The Origins of Libertango

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Perhaps one of the most innovative tangeuros was Argentine composer, bandoneon player and arranger Astor Piazzolla. He became a revolutionary in the tango world when he incorporated jazz elements and classical music into his music. This new style was termed nuevo tango (new tango).

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One of his greatest hits is ‘Libertango,’ composed in 1974. Just a year before that, Piazzolla suffered a heart attack and shortly after, he moved to Italy. ‘Libertango’ came about after Piazzolla’s European agent pressured him to compose “airplay-friendly” pieces. While in Milan, Piazzolla recorded and published ‘Libertango.’ Europeans gladly accepted the tango and it ultimately symbolized his break from classical tango. The title is a portmanteau of the words “libertad” (Spanish for liberty) and “tango,” a symbol of his break from classical tango.

Even before ‘Libertango,’ Piazzolla was fond of blurring the lines between tango and other forms of music. In the 1950s, while in Paris, Piazzolla abandoned his bandoneon, believe classical music was his destiny. It was Nadia Boulanger, the most renowned educator in music at the time, who set Piazzolla back on the right track. He played his tango ‘Triunfal’ for her and Boulanger advised him that the “true Piazzolla” is in his tango and to never leave it behind.

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In 1955, Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires to start a band comprised of two bandoneons, two violins, double bass, cello, piano, and an electric guitar. Producing works which broke away from the original mold of orquesta tipica resulted in plenty of negative criticism from the most traditional of tangueros. The band would eventually break up and Piazzolla tried the jazz-tango experiment in the United States, where it was ill-met.

In 1971, Piazzolla formed Conjunto 9, an electronic and rock-and-jazz style nonet. ‘Libertango’ was created in the middle of the Conjunto 9 years. The group would disband by 1978 and ‘Libertango’ was one of the pieces that survived Piazzolla’s return to his earlier sound.

‘Libertango’ begins with a fast, lively piano solo with bass. Piazzolla and his bandoneon carry the rest of the piece, growing faster three quarters of the way through. The piece is considered to be one of Piazzolla’s pure concert tangos for its compact and dynamic composition.

While originally an instrumental piece, the Argentinian poet Horacio Ferrer added lyrics in 1990 with freedom as the theme. Piazzolla and Ferrer began extensively collaborating in 1968. Together, they composed the operita ‘Maria de Buenos Aires,’ thus creating another new style, the tango song.

The legacy of ‘Libertango’ lives on in global popular culture, even long after Piazzolla’s passing in 1992. American cellist YoYo Ma played ‘Libertango’ on his 1997 album, Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla and in 2002, the Australian-British string quartet featured the song on their album Shine. Although, arguably one of the most popular reiterations of the tango is Jamaican singer Grace Jones’ 1981 song ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango).’ The tango, played in contrast to a reggae arrangement, also features lyrics by Jones about the dark side of Parisian nightlife.

The Origin of the tango song ‘Oblivion’

Oblivion, Argentine Tango Song

Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla created the piece ‘Oblivion’ in 1982. It was famously featured in the 1984 Italian film ‘Enrico IV’ (‘Henry IV’) directed by Marco Bellocchio. The song has been described as “haunting” and “atmospheric,” and is considered to be one of Piazzolla’s most popular tangos.

The film ‘Enrico IV’ was adapted from the play by Luigi Piradello. The lead character is an actor-historian who suffers a fall during an historical pageant. Upon regaining consciousness, he assumes the identity of the character he was playing, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. The nostalgic tune starts out as a slow milonga, a genre of Uruguay and Argentina music considered to be a forerunner of tango.

Milonga dance allows for a great relaxation of the legs and body. Movement is faster with less pauses. The dance mimics a kind of rhythmic walking without complicated figures.

‘Oblivion’ has many recorded versions, including for klezmer clarinet, saxophone quartet, and oboe and orchestra. The featured instrument enters immediately over a subtle, arpeggiated accompaniment with a melody of extreme melancholy — long-held notes alternating with slowly falling and weaving figures. A middle section offers a minimally contrasting theme, lush but less intense.

