passions. Besides, the city was loaded with wealth so in the slums it became a paramount qualification to be able to make easy money and to have the intrinsic talent to spend it as well.

In today's global world, we could feel sorry for the way the old "porteños vivos", the street wise, flippant inhabitant of the outskirts of Buenos Aires , ignored the facts of life. But, there is something in the intrinsic essence of Tango that encourages a desire to imitate the language, the habits, the costumes, the manners, in a word, the worst traits of the compadritos. To be "vivo" did not mean to be alive but to be part of reality lest to be labeled a "gil", somebody not part of that reality. So, it was within the realm of secondary passions and habits of the real compadrito to be a great bailarin of Tango. As a matter of fact, a great number of musicians and dancers of Tango were themselves pimping compadritos. They attracted the prostitutes with irresistible enchantment. Those compadritos who were not prestigious musicians or dancers had to make do with their good looks, their flashiness, their boldness, their bravado and their dagger. So it is understandable that even today most elder milongueros have a similar number of stories and interpretations of an era which they could hardly have heard about because of the tremendous amount of hypocrisy that was trying to cover the sun with one finger.

It is a historical fact that the prohibitionists did not target the lascivious closeness of the bodies, the characteristic way the compadritos displayed their psychopathic sexuality, their loose eroticism and their venereal petulance. It was the scent of brothel, of mental degeneration, of alcohol haze, of erotic excesses that produced the rejection of the persons of Tango and not of Tango itself.

All the moral disorder of the suburbs which also included the higher class' youngsters, was caused by the explosive material prosperity of those early years and the sudden, unprecedented population explosion. Most Tango historians agree that the first recognizable Tango music began to be heard in the port district of LA BOCA. In the first decade of the century, LA BOCA had restaurants, cantinas, cafes, bars, brothels, alcohol, sex, venereal diseases and tuberculosis. It also had a famous intersection formed by SUAREZ and NECOCHEA streets which was the nocturnal center of the typical Tango. Even before 1900 this famous corner was the epicenter of the city's night life, the way the old AVENIDA CORRIENTES became to be years later. The corner of SUAREZ and NECOCHEA was the birthplace of the first autochthonous typical orchestras. We could say that 1900 was the approximated date when the unexpected materialization of the first recognizable orchestras took place. GENARO SPOSITO who would later became the idol of SAN TELMO, EDUARDO AROLAS who would go onto reign in BARRACAS and VICENTE GRECO who would triumph in SAN CRISTOBAL , were three extraordinary bandoneon players that appeared almost at the same time to mesmerize the porteño crowds. They, along with JUAN MAGLIO PACHO, who later ruled the entire northern side of the city, share the enormous glory of having contributed the sounds of the bandoneon to the vivacious music of the initial Tango.

Chapter II

Most Tango historians agree that the period of initial manifestation of the Tango coincides with the demise of the 19th century. This is perhaps because that is the point in history where chronicles of places, names, events and situations seem to have certain degree of trustworthiness.

Several factors contributed to the gestation and early development of the Tango, both as dance and a music. The millions of immigrants that in a span of one hundred years emerged from the bowels of the ships arriving to the port of Buenos Aires not only spawned the attributes of resentment and sadness in the new Argentino, but they sowed the seeds for the germination of the most original phenomena ever occurred along the shores of the River Plate: the birth of Tango.

Genuine feelings are not a guarantee of genuine reasoning so gringo immigrants and criollo descendants of the Spanish settlers set out to look at their shared turf from different perspectives. For the gringo it was very painful to put up with the rancor of the criollo. For the criollo it was painful to see his land invaded by strangers. A sordid struggle for power and control began to shape up in the outskirts of the burgeoning city.

Against a contrast of abundance and misery, the newer generation of mostly male population turned to the malevolent underground where prostitution was a booming business.

The first instrumental groups known to have played the original Tangos at the brothels, were trios integrated by violin, flute and harp. The musicians had only rudimentary knowledge of musical theory so the tunes the patrons requested were often whistled or hummed into their ears. Some of the improvised tunes began to be repeated more often and thus the primitive "tanguitos" began to form part of the popular lore.

Tango had to sort out its way from the most sordid and marginal crevices of the underground culture of the Buenos Aires malevolent. Its checkered past was centered around sex and violence, the eternal struggle for control, the search for a state of sinister purity.

Consider the droves of lonely men whose yearning of the nostalgia of the communion of love, entered the brothel to resolve that yearning in an easy way. Perhaps they tried to create what they did not have. Maybe it was a rebellious act from a tormented mind. The sexual act devoid of love was twice as sad because it not only left the men with their initial loneliness but it made it harder because of the frustration of the attempt. This is perhaps one of the mechanisms that explains the sadness in the Tango, so frequently associated with despair, rancor, threat and sarcasm.

Tango reflects the erotic resentment and in some twisted way, the complex of inferiority of the inhabitants of the suburbs and "arrabals". As a result of that, they exaggerated their macho attributes to insure that nobody would put their manhood in doubt. Being insecure, these individuals watched their behavior very carefully in front of their peers because they felt judged and perhaps ridiculed by their peers. From the fear of the ridicule, these men bragged, blustered and swaggered to insure that the opinion of others was not unfavorable.

This prototype of a man became known as the compadrito. He first began to lay the structure of the cortes and quebradas so unique in the Argentine Tango. He used his boasting moves to set the choreography to show off, to invite competition, to confront, to challenge himself.

It is possible that the misunderstood tale of men dancing with men was nothing more than a game of dare and provocation, devoid of any sexual connotations, aimed to reinforce their perceived tough macho image.

The Tango in those early days had only access to certain strata of society, the kind of environment patronized by the worst criminal element and those who aspired to become one. Thus the repeated bans and prohibitions that the Tango had to endure, not because of what it meant as a musical expression but because of the resistance and opposition to its people and its underworld.

The tents sprouting around the military garrisons and the hideous night hideouts where the low class element gathered seeking excitement and danger, introduced the female element to the equation that eventually would create the ritual of the Tango dance between men and women.

Shortly after the 1860s the city of Buenos Aires occupied just a square mile proudly exhibiting commercial venues that featured the best of European wares patronized by elegantly dressed ladies who were the delight the European visitors. This was a miniature center populated European style. Outside the urban center were La Boca, Barracas, Los Corrales, Palermo and San Jose de Flores. Suburban enclaves were the working class lived and played. Beyond that, were the arrabals, the refuge of misfits. These people and places would play a major role in the genesis of Tango.

