Edmundo Rivero, More Than Just ‘El Feo’

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Born Leonel Edmundo Rivero, this Argentine tango, singer, composer and impresario was nicknamed ‘El Feo’ (‘The Ugly Guy’) for his appearance due to his acromegaly. However, Rivero is considered a great artist and his bass range is something of a rarity in the genre, where fans are used to hearing baritones and tenors.

Rivero was born on June 8, 1911 in Valentin Alsina, a suburb in southern Buenos Aires. Since he was a child, his parents, Anubal and Anselma, encouraged Edmundo and his siblings to become interested in music. At the National Conservatory, the young Rivero was disciplined in classical music, studying singing and then the guitar.

During his adolescence, Rivero’s family moved to the Belgrano neighbourhood, where tango was becoming a dancing phenomenon. Rivero’s first professional appearance was with his sister Eva on Radio Cultura. On the same broadcasting, the radio station hired him to play for accompaniment. He also started playing Spanish classical music at recitals in theatres.

Rivero first worked with Jose De Caro’s orchestra, then worked with Emilio Orlando and Humberto Canaro. Eventually, his talent piqued the interest of De Caro’s more famous brother, Julio, and drafted Rivero into his orchestra. From this point on, Rivero’s fame grew and his nickname of ‘El Feo’ stuck. Rivero also joined Anibal Troilo’s orchestra, creating more than 20 recordings, including duets with Floreal Ruiz and Aldo Calderon. The public started associating Rivero with tangos like ‘El último organito’ (‘The Last Organ’), ‘La viajera perdida’ (‘The Lost Traveler’), ‘Yo te bendigo’ (‘I Bless You’), but especially with ‘Sur,’ the tango by Homero Manzi and Troilo.

Dance Classes BrisbaneDuring these years, however, Rivero evidently didn’t last long in orchestras. He would claim that his deep voice–unconventional then–was something of a severe handicap. It was in the 1950s when he hit his stride as a singer and started his career as a soloist. In the 1960s, he was accompanied by another guitar group of Rafael Del Pino, Héctor Davis, Héctor Barceló, Rubén Morán and Domingo Laine. During a period in tango when orchestra dominated, a guitar-only accompaniment was considered a bold statement by Rivero and this associated him with the aura of the countryside.

In 1969, Rivero opened his own tango club, El Viejo Almacén (The Old Warehouse), located in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. Great figures in tango and art were recurring visitors, such as Joan Manuel Serrat and Camilo Jose Cela.

Rivero also worked on a number of films. In the 1950 film ‘El cielo en las manos (The Sky in Your Hands’), he sings the title theme composed by Astor Piazzolla and Homero Carpena. In Al Compás de tu Mentira, he sings ‘No te engañes corazón’ (‘Do Not Cheat Yourself, Heart’) by Rodolfo Sciammarella. He also appeared in the Armando Bo film, ‘Pelota de cuero’ (‘Leather Ball’).

Rivero was an author as well, writing two books: ‘Una luz de almacen’ (‘A Warehouse Light’) and ‘Las voces, Gardel y el tango’ (‘The Voices, Gardel and the Tango’). He was in the process of writing a third book on the Lunfardo language and poetry, but Rivero passed due to a heart ailment on January 18, 1986 at the age of 74.

The Dark Age of Tango

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Tango, just like many other art mediums, has also gone through a dark phase. When General Juan Perón was ousted in 1955, it brought about a myriad of consequences to the whole of Argentina. The new military government was made up of elite members of society who did not have an understanding of the mass culture of Argentina. Tango was not part of their norm. To them, it was the dance of the poor and inferior.

In addition to that, they seemed to have a prejudice on anything related to or can be associated with Perón. They believed that anything Perón said and believed in were wrong. Just like Perón, Tango was both national and popular and is something that can be identified with Perón as he had used it for his political campaigns. Many tango artists had been involved with the Pro-Perón movement and had been either imprisoned or blacklisted as a consequence.

A nightly gathering of men in the social halls of political associations to dance was regarded suspicious and was thought to be an undeniable disguise for political upheaval. As a result, the new regime devised ways to curb the growth of Tango, if only to cripple the opposing organisations and prevent an uprising.

Because banning Tango was impossible, specific songs were banned and some song titles were revised. The new government’s restrictive measures had put a strain on dance. Curfews were imposed and meetings involving more than three people were forbidden. It made things difficult for Tango with it being a social dance held mostly during the night.

