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The Lost Love of Ada Falcón: Part 2

Argentine singer Ada Falcon

Argentine tango singer & film star, Ada Falcon

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

In one of the most famous disappearances in the history of Latin American music, Ada Falcón, the great Argentine tanguera, left show business. Her retirement was sudden, completely unexpected and extremely strange.

She had begun to appear on the streets of Buenos Aires in disguise, her head swathed in scarves, multiple shawls hanging about her shoulders, her lovely eyes hidden behind slab-like sunglasses. She stopped recording. There were reports in the newspapers about strange nighttime peregrinations, about her odd dress, and her raving. Eventually her mother realized the depth of Ada’s distress, and took her to Cordoba, Argentina, where Ada entered the Molinari Convent of Franciscan nuns.

There is a great deal of speculation about the end of her career, the entertainment life she had known almost since birth, and the decision to enter the contemplative life under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Most center upon her love for the orchestra leader Francisco Canaro, because Canaro had a wife.

Evidently Falcón had been very guilt-ridden about her affair with a married man yet overwhelmed by the love she felt for him. She pleaded with Canaro to divorce his wife so that she could marry him. Canaro agreed but did not actually go through with the divorce action. He kept Falcón on one arm and his wife on the other, for years. There were family reasons, Canaro said. The Church. The need to wait for a while to keep it respectable. Careers. Obligations.

Falcón waited, until the day Canaro finally admitted to her that he would never leave his wife under any circumstances.

Falcón went to the streets and wandered, swathed in craziness. Eventually, in desperation, sheltered by her mother, she entered the convent. Ada Falcón died in 2002, at ninety-six, in the convent in Cordoba. She seldom left the place, she never recorded another song, and apparently never recovered her heart.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, will be published in January.

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The Lost Love of Ada Falcón

Argentine Tango singer Ada FalconBy Terence Clarke, journalist, novelist and Alma del Tango board member

The tanguera Ada Falcón made her stage debut in 1910 at the age of five. Known then as La joyita argentina (The Little Argentine Jewel), she was an immediate hit as a singer during interludes between acts in Buenos Aires stage productions. At the age of thirteen, Ada made her first film and became an immediate star.

Her voice was mezzo-soprano, and so had a profundity not shared by the more usual women sopranos. When she sang a sad tango, there was a kind of playfulness in her voice that seemed to make fun of the possibilities for betrayal and desperation that fill so many tango lyrics. When she sang of the disappointment life can bring, Ada did it with a smile in her voice, fresh and genuine, and with a suggestion of jaded desire for the person to whom she was singing.

Evidently she did not attend school. Rather, she had personal teachers who worked with her when she was not making movies or singing or making records. By the time she was in her twenties, she was driving around Buenos Aires in a red luxury convertible, owned a fabulous three-story home in the Recoleta neighborhood and was appearing in public wrapped in fur and glittering with jewels.

In the early thirties, she made approximately fifteen recordings a month. She was a superstar, and when you listen to her recordings you understand why. There are few singers in any genre who approach their songs with as much casual authority, yet fine artistic judgment, as Ada Falcón. For an example, listen to Te quiero (I Love You), in which Falcón sings:

Te quiere como no te quiso nadie,
como nadie te querrá.
Te adoro, como se adora en la vida
el hombre que se ha de amar

“I love you like no one has loved you,
like no one will ever love you.
I adore you, as is adored in life
the man who must be adored.”

In terms of record sales and concert appearances, Ada Falcón was one of the most successful singers of tango in the 1930s. She was less successful, however, in the actual matter of love. Ada fell for Francisco Canaro, who was one of the most successful tango orchestra leaders of the twenties and thirties. Many of Falcón’s greatest recordings were made with Canaro. So why, in 1943, at the age of thirty-eight, at the peak of her career, did Falcón suddenly abandon it?

Find out what happened next month, in Part 2 of this article.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, will be published this coming January.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who was Max Glücksmann and how did he influence tango? Part 2

by Terence Clarke, journalist, novelist and Alma del Tango board member

Argentine tango singer, Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel, signed to an early recording contract by Max Glücksmann.

