Francisco Canaro’s 1935 recording of the tango ‘Poema’ is a favorite at milongas (dance salons). Composed by Mario Malfi and lyrics by Eduardo Bianco, this 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.
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 several 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.
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
So, accept my last goodbye
and for one moment
remember all the passion and the pain…