Chapter III

Until somebody discovers unpublished documentation, it is pure conjecture to determine what were the themes of the first Tangos. It is common knowledge among the historians that by 1880 there were melodies that with the name of Tangos were played in the theaters on both shores of the River Plate.

It is also accepted that they were actually habaneras, the Cuban dance. This agrees with the belief that in those times Tango music sheets were not published because the overwhelming majority of musicians could not read or write music. The public performances were totally improvised and in some cases the repetition of certain melodies were the result of the good ear of some of these early tanguistas which allowed them to memorize some of the most popular tunes requested by their enthusiastic audiences.

The most common group would be a terceto, a trio of violin, flute and harp. The harp, mainly because of its size soon would be replaced by the guitar, an ancient instrument brought to the continent by the Spanish conquerors.

The district of La Boca, where the immigrants from Genoa , Italy and other parts of the peninsula settled their homes, was one of the most popular neighborhoods for the embryonic development of the Tango music. The local youngsters had discovered the Tango as an easy way to supplement their income by playing it at night at the many local bars and salons.

Sometimes groups would form including violin, flute, mandolin, harmonica, harp and guitar. They would roam around. There were no contracts at the time. Most of the time they would gather around a table or they would just stand up with one foot against a wall and play. It was not unusual to hear the sound of a clarinet replacing the guitar and the harmonica.

On the opposite side of town, in the neighborhood of Palermo , the pizzicato of the violins, the strumming of the guitars and the trill of the flutes, characterized the way the popular trios expressed the Tango in a playful, lively and roguish way. Many names became celebrities within the realm of the interpretation of Tango music at the time . One of the greatest attractions was the trio integrated by El Pibe (The Kid) ERNESTO (violin), El Tano (The Italian) VICENTE (flute) y El Ciego (The Blind) Aspiazu (guitar). The devotion that people felt for the Tango at the time was their way to feel even more porteño.

The noisy parties in the Palermo district ended up most of the times in brawls and fights of grave and serious consequences. There is a very popular tale concerning VILLOLDO's Tango El Esquinazo, whose execution was prohibited because the public would follow its contagious rhythm striking cups and saucers with the spoons until the entire set of dishes was destroyed.

Gradually, those who lived and loved the night began to look for places less frequented by the great majority, places that had more restricted access, places located in side streets where prestigious women offered their salons, their wine cellars, their friends and their musicians for the entertainment of the porteños. Those were the Casas de Baile, the houses where dancing took place. Their owners competed for the business of the many patotas, the mob of youngsters who went out at night raising hell and having a good time. Two very famous places have been immortalized in a Tango called Tiempos Viejos in which the lyrics recall with nostalgia the good old times. They were, the house of MARIA La Vasca and LAURA's place.

Many musicians of notable aptitude and justified reputation contributed to enhance the attraction of those dancing soirees. From those times and places names like ROSENDO MENDIZABAL (who authored El Entrerriano), ENRIQUE SABORIDO (author of La Morocha), El Pibe ERNESTO PONCIO, SAMUEL CASTRIOTA (author of the melody which became the music for Mi Noche Triste, the first Tango with lyrics that began its transformation into a sentimental, nostalgic and sad musical expression) and others like them were beginning to renovate and move away from the indecent and obscene nature of the Tango titles first registered.

Gradually, the Tango was circling and inching its way towards the center of the city. As it conquered new territory, the in-your-face impudence of the cortes and quebradas was being replaced by a kinder, gentler brand of music. Even the obscene verses were giving way to innocent poetry like VILLOLDO's La Morocha, an elegy to the dark skinned Argentina woman, loyal, faithful, standing by her man at the crack of dawn with a hot mate in her hands and flashing a happy face.

Most of the lewd and lascivious references of the original Tangos were now part of the musical shows on stage. Along this process, the Tango still was mainly music played for dancing and to listen to. It was not until 1917 that PASCUAL CONTURSI finally wrote a catchy love story to the music of SAMUEL CASTRIOTA Tango Lita that caught the fancy of CARLOS GARDEL. Changing its name to Mi Noche Triste (My Sad Night), GARDEL created a totally new style to vocalize the antics of a pimp who being dumped by his percanta, cries alone in a room full of the woman's memorabilia, falls asleep with the door unlocked hoping for her return and truly believes that the bed is upset because it misses the two of them on its top. The phenomenal success of GARDEL, CONTURSI and Mi Noche Triste got rid of the happiness and festive nature of the Tango and it signaled the beginning of the Tango cancion, the new paradigm where the lyrics meant more than the music. People began to leave the dance halls and began to gather around the victrolas to ponder about their own bad luck and curse the tough breaks of their lives.

Chapter IV

We know that the first Tangos circulated from dance hall to dance hall recorded in the popular memory of those who were the frequent patrons of the outskirts nightlife. Some historians consider Tangos from this era as a form of folkloric expression.

WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST authored musical sheets, the Tango entered in a period that has been widely known as La Guardia Vieja. The Old Guard has been profusely documented in the popular literature, in the journalistic chronicle, in the mythological anecdotes and, of course in the work of the pioneers and their recordings. Although the beginning of this era is not totally defined, most tend to agree that by 1924 when Vicente Greco and Eduardo Arolas, last representatives of the Old Guard, disappear, the Guardia Vieja stepped aside to let the new guard take over. The end of the Old Guard was not sudden, it began to take place around 1917 when Mi Noche Triste marked the end of a joyful Tango and began to set in motion the reign of the Tango singer.

What characterized the Old Guard was the happy spirit and the positive and lively rhythm very similar to the agile beat of the milonga. No one really knows which one was the first Tango but many agree that the first composer, recognized as such because of his talent and the reach of his work, was Angel Villoldo (1869-1919).

Although his biography remains almost secret obscured by the darkness of the legends, we know that Villoldo did not belong to the malicious element of the outskirts but he was actually well educated having tried his talent as a poet and a journalist. In many of his Tangos and in his writings he often recalled his earlier experiences as a cuarteador. The city had some steep hills and the horse drawn carriages and the overloaded tramways sometimes could not quite make it uphill. When this happened, they would request a cuarta, the old days equivalent of a tow truck. In this case, the cuarteador would ride a large horse saddled with a sash and a thick rope that was hooked to the needed vehicle to help it negotiate the hill or to dig it up from the dirt street. These men were good riders, strong, virile and had a fame for being irresistible to the siervas and chinas, the young maids and the servants from the provinces. Sort of fun loving Don Juans but also known to be skillful with the blade. Between jobs, the cuarteadores had time to drink mate, play the guitar and sing. Villoldo, a talented musician would delight his listeners with the addition of a harmonic and his fertile memory capable of remembering all the popular songs of the time.