 

We learned last month about the beginnings of the Argentine recording and film industries, principally through the efforts of Max Glücksmann. Eventually he was to build those industries into a business powerhouse. But Glücksmann also had extraordinary taste when it came to popular music, and he knew he was onto something when he first heard the singing voice of Carlos Gardel.

A former street singer, Gardel had made an early reputation as half of the Razzani-Gardel duo that was popular on the Buenos Aires music scene before and during World War I. Eventually the two split up, and Gardel continued on as a single, signed to an early recording contract by Max Glücksmann. Gardel was still a criollo singer whose music had a country flavor heavily influenced by the music of the Argentine pampas and the gauchos.

But he was an urban kid.

As in many great cities, there were populations in Buenos Aires that had been forced to emigrate from other countries by war or economic difficulties. There was chaotic urban noise and emotional dissociation, the alienation that comes from the break-up of families, the loss of community and the anger and rage that can result.

Gardel was no stranger to this, and his first solo recording, in 1917, was a tango entitled “Mi noche triste,” about a man sitting alone in his Buenos Aires room, crushed because his lover has just left him.

The first such recording ever made

Tango had existed for years before this, but more as a folkloric music and country dance. What Gardel was singing was urban, new, and instantly popular. Gardel went on to become the biggest-selling music star in the Spanish-speaking world, an international phenomenon of enormous proportions.

Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires

Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore located in Glucksmann’s former “special” concert theater in Buenos Aires.

On October 12, 1924, Gardel made one of the first live radio broadcasts to be produced from the studio of “Lo Grand Splendid,” Glücksmann’s new headquarters housed on the upper floor of his new “splendid” concert theater. (Now transformed into the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen, the Ateneo Grand Splendid is located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in Buenos Aires.)

Gardel became a movie star so well thought of by Hollywood that by 1934 he was being prepared by Paramount Studios to become the next Maurice Chevalier. On March 5, 1934, Glücksmann arranged for a short wave radio hook-up, broadcast by Radio Splendid in Argentina –- from a studio in the Grand Splendid — and NBC in the United States.

The artists were Carlos Gardel and his long-time guitarists Guillermo Desiderio Barbieri and Angel Domingo Riverol. This occasion was memorable for a unique reason, since in fact Gardel was singing in New York while the guitarists were playing in Buenos Aires. It was one of the first such international broadcasts ever made.

Glücksmann had essentially gained control of the Argentine record industry. He did it while nonetheless becoming a hero to musicians through his practice of paying them royalties. He was the first in Argentina to suggest this, and in so doing made Carlos Gardel a world-class star and a multi-millionaire. Other Argentine musicians may not have climbed to Gardel’s heights of fame, but they all benefited from Glücksmann’s careful protection of their artistic rights.

Max Glücksmann died on October 20, 1946.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the main character, will be published in January 2019. A translation to Spanish by the noted Chilean novelist Jaime Collyer will appear later in the year.

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Who was Max Glucksmann and how did he influence tango?

The first of two articles about Max Glucksmann by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

 

Max Glucksmann’s is not a household name, to be sure. But were it not for him, the Argentine recording and film industries would not have developed as quickly as they did or –- especially in the recording of tango– with such formidable results.

An Austrian and part of the important Jewish immigration to Argentina in the nineteenth and twentieth  centuries,  Glucksmann arrived with his family in Buenos Aires in 1890, when he was 15 years old.  Max was a very industrious young man, and he went to work soon after his arrival in Argentina for  Lepage y Compañia, a photography studio. He was one of three employees in a shop that was seven by twenty-five meters in its entirety.  He often bragged later in life, shrugging his shoulders in the Buenos Aires manner of humorous acceptance of one’s fate, that his first salary was fifty pesos a month.  Even in 1890, this was not a lot. 

The arrival of moving pictures and voice recordings

Max Glucksmann, Argentine movie and recording industry mogul

Max Glucksmann, founder of Argentina’s cinema and recording industries in the early 20th Century.

