Tango Composer, Francisco Canaro, A True Star of Tango

Argentine Tango Composer, Francisco Canaro,

Uruguayan composer Francisco Canaro is considered one of the tango world’s most popular artists. His recordings, both traditional tango and milongas, are noted as beautiful and melodic.

Canaro was born on November 26, 1888 into extreme poverty, with seven other siblings. His parents were Italian immigrants. Canaro was given the nickname “Pirincho” when the midwife noticed that his hair has a fuzz and curl like the head feathers of the South American bird of the same name.

The Canaro family moved from River Plate when Francisco was less than 10 years old and settled in the densely populated “conventillos,” an urban tenement in Buenos Aires. Unable to attend school, Canaro instead started working as a newspaper boy, a shoe shiner, a painter, and then as an apprentice at a can factory.

Despite his bitter upbringing, the young Canaro was enthusiastic about music at an early age. His neighbor, a cobbler, was his first teacher, showing him how to play the guitar and mandolin. While working at the factory, he built a violin out of a wooden fingerboard and the remains of an oil can. He taught himself to play this creation. According to Canaro himself, the first tango he played from heart was ‘El Llorón.’

At 18, Canaro made his professional debut as part of a trio in a town called Ranchos, a hundred kilometres outside of Buenos Aires. He started devoting himself to tango when he was introduced to bandoneonist and tango orchestra director Vicente Greco in 1908. Canaro went on to join Greco on several successful tours and produced records.

By 1915, at the age of 26, Canaro began conducting orchestras. His first headline was the first Baile del Internado, which was a comedy ball organized by the hospital interns to make fun of their doctors. The gala was held at the Palais de Glace and here, Canaro premiered ‘El Alacran’ and ‘Matasano.’ In 1916, he was the headliner once again, but for Bailes de Carnival, where he was met with such adoration that he was invited again and again. In 1921, for the Bailes de Carnival, he reunited a 32-piece orchestra, an orchestral mass unknown in tango until then.

Canaro’s music is considered to have reshaped the way society perceived tango at the time. Back then, high society did not entertain tango, at least not until Canaro’s orchestra.

Tango Lessons BrisbaneCanaro pioneered the incorporation of a singer in the tango orchestra in 1924, but only for the main part of the tango or the ‘estribillo.’ The first estribillo used by Canaro was Roberto Díaz. This ushered in the ‘estribillistas era’ from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s.

By 1925, Canaro toured the world, beginning in Paris, where tango was now in fashion. He also traveled to the United States. By 1926, his contracts expired and he was free from commitments. Canaro visited Italy to meet his grandmother.

After his absence, Canaro returned to Argentina. He also dabbled in musical theatre and film. He founded Rio de la Plata productions, although none of his projects proved to be commercial hits.

In 1956, he published his memoirs, ‘Mis 50 Años Con El Tango” (My 50 Years with Tango).’ Canaro was forced into retirement after being diagnosed with Paget’s Disease. He eventually passed in 1964 at the age of 76.

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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.

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