His fame began to expand around 1900 when Villoldo began to frequent the cafetines of the districts of La Boca, San Telmo, Corrales and Recoleta. Historian Francisco Garcia Gimenez indicates that the patrons of those establishments would go berserk listening to Villoldo's own Tangos, banging the tables with their fists and stomping the ground with their feet while the waitresses would hit their trays with their knuckles to follow the beat. Way before Pascual Contursi, Villoldo demonstrated a natural gift for writing verses full of joy that kept vestiges of the simple style of the Creole songs. But poetry was only a part of Villoldo's contribution to the Tango. There are three memorable Tangos that bear his signature, El Choclo, El Porteñito and El Esquinazo. These melodies were among the first ones that drifted into the big city and the homes of the decent middle and upper class exuding from the hand organs that many Neapolitans pushed around the barrios at daytime.

Chapter V

To be able to succeed in Paris was the secret dream and the indispensable condition of being an Argentino. The shining lights of Paris were powerful enough to keep Buenos Aires alive across a massive body of water called the Atlantic Ocean . Many Tango musicians and performers made the trek to France but only a few were recognized as having achieved success there. The legend of EDUARDO AROLAS includes a chapter were his Argentino secret dream came true.

Very few individuals have reached the mythical status given to EDUARDO AROLAS, another illustrious member of the GUARDIA VIEJA who was known as The Tiger of the Bandoneon. A virtuoso player, a prolific composer of Tangos that have withstood the most rigorous arrangements of the best orchestras of all times, he contributed to a legend that still endures by encountering an early death at age 32.

Without any doubt, EDUARDO AROLAS was one the most innovative bandoneon players of the Old Guard and perhaps its most inspired composer. His tangos are characterized by a deep and insinuating musicality and some already anticipate the advent of the new composing attitude of the New Guard.

He was born in Buenos Aires of French parents. He learned to play by ear the concertina, the guitar and eventually the bandoneon. In line with the characteristics of his time, AROLAS typified a new type of Argentino, streetwise, good looking, a virile individual with a winning attitude. He appeared on the Tango scene when the bandoneon had already taken over the representation of the sound of Tango. He is credited with the introduction of a new right hand phrasing and both hand variations on the execution of the bandoneon. He was also the first one to experiment with the cello in the typical orchestra formation.

His first Tango was UNA NOCHE DE GARUFA in 1909 when he was already performing at various cafes of La Boca district and Avellaneda . A friend actually wrote down the music because he did not know musical notation. Later FRANCISCO CANARO published the sheet music which had twenty eight subsequent reprints, an indication of the huge success of the opera prima of Tango's first mythical bandoneonist.

In 1913, after playing with ROBERTO FIRPO at the ARMENONVILLE he began to play at dancing places. First with AGUSTIN BARDI, later with ERNESTO PONZIO and finally with his own typical orchestra.

In 1921 he traveled to France , came back in to Buenos Aires in 1923 and soon he returned to Paris where he died a year later. Alcohol and tuberculosis were the real assassins of AROLAS to the dismay of those who have tried to invent a treacherous death to the hands of a dejected rival.

One of his most celebrated line ups included JULIO DE CARO on violin. In his memoirs, De Caro attests to the legendary moaning and phrasing that the right hand of Arolas created to the amazement and admiration of his colleagues and his audiences.


Chapter VI

Around 1912, the Columbia label had already published recordings of the Orquesta Tipica Criolla and bandoneon player Vicente Greco. The popularity of the new music that had expanded to Europe and North America encouraged the pioneer recording company to release the first recordings of a young bandoneon player, who was becoming very popular with the audiences at diverse night clubs in Buenos Aires . There was something special about the canyengue rhythm pouring out of the bellows of Juan Maglio's bandoneon and the low class people fraternizing the seedy bars of La Boca district were mesmerized by it. The characteristic laziness of the canyengue sound was nothing new to the groups playing around the city but somehow Juan Maglio's music faithfully depicted the sacred joy and festive mood of the populace at large.

The Maglio family was originally from Italy and in the Maglio household there was a bandoneon. Juan Maglio, born in the Palermo section of Buenos Aires on November 18, 1880 learned to play the instrument watching his father play and practicing whenever his father would leave the instrument behind to go to work. Young Juan was very inquisitive and more than most children of his age, was given to all kinds of games and tricks to the point that his father gave him the Italian nickname of pazzo because of his "crazy" behavior. The neighborhood kids, struggling with the pronunciation converted the nickname to Pacho and this nickname stuck to his name for the rest of his life. Years later, people would walk into a music store and ask for a "Pacho", a name that became a symbol of a recording made for dancing. Because the rhythm of Juan Maglio Pacho was the favorite of the dancers who trusted their skills to any of the numerous recordings released by the Columbia label with the name Pacho guaranteeing its quality.

Pacho's family could hardly afford to pay for his musical education and a better instrument than the 13 button primitive bandoneon owned by his father. So his father took upon himself to teach him all he knew about the bandoneon and Juan Maglio Pacho took many menial jobs before he decided to try his luck as a professional musician. After years of practicing with some of his friends at home, he made his debut in the year 1899 with a trio completed by violinist Juan Urdapilleta and guitar player Luciano Rios. Like many groups at the time, they made the rounds of the numerous establishments that catered to the worst elements of the Buenos Aires ' night life. Eventually, after incorporating a flute player, his quartet found a home at a bar called La Paloma, located in what today is the corner of Santa Fe and Juan B. Justo avenues. Back then, the waters of the Arroyo Maldonado were still flowing on the surface next to the street that remembers a very well known Socialist political leader. This was a very high crime neighborhood and a very dangerous place to wander around.

The talent and the sound of the groups led by Juan Maglio Pacho were one of the first to be heard from the newly arrived phonographs. Smelling success, in 1912, the Columbia label began releasing his recordings with a special label portraying Pacho's picture and his signature. As indicated before, asking for a Pacho at a music store became synonym of a record for dancing.

These initial recordings afforded Pacho much prestige and the necessary means to support one of his expensive "hobbies", horse-betting. Soon he became the protege of the high class of Buenos Aires society and his income and prestige increased even more with private performances in the city's most exclusive residences.

Some historians credit Pacho for beginning the acceptance of the Tango in the decent homes of both the rich and poor alike. For the rich, the furor that Tango had caused in Paris was the catalyst that triggered their own craze with the music from the most sordid and seediest corners of the city. For the middle class, there was a natural distrust and an anticipated rejection of the music associated with a life style that encouraged the excesses of the easy life of the bordellos and night clubs.