Lepage y Compañia recognized the coming importance of the moving picture, and expanded its operations in 1900 to that primitive but exciting art.  In the meantime, the possibility for recording voice and music had also become a reality.  In a 1931 interview, Max explained what had been happening in Buenos Aires: “Forty years ago, the first Lioret phonographs were imported from France.  They used celluloid cylinders.  Then came cylinders made of wax. And finally in 1900 disks appeared, even though they were pretty bad.” 

Max understood that, although these first recordings were mostly by opera singers like Enrico Caruso, the real market lay in popular music artists of the period.  In a day in which radio was in its own infancy, these recordings were usually the only way that large numbers of people could hear different kinds of music. 

“When the gramophone really came into its own in Argentina,” Max said, “it was thanks to the popularity that, day by day, was enjoyed by criolla music (music from Argentina itself). From the time of the payadores (itinerant singers) like Negro Gazcón, Gabino Ezeiza, Villoldo and others, who were singing just as the disk was perfecting itself.”

Max, recognizing that cinema and recording were the coming industries, applied himself to his work so intently that, in 1908, when Lepage y Compañia now had one hundred fifty employees, he bought the company.  Soon thereafter, he built the first recording studio in Argentina, taking advantage of new technology that allowed recordings to be made by the thousands. He also worked to establish the legal rights of music authorship for performers, something that had not previously existed in Argentina.

Next month we’ll see the profound influence that one of Max Glucksmann’s first artists, Carlos Gardel, would have on tango and the world.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, will be published next year.

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Eduardo Saucedo is Alma del Tango Artist-In-Residence during August

Eduardo Saucedo, Alma del Tango Artist in ResidenceCome study with the Maestro!

By Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

The first time I ever saw Eduardo Saucedo dance was in a show at the Confitería Ideal in Buenos Aires, some years ago. He had written and choreographed the piece, and his role was that of The Wolf in a tango version of the fairy tale “Red Riding Hood.”

Eduardo paced about the stage, heavily made up in wolfish costume, his eyes wild, his voice growling, even terrifying. Above all, he danced with remarkable strength and bearing, given the rich comedy in the role he was playing.

It was marvelous!

Students and devotees of Alma Del Tango have a remarkable opportunity to study with Eduardo as he will be the artist-in-residence for the entire month of August. Eduardo is from Buenos Aires and has long been recognized for his love of and passion for the dance. His teaching, always creative, is in the same moment eminently practical. He begins with the authentic tango embrace and goes from there. He always observes the traditions of tango, while at the same time bringing fresh innovation even to the simplest of movements. His classes are also noted for their humor. Studying with Eduardo is demanding…and a lot of fun.

An internationally celebrated artist

Eduardo has been involved with some of the most important tango events internationally. Most notably he has for many years been an invited teacher and performer at the famous CITA Festival, held every year in Buenos Aires. In the United States, he has performed and taught at Nora’s Tango Week in San Francisco, performed with the Debbie Goodwin Dance Company in their show, Me Llamo Tango, and the Portland Tango Festival, to mention a few.

He has also performed at some of the key tango venues in Buenos Aires, including Salon Canning, Almagro, the legendary Confitería Ideal, and, one of my favorites, El Viejo Correo.

No stranger to video and film

Eduardo appeared in the National Geographic series Consequencias in 2010. Co-produced with Fox Telecolombia, the series was an attempt to educate viewers about contemporary issues, political and otherwise, in Latin America. He is also prominently featured in a documentary titled My First Tango by the German filmmaker Judith Schwyter, which was released in 2013.

The film, with English subtitles, gives you a close-up view of the tango dance scene in Buenos Aires, and intersperses that with footage of Eduardo giving a young woman her very first tango lesson. The lesson finishes with, to her great delight, an entire tango in the arms of the master. The film gives you a good idea of what a careful and compassionate teacher Eduardo is. Come experience that for yourself!

This August marks his fourth time as Artist in Residence at Alma del Tango. Teaching with him will be the women of Tango Con*Fusión, featuring Debbie Goodwin on Friday nights. Following the Friday night classes Eduardo will co-host a practica with Debbie and John, and on the fourth Friday, he and Debbie will perform during La Milonga de San Anselmo.

