Archive | February, 2019

The story of tango singer El Polaco Roberto Goyeneche

by Terry Clarke, author, journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

ango singer Roberto Goyeneche

Tango singer Roberto Goyeneche supported himself as a bus driver until he was “discovered.”

Roberto Goyeneche is not everyone’s cup of tea as a singer of tango. Although to this day one of the most famous singers of the genre, his arrangements and delivery are sometimes thought to be so unusual and innovative that the general public, especially the dancing public, doesn’t pay the kind of attention to him that I believe he deserves.

Born into a working-class family in the Saavedra neighborhood of Buenos Aires in 1926, Goyeneche’s voice was discovered through one of those chance occurrences that sometimes take place, which usher the newcomer into immediate stardom.

The singing bus driver

As a young performer, Goyeneche had to work as a municipal bus driver in Buenos Aires, to support himself while trying to make a name in show business. He had gigs. He was singing for a band here and there. But he wasn’t making a living wage as a cantor. He was definitely an oddity as bus drivers go, though, because of his constant singing of tangos, solo, while driving.

One day, a man named José Otero was riding on Goyeneche’s bus and heard the voice coming from the man at the wheel. Otero was the manager of Horacio Salgan’s orchestra. Salgan, an accomplished pianist whose star had been rising during the 1940s, had already attained a certain fame in the music and recording industries. Otero offered to introduce Goyeneche to Salgan and suggested that the young man sing a couple tangos for him.

His unique delivery of tango songs

The audition was a great success. No one had heard a voice like this, especially with the unusual manner in which Goyeneche essayed quite well-known tangos. There was a kind of lackadaisical-seeming precision in his delivery. He would start slightly behind the beat or before it, speed up, slow down, arrive at the end with the orchestra, right on time…or maybe not. Himself an adventurer musically, Salgan valued what Goyeneche could do. This was a style of singing that I believe was influenced somehow by the jazz idiom and its embrace of improvisation…as was Salgan’s music.

So, in 1952, Horacio Salgan hired Roberto Goyeneche. Success was immediate, and despite his Basque background, Goyeneche was quickly nicknamed “El Polaco” because of his skinniness and his light-colored hair. Goyeneche eventually won the attention of the very famous Aníbal Troilo, who hired him in 1956. Troilo himself had considerable daring as a musician. A legendary bandoneonista, he had hired a young musician named Astor Piazzolla in 1944, whose career as a performer and composer later sky-rocketed to the world stage.

Goyeneche’s career lasted almost to his dying day, in 1994. His last recordings reveal a singing voice almost destroyed, gargly, off-tune, way rough. But for me, that Goyeneche voice is simply the last iteration of a great talent that went through many innovative changes throughout his career. The recordings made by Goyeneche as an old man are some of my favorites. For an example, listen to his rendition, again with Piazzolla, of Astor’s famous Balada para un loco.

The Argentine journalist Ricardo García Blaya wrote “El Polaco Goyeneche appropriated to himself many of the classic tangos. Why do I say that? For the simple reason that he re-created innumerable tangos the versions of which had already made their own name…identified with other singers. But with Goyeneche’s interpretation, those tangos became emblems of his repertory.”

Book cover, The Splendid City, by Terence Clarke

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as its central character, was published on January 1. Find it on amazonsmile.com and designate Alma del Tango as your nonprofit of choice.

 

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Student of the Month ~ Catherine Layton

Catherine Layton, Alma del Tango student of the month by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Catherine’s tango path has been on again off again (until now). She had her first taste of Argentine Tango at City College in 2000. Then she took a detour into salsa, ballet and jazz, before finding her way back to tango.

Why tango: “I’ve always needed to dance in some way, and for some reason tango calls to me,” says Catherine.  A former salsa dancer, Catherine had performed in New York and the Bay Area, including a Raiders half time show. But, “there were a lot of changes going on in my life and I felt the need for a change,” she says. That’s when she turned to tango.

Favorite part:  What really hooked her was the need to be so present in tango. At a stressful time in her life she found it almost therapeutic. “When the music comes on, I’m totally involved in the moment. It’s almost like a meditation. What I learn in tango I’m able to carry out into the world.”

And while she finds salsa dynamic and fun, there’s a romance and sophistication — and challenge! — to tango that always allured her to the dance. “They’re both sexy dances but in different ways,” she explains.

About Debbie & John:  Catherine had been dancing at Bay West but when it closed, she found Alma del Tango. “As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Debbie and John were so welcoming, it felt like a family,” says Catherine.  She loves watching Debbie: “it’s beautiful to see her settle into the role with her face and body. I should be looking at her feet but can’t stop looking at her face!”

She finds both Debbie and John encouraging and supportive, “they want you to be the best dancer you can be. They’re also very generous with their time, their knowledge, and themselves.”

In addition to group classes, Catherine takes privates with John. “He has the ability to push you to the edge of what you can do…then a little beyond,” she smiles.  

Anything else? Catherine volunteers at Alma del Tango, helping with marketing, posting classes online, and collaborating with Philip Benson on fundraising projects. “Debbie and John have created something so unique, a little gem, right here in Marin,” she says, “and I want to help them keep it going.”

Catherine Layton dances tango with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango in Marin

No more fear of milongas! Catherine dances with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango milonga.

Last word: Catherine went to her first milonga on New Year’s Eve. Before that, she didn’t have the nerve, didn’t feel she was good enough yet. “It turned out fine,” she reports, “a nice mix of levels and leaders.” Now she has no more fear of milongas!  

 

 

 

 

 

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