Yet, thanks to the Columbia records and the advent of the phonograph, for each milonga taking place at an obscene venue, there were hundreds of dances that were taking place in the homes of the decent and hard working middle and low income families. The special rhythm of the Pacho orchestra had in it the newly acquired sense of joy and upbeat mood of a happy population. Pacho was wildly accepted in the hearts and homes of the people of Buenos Aires .

As an interpreter, Pacho has left the memorable recordings of Quejas de bandoneon (1927), Amurado (1927), Milonguero viejo (1928) and other classics written by Juan de Dios Filiberto, Pedro Laurenz and Carlos Di Sarli respectively, that many years later up until today, have become internationally known Tangos interpreted by many of the popular orchestras of the Golden Era. As a composer, Pacho wrote Sabado ingles, Royal Pigall and Armenonville among the most famous Tangos later recorded by D'Arienzo, Di Sarli and other giants of the Golden Era.

Juan Maglio Pacho, the crazy kid turned mythical Tango pioneer passed away on July 14, 1934, at a time when the music of Buenos Aires had began a radical transformation under the talents of Osvaldo Fresedo, Juan Carlos Cobian and specially Julio De Caro. For the refined connoisseurs of the Tango, Pacho's name evokes a sense of respect and admiration for a man and an artist loyal to his musical tradition, his work and his era.

Chapter VII

The Tango dance and the Tango music sometimes are the subject of the proverbial chicken and egg game. Who came first and how the two forms of expressing the Argentine Tango are intertwined, can be answered by traveling back in time with our minds trying to imagine the living conditions and the situation of the inhabitants of the city of Buenos Aires on the latter part of the 19th century.

It's very important to understand the social structure of the city of Buenos Aires about the time that most educated guesses agree that the Tango appeared on the radar screen of awareness. More important yet, is to understand the shock produced by the overwhelming male percentage of immigrants, that arrived to Buenos Aires between 1857 and 1924, on the social structure of the native population. Data from the Immigration Department archives place the percentage of the male population during that period at 70% . Of those, 62% were between the ages of 21 and 40. Further, 60% of the male population consisted of immigrants, foreigners that had come in pursue of fortunes and a better life.

For the natives, whites and pardos (the result of the mixing of white and Indian blood) alike, a minority in their own land, the presence of the gringos diminished their own opportunities to make a fortune and attain a better life. They felt that their land was being invaded, occupied and sometimes destroyed by the immigrants, so it is logical to assume that they set out to find ways to neutralize their social lag. Their defensive weapons were the mockery, irony, disdain and sneer towards the gallegos (from Spain ) and gringos (other parts of Europe ). Those weapons were an integral part of the social contacts between the two sectors of the population. Of all the battlefields where the home turf "war" was waged, the one that best served the purpose of the natives was the dance that both whites and pardos utilized as a way to establish their superiority over the blacks and foreigners.

We can imagine the laughable attempts of the newly arrived immigrants facing the challenge to dance like the negros, but lacking the necessary skills and proficiency and being ignorant about the choreography. Then, we may understand why the dance was the best weapon used by the natives to seek revenge for the invasion of the gringos.

The result of the social pressure that the white natives had to bear because their jobs where being taken away by the immigrants, produced a reaction intended to offset the predominant number of foreigners that patronized the places of entertainment. It is believed that such popular reaction was anonymous and massive, like an instinctive sense of reaffirmation against the immigration avalanche, and a nationalistic reaffirmation to counteract the smearing and destruction of their own lifestyles at a time when the ruling class had decided to forgo the values of the country to replace them with the foreigner's values, as a way to set new goals and make those values symbols of progress and culture.

The whites and pardos used the dancing technique of the negros, adjusted to their own temperament, as a way to mock and sneer not only the negros but the gringos as well, who were clumsy dancers of the existing choreography. That is why the dance of the white natives was half way between the dance of the blacks and the dance of the foreigners, and for that reason, their dance is considered the starting point of the Argentine Tango dance.

The white native accepted and adopted the compadrada, the ostentatious attitude that they cultivated in the rhythm, as well as the corte and quebrada, the sudden stops and the body sways to which they added a different content and meaning than the original form used by the negros.

Therefore, all exaggeration and excessive impetuosity on the dance floor began to be referred to as "dancing like a negro".

While the black dancers moved along their partners forming a single block, performing all kinds of skillful moves, the white native and the pardo dancers altered the choreography to become the center and axis of the dance.

While the black moved backwards or moved to the side and behind the partner, the white only moved forward and the side steps were only tricks to make the woman turn from the back to the front or vice versa but he never turned or moved behind his partner.

For the natives it was very important to dance well because their dance represented ridicule and derision and they did not want to be the target of their own scorn. That is why their faces were serious and apparently worried, leading to many observers to interpret those facial expressions as a reflection of the inner sadness of the natives.

The possibility that the birth of the Argentine Tango may have been the result of an attempt to establish the supremacy of a race by the use of both skillful and disdainful choreography, presents an interesting angle to explain the longevity and resiliency of a popular artform that has survived every attempt to destroy it, change it, buy it or bribe it for more than one hundred years and still counting.

Chapter VIII

Most dancers who lived through the pinnacle decade of the 40's take offense when pseudo intellectuals of the 90's consider the brothel the craddle of the Tango. They have a right to loath those claims, but for the wrong reasons.

Let's place ourselves in Buenos Aires 1880-1900 and visualize a wealthy bourgeoisie willing to prepay in gold for the services of European artists who then would travel to the Paris of South America to perform for the elite families in English, French or Italian. The same wealth contributed to the construction of the Teatro Colon, a grand masterpiece of architectural design where the greatest of foreign artists found a venue commensurate with their celebrated talent.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population in the city quarters and suburbs was relegated to find amusement at the popular circus and neighborhood brothels. In particular, the brothels of the suburbs were the antithesis of the exclusive clubs where the well to do did wherever it is that the wealthy do in private clubs. They were also the equivalent of the Teatro Colon and other downtown theaters in regards to the commercial aspects of dancing and singing. The adoption of the Tango in the brothels had the purpose to attract, maintain and increase their clientele. Thus, those musicians that were very much in demand at the academies, cantinas and sleazy bars, found their services sought after by the brothel managers, who paid them well for their work.

It is imperative to establish the fact that the exploitation of women in the houses of prostitution is morally repugnant to society as a whole, but it is also important to recognize the hypocrisy of the same society that tolerates it as a necessary evil. Not for nothing, it is the oldest profession in the history of the world.