‘Oblivion’ evokes sadness, despite its lyrics speaking of love. It also has a harmonic sophistication and whispered sadness.

Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy the linen and velvets of your bed when our love passes to oblivion Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy your arms embracing me formerly in the night

My boat parts, it’s going somewhere people get separated, I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting

Later, at some other place in a mahogany bar the violins playing again for us our song, but I’m forgetting

Later, it splits off to a cheek to cheek everything becomes blurred and I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting Brief, the times seem brief the countdown of a night when our love passes to oblivion

Brief, the times seem brief your fingers running all over my lifeline.

Without a glance people are straying off on a train platform, I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting.

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Piazzolla revolutionized tango and created nuevo tango (new tango), which is a blend of tango, jazz and classical music. ‘Oblivion’ is considered to be more traditional and less ‘jazzy’. The song was composed during the peak of his career, just a year after he performed in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The 1980’s are considered his most popular years, having held concerts all over the world including Europe, South America, Japan, and the U.S. He composed music for other films as well and was awarded in 1986 the Cesar Prize for his score for ‘El Exilio de Gardel.’ He has over 90 credits as composer for film and television. As one of their leading tango composers, he was named an exceptional citizen of Buenos Aires in 1986. In 1990, Piazzolla suffered a massive stroke and two years later, the Tanguero died in Buenos Aires on July 4. He leaves behind more than 1,000 works and the legacy of having revolutionized tango forever.

The Origin of ‘Adios, Nonino’

Adios Nonino, Argentine Tango Song

One of Astor Piazzolla’s most definitive works is ‘Adios Nonino (Farewell, Granddaddy).’ The tango was created by the Argentine composer as a way of saying goodbye to his father, who passed away in 1959. At the time, Piazzolla was on a tour of Central America when he heard news of his father’s death due to a bicycle accident. Dancer Juan Carlos Copes, who was with Piazzolla at the time, said it was the only time he had ever seen the composer cry.

Piazzolla, overcome with depression from the death of his father, his tour’s failure, and financial problems, went to New York, where he put together the piece.

His son, Daniel, spoke of this time, “Dad asked us to leave him alone for a few hours. We went into the kitchen. First there was absolute silence. After a while, we heard dad playing the bandoneon. It was a very sad, terribly sad melody. He was composing ‘Adios, Nonino.’”

The song was based on an earlier tango, ‘Nonino,’ which Piazzolla composed in Paris in 1954. He kept the rhythmic part, but added a long, melodic fragment with touching notes. Twenty years after it was published, Piazzolla said, “Perhaps I was surrounded by angels. I was able to write the finest tune I have written. I don’t know if I shall ever do better. I doubt it.”

Piazzolla’s parents, Vicente and Asunta, were of Italian descent and Astor’s daughter, Diana, called her grandparents by the traditional Italian names for Grandpa and Grandma–Nonino and Nonina. It was his father who pushed Astor towards music. The family had moved to New York and young Astor had been expelled from school for fighting. Vicente gave his son a bandoneon as a gift after seeing it a pawn shop.

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The eight-year-old Astor was not keen on the gift. In one interview, he said, “[My father] brought it covered in a box, and I got very happy because I thought it was the roller skates I had asked for so many times. It was a letdown because instead of a pair of skates, I found an artifact I had never seen before in my life. Dad sat down, set it on my legs, and told me, ‘Astor, this is the instrument of tango. I want you to learn it.’ My first reaction was anger. Tango was that music he listened to almost every night after coming home from work. I didn’t like it.”

The fact that Piazzolla wrote such a melancholic tango so far from his home during hard times, ‘Adios, Nonino’ has become a symbol of the Argentine diaspora. Argentines arrived primarily in the 1960s, searching for better economic opportunities, but it was the 1970s military upheaval that caused many of them to migrate.

