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Cacho Castaña ~ Superstar of Argentine popular music and film

Portrait of Cacho Castana, Argenine singer and film starby Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

A porteño named Humberto Vicente Castagna died on October 15, at the age of seventy-seven. Better known as Cacho Castaña, he was a superstar of Argentine popular music and film. During his long career he recorded five hundred of his own songs (among others) on forty-four albums, and appeared in thirteen films; for two of them he wrote the musical scores.

His beginnings were of the humblest. In 1958, at the age of sixteen, Cacho was working in his father’s shoe repair shop in Buenos Aires. But he had musical aspirations and had been studying piano. He auditioned one day for the tango orquesta tipica of Oscar Espósito, who hired the boy. With his father’s blessing, Cacho left shoe repair behind, and began what was to be a glorious career in show business.

A tanguero at heart

Tango was just one of the styles of music that Cacho pursued, as can be seen in any of the videos that were made of his full concerts. There is often a kind of Hollywood schmaltziness in his work: over-arranged and over-orquestrated. But I believe Cacho was a tanguero at heart, and it is in his tangos that the real depth of his talent can be seen. If you can find a copy of his album Espalda con espalda (“Shoulder to Shoulder”), in which he sings only tangos, and which won the prestigious 2005 Gardel Prize, you’ll find his true soulfulness.

His recording Garganta con arena (“Throat Filled With Sand”) is one of the most famous tunes Cacho ever wrote. It is a tribute to his friend and mentor Robert Goyeneche. In it, Cacho sings this:

“Cantor de un tango algo insolente
Hiciste que a la gente le duela tu dolor.
Cantor de un tango equilibrista
Más que cantor, artista con vicios de cantor.”

“Singer of a tango somehow insolent,
You made the people feel your pain.
Singer of a tango on a tightrope,
More than a singer: a real artist
with all the vices a singer may have.”

With these lines, Cacho Castaña could have been writing about himself and his own gravel-filled, deep-feeling voice. It would have been a fitting tribute to his tanguero heart.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published next year.

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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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