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John's Adventure

The tangos you can read here were first written to be sung, then translated into English to be spoken aloud. The idea is to turn the lyric into a sort of soliloquy so as to better understand the drama of the original. Tangos tell stories about a culture, just as plays do.

Original translation wasn’t on the radar when we started. Renée would pull a translation off the internet, we’d tweak and correct it before the milonga, recite it before the second live set, then people would dance to the song. It was entertaining and a unique format so far as I know.

One night, I heard a comment that I tended to recite the lyrics ironically. This made immediate sense. The versions we had varied in quality, and even the better ones weren’t made for reciting. I was compensating in my delivery, both for lack of rehearsal and what was missing in the words.

I read Spanish fairly well and had done some translating for the theater: supertitles for an Argentine play in New York and voiceover for a tango show in Buenos Aires. Why not take a stab at the letras?

As I got into it, I realized that lyrics mean more than what they are "about." Line length makes a difference, as do rhyme, meter, stress, assonance, and alliteration. It helps that I am also the reciter. I can test things out, see where the emphasis falls most naturally, when the speaker can make a clarifying choice.

Starting with Manzi-Gutiérrez’s Después in October 2018, we've presented all original translations. It’s not for me to say how good they are, but I know tango better for having done them. Tango reflects a great turbulent culture, and I love feeling a part of it.



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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
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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 …