Piazzolla refused to have any words set ‘Adios Nonino,’ but he finally conceded in the 1980’s when Argentine singer Eladia Blasquez played him a tape of her singing lyrics she wrote herself.

Below is an English translation of the lyrics:

From a scintillating star

he will signal me to come,

by a light of eternity

when he calls me I will go.

To ask him for that child

that I lost with his death,

that with Nonino he went…

When he tells me come here…

I’ll be reborn … because…

I am…! the root of the country

that modeled with its clay,

I am…! blood and skin,

of that Italian who gave me his seed…

Good-bye Nonino…

how long the road

will be without you

Pain, sadness, the table and the bread…!

and my good-bye…Ay…! my good-bye,

to your love, your tobacco, your wine.

Who, without pity, took half of me,

when taking you Nonino….?

Perhaps one day, I also looking back…

will say as you, good-bye… no more bets…!

And today my old Nonino is a part of nature.

He is the light, the wind, and the river…

this torrent within me replaces him,

extending in me his challenge.

I perpetuate myself in his blood, I know.

And anticipate in my voice, his own echo.

This voice that once sounded hollow to me

when I said good-bye… Good-bye Nonino.

I am…! the root of the country

that modeled with its clay,

I am…! blood and skin,

of that Italian who gave me his seed…

Good-bye Nonino… you left your sun in my destiny.

your fearless ardor, your creed of love.

And that eagerness…Ah..! your eagerness,

for seeding the road with hope.

I am your honeycomb and this drop of sunlight

that today cries for you Nonino

perhaps the day when my string is cut

I will see you and I will know there is no end.

The Origin of ‘El Dia Que Me Quieras’

El Dia Que Me Quieras, Argentine Tango Song

‘El Dia Que Me Quieras’ (‘The Day That You Love Me’) is a tango composed by Carlos Gardel with lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera, originally recorded for the 1935 film of the same name. Gardel himself was the lead in the musical film opposite Spanish actress Rosita Moreno. Gardel and Le Pera wrote six songs in total for the movie.

Argentine Tango Classes BrisbaneGardel is considered to have introduced tango to the world at a time when the music and dance was a symbol of Argentina’s “Golden Age.” According to Horacio Torres, director of the Carlos Gardel Museum, the man revolutionized tango and created a sensation in the 1920s and ‘30s.

In the 1930s, Gardel and his ensemble of Argentina’s best guitarists toured South America, France, and the United States. His celebrity status was further increased when he began starring in Spanish-language movies. He eventually started his own production company and distributed 10 films through the Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures.

‘El Dia Que Me Quieras’ was released in 1935 and tells the story of Julio Arguelles (Gardel) who wants to marry a woman below his social status, Margarita (Moreno). Julio’s wealthy businessman father is opposed to the marriage, but the two marry and elope. Margarita would be dead by the end of the film and Julio a rising tango singer. It is worth noting that tango revolutionary Astor Piazzolla had a small role as a young paper boy in the movie.

Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla claims ‘El Dia Que Me Quieras’ is one of the most beautiful melodies ever written.

Many of Gardel’s onscreen characters embodied the archetypal Latin lover–an elegant gentleman with a fedora, suit and tie. Santaolalla says of Gardel’s onscreen presence, “How cool he was. What a sense of style, as an artist and a gentleman. He always had that classy feel to whatever he did.”

However, tragedy struck towards the end of the film’s promotional tour. Gardel and Le Pera died in a plane crash on June 24 in Medellin, Colombia. Millions of fans around the world went into mourning and hordes came to pay respect as his body journeyed from Colombia to New York to Rio de Janeiro.

The legacy of ‘El Dia Que Me Quieras’ lives on. Mexican singer Luis Miguel recorded a cover of the song in 1994. In 2013, Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan wrote and recorded the first-ever English translation of the song, ‘The Day You Say You Love Me.’