To book a private with Eduardo speak to Kikki when you come to class or contact info@almadeltango.org.

Watch Eduardo dance at Nora’s Tango Week
Watch the documentary, My First Tango (It’s delightful!)

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, will be published next year.

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Astor and Charlie

By Terence Clarke, novelist,  journalist and Alma del Tango board member

The great Argentine tanguero Carlos Gardel made several Spanish-language musical comedies for Paramount Pictures in New York City. In 1934, one of his most popular movies, El día que me quieras (The Day You Love Me), was being shot there, and Gardel made the acquaintance of a thirteen-year-old 
Argentine kid named Astor, who spoke English fluently because his parents had brought him to New York many years earlier.

black & white photo from the 1935 movie El Dia Que Me Quieras with Astor Piazzola (left) and Carlos Gardel (third from left)

Astor Piazzolla, left; Carlos Gardel, third from left, in a scene from El dia que me quieras

Gardel and Astor hit it off immediately and became close friends. Gardel and his musicians even tutored Astor on the bandoneón that the boy’s father had bought for him. Gardel also arranged for Astor to have a bit role in the movie, playing a newspaper boy. Gardel was killed on June 24, 1935 in an airplane crash in Medellín, Columbia.

The boy “Astor” was, of course, Astor Piazzolla, who later went on to one of the most storied careers of any tango-based musician in the history of the genre.

Astor’s letter to Gardel
In 1978, Piazzolla wrote a letter to Gardel “in heaven,” that was published in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín. Here is part of it…

Dear Charlie:
Maybe if I call you Charlie, you’ll remember that boy of thirteen who lived in New York, who was Argentine and played the bandoneón. Also, he worked as a newspaper boy on [the set of] “El dia que me quieras.”

When you asked me how to say “Carlitos” in English, I called you “Charlie.” Do you remember when I brought you a wooden puppet that my father had carved? That morning you signed two photos, one for [my father] Vicente and another for “the cute kid and future great bandoneón player.” From 1934 until today, 1978, forty-four years have passed, and I did not really let you down.

I showed you my city (I was proud to know it well…having lived there for eleven years), especially my neighborhood, Greenwich Village, where you just had to find the best Italian cantinas…you, with such problems of the paunch, and not counting the times you came to my home, where you tried the ravioli of my mother Asunta and a dessert of jelly fritters. You really liked to eat well!

I’ll tell you a nice story, Charlie. Some teachers singing at the Teatro Colón [in Buenos Aires] now make the students listen to your records as a model of song. You know, I would have written for you, and I would have made arrangements and played the bandoneón for you. We’d kill ‘em, Charlie!

Well, I’m going to work now, or, as we say today, “I have a recital.” I’ll think about the kid Piazzolla when you said, “Now, Astor, play that arrabal music and give it all you got.” It was the spring of 1935, and that’s the day the duet Gardel-Piazzolla was born. I am a lucky guy. Someday we will both be up on the top floor. Wait for me….
Astor

Terence Clarke’s latest book is the story collection New York.

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Presenting Pablo Estigarribia and Adrian Jost

Argentine pianist and Swiss bandoneonista perform at Alma del Tango

by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

It’s a given that Argentine tango has a significant influence on contemporary music around the world. Most of the musicians who are responsible for that influence are themselves Argentine. But there have been few notable tangueros who were not born in that country.

Tango pianist Pablo Estagaribbia & bandeneonista Adrian Jost

Pablo Estagaribbia & Adrian Jost

Among those is bandoneonista Adrian Jost who, though born in Switzerland, received his master’s degree in music from Northwestern University, and is one of the co-founders, along with Argentine guitarist Guillermo García, of Trio Garufa.

On Friday, May 25, Adrian joins Pablo Estigarribia, one of the most noted younger Argentine players and arrangers of tango, for a performance at La Milonga de San Anselmo. The duo has been on tour and will make a much-anticipated appearance at Alma del Tango.

