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A mí me llaman Juan Tango

This is one of those big, culturally steeped tangos that comes on in the early morning at a traditional milonga, when the crowd has thinned to the hardiest tangueros. So it couldn't have been more appropriate for Milonga Falucho's 4th Anniversary at Café Argentino. It tipped a hat to John's birthday some days earlier, a tango with "John" in the lyrics mirroring the "Renée" tangos she celebrated with previously. The night marked the "Infamous Decade" of the 1930s with costumes and a tribute to Discepolo. A number of tango luminaries showed up, and live music was performed by Emiliano Messiez (piano), Federico Diaz (guitar), and Horacio Romo, orchestra director of Sexteto Mayor (bandoneón). Viva Feiner deejayed.

A mí me llaman Juan Tango (1943)
Letra de Carlos Waiss
Música de Tito Ribero

They Call Me Tango John (1943)
Lyrics by Carlos Waiss, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Tito Ribero

Soy un mozo pobre y bueno
que en la vida me he curtido,
yo soy como siempre he sido
para todo franco y leal.
No debo ni a mí me deben
y si hay algo en mi pasado
yo bien sé que está borrado,
porque a nadie le hice mal.

I’m just a poor and decent fellow
who’s learnt from life the truths that toughen.
I’m the same lad I’ve always been,
to all who know me honest and loyal.
By me nor to me nothing is owed
and if there is something in my past
I know well it’s forgotten at last
for there’s no one I’ve ever done ill.

A mí me llaman Juan Tango,
si yo le fuera a contar,
mi cuna fue un barrio pobre
humilde como es el pan,
traigo en los ojos antojos
de agua florida y percal.
Bajo el ala del chambergo
genio y figura de mi ciudad
a mí me llaman Juan Tango
si yo le fuese a contar.

And so they call me Tango John,
if you don’t mind my saying so;
my cradle was the poor part of town,
as common as a crust of bread;
it brings before my eyes temptations
of scented water and cotton dresses.
When I snap the smart brim of my hat
the figure I cut is a man of my town
and so they call me Tango John,
if you don’t mind my saying so.

Para mí todos son buenos
porque a golpes con la vida
me gusta que a mí me midan
lo mismo que mido yo.
Yo siempre he sido sencillo
y si el pasado me llama
con fragancia de retama
voy dejando mi canción.
For me, everybody’s good,
for when faced with life’s misadventure,
I just ask that they take my measure
in the way I measure them.
I’ve always been a simple man,
and if I’m called to by yesteryear,
with the fragrance of a wildflower,
then I’ll stop singing my song.

Listen to Roberto Rufino's recording with the Carlos Di Sarli orchestra here:

The poetics of this remarkably natural, character-based tango, are self-evident, particularly the emotive, unconcealed end rhymes. Their unforced quality eased the experience of translating the lyrics and made them a pleasure to recite. Their concision paints a picture of the character with both charm and naturalism; whatever of that comes across in the English version is entirely due to its presence in the original.
—John Osburn


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