This is what exasperates many of our senior citizens of Tango when they hear neophytes bluntly talk about the Tango being born in the brothels. The brothel as a venue for the Tango was an obligatory whistle-stop on the sentimental journey of the music of Buenos Aires . It's a moment in time that catapulted the popularization of the Tango.

The more times change the more things stay the same. The prostitution commerce in Buenos Aires at the turn of the century offered houses for "decent" citizens and houses for "crooks" with many variations in between. The men from decent and elite families from the plush neighborhoods of the city, patronized their favorite houses of ill repute and upon their return to their social circles and abodes brought with them the moral "stench" of a lifestyle totally opposite to their own. That is why there was a relentless war of rejection against the Tango, not because it was a new dance but because it was practiced in the brothels. Wrongly so, people also associated the Tango with sex and the most distinguished personalities of the media at the time totally denied access to Tango related issues in the written press and the literary works until such time when they found out that France rejoiced and frolicked with Tango's music and cadence.

The period of time when the Tango was a staple of the booming prostitution business, was the time when politicians, power brokers and sugar daddies rubbed elbows with the hustlers who had women walking the streets and those who dreamed about reaching that status. It is during this stage that the Tango acquired its nostalgic character seasoned with the laughter and cavorting that surrounded it, and devoid of the sadness and misery which existed outside the walls of the brothel. The gloomy images of the houses of prostitution projected by those who did not live the times, coincide with the era in which the morals of the bourgeoisie hid the brothels behind tall walls and monitored the age of the clientele as if the sexual act required the protection of a wall and the approval of the police.

This legislation of behavior by the bourgeoisie of Buenos Aires brought such a sense of "decency" to the exercise of prostitution that the brothel ended up being the complete negation of its ostensible function, that of providing sexual relief to the lonely men from over the world who landed in Buenos Aires.

Progress brought along sadness by nullifying the brothel's purpose and snuffing the happiness that it provided. To have a working woman meant social prestige and financial freedom for the youngsters of the slums. That or to be a lunfa, an ingenious thief. The other options were to be a slave of a menial job and having to pay for sex. Indeed, two very good reasons to grab the guitar and sing the blues.

Chapter IX

As we approach the turn of a new milennium, not enough has been said about an era where the roots of the Argentine Tango found fertile ground to grow deep into the essence of the inhabitants of the city of Buenos Aires . On the other hand, pharisee chants both inside and outside the sentimental variables of the Tango equation plead to portray a much more universal, perhaps politically correct reincarnation of the Tango with anything but 1890-1950 Buenos Aires references.

Since the early days of its existence, Buenos Aires has been a disconcerting paradox. Far from being picturesque and tropical, French boulevards mixed with Italian housing echoing a language spoken with pure Spanish accent by the porteños, who dressed like Europeans but acted like themselves.

In his book Buenos Aires Yesteryear, publisher Manrique Zago says that "married couples had numerous children up to sixteen," who in turn after they married lived together with their parents or settled down in neighboring blocks of buildings with internal doors connecting them as a beehive.

Social life, bustle on the streets and life in the tenements were as intense as the sum of nationalities that populated the conventillos. The cacophony of accents and dialects was altering the purity of the language to create the unique porteño sound that it is an idiom in itself.

Time, inscrutable and inexorable as it is, allows the use of "new" and "old" to define what it is "now" and what was "then." As the tales of Tango history began to unravel, the early musicians and composers at the turn of the century were classified as members of the Old Guard when a new generation became to be known as the New Guard.

As we ready to move on with our tales of Tango history, a question lingers in our mind. What is the legacy that the Old Guard has bestowed upon the Tango generations of the future? Perhaps, a review of the pillars of the Old Guard will shed some light, comfort us into a new age and guide us into understanding that it is wise to know where things come from before we attempt to decide where they will go.

It's very unlikely that the individuals that produced some of the best Tango compositions in the early days ever imagined that 100 years later, the sounds they created would reverberate in homes, dance halls and on stages all over the world.

Time after time, a vision of a guitar playing, harmonica blowing troubadour Angel Villoldo, a composer of joyful lyrics and contagious melodies with airs of rural tones, comes to mind whenever El choclo is played. Is it important that they had to introduce it as a "cancion criolla" to circumvent the moral restrictions that the society had placed on the Tango?

That was a time when there were no royalties to collect or copyrights to protect. Musicians like Rosendo Mendizabal, (arguably the best pianist of the Old Guard, a descendant of slaves, heir to his grandmother's substantial fortune, an uncontrollable spendthrift, who spent most of his life playing piano at brothels and clandestine houses of ill repute, and ended up his days in a room of a conventillo of the lowest category) named their Tangos after generous patrons who would slip them "cien pesos" in return. Who knows what 100 pesos bought back then. So one day a guy from the province of Entre Rios unwittingly gave Mendizabal the name for that classic of classics, El entrerriano.

Ernesto Ponzio started when he was a kid. So he became known as El Pibe Ernesto and he earned a living playing at brothels. In 1905, maybe some big belly slob inspired him to compose El Panzudo. Years later when Hansen's, closer to the center of the city, became THE place to be, he changed the name of his Tango to honor a "regular" patron by the name of Don Juan. Ernesto, the kid, occupies his place in history because of just one Tango, his craftiness with the violin and possibly because of his fame as a pistol whipping thug who spent a considerable amount of time in jail because of his short temper and reputation as a hit man for hire.

Vicente Greco found a bandoneon that an ambulant serenader left behind on the patio of the conventillo when he was chased away by the police. The son of immigrants, he grew up in a conventillo. As a musician he started in the tough cafetines of the Italian district of La Boca and gradually his talent helped him moved closer to the city. Legendary bailarin Casimiro El Vasco Ain came looking for him and took him to Salon La Argentina , most commonly known as Rodriguez Peña, the name of the street where it was located. Greco's legacy is prolific, La viruta, Racing Club, El flete (recently featured in Sally Potter's movie The Tango Lesson), Ojos negros and..., yes, Rodriguez Peña.

In July of 1931, the orchestras of Francisco Canaro, Francisco Lomuto, Julio De Caro, Ricardo Brignolo, Edgardo Donato, Ernesto de la Cruz and Juan Maglio Pacho, gathered at a Buenos Aires radio station for a benefit concert for Domingo Santa Cruz, a Tango legend who was laying in a hospital bed without a penny to his name. One month later, Santa Cruz passed away without being able to get up to thank the colleagues who had managed to raise a substantial amount of money for him. During the government of populist president Hipolito Yrigoyen, the "radicales," followers of the Union Civica Radical political party that had catapulted Yrigoyen to power, adopted Santa Cruz's Tango Union Civica as their hymn although the musician had written it at an earlier time in honor of a political leader from another party called Union Civica Nacional.