Pablo has made several recordings. One of them, Tangos para piano, was the recipient a few years ago of the Premio Gardel, the most prestigious award offered by the Argentine recording industry. His latest collection, with legendary singer María Graña, has been nominated for a Gardel this year.

Adrian is a virtuoso on his instrument. He has a complete understanding of tango’s unique underlying rhythms and plays his bandoneon with exceptional drive and humor. He brings authentic emotional authority to the music that is rare among players who do not come originally from Argentina.

Devotees of the dance
Pablo and Adrian are unusual as tango musicians in that both are devotees of the dance as well as the music. Each was initiated into the subtleties of tango through their dancing of it.

“Most of the professional tango musicians I know don’t dance,” Pablo says. “But, of course, one of the most direct ways of learning the intricacies of rhythm in tango is to get out on the floor.”

This was so important a revelation to Adrian that, when he and Guillermo García first met Sascha Jacobson, the American bassist and third member of Trio Garufa, they realized that, although a first-rate musician, Sascha didn’t yet have the dynamics of tango, the surge of it, in his blood. So they told him to go out and learn the dance. When you hear Sascha play tango now, you realize how good that advice was.

On a recent trip to Buenos Aires Adrian and Pablo spent an evening with the virtuoso bandoneonista Victor Lavallen. Victor was a principal arranger for many years for Osvaldo Pugliese, and is something of a tango immortal himself in Buenos Aires. Riding in a taxi afterwards, Adrian and Pablo decided to play together, and sealed the deal with a handshake.

Adrian is quite precise in his reason for wanting to play with Pablo. “It’s the attention to detail in his music,” he says. “Pablo introduces new elements to his tango, but it remains connected to that of previous musicians. Nonetheless, his tango is very much his own.”

Pablo is indeed a stickler for precision in the music, and is devoted to practice and rehearsal. “And that’s one thing I like especially about Adrian. He’s Swiss. So he practices. He’s always on time to a rehearsal, which you can’t say is the case with most Argentine musicians. Above all, he knows tango and what makes it work. He loves the music that I love, and I love the music that he does.”

Rehearsal by email
At first, their coming together as a duo featured an unusual practice schedule. “It was a real debut experience for me,” Adrian says. “At first, I thought it was crazy. We had trouble rehearsing because I was in San Francisco and Pablo was in Buenos Aires. So he would email me a score for some tango. I would play it, figure it out, and send him ideas for changes…also by email. Then we would negotiate, listening to each other’s ideas online. Pablo laughs with this description:

Yes, I believe it was the first series of rehearsals in the history of music to be conducted on ‘WhatsApp.’ 

To hear the results, don’t miss Pablo Estigarribia and Adrian Jost (with the addition of singer Christianna Valentina) at Alma del Tango’s milonga on Friday evening, May 25, generously sponsored by Alma del Tango friend and supporter Deborah Loft.

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A rare opportunity! Dance to the music of Pablo Estigarribia and Adrian Jost at our May 25 milonga.

Tango pianist Pablo Estigarribia and bandeonist Adrian Jost

Pablo Estigarribia & Adrian Jost perform at Alma del Tango’s milonga on May 25

With special thanks to Alma del Tango’s angel, Deborah Loft.

Widely recognized as one of the best tango musicians of his generation, Pablo Estigarribia is doing a Bay Area tour with bandoneonist Adrian Jost of Trio Garufa, and we’re fortunate to have them for a performance at Alma del Tango.

A classically trained virtuoso pianist and jazz lover, Pablo discovered tango in 2005. He has studied, composed, arranged, and performed with such legendary musicians as Emilio Balcarce, Horacio Cabarcos, Maria Graña and Victor Lavallen. Estigarribia was awarded the prestigious Gardel Prize in 2015 for Best Tango Recording by a New Artist.

Adrian is well known to the Bay Area tango community. He first studied the accordion and bayan with the best teachers in his native Switzerland. Upon coming to the U.S. to pursue his master’s degree at Northwestern University, he discovered Argentine tango and made the transition to the bandoneon. In 2001, he co-founded Trio Garufa, a favorite at Alma del Tango milongas.