Tender sighs like a whisper

Caressing my day dreams

You’re here by my side

I feel life smile above me

Whenever your sweet eyes

Can look into mine

And it’s my consolation

The sound of your laughter

Like music sublime

There’s no way of concealing

Every thought, every feeling

The day you say you love me

The most beautiful of roses

Will bloom in every garden

Of a color never seen

And from the highest steeple

The bells will sing our love song

And make the eager fountain

Spill over with our love

The night you say you love me

The skies above will listen

The jealous stars will longing

Will see us passing by

A playful ray of moonlight

Will dance along of pleasure

While witnessing this moment of our lives

We will always treasure

A playful ray of moonlight

Will dance along of pleasure

While witnessing this moment of our lives

We will always treasure

The Origin of ‘Adios Muchachos’

Adios Muchachos, Argentine Tango Song

Composed by Argentinian pianist Julio Cesar Sanders, ‘Adios Muchachos’ was intended as a playful hymn for a group of friends, but since its inception in September 9, 1927, the tango has evolved in many ways.

One night, Sanders had been in a cafe with his friends in the Buenos Aires district of Flores. As the evening ended and they parted ways, one of them said, “Adios, muchachos (goodbye, boys).” Inspired by this, Sanders created the song on the piano and a friend, Cesar Vedani, added lyrics.

Brisbane Tango Classes near meWhen Sanders and his friends performed the tango in public, it was highly acclaimed. Many singers and orchestras recorded the tango, supposedly reaching 1,500 recordings within the first few months of its debut. However, a tango database notes that the song has had 118 distinct recordings.

The first recording was by Agustin Magaldi in 1927. Carlos Gardel recorded it as well in 1928 and the song became a hit throughout Europe when Gardel went on tour. The tango has appeared in numerous films as well as on television, including ‘Scent of a Woman’ (1992) and an episode of ‘I Love Lucy.’

The original lyrics portrays a very ill man on the verge of death, saying farewell to his friends while fondly looking back at his life. Below is a translation of Vedani’s lyrics.

Goodbye boys, fellows of my life,

Loved bar from those times.

It’s my turn, today, to commence the retreat

I have to move away from my good group of young people


Goodbye boys, I go now and I resign,

Nobody beats the destiny.

All the parties/mockeries are over, for me,

My ill body doesn’t resist anymore.


In my mind come memories from other times,

Of the beautiful moments that I have long ago enjoyed,

Close to my mother, old saint,

And to my beloved one, whom I have so much idolised.


They remember that she was beautiful, prettier than a Goddess,

And what a full of verve love, did my heart give her.

But, God, jealous of her charm,

Took her away, sinking me in cry.


God is the supreme judge, nobody resists in front of Him,

I am now accustomed, to respect His law,

Well, my life ended with His orders

Taking away my mother and my beloved one, also.


Two sincere tears cried at my depart

For the loved bar that never forgot me,

And giving to my friends, my last goodbye

I give them, my blessing, with all my heart.


Goodbye boys, fellows of my life,

Loved bar from those times.

It’s my turn, today, to commence the retreat

I have to move away from my good group of young people


Goodbye boys, I go now and I resign,

Nobody beats the destiny.

All the parties/ mockeries are over for me,

My ill body doesn’t resist anymore.

Tango Classes ToowongIn the United States, the jazz musician Louis Armstrong recorded ‘Adios Muchachos’ in 1951, but with the title changed to ‘I Get Ideas.’ Dorcas Cochran was credited as the lyricist and this version became an international hit. While it retained its title in Italy, the new lyrics have been criticized for straying too far from the original essence of the tango. The new words were more about a man about to be imprisoned for a year. This version was recorded by the singer Milva, whose interest in tango was so great, she was called “an Italian that loves Buenos Aires.” In Great Britain, two versions were recorded, one called ‘I’ll Always Keep You in My Heart’ and ‘Paul the Dreamer.’

After the 1943 Argentine coup d’etat, some changes to the lyrics were made by the military dictatorship. A 1945 recording by Enrique Rodriguez had the words ‘la barra querida (beloved gang)’ to ‘viejos amigos (old friends),’ ‘nadie la talla (no one size fits all)’ to ‘nadie batalla (no battle),’ and ‘todas las farras (all those binges)’ to ‘todas las fiestas (all those parties).’