Who can ignore Francisco Canaro? The Uruguay born Tango entrepreneur built his first violin out of a wooden stick, an oil can and a makeshift bow at an oil can manufacturer's plant where he worked as a youngster. Later when he could afford it, he bought a real violin and he began playing at the brothels in the small towns outside the city of Buenos Aires . In 1910, during the celebration of Argentina 's first 100 years, he was already playing with Vicente Greco. Soon he formed his own group and continued to build a dynasty by having at times three different orchestras bearing his name and playing at venues of different categories. He made the news in 1925 when he agreed to dress his musicians with colorful gaucho costumes in order to satisfy the requirements impressed upon him by the promoters of a Paris establishment. With his lack of scruples he made the statement that show business was more important than the music itself. His name has been tainted with the dubious allegation that he authored many Tangos which common knowledge attributed to "ghost" composers, called "black authors" who composed for others. His fantasy dream was that Sentimiento gaucho, his most popular Tango, would displace La cumparsita as THE tango par excellence. Although that'll never happen, Canaro left classics such as La tablada, Nueve puntos, El pollito and El chamuyo.

Perhaps, and because he is one of the few of the Old Guard who never directed an orchestra, Agustin Bardi became the favorite author of the leaders of the orchestras with the richer sounds beginning with De Caro, continuing with Troilo, and reaching the pinnacle with Pugliese, Salgan, Basso and Gobbi.

There is no recorded evidence of his talent as an interpreter yet his compositions have melodic richness, excellent harmony and spellbinding rhythm. Think Bardi when you hear Gallo ciego, Que noche, Lorenzo and Nunca tuvo novio. Pugliese and Salgan each dedicated one tango to him: Adios Bardi and Don Agustin Bardi

We maybe did not know it but every day we live the Tango, one way or another, we are being blessed by the legacy of the men who the impatience of youth dubbed them The Old Guard.

Chapter X

The bandoneon is a musical instrument solely associated with the Tango. Same as the music it represents, the bandoneon has an uncertain origin. At least, its arrival to the port of Buenos Aires is shrouded in mystery and conjectures. How it became the instrument of choice for the interpretation of Tango is a major ingredient in the rich collection of Tango tales that people like to delve into.

What is certain and widely recognized is that there is one name who meets the ideal conditions for being the player sine qua non of the bandoneon. His name is Pedro Maffia, the kid from the Flores neighborhood, the poet of the bandoneon. To talk about Pedro Maffia, as historians and true connoisseurs of the artistic musical expression of the Tango do, is to define a revolutionary stylist, to identify the promoter of a systematic study of the instrument, to recognize his talent as a composer and creator. In Pedro Maffia converged the hard art of the technique, the natural inspiration and a constant desire of upward improvement.

It was the late Luis Adolfo Sierra, lawyer, historian and investigator, who named Maffia, the poet of the bandoneon. The facts confirm the contention about the prodigious musician, who is considered the best bandoneon player of all times by the experts who study these things.

The overwhelming proof of Maffia's creativity is on the list of titles he left behind: Pelele, Sentencia, La Mariposa, Te aconsejo que me olvides, Amurado and Tiny are among the best known Tangos he wrote.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1899 from immigrant parents, Pedro was exposed to a legendary generation of troubadours that used to gather at his father's bar. His interest for music began at a very early age and he studied the piano. Soon it became evident that his talent was very special and also he began to realize that the piano was not his preferred instrument.

As it is very much characteristic of most men of Buenos Aires , the early and long lasting experiences that signal the directions of their future transit through life, are presented by our fathers. Don Angel Maffia took 12 year old Pedro to the cafe Gariboto, a very popular Tango night club, to hear Juan Maglio Pacho play. Pacho had created an enormous amount of excitement among Tango lovers of his time, because of his use of the bandoneon added a contagious melody that drove people to the dance floor. His first recordings had become a success. Music stores would quickly sell out the latest Pacho recordings as soon as they were released. The experience of listening to Juan Maglio Pacho live, would identify Pedro Maffia for the rest of his life. The morning of January 6, 1912, the traditional Dia de Reyes, Pedro found a brand new bandoneon on the pair of shoes he had left outside the door, courtesy of Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, the Three Wise Men.

The subtle suggestion of his father sent Pedro Maffia on his way to master the instrument that would convert him into the sole and true man of the vanguard that the Tango ever had. Learning was not easy because the talent of young Pedro soon overcame that of his various teachers. In a short time he had acquired an uncanny mastery of the bandoneon keys. A bit frustrated by the lack of a better professor and an adequate method to continue the studies of the instrument, Pedro Maffia resorted to his old piano books and proceeded to incorporate them to the systematic study of the instrument. The experience proved to be very fruitful because he developed a perfect digitization on his left hand, a breakthrough totally unheard of at the time.

He made his professional debut while still not turning thirteen playing at a movie house. Then he moved to bars and other places not quite appropriate for his age. By 1914 he recorded his first record with a trio. Next year he ventured as a soloist at a cafe in the barrio of Villa Crespo. There he became known as El Pibe de Flores, perhaps to tell him apart from another Kid, the one from La Paternal, Osvaldo Fresedo. He continued playing at various cafes and bars, and traveled to the interior of Argentina . It was in a town called Punta Alta where he met Roberto Firpo with whom he played for one year. From a business point of view, it was a successful engagement crowned with tours, theater presentations and recordings. However Maffia could not adapt to the school of Roberto Firpo .

With a name already in the making, Pedro Maffia joined Julio De Caro, Jose Maria Rizzutti and Jose Rosito to play at cafe El Parque, where he presented his first composition, Pelele. There, he later co-authored Tiny with Julio De Caro. Eventually the group dissolved and by 1920 Maffia rejoined Roberto Firpo, but a year later he would leave him for good, although he continued recording with Firpo until 1927. During this period his activity was very intense, traveling to Rosario , playing in cabarets and integrating several orchestras.

But it was in 1923 when he became a member of a group that completely changed the history of playing styles in Tango music. The talented pianist and composer Juan Carlos Cobian put together a sextet that would become an important historical ensemble. Maffia and Luis Petrucelli on bandoneons, Agesilao Ferrazzano and Julio De Caro on violins and Humberto Costanzo on bass. The orchestra lasted a short time because Cobian unexpectedly left half way through the season at Cafe Abdullah, but it set the foundation for what later would be called the "Decarean" era in which Maffia was a fundamental protagonist. A few months later, a quintet was formed with Julio, Francisco and Emilio De Caro, Maffia and Petrucelli. This would become the point of departure of the only one and real Tango vanguard. When bassist Ruperto Thompson joined the group, the typical sextet formation became the norm for any future orchestras.