“We are thrilled to present the duo at our May milonga where they will perform some concert pieces as well as classics for dancing,” says Debbie Goodwin. “Our own Christianna Valentina will sing with the two master musicians. It promises to be a stellar evening at Alma del Tango!” 

Made possible by a gift from Deborah Loft

Deborah Loft, Tango dancer

Deborah Loft, Alma del Tango angel

In order to bring you top musicians and guest teachers, Alma del Tango, a nonprofit, counts on support from our community. Our long-time friend, student and supporter, Deborah Loft, has contributed to make this event possible.

Deborah has been dancing tango for about 11 years and continues to enjoy everything that Alma del Tango offers.  “It’s amazing how Debbie and John have shaped a studio and theater with classes, practicas, milongas, performances and guest Argentine teachers and performers,” she says.

“I try never to take it for granted and make the most of it,” says Deborah. “I’m lucky I live in San Anselmo, but if I were living anywhere else in the North Bay I would take advantage of it.”

Contributing her creative skills

She deeply appreciates the importance of the arts and community and does everything in her power to be supportive of our projects.”  Debbie Goodwin

Deborah supports Alma del Tango in more ways than financial. An art historian by profession, she also has a background in theater and film. Her talents include costuming and make-up consulting. She has worked on two independent feature films and designed costumes for College of Marin theatrical productions.

She has consulted on Alma del Tango student productions and performed in several as well. You may have seen her portrayal of Maurice Le Beau in Tango Tales (2012). For that role she invented her character’s back story and encouraged other cast members to do the same in order to better understand the period and characters they were portraying. In 2013, she appeared as the novelist in Close Embrace: A Tango Love Story.

Deborah Loft portrays male tango dancer Maurice LeBeau in Alma del Tango student production

Deborah Loft as Maurice Le Beau in “Tango Tales”

Deborah also likes to support Tango Con*Fusion.  “It’s an all-women dance troupe run by women; they are not limited by gender in a dance that is strongly gender-based,” she explains.

“Deborah has been our Alma del Tango angel for many years — always ready to help out not only financially but with her extensive talents and knowledge,” says Debbie Goodwin. “We are most grateful to Deborah for making it possible for us to bring Pablo and Adrian to our San Anselmo studio.”

Learn more about our guest artists:
Pablo Estigarribia
Adrian Jost

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Sexteto Milonguero: Tango in the Present Moment

 by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Javier Di Ciriaco of Sexteto Milonguero, Buenos Aires tango musician

Javier Di Ciriaco, founder of Sexteto Milonguero

For those of us outside Buenos Aires (I live in San Francisco) tango is heard principally through the thousands of historic recordings made during the last 80 years. If this sea of music were to be believed, you’d think that these old arrangements were the only ones that exist. We dance to them over and over again.

But there is a thriving community of contemporary tango in Buenos Aires, peopled by actual living musicians, who are writing new tangos and re-arranging the old ones in innovative ways that literally re-shape the form. Stellar artists like Cristóbal Repetto, María Volonté, Daniel Melingo, Adriana Varela and Caracol are not only bringing tango to vibrant life again, but are expanding its territory in innumerable ways.

 Sexteto Milonguero, founded and fronted by singer Javier Di Ciriaco, is one of those groups. Just completing a U.S. tour, they appeared recently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Di Ciriaco is to the manner born. He has no formal training as a singer. Rather he describes growing up in Argentina in a musical family (his father was a singer), and those occasions of parillas (barbecues), backyard celebrations, weddings and other family gatherings during which music performance by attendees is de rigueur.

This is a common occurrence in Argentine celebrations no matter where in the country you may be. Di Ciriaco describes these events, and how as a child he too would be expected to participate. It was there that he picked up his formidable singing chops.

Highly original and inventive

The sextet is made up of a bandoneonista, two violinists, a pianist, a bassist and Di Ciriaco himself, who also lends his guitar to the musical mix. One thing that makes this band so special is that these are truly professional young musicians whose abilities run the gamut from very tight playing and authoritative knowledge of the music at hand to a sense of fun and humorous drive that makes the music highly unusual in its originality. This is not a combination heard much outside Buenos Aires. 