The Origin of Tango Song, ‘Volver’

Argentine Tango Song, Volver

In 1934, French Argentine composer Carlos Gardel along with lyricist Alfredo Le Pera created the tango ‘Volver.’ It is considered one of the most famous and beautiful tangos as it has become a symbol of nostalgia for all the Argentines forced to migrate from their homeland.

Like many migrants to the United States, Argentines were seeking better economic opportunities. However, it was in the 1970s when many of them fled the ‘Dirty War’ and political and military upheaval. They numbered 44,803 people.

Argentine Tango Classes BrisbaneThe tango was recorded on March 19, 1935 for the film ‘El Dia Que Me Quieras (The Day you Love Me),’ which was also written by Le Pera and starred Gardel. In the movie, Gardel plays Carlos Arguelles, the son of a wealthy man whose only interests in life are business and making money. While trying to succeed in show business he falls in love with a dancer and they elope to marry.

In ‘Volver,’ Gardel sings about the pain and nostalgia of exile. The tango symbolises the fleetingness of life and the destiny of a man who is heading down the path of no return.

Only three months after the recording, on June 24, Gardel and Le Pera perished in a plane crash in Medellin, Colombia. ‘Volver’ is reputed to be his last song for his fans, a melodic and nostalgic piece for the adoring millions in mourning. It has since been surrounded by an atmosphere of veneration and superstition. No orchestra or discerning DJ would play this piece in a tango ball.

This tango has been covered by multiple singers, including Julio Iglesias, Libertad Lamarque, Los Panchos, Andres Calamaro, and Il Divo. In 2006, Pedro Almodovar’s film also entitled ‘Volver,’ utilized the tango, but turned it into a flamenco sung by Penelope Cruz.

Below is an English translation of the lyrics:

I imagine the flickering

of the lights that in the distance

will be marking my return.

They’re the same that lit,

with their pale reflections,

deep hours of pain

And even though I didn’t want to come back,

you always return to your first love

The tranquil street where the echo said

yours is her life, yours is her love,

under the mocking gaze of the stars

that, with indifference, today see me return.


To return

with withered face,

the snows of time

have whitened my temples.

To feel… that life is a puff of wind,

that twenty years is nothing,

that the feverish look,

wandering in the shadow,

looks for you and names you.

To live…

with the soul clutched

to a sweet memory

that I cry once again


I am afraid of the encounter

with the past that returns

to confront my life

I am afraid of the nights

that, filled with memories,

shackle my dreams.

But the traveler that flees

sooner or later stops his walking

And although forgetfulness, which destroys all,

has killed my old dream,

I keep concealed a humble hope

that is my heart’s whole fortune.


To live… with the soul clutched

to a sweet memory

that I cry once again

The Origin of Tango Song, Por una Cabeza

Argentine Tango Song, Por una cabeza,

One of the most popular of Carlos Gardel’s tangos is “Por una Cabeza”. Written in 1935, the song’s title is originally a horse racing term “to lose by a head”. It was co-written by Alfredo Le Pera, just shortly before they were both killed in a plane crash in Columbia on 24 June 1935. The lyrics bemoans a man’s life as it compares losing the horse race to losing with women.

The complete lyrics of the song in Spanish along with its English translation was provided by the late Alberto Paz and his wife Valerie Hart on their website Planet Tango.

In 1935, the song was sang in the movie “The Tango Bar” by Carlos Gardel himself. It’s a fun and entertaining movie to watch even for those who do not understand Spanish because of its humour that is easy to follow.

