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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.

—John

Comments

  1. I’m not a Spanish speaker, but I love the meter, the musical flow and emotionality of Tango Music. I really appreciate the mission that Renee and you have undertaken in these lyrical translations, you carry the emotionality of the music verbally into English, making them so much more enjoyable than merely reading a less emotionally presented written translation, thanks for your efforts.
    In my 20 odd years of exposure to Argentine Tango music, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of it, my collection is almost exclusively music with vocalists, the voice is our original instrument:-)

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