Wednesday, January 09, 2013

See Carlos Gardel dance!

December 11 was the birthday of Carlos Gardel (1890 –1935), the legendary tango composer, singer, and charismatic, international film star, for whom the world mourned when his plane crashed after a concert in Medellin, Colombia.  Argentina celebrates Gardel's birthday as a national holiday, called "El Dia del Tango". 

For my readers who are not yet familiar with Carlos Gardel, and for other Gardel fans like me, here is a 3-minute Youtube homage to him, featuring one of his best loved songs, "El Dia Que Mi Quieras": 

Gardel did not write and perform dance music, but was rather one of the key creators of the early form "tango-cancion", or tango-song. A Wikipedia article on the history of tango music states: "Carlos Gardel became especially associated with [tango's] transition from a lower-class "gangster" music to a respectable middle-class dance. He helped develop tango-canción in the 1920s and became one of the most popular tango artists of all time." 

Gardel wrote the music, and sang, often accompanying himself on guitar, and his close collaborator, the poet/songwriter Alfredo Le Pera, wrote the lyrics to most of Gardel's songs. Gardel's repertoire naturally included many other tango songs, and he made tango popular in respectable society, because as his career as composer and singer began to take off, the western world was enjoying greater distribution of the new technology - the radio!

Tango lovers rarely tire of listening to the great songs of Gardel, but we'll put them aside when it's time to dance! We don't find Gardel's music danceable, and so our dj's don't play his music in milongas.  However, there is this one anomaly:  the Golden Age (1940s/50's), and therefore, post-Gardelian, dance orchestra of Alfredo De Angelis that was still active decades later, recorded several albums in 1973 in which De Angelis took some vintage recordings of Gardel's, had the guitar tracks stripped off, and arranged orchestrations to accompany the maestro's voice!  So today a dj with a sense of humor, or of pure affection for our beloved Gardel, might play 3-4 of these hybrid recordings of Gardel with De Angelis! (CLICK HERE to listen to examples on

Another Wikipedia article summarizes the degree to which the world appreciates Gardel, even today: "Gardel is still revered from Tokyo to Buenos Aires. A popular saying in Latin America, which serves as a testimony to his long-lived popularity, claims, 'Gardel sings better every day.' The fingers of his life-sized tuxedo-clad statue on his tomb nearly always hold a burning cigarette left by an admirer."  And I'll attest to the article's claim that in Argentina, when someone wants to say, "You're great!", they'll often say "You are Gardel!"  (Argentinos are also known to say "I am Gardel." LOL!)

If you'd like to know more, hosts a comprehensive collection of fascinating articles about Gardel's work and life, plus discography, recordings of his music, and clips from his films.  It's worth a visit, or many visits:
(Click on link or cut and paste into your browser.)  

Feliz cumple, Carlitos!!  You've never really left us! 

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Tango Mojo Video of the Week

Here is a video of Gardel himself dancing in his last film, "Tango Bar" (1935):

That's Gardel with the girl who says, "Tango malevo!" at the beginning. Another couple starts dancing in "Orillero" style, a rather wild kind of street-tango from the outskirts of the Buenos Aires. People couldn't (and were forbidden to) dance tango with all those jumps and changes of direction in milongas. I do like the couple's expressivity, though!

Gardel enters at 0:45, walking with his partner in a close embrace. He was not known for his dancing, and here he dances simply, with nice, elegant walking, that allows his partner to walk elegantly, too.  Next, see how nicely the "cuñita" (cradle) fits the music at 0:59-1:05. And the way that Gardel walks to the piano's "tinkling" passage that follows (1:06-1:11). While the "Orillero" who danced first expressed accents in the music with jumps and deep lunges, Gardel smoothly marks some of the same kinds of accents (at 1:19 and 1:26), with well-timed "cambios de frente" (changes of front).

As always, I welcome your thoughts on the article or the video! Please comment below.

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