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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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Me quedé mirándola

Past and present merge as the narrator comes face-to-face with an old love, the reality of change, and the finality of endings. John and Renée recited this tango at the first Milonga Falucho of the new year, with Pablo Cafici (piano), Javier Sánchez (bandoneón), and DJ Carlos Quiroga, also celebrating.

Me quedé mirándola (1945) Letra de Roberto Miró Musica de Vicente Spina

I Stayed There Watching Her (1945) Lyrics by Roberto Miró, trans. J. Osburn Music by Vicente Spina
Después de un año atroz de soledad volvimos a encontrarnos sin querer, de pronto los recuerdos de otros días que cantaba y que reía acudieron en tropel. Mis labios balbucearon con temor, los ojos le contaron mi dolor, mis ansias de encontrarla fueron tantas que oprimida la garganta me quedé mirándola.
After a long atrocious year of solitude we chanced to find ourselves face-to-face again, but sudden memories so soon thereafter of other days of song and laughter came to mind in vicious hordes. My lips stammered and were afraid my eyes gave a…

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 Milonga 1943
Letra de Ivo Pelay Música de Francisco Canaro

They Say This of Me Milonga 1943
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 with air…


Desperate to quench the desire of a failed romance, the narrator of this tango seeks comfort in companionship and drink. After being recited by Renée and John in Milonga Falucho at Scopa on Seventh, it was performed live by Sofía Tosello (voice), Pablo Estigarribia (piano), and Javier Sánchez (bandoneón).

Nostalgias (1936) Música de Juan Carlos Cobián Letra de Enrique Cadícamo
Heartsickness [Nostalgias] (1936) Music by Juan Carlos Cobián Lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, trans. J. Osburn
Quiero emborrachar mi corazón
para apagar un loco amor
que más que amor es un sufrir...
Y aquí vengo para eso,
a borrar antiguos besos
en los besos de otras bocas...
Si su amor fue "flor de un día"
¿porqué causa es siempre mía
esa cruel preocupación?
Quiero por los dos mi copa alzar
para olvidar mi obstinación
y más la vuelvo a recordar.

Let me inebriate my beating heart snuffing the fire of a crazy love that is more of suff’ring than of love… and I have come here only …