Por una Cabeza

Songwriters: Carlos Gardel / Alfredo La Pera


Por una cabeza, de un noble potrillo

Que justo en la raya, afloja al llegar

Y que al regresar, parece decir

No olvides, hermano

Vos sabes, no hay que jugar


Por una cabeza, metejón de un día

De aquella coqueta y risueña mujer

Que al jurar sonriendo el amor que está mintiendo

Quema en una hoguera

Todo mi querer


Por una cabeza, todas las locuras

Su boca que besa

Borra la tristeza

Calma la amargura


Por una cabeza

Si ella me olvida

Qué importa perderme

Mil veces la vida

Para qué vivir


Cuántos desengaños, por una cabeza

Yo juré mil veces no vuelvo a insistir

Pero si un mirar me hiere al pasar

Su boca de fuego

Otra vez quiero besar


Basta de carreras, se acabo la timba

Un final reñido ya no vuelvo a ver

Pero si algún pingo llega a ser fija el domingo

Yo me juego entero

Qué le voy a hacer

Por una cabeza, todas las locuras

Su boca que besa

Borra la tristeza

Calma la amargura


Por una cabeza

Si ella me olvida

Qué importa perderme

Mil veces la vida

Para qué vivir


Only By a Head (English Translation)

By only a head of

a pureblood race colt

that just on the finish

had slowed down to shamble;

and upon riding back

it seems to be saying

forget not this brother,

you know that you shouldn’t gamble


By only a head I

was love struck at first sight

with that one coquettish

and cheerful dame

who by pledging with a smile

a love that she’s lying about

she burns all my love

in a blazing flame



By only a head were

all of the follies;

her lips when she’s kissing

the sadness are dismissing

the sourness make jolly

By only a head that

if she forgets me

won’t matter if I lose

my life that hurts me;

what is there to live?


Lots of disappointments,

by only a head all

thousand times I swore that

I won’t fall for this

but each time a passing

look off my feet sweeps me

her burning lips, once more,

I want to just kiss


I’m done with the race tracks,

I’m quitting all gambling

a dead heat I don’t want

to ever watch again

but if a young filly

looks sure bet on Sunday

I’ll gamble all I have,

what can I do then!


Argentine Tango Carlos Gardel“Por una Cabeza” is an easy song to dance tango to because of its slow and clear rhythm. Because of this, it become one of the most popular songs played by almost all of the major orchestras during the 1940’s and 50’s.

Even to this day, “Por una Cabeza” is still widely used, especially in Hollywood. In fact, it appeared in numerous scenes in the following movies:

  • Scent of a Woman (1992) – The song was performed by “The Tango Project”, consisting of William Schimmel (accordion), Michael Sahl (piano) and Stan Kurtis (violin). The band also appeared in the scene along with Al Pacino.
  • Schindler’s List (1993) – it suited well with the implication of Oskar Schindler’s “addiction” to women
  • True Lies (1994) – Arnold Schwarzenegger dances to it twice – the first time was with a female spy and second was with his character’s wife.
  • Frida (2002) – it was heard on a radio sung by Gardel
  • Bad Santa (2003, Uncut version)
  • All the King’s Men (2006)
  • Easy Virtue (2008) – Colin Firth and Jessica Biel dances to it sensually
  • Planet 51 (2009)


During the tango scene in True Lies, it was discovered that Arnold had two left feet and fought to dance even the simplest of steps so most of the scenes were of him dancing tango from the waist up.

The Origin of La Cumparsita

Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, La Cumparsita,

Would you believe a 17-year-old composed one of the most recognizable and most recorded tangos of all time? That’s what happened in 1916, when teenager Gerardo Hernan “Becho” Matos Rodríguez had his friend Manuel Barca show Orchestra Roberto Firpo his music.

In his own words, Firpo said of that fateful evening on February 8, “One night at The Giralda, a famous and classic cafe in Montevideo, a young boy–likeable but somewhat timid–approached me and asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes… He left a very modest score with me. It was ‘La Cumparsita.’ I played it on the piano and liked it. After some adjustments to the score I released it with extraordinary success, as much due to the fact that it was a great tango as the fact that its author was a boy of Montevideo. When I returned to Buenos Aires, I released it in the cafes, and Montevideo’s success was repeated.”