Tango Classes BrisbaneThere had been one particular attack made against Tango that was very subtle yet clever at the same time. The military government started banning minors in nightclubs. What made it even more offensive was that it strictly imposed on Tango clubs only. For some reason, some clubs such as the Rock and Roll ones were spared. It was viewed to be a deliberate strike against tango as boys and girls abruptly stopped learning Tango and went to Rock and Roll clubs instead. Back then, going to dances was the way for men and women to meet. So, if they cannot meet through Tango, they will move on to the next club where they can gather and socialise.

The new regime, although particularly conservative, oddly enough supported and encouraged a rather rough and callous dance like Rock and Roll, especially during the time when the rest of the world seemed adamant in stopping young people from dancing to this wild new music. Why? Because it conveniently served its purpose to the regime. It was undeniably the biggest competition of Tango and they used it to their advantage and they used it well.

The dark era spanned from 1955 until 1983, the fall of the military junta which took place after the Falklands War. No one learned how to dance Tango in the period of 28 years that the military government reigned. However, Tango did not completely disappear. Tango just went underground and many people still went to dance. Some professional Tango dancers made a living out of teaching Tango and made choreographies for shows as an attraction for the foreign market. And slowly Tango was reborn.

Styles of Argentine Tango

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Within Argentine tango there are various styles you may hear people refer to.  They will say, “Oh, he’s a milonguero dancer,” or “She dances salon style.”  Styles are as unique as dancers and I think it’s rather foolish to try to categorise either. Just remember if you hear terms like ‘salon’, ‘milonguero’, ‘fantasia’, or ‘orillero’, someone is talking about a certain style.

As with any evolving art form, trying to pin down the rules is impossible. Every day, new styles come forward and dancers find ways to play with them and incorporate them into their dance. In the past few years, styles known as ‘nuevo’ and ‘liquid’ have appeared. Who knows what’s coming next? All we know is that it’s coming.

Many tango dancers dance in a range of unique and personal styles all over Buenos Aires and some parts of Argentina. However, they refuse to accept any classification of their dancing by any broad elaborate name. They’d much rather say that they are simply dancing tango in their own individual style or that of their region. In some cases, there is confusion with the styles as some tango dancers identify their own style by a name that other dancers identify as an entirely different style.

Tango Classes near meNevertheless, if we think of style as a way of dancing that closely follows the listed elements but has a number of incompatibilities with other approaches then I guess it’s safe to say that there are a variety of distinguishable tango styles such as: Tango de Salon, Villa Urquiza, Milonguero-Style Tango, Club-Style Tango, Orillero-Style Tango, Canyengue, Nuevo Tango, Fantasia, Tango Escenario, Nuevo Milonguero, and Liquid Tango.

  1. TANGO DE SALON

“Tango de Salon” refers to a plethora of social dance styles that includes Milonguero, Villa Urquiza and as well as Club-Style tangos. These are social dances that are often danced in salons or improper venues instead of the purpose of exhibition. Traditionally, tango de salon dancers are required to respect the line of dance, but they are allowed freedom to have their own styles in terms of embraces and characteristic movements.

In other countries, “salon-style” tango may refer to Tango Fantasia, Villa Urquiza, Tango Escenario or a fusion of these different styles. The combined styles is distinguished to have a looser embrace with a more prominent V than the Villa Urquiza styles. The distance between the partners allows the woman to pivot freely without much independent hip and torso movements.

  1. MILONGUERO

Generally, Milonguero-style tango is danced with a somewhat leaning posture that unites the partners in their torsos from the stomach towards the solar plexus to form a joined axis, at the same time, allowing a slight distance between their feet. It’s an embrace otherwise known as “apilado”. In the embrace, the woman’s right shoulder should be as close to her partner’s left shoulder as her left shoulder is to his right. Her left arm should hang over behind the neck of her partner.

Constant body contact is maintained and the embrace does not loosen even when executing turns or ochos, which limits the partners walking steps and plain ochos until the woman is ready to execute her turns stepping at an angle instead of pivoting.

Milonguero-style tango is identified with the ric-tic-tic rhythm that is distinct in the music of Rodolfo Biagi and Juan D’Arienzo, as well as in other tango orchestras.

  1. CANYENGUE

Canyengue is a form of tango that can be traced back from the 1920s to the early 30s. It is a historical form of tango that may not be accurately captured by the dancers that currently practice it. At the peak of its popularity, women dancers wore long and tight dresses. In this form of tango, the couple’s embrace is close and in an offset V, they move with bent knees and the woman does not execute a cross. Therefore, the steps are much shorter and more frequent in the ric-tic-tic-rhythm. Some Canyengue dangers exaggerate body movements to emphasise their steps.