When Petrucelli and De Caro did not agree on certain terms, Pedro Laurenz was called to sit next to Pedro Maffia and become part of the most celebrated bandoneon duos of all times, Los dos Pedros.

In 1926 Maffia left the sextet and formed his own with a young cadre of promising musicians, Elviro Vardaro and Cayetano Puglisi on violins, Alfredo De Franco on the second bandoneon, Francisco De Lorenzo on bass and Osvaldo Pugliese on piano. Through various personnel changes, the sextet conserved the creative spirit that its conductor had established as they played at movie houses, carnaval balls and for Brunswick Records. More than a monetary purpose, the orchestra seemed to be guided by the sheer pleasure of playing Tangos.

In 1932, Maffia won first prize with his Tango Ventarron at a contest organized by the Colon Theater. He was part of the stable of talent at Radio Belgrano and by 1935 he became a member of the celebrated orchestra Los Cinco Ases de Pebeco, joining ace bandoneonists Pedro Laurenz, Ciriaco Ortiz and Carlos Marcucci and pianist Sebastian Piana.

With the onset of the '40s decade, Maffia saw his unique style being run over by the invasion of foreign rhythms so he decided to retire. The postwar music had changed in ways, that according to the Decarean school, had hurt the essence of the Tango.

Maffia turned his energies to teaching bandoneon players and he became the first master teacher at the prestigious Music Conservatory Manuel de Falla.

In 1950 he briefly attempted a comeback putting together an orchestra integrated by exceptional musicians with memorable results, but the times were not prime for the Tango so he went back to his voluntary ostracism.

On October 16, 1967 the unmistakable voice of his bandoneon went silent forever. Pedro Maffia, the one and only, the great, the authentic poet of the bandoneon had passed away.

Chapter XI

The creation of Tangos in the early days was mostly the result of sheer inspiration and good ears by the likes of Eduardo Arolas, Agustin Bardi, Roberto Firpo and others, but Juan Carlos Cobian, the aristocrat of Tango, is credited with being the first Tango composer.

His aristocratic pretensions along with a refined good taste for musical technique allowed him to create Tango music that was very much appreciated by the high society of Buenos Aires , whose members were as comfortable in a cabaret as in a box seat at the Teatro Colon.

Not quite 8 years old, in 1904, young Juan Carlos sat at home watching an older sister take piano lessons. Shortly after, while mother Cobian listened from the kitchen, he had replaced his sibling taking lessons from the private teacher. Eventually, when the family found out about the swap, they decided to send Cobian to Bahia Blanca . It is uncanny to realize that Cobian graduated from the same Williams Conservatory in Bahia Blanca as Carlos Di Sarli. When his mother passed away, he was eighteen. He moved to Buenos Aires to try his luck. Like most aspiring musicians, the work was meager and the pay insignificant.

Soon he met Eduardo Arolas and through him he became more familiar with other established names. In 1913 Cobian replaced Roberto Firpo in orchestra of Tano Genaro.

At age 23, some of Cobian's Tangos, in particular El motivo to which Pascual Contursi wrote the lyrics of Pobre paica, were causing a wave of protests among many musicians who could not comprehend the advanced orthodoxy and the boldness of the passages written for the piano. In particular, Francisco Canaro refused to play any of Cobian's Tangos because he questioned the actual authenticity of Cobian's work.

A talented pianist, Cobian added new concepts to the composition and interpretation of the Tango. He utilized a more elevated musical dialect than the musicians at the time were used to; in his compositions the canyengue disappeared and a new unusual melody line began to surface. In his time, Juan Carlos Cobian was at the helm of the vanguard movement integrated by Osvaldo Fresedo, Enrique Delfino and Julio and Francisco De Caro.

Perhaps he did not advance as far on the road to renovation because he wanted to compose what he felt and not what would please the masses. However the incomprehension of those who should have comprehended him never stopped him in his quest for excellence.

In 1936 he wrote two of the classics of Tango, Nostalgias and Niebla del Riachuelo. In 1942 Anibal Troilo reprised Los dopados, which Cobian had written in 1922, with new lyrics by Enrique Cadicamo and a more politically correct title, Los mareados.

They have called Cobian, the aristocrat of Tango. The nickname is meant to describe his contribution to bringing a higher artistic hierarchy to the Tango, giving it a musical dressing that would allow it to inaugurate the process of development of the renovation currents.

Cobian introduced radical variations in the function of the piano within the typical orchestra. He incorporated new modicums for the left hand, filling in with bass embellishments the silences created by the melodic pauses. The piano had been reduced until then to provide the rhythmic beat to the strict chords of the orchestra. Now he had set the foundation for a harmonious support function for the piano. Francisco De Caro gave it its final structure later on. From this seed later emerged one of the greatest Tango pianists of all time, Osvaldo Pugliese.

Cobian was a composer with a tendency to what became known as Tango Romanza, a very particular style typified by Mi refugio, La casita de mis viejos and Los dopados.

His mark as an orchestra leader is not as profound as the other members of his generation, Fresedo, De Caro, Maffia, because of the special attraction he had for the opposite sex and a penchant for traveling, which most of the time were hand in hand. Love was one of the reasons for a trip to New York . The affair ended soon, but the city kept him captive for almost four years. When he returned to Buenos Aires the great musician in him emerged with splendor. From the USA , Cobian acquired a taste for the jazz genre that he interpreted with the soul of a black musician.

But Cobian had the obsession to play Tangos in New York and with that thought in mind he became part of the Orquesta Tipica Victor in 1921. The recording label had found a money making formula by putting together a typical sextet, with two bandoneons, Pedro Maffia and Luis Petrucelli, that gave the ensemble a very particular sonority and a distinctive style. The violin of Julio De Caro added its already classic sound. Historians place the sextet of Juan Carlos Cobian within the general intentions and musicality of Osvaldo Fresedo, but because of the instrumental treatment of many new musical ideas, Cobian's orchestra was considered at the opposite end of the spectrum from the close ortodoxy of Juan Maglio Pacho, Francisco Canaro, Francisco Lomuto and Agustin Berto.

