Alberto Castillo, The Singer of the 100 Barrios

Alberto Castillo, Tango Singer

Born Alberto Salvador De Lucca, Alberto Castillo was a renowned Argentine tango singer and actor. Before he became ‘El cantor de los cien barrios portenos’ (‘the singer of the 100 barrios’), Castillo was raised in the neighbourhood of Floresta in Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of Italian immigrants Salvador De Lucca and Lucia Di Paola. At a young age, Castillo was already interested in music, taking violin lessons and singing whenever and wherever he could.

Alberto Castillo, Argentine Tango SingerAt 15, fate struck when he was singing for his friends and the guitarist Armando Neira heard him. Neira added the young Alberto to his band, marking the young man’s professional debut under the name of Alberto Dual (and occasionally, Carlos Duval). Castillo went on to sing with the orchestras of Julio De Caro in 1934, Augusto Berto in 1935 and Mariano Rodas in 1937.

In 1938, Castillo temporarily left the music scene to devote his time to studying medicine, but by 1939 he was back again singing for Typical Orchestra Los Indios led by the dentist-pianist Ricardo Tanturi. Castillo began recording in 1941, his first hit being ‘Recuerdo’ by Alfredo Pelala. A year later, Castillo graduated with a gynecologist degree and worked as a professional physician from his parents’ house.

Alberto Castillo, Tango SingerEventually, Castillo gave up his medical profession to be a full-time singer. His style of entertainment at the time was considered unprecedented–the way he moved on the stage with his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, shirt unbuttoned, tie loose, and bouncing the microphone to and fro. He would even improvise boxing matches when singing ‘Asi se baila el tango.’ One of his most successful recordings was ‘Cien barrios porteños (the one hundred barrios of Buenos Aires),’ which gave birth to his nickname.

Castillo’s popularity was so great that, in 1944, when he sang at Teatro Alvear, the police had to stall traffic on the streets. Castillo eventually split from Tanturri and became a soloist. He also was a lyricist, writing songs such as ‘Candonga,’ ‘Yo soy de la vieja ola,’ ‘Muchachos, Esuchen,’ ‘Cucusita,’ ‘Asi canta Buenos Aires,’ ‘Un regalo del cielo,’ ‘A Chirolita,’ ‘Donde me quieren llevar,’ ‘Castañuelas,’ ‘Cadia dia canta mas,’ ‘La perinola,’ and ‘Año neuvo.’

Castillo started his acting career in 1946, first appearing in ‘Adiós pampa mía.’ He appeared in several more films like ‘El tango vuelve a París’ in 1948 with Aníbal Troilo, ‘Un tropezón cualquiera da en la vida’ in 1949 with Virginia Luque, ‘Alma de bohemio’ (1949), ‘La barra de la esquina’ (1950), ‘Buenos Aires, mi tierra querida’ (1951), ‘Por cuatro días locos’ (1953), ‘Ritmo, amor y picardía’, ‘Música’, ‘alegría y amor,’ ‘Luces de candilejas’ (1955, 1956 and 1958 respectively. The last three films also starred rhumba dancer Amelita Vargas.

But even as a man of music, Castillo still spent some time as sports physician. In December 1951, he tended to members of the Velez Sarsfield football team, which he supported.

Castillo recorded music well into the end of the 20th century, recording ‘Siga el baile’ in 1993. He passed away on July 23, 2002 and is buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.


The Origin of ‘Adios Muchachos’

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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 ‘Volver’

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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 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.


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.