Gerardo Matos RodriguezRodriguez was born on April 25,1948 in Montevideo, Uruguay and was the son of the owner of the popular local cabaret Moulin Rouge. He was studying architecture around the time he composed ‘La Cumparsita,” which he wrote on the piano of the Federación de Estudiantes of Uruguay. The tango, whose title translates to “the little parade,” was first played in public in the old Café La Giralda in Montevideo, where the Museum of Montevideo now stands.

Several months after first reading the music, Firpo, in November of 1916, recorded the song for Odeon Records. It was, however, recorded as a B-side and received little success. For many years it was forgotten until on June 6, 1924, at the theatre “A Program of a Night Club.” Each play set their scenes to forgotten tangos and one in particular, involved Juan Ferrari, Enrique Maroni and Pascual Cortusi adding words to ‘La Cumparsita.’ They renamed the song ‘Si Supieras’ (‘If You Know’) without consent from Rodriguez. This version immediately became a hit.

Rodriguez learned of the song’s popularity through orchestra leader Francisco Canaro while they were in Paris. Canaro himself played ‘Si Supieras’ and told Rodriguez, “I told him how it had resurged again and how it was the rage by all orchestras; that Paschal Contursi and Enrique P. Maroni had composed a very pretty scene and adapted to the score and that Carlitos sang it to Gardel with extraordinary success”

What followed was two decades of court battles over royalties. Rodriguez was able to have the song revert its title to ‘La Cumparsita.’ Canaro came up with a binding agreement in 1948, putting an end to the lawsuits. The estates of Contursi and his business partner Enrique Maroni would get 20 percent of all royalties, while the remaining 80 percent would go to the estate of Rodriguez. Future sheet music prints would show lyrics in addition to Rodriguez’ original, lesser known ones.

The original version by Rodriguez:
La cumparsita
de miserias sin fin desfila
en torno de aquel ser enfermo
que pronto ha de morir
de pena.

Por eso
es que en su lecho
solloza acongojado
recordando el pasado
que lo hace padecer.

The little masquerade
of endless miseries parades
around that sickly being
that soon will have died
of shame.

That’s why
on his (death) bed
he sobs, grieving
remembering the past
that causes him this suffering.

Maroni and Contursi’s version:

Si supieras,
que aun dentro de mi alma,
conservo aquel cariño
que tuve para ti…
Quien sabe si supieras
que nunca te he olvidado,
volviendo a tu pasado
te acordaras de mi…

Los amigos ya no vienen
ni siquiera a visitarme,
nadie quiere consolarme
en mi afliccion…
Desde el dia que te fuiste
siento angustias en mi pecho,
deci, percanta, que has hecho
de mi pobre corazon?

Sin embargo,
yo siempre te recuerdo
con el cariño santo
que tuve para ti.
Y estas en todas partes
pedazo de mi vida,
y aquellos ojos que fueron mi alegria
los busco por todas partes
y no los puedo hallar.

Al cotorro abandonado
ya ni el sol de la mañana
asoma por la ventana
como cuando estabas vos,
y aquel perrito compañero
que por tu ausencia no comia,
al verme solo el otro dia tambien me dejo.

If you knew,
that still within my soul,
I keep the love
I had for you…
Who knows, if you knew
that I never forgot you,
returning to your past,
you would remember me…

The friends do not come
not even to visit me,
nobody wants to console me.
in my affliction…
Since the day you left
I feel anguish in my chest,
tell me, woman, what have you done
with my poor heart?

I always remember you
with the holy love
that I had for you.
And you are everywhere,
piece of my life,
and those eyes that were my happiness
I search for them everywhere
and I can’t find them.

To the abandoned bedroom
now not even the morning sun
shows through the window
the way as when you were there,
and that little dog [our] partner
that because of your absence would not eat
on seeing me alone the other day also left me.


The Dark Side of Canaro’s ‘Poema’

Argentine Tango Song, Poema,

Canaro, FranciscoFrancisco Canaro’s 1935 recording of the tango ‘Poema’ is considered to be a favourite at milongas (dance salons). Composed by Mario Malfi and lyrics by Eduardo Bianco, this particular recording is sung by Roberto Maida. It has been described as “gently melancholic” and “softly nostalgic.” But, the tango has a darker side to it.