It is in 1923 that Cobian plays in one of his last public presentations his Tango Viaje al Norte (Northbound trek), and soon he is on a ship New York bound. In doing so, he deserted a talented group of musicians he had gathered for a major performance at a posh club in the center of Buenos Aires . Most of the integrants of the orchestra decided to stay together and they looked up to a 24 year old to become their leader. On the basic structure of that orchestra, violinist Julio De Caro brings his two brothers, Emilio on violin and Francisco on piano and sets himself to bring the Tango to a higher musical category. First, the orchestra had the temperamental influence of Pedro Maffia. Later, when Maffia departed, Pedro Laurenz took his place and initiated a period which is most representative and has a major artistic transcendence. The process of renovation of the Tango is now unstoppable. From then on, traditionalists and renovators will follow totally different paths and the future of the Tango will have no limit.

Cobian left memorable compositions, Mi refugio, Los dopados, Bohemia , A pan y agua, Shusheta and others, but his legacy was the "Cobian style," a style that gave Tango its melody, a style that from the piano gave a new rhythmic registration to the typical orchestra. With Cobian, the 2 by 4 beat was replaced by the 4 by 8, and along the way a major scission divided the Tango forever.

The works of Cobian's were directly influenced by the European music. From the French romanza he got his form; his temperament was a consequence of his sure instinct for musical beauty; and his spirituality contributed to a rich creative talent which characterized his style as a composer.

He contributed to create a tendency to cultivate a melodical aspect of the Tango never considered before. Subsequently, he was instrumental in defining a new configuration for the Tango romanza and in cooperation with Enrique Cadicamo he enriched the Tango cancion.

His experience as leader of his own sextet set the stage for the renovation in styles consolidated later by Osvaldo Fresedo and Julio De Caro. His gifted talent as a piano player added substantial musical contents to the labor of both the left and right hands in the execution of accompaniment and solos respectively, and showed the way to an incredible paradigma where Francisco De Caro and Osvaldo Pugliese later traveled far into their own place in Tango history.

Chapter XII

Toward the end of the first thirty years of this century, just about every Tango orchestra in Buenos Aires sounded very much alike. The original sound that was born out of nothing, the heroic roving trios that perched on the corners of tough neighborhoods, the artistic innovation that incorporated the bandoneon and the famous quartets, seemed to have ended on a long road to musical boredom.

To be fair, every ensemble had a leader and everyone attempted to add a bit of their own personal touch, but in general, the styles of the orchestras were so similar that it was hard to tell apart the works of Vicente Greco, Juan Maglio Pacho, Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro or Augusto Berto.

Julio De Caro emerged from a group of young and talented musicians and his sextet broke ranks with the traditional style and led a genuine opening into renovation which many call a revolution that saved the Tango from oblivion. Yet, De Caro did not discard what others had done before. His sextet gave new life to some of the greatest creations of Eduardo Arolas and Agustin Bardi, and they coexisted with the new found beauty of the romantic melodies emanating from the creative muse of Juan Carlos Cobian, Osvaldo Fresedo, and Enrique Delfino.

In the times of Eduardo Arolas, the level of illiteracy in Buenos Aires was very high. Very few people stayed in school beyond third grade. Thus his music suited very well the simple minds of the audiences. When the ruling class established mandatory public school, the popular culture grew up and the music of the tanguitos of Arolas began to be insufficient for the larger intellectual capacity of the new audiences. The Argentine Tango began this way a musical evolution that paralleled the cultural evolution of the porteño. Yet the changing Tango continued to be Tango, the same way that an newly educated porteño continued being porteño.

A major renovation in the Tango music took place in the mid 1920's and history identifies Julio De Caro as the supreme priest of the vanguard. This word vanguard, had been used mostly in military lingo to identify what it is up front, at the leading edge of the battlefield. With the stellar appearance of Julio De Caro, the history of the Tango has since been divided in two major hemispheres, the pre and post De Caro era. At the helm of the renovation, the sextet lead by Julio De Caro paved the way for many other innovators who continued to advance, faithful to their commitment to always be ahead of the rest.

The concepts and style which have become to be known as integral parts of the Decarean school, constituted a standard by which all instrumental renovation of the Tango has been measured, both in terms of authenticity and naturalness.

In a very simple way, the Decarean concept was to embellish the melody of the Tango. He wrote in his memoirs about the time when as a third violin for one of Juan Carlos Cobian's recording sessions, he found a section of one of the Tangos to be very poor. With no time to write a new arrangement, De Caro decided to embellish the melody by adding a violin counterpoint. The addition had very good acceptance but when Cobian found out that the daring modification had not been done by neither of his top ranking violin players, but by young De Caro, rather than praising the initiative, he admonished him reminding him about who was the boss. This reprimand in lieu of a praise prompted 24 year-old De Caro to walk out of the Cobian sextet.

He took with him bandoneon players Pedro Maffia, Luis Petrucelli; he called upon his brother Francisco to play the piano, he drafted Leopoldo Thompson to play the bass and he brought yet another brother, Emilio as a second violin.

Historian Luis Adolfo Sierra has written perhaps one of the most celebrated hyperbole about the De Caro tendencies, "some of the most valuable contributions that those real innovators introduced in the execution of the Tango are the harmonic accompaniment of the piano, the phrasing and variations of the bandoneons, the counterpoint of the violin knitting melodies of pleasant contrast with the central theme, plus the piano and bandoneon solos expressed with a harmonic and sonorous richness never heard before then."

Jose Gobello, president of the Academia del Lunfardo says that what it is most recognizable of the De Caro sextet, is the intention to synthesize the street savvy with the romanticism, the rusticity of the slums with the refinement of the conservatories.

In fact, it appears that while Julio De Caro represented the blustery aspect of the Tango music as his creation Mala Junta seems to prove, brother Francisco, with his classic Flores Negras, embodied the new romantic aspect of the music that was beginning to worry the traditionalists. It was a statement that the De Caro brothers were making; the destiny of the Tango was in the music, not in the dance or the singing.

The Sexteto Tipico of Julio De Caro made its debut in 1924 at a salon called Cafe Colon. This typical formation became the standard for year to come, two bandoneons, two violins, a piano, and a contrabass. Soon, several high class salons and some of the most important movie houses secured the services of the sextet for long periods of time.

The Decarean school was admired by some and resisted by others. It divided the entire future of the Tango music into two tendencies totally opposed to each other. Both the public and the artists had, from then on, to adopt one tendency or the other to express and feel the Tango. The evolutionists and the traditionalists took different roads to make their contribution to the history of the instrumental Tango.

From Pacho To Piazzolla, tales of Tango history, a series of notes published in El Firulete, The Argentine Tango Magazine, soon to be released in book form.

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