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Gitana rusa

This is a different sort of tango. Although the themes of love and loss are familiar, the Slavic style and setting are unusual, and the narrator's relationship to the woman he addresses is enigmatic. The music and the lyrics have a murky provenance; the song may originally have been composed under the title Tus ojos ("Your Eyes") by Severio Sadán in Ukraine in honor of his unseen daughter-in-law in Buenos Aires, then modified by orquesta leader Juan Sánchez Gorio, who registered it in his name and asked Horacio Sanguimetti to write the words with which we are familiar. More of this tenuous history may be read here. In the event, Renée and José Luis Lavayen taught the pre-milonga class, and live music was enjoyed from Maricio Najt (piano) and Javier Sánchez (bandoneón).

Gitana rusa (1942)
Letra de Horacio Sanguimetti
Música de Juan Sánchez Gorio

Russian Gypsy (1942)
Lyrics by Horacio Sanguimetti, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Juan Sánchez Gorio

Pintó tus ojos
El azabache de una pena.
Gitana buena,
Yo vi tus lágrimas de amor.
Caminos blancos,
Fueron pañuelo de tu llanto
Y acongojaron
Tu corazón.

It brushed your eyelids
With the black shadow of an affliction.
Good gypsy woman,
I saw you cry salty tears of love.
And bleached white highways
Became the kerchief of your wailing
And your grieving heart
Was torn apart.
Gitana rusa,
No lo hallarás por las tabernas,
Ni en las estepas
Ni en las calles del dolor.
Gitana triste,
Serás más triste cuando sepas
Que tu gitano se arrojó una noche al Don...

O Russian gypsy,
Don’t go seeking him in the ale houses,
Nor the high plains grasses
Nor in the byways of your pain.
O tear stained gypsy,
What you find out will be the saddest:
To the dark depths of the river Don he gave himself that night…

Las balalaicas
Buscaron música en tus trenzas,
Y los cosacos
Cantaron a tu soledad.
Tus ojos negros
Estaban lejos de la vida
Ya no querían
Volver a amar.*

*Final stanza not sung in most versions.
The balalaikas
Sought their sad music in your tresses,
Meanwhile the Cossacks
Of your loneliness they sang.
Your deep black sockets,
The eyes that sank away from living,
No longer wanted
To come back to love.

The broodingly intense Orlando Medina-Ricardo Malerba version is probably the most frequently played in milongas:

Luis Mendoza, singing with the credited composer Sánchez Gorio's orchestra, enunciates the lyrics sharply and dramatically:


In this translation, I continue to give greater attention to how the lines scan with the original, not merely in length and rhyme but how they might fit with the music. This layers a tonal effect onto the literal meaning, accentuating the romantic folk tragedy of the lyric. To be sure, Gitana rusa could be critiqued as orientalist or exoticizing; the article linked in the heading (above) goes so far as to describe it as kitsch. The words gitana/o and gypsy may feed into that impression; both are misnomers based on the false belief that the Romani people were from Egypt. Roma or Romani are the preferred terms in most usages today. The former would scan but be less true to the period, as well as raising some difficulties in terms of number and gender.
—John Osburn


  1. all of this information, reasoning of translation are much appreciated! I was drawn to tango music because as a child I went to many Portuguese dances and heard the Fado, (not sure of the spelling!) music. At the dances in the 60s the songs were not danced to, but there was music to dance to at the dance. Usually a guitar, violins, and smaller but very bass instrument whose name I forget. I grew up in a small town in Northern California, Arcata,California. Thank for you information and I look forward to more posts. Kate Veneroso.

    1. Thank you for your commentsand your interest. Fado and tango have an affinity, and there are some artists who explore the two of them together, Including the Argentine singer Karina Beorlegui and the Manhattan Camerata led by the Argentine pianist Lucia Caruso and the Portuguese guitarist Pedro H. da Silva (their most recent album is entitled "The Tango-Fado Project"). It is interesting that fado is not danced to generally, but listened to when sung. In that way, it is similar to the tango canción, non-orchestral songs not intended for dancing, although some do anyway; some of these translations fall into that category, Gardel being the most famous artist of the form (and said to be its inventor). There are also composers, notably Piazzolla, whose work is musically centered irrespective of whether it is danceable. - John


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