  1. CLUB-STYLE TANGO

Like Milonguero-style tango, Club-style tango share the same rhythmic sensibilities although it is executed with a more upright posture and separate axes. Its embrace is as close as that of the Villa Urquiza style. The woman is able to rotate more openly and pivot without much independent movement as the couple’s embrace is slightly looser. Like Milonguero-style, Club-style tango is also danced to the ric-tic-tic rhythm that is noticeable in the music of Juan D’Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagi, as well as in other tango orchestras. This style of tango also uses the ocho cortado and other rhythmic figures used in Milonguero-style tango.

  1. VILLA URQUIZA

A tango style named after one of Buenos Aires’ neighbourhoods, Villa Urquiza is generally danced with the couple maintaining an upright body posture and keeping separate axes with their eyes fixed towards their clasped hands. This position creates a slight V impression in their embrace, where the woman’s right shoulder is closer to the man’s right shoulder than her left shoulder is to his right.. More often than not, the couple allows the woman to rotate more freely by loosening their embrace although it is supposed to be closed. The more the woman rotates, the less the embrace needs to be loosened. This style is otherwise known as “Tango Estilo del Barrio” in some neighbourhoods and “Salon-Style Tango” outside of Argentina.

  1. FANTASIA (Show Tango)

This style of tango is influenced mainly by the Villa Urquiza style of tango. Fantasia or Tango Fantasia refers to an exhibition style of tango.  Fantasia is unique for its dramatic poses, ganchos,  high boleos  and thorough use of embellishments. It is danced during breaks in social dances in milongas but is also performed in the stage in which it has evolved into another style of tango as some elements have been added to it subsequently, turning it into an entirely new style called Tango Escenario.

  1. TANGO ESCENARIO (Stage Tango)

Its name means tango danced in stage shows. This style has developed from that of the Villa Urquiza and Orillero styles of tango and has recently drew some elements from nuevo-tango. In this style of tango, the couple dances in an open embrace with exaggerated movements and other elements foreign to the vocabulary of social tango.

  1. ORILLERO-STYLE TANGO

This style of tango is considered to be one of the older styles and basing on its name, it seems that it originated from Buenos Aires’ streets of impoverished rural tenements. It was later referred to the style where the man is dancing around the woman. During what is considered to be tango’s golden age, Orillero-style tango was not accepted in the refined salons of Buenos Aires. To this day, Orillero-style tango has become more like the Villa Urquiza style of tango.

Orillero-style tango is danced with upright body posture. The couple then keeps separate axes with their embrace a typical offset in a V that can either be open or close. The woman is free to move and pivot in the turns without the need for much independent movement between her hips and torso.

When dancing in a close embrace, the couple slightly loosens the embrace in order to make room for the turns. The embrace would not have to be loosened that much if the woman is rotating her hips through the turns independently of her upper torso. What makes it different from Salon-style tango is that it has a more playful embellishment that requires more space and its figures do not strictly follow the line of dance.

  1. NUEVO TANGO

This dancing approach was originally made to be an instructive approach to tango, highlighting the structures where the connections to the elements of tango, as well as the step patterns and new combinations, can be found. The dancers following this approach have developed a style somewhat akin to nuevo tango which is danced in an open and elastic embrace with a posture that is very upright, emphasising the dancers’ axes. This tango style is distinguishable by figures such as linear boleos, volcadas, overturn ochos, single axis spin and cadenas. Such moves are best done in a loose embrace.

  1. LIQUID TANGO

An approach to dancing Argentine tango where the couple’s embrace shifts between open and close in order to allow the combination of different styles of tango such as the club and nuevo styles. We cannot really consider Liquid tango as an independent style of tango dancing as it is considerably similar to nuevo and does not have distinctive separate groups of followers.

  1. NUEVO MILONGUERO

Nuevo Milonguero is a somewhat recent approach to Argentine tango that includes some nuevo movements. Like Liquid Tango, we also cannot consider Nuevo Milonguero to be a separate style of tango as this approach is largely similar to the Milonguero style tango, plus the fact that it does not have a group of followers that is distinguishable. In fact, Nuevo Milonguero can only be considered as Milonguero style’s show version because of its showy elements that does not befit being danced in crowded venues.

The Origin of Por una Cabeza

The Origin of 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

 

[Chorus:]

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!

(chorus)

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)

FUN FACT:

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 Dark Side of Canaro’s ‘Poema’

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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.

Poema

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…

 

Poem

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.

 

Sources: https://tangowords.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/poema/

http://www.tejastango.com/terminology.html#T

http://humilitan.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/so-thats-why-poema-is-hard-to-fit-into.html

https://www.tangotolatvia.lv/german-nemoljakin