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There is an upped excitement in the milonga when Mandria comes on, something dramatic in the music, even tragic. Indeed, it tells a primal tale and, consistent with the gaucho culture it portrays, a macho one, of a duel over some unspoken act on the part of a good-for-nothing man involving a woman. Sensibilities have changed, but still it pulls us into the dance. John recited his English version for Milonga Falucho's sixth anniversary at Café Argentino, followed by dancing to a live performance of the song by the guest singer, El Rey from Buenos Aires. Fresh from the premiere of Souls of Tango, Analia Carreño and Luis Ramirez danced a virtuoso show, and Ilene Marder deejayed.

Mandria (1926)

Letra de Francisco Brancatti/Juan Velich

Música de Juan Rodríguez


No Good (1926)

Lyrics: Francisco Brancatti/Juan Velich, trans. J. Osburn

Music: Juan Rodrîguez

Tome mi poncho... No se aflija...

¡Si hasta el cuchillo se lo presto!

Cite, que en la cancha que usté elija

He de dir y en fija

No pondré mal gesto.


Put on my poncho… don’t get weak-kneed…

I’ll e’en go so far as to lend y’ my knife!

Y' pick the place, wherever y’ want, take what y’ need

I won’t play any tricks

That I swear on my life!


Yo con el cabo 'e mi rebenque

Tengo 'e sobra pa' cobrarme...

Nunca he sido un maula, ¡se lo juro!

Yen ningún apuro

Me sabré achicar.


I’ve the sting o' my whip to bring to you

I’ve got all I need to claim my due…

I’ve never been a rogue, I’m a man y’ can trust!

And there’s no action that’s just

I’d shrink from or refuse.

Por la mujer,

Creamé, no lo busqué...

Es la acción

Que le viché

Al varón

Que en mi rancho cobijé...

Es su maldad

La que hoy me hace sufrir:

Pa' matar

O pa' morir

Vine a pelear

Y el hombre ha de cumplir.


For a woman,

I swear, I didn’t seek it…

It is that I saw

What was done

By the man

I let take shelter on my ranch.

He did the wrong

That suffers me to do this thing:

To kill or

To die trying

To go there for honor

And the man will take what I bring.

Pa' los sotretas de su laya

Tengo güen brazo y estoy listo...

Tome... Abaraje si es de agaya,

Que el varón que taya

Debe estar previsto.

Esta es mi marca y me asujeto.

¡Pa ' qué pelear a un hombre mandria!

Váyase con ella, la cobarde...

Dígale que es tarde

Pero me cobré.


Your sort of lame over-the-hill horse

I’ve a steady arm for and I’m ready…

Take that… Hit back if you’ll stay the course,

For the man who makes the cut

Should be one who sees ahead.

Know that this is my brand and by me y’ have bled.

To expect satisfaction from a no-good man!

Go now, take her with you, she’s a coward…

Tell ’er that the debt ’as been paid

E’en though it’s too late.

The most played version is probably D'Arienzo's, with the singer Alberto Echague:

Halfway through this exhibition by the great tango dancers Carlos Gavito and Geraldine Rojas at the popular milonga La Viruta, Mandria comes on following a technical glitch in the previous song, and the excitement it creates is evident:

As is often the case in tango, not all of the lyrics are sung in disc versions, for reasons of limited space and, I believe, artistic purpose. The Canaro version, recorded a year after the original composition, makes a starkly different choice than the more frequently played D'Arienzo - thanks to DJ Mark John for calling it my attention:


I translated mandria as "no good" because it works in English as an adjective with "man" and expresses the requisite contempt. Had the poetics of the line permitted simply "good for nothing," I might have gone with that. Other possibilities, which can be found elsewhere, are "worthless," "weak," or "cowardly." Translating the lyric as a whole was a challenge, due not just to the slangy language but because the exact nature of the offense for which the narrator exacts redress is not stated, and although one can guess well-enough what it may have been, ambiguity remains. That, perhaps, is why Mandria seems tragic, rather than merely dramatic or (for such a case could be made) melodramatic. This is one of the great tangos to dance to, and it was a pleasure to clarify for myself what underlies its power. Though not all of the lyrics are sung in any dance version I know of, they may be sensed in the song's substrata.

—John Osburn