There was just one solo performance during the concert, and it was significant. The great tango “El día que me quieras” (“The Day You Love Me”) with music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera was recorded in 1934. It was Gardel who had previously transformed tango from a country and urban Buenos Aires street music into the concert stage and recording phenomenon that eventually resulted. His recording of this song was the highest point of his astonishing stage and film career. (He died in a plane crash on June 24, 1935, in Medellín, Colombia.)

Di Ciriaco took up his guitar and sang this song alone, without the band. As with so many of the sexteto’s numbers, this version of the song was immediately recognizable. But it was also so inventive that it gave the piece a much more hip modernity and soul than I have heard in all the previous recordings, with the exception of Gardel’s own. Di Ciriaco’s version was a surprise, and a wonder. 

For fine examples of Sexteto Milonguero’s rich arrangements and featured solos by its artists, look for their recordings on Amazon Music and Apple iTunes. You can also find them at http://www.sextetomilonguero.com.ar

Terence Clarke is co-founder and director of publishing at Astor & Lenox. His latest book is a story collection titled New York.

 

 

 

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The Gods of Tango, a novel by Carolina De Robertis

Book cover, The Gods of TangoReviewed by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Carolina De Robertis is a novelist living in the United States and writing primarily in English. She is of Uruguayan roots, however, and has written provocatively about characters whose entire consciousness derives from the land, the traditions and the politics of Uruguay and Argentina. Her latest novel is The Gods of Tango, published by Knopf.

In 1913, 17 year old Leda arrives by ship in Buenos Aires, from Italy, ostensibly to be greeted by her new husband Dante. Once on shore, she learns that Dante has been killed in a street battle between syndicalists and the police.

With only the clothes on her back and a single trunk containing her things, a little money, and the violin that her cherished father gave her, Leda moves into a conventillo named La Rete, in the poor wharf-side neighborhood of La Boca. Conventillos basically were tenements, some set up by the Argentine government, others privately run, to house the thousands of immigrants pouring into Buenos Aires during the first years of the twentieth century.

A polyglot of cultures

The conditions were uniformly terrible, with many people crowded into warrens of single rooms. The conventillo would often have a central patio with a source of water for cooking and washing, which would be the gathering place for the tenants. These sprawling edifices housed people from all over the world, and must have been a polyglot confusion of languages, cultures, manners of dress and, most principally for Leda’s purposes, music.

She hears her first tango in La Rete and is immediately smitten by it. She has never even imagined such rhythmic intensity, or such soulful intent and passion, in any of the music she has ever heard. She can play her father’s violin (although at first her efforts are insubstantial), and she determines to master the tango.

There is, however, a problem.

Tango in 1913 Buenos Aires is the domain of men, and men alone. The only women involved are those who work in the many boliche cafes and bordellos of Buenos Aires, and the duties of those women have little to do with music. The very idea of a woman playing tango is ridiculous to the men.

Leda comes to understand this quickly. Wrapping her breasts to diminish their presence, getting her hair cut in the style of a man, and dressing in her deceased husband’s clothes, Leda leaves the conventillo and takes to the Buenos Aires streets, now calling herself Dante, after her husband. She does so with violin in hand.

Leda remains so disguised for the rest of the novel, and she becomes remarkably well known as a musician. Working at first in the poorest of little boliches, she hones her talent until she becomes one of the best tango violinists on the Buenos Aires scene. But she does so as a man, and the disguise—and what it teaches her about the privileges that men enjoy that are forbidden to women—becomes the very vehicle for her rise to tango eminence.

The ways De Robertis presents the confusions that arise for Dante, her fellow musicians, and her lovers, is one of the real innovations of this novel. De Robertis writes with considerable passion and beauty about the kinds of sex that Leda finds and, of course, the kinds of love that she finds.

For anyone who cares about the origins of tango, this novel is a fine addition to the history of that soulful music in its Rio de La Plata birthplace. Find The Gods of Tango and Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Notorious Dream of Jesús Lázaro, at Amazon Smile. A portion of your purchase benefits Alma del Tango.

 

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