Tango DJ Hermann Nemolyakin has provided us with a deeper insight into ‘Poema.’ Nemolyakin says, “Poema’s lack of acceptance in Buenos Aires wasn’t helped by the dark political undertones of its story, and the fact that its lyrics are a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer.” Read the lyrics for yourself and see if you can decipher mystery lying under the romantic words.


Fué un ensueño de dulce amor,

horas de dicha y de querer,

fué el poema de ayer,

que yo soñé,

de dorado color,

vanas quimeras del corazón,

no logrará descifrar jamás,

nido tan fugaz,

fue un ensueño de amor y adoración.


Cuando las flores de tu rosal,

vuelvan mas bellas a florecer,

recordarás mi querer,

y has de saber,

todo mi intenso mal.


De aquel poema embriagador,

ya nada queda entre los dos,

doy mi triste adiós,

sentiras la emoción,

de mi dolor…



It was a sweet dream of love,

hours of joy and hope.

Yesterday was a golden poem I dreamed,

a vain construction of my heart

that I can never rebuild.

So quickly lost are

our dreams of love.


When the roses in your garden flower again

you may remember my love,

and understand my sadness and my pain.


Of our intoxicating poem

nothing remains,

So accept my last goodbye

and for one moment

remember all the passion and the pain…

To further understand ‘Poema,’ one must first understand the life of the composer. Bianco was an Argentine who lived in Europe for nearly 20 years. He succeeded in making the Argentine Tango sound Parisian. As for the origin of ‘Poema,’ the story goes that Bianco and Melfi, along with some band members, composed it on a train during a 1932 tour of Germany.

So, did Bianco commit murder? Apparently, in 1924, Bianco was first violinist for an orchestra, which had played at the Teatro Apolo. He learned that the orchestra’s pianist and Bianco’s wife were secretly having an affair. Desperate and jealous, Bianco shot the man. He was jailed and tried but was eventually acquitted thanks to his political connections. Bianco would later leave for Europe, touring successfully for a number of years, performing for kings and heads of states.

Perhaps even darker than being a murder confession, ‘Poema,’ another Bianco composition, ‘Plegaria,’ has been called the ‘Tango of Death’ and it has to do with Bianco’s Nazi-sympathizing associates and praise from the führer himself.

Bianco became friendly with Eduardo Labougle Carranza, the Argentine ambassador for Third Reich Berlin and a staunch anti-semite. Supposedly, both convinced Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels that tango should replace the “racially tainted” jazz music. When Bianco and his orchestra performed before Adolf Hitler, the führer demanded an encore of ‘Plegaria.’ The Nazi leader would find a morbid use for the tango and, in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the prisoner band would be ordered to play it as prisoners were led to the gas chambers. Hence its name, ‘Tango of Death.’

During World War II, Argentina attempted to remain neutral, a cause pioneered by Bianco’s ambassador friend, Labougle. Argentine leaders, however, wished to emulate the Axis Powers’ nationalism and expansion. They were able to quietly install a pro-fascist government in Bolivia after a 1943 coup. But, by January of 1944, Argentina cut its ties with Nazi Germany, but did not declare war (until a year later). While all of this was going on, Bianco was playing for Nazi troops and on Third Reich radio stations. When he left Nazi Germany on a Spanish visa, Bianco underwent investigation from British intelligence. In 1943, he finally returned home, just as tango’s Golden Age was at its peak. Here, Bianco proved he was merely an export of Argentine tango as he failed to compete against local talent.

Canaro, who grew up in Bueno Aires, also toured Europe and chose Paris as his home base. His 1935 recording of ‘Poema’ continues the journey of tango from Argentina to Europe and vice versa, during a time of great political and cultural upheavals around the world. Europeans were delighted by it, but, by this time, the recording did not impress Argentine listers.