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Renée's Inspiration

In 2015, I started hosting a tango night at a little Argentinian café in Brooklyn. Milonga Falucho offered milonguero tango classes, live music performances by tango musicians from New York and abroad, the chance to dance, and the comfort of typical Argentinian dishes. The only thing missing, at least for the non-Spanish speakers, was the poetry of the lyrics, which put into the dance and the music the story of my culture.

John Osburn was one of the regulars at Café Argentino, and when I saw a video of him reciting Shakespeare in Central Park, I recognized the magical element needed to convey the lyrics. I wanted people to feel the emotion of the verse, to connect it to personal experience like spectators do when they watch a play. I’d ask John to recite the lyrics in English. Then we’d play the song and invite the dancers to put the lyrics in their bodies, feeling it affect the density of their dance and “the way they hear the music.”

I had no doubt John was the right choice, since he came every week and loved the spirit of our little Argentinian bohemia. So he took on the task, and eventually he was doing his own English versions and performing them back-and-forth with me reciting the Spanish. His rich and complex translation and powerful delivery capture the weirdness of a melancholic, contradictory culture, the polarization of being torn between what is right and what is felt.

Milonga Falucho has added a second location since “What Tango Means” was born, running the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Café Argentino in Brooklyn and Arte Cafe in Chelsea. Now we are also on this blog, where you can read John’s translations and, maybe, share with us what tango means to you.


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Se dice de mí

Although written for the Uruguayan singer Carlos Roldán in 1943, Tita Merello made Se dice de mí  her own in 1954, and it has been sung by women ever since. At Milonga Falucho at Café Argentino in Brooklyn, Renée mimed the lyrics as John recited his English translation of the version made famous by Merello. It was the first milonga in this series. Live music for the evening was provided by Emiliano Messiez (piano) and Adolfo Trepiana (bandoneón).

Se dice de mí (1943) Milona
Letra de Ivo Pelay Música de Francisco Canaro

They Say This of Me (1943) Milonga
Lyrics by Ivo Pelay, trans. J. Osburn Music by Francisco Canaro
Se dice de mí... se dice de mí... se dice de mí... Se dice que soy fiera, que camino a lo malevo, que soy chueca y que me muevo con un aire compadrón, que parezco Leguisamo, mi nariz es puntiaguda, la figura no me ayuda y mi boca es un buzón.
They say this of me… They say this of me… They say this of me… They say that I’m a beast, that I swagger like a tough, that I strut like I’m hot stuff wit…

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 lyric have a murky provenance; it may originally have been composed under the title "Tus ojos" ("Your Eyes") by Severio Sadán in the Ukraine in honor of his unseen daughter-in-law in Buenos Aires, then modified by orchestra 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 azabach…

Que nadie sepa mi sufrir

This vals criollo or Peruvian waltz is so-called because it refers to the waltz form created by European immigrants (criollos) in the Viceroyalty of Perú, the Spanish colony which traced a serpentine route from today's Panama, through Perú, to the mouth of the Rio del Plata. That part included Buenos Aires and became its own viceroyalty in 1776. Vals evolved as an important genre in the tango repertory, and both the composer, Angél Cabral, and the lyricist, Enrique Dizeo, were from Buenos Aires. John presented his translation at Falucho Chelsea; then the Spanish lyrics were sung by Carmen Currasco as a birthday vals for several attendees. Currasco also deejayed.

Que nadie sepa mi sufrir
(Amor de mis amores) Vals criollo (1936) Letra de Enrique Dizeo Música de Ángel Cabral
That Nobody Knows of My Suffering
(Love of My Loves) Peruvian waltz (1936) Lyrics by Enrique Dizeo, trans. J. Osburn Music by Ángel Cabral No te asombres si te digo lo que fuiste, una ingrata con mi pobre cor…