Or should I say Buenos Martes given today’s tune?
When most people think of tango, they think of bolero jacketed men clutching roses in their teeth & women with skirts slit up to here. While that might be accurate for modern dance, it is anything from the truth of historic tango.
The dance originated in the 1880s along the border between Argentina & Uruguay. At the time it was very much the folk music of the region, relegated to local bands in smokey bars filled with dusty gauchos. Far from the tuxedos & romance we associate with it today. As a style tango didn’t gain widespread popularity until WW1. Even then, the music was mostly instrumental. Perfect for the cheek to cheek dancing that was simultaneously becoming popular at the time but leaving something to be desired. It wasn’t until 1917 that tango finally found it’s voice, literally.
It all started in 1915, with the instrumental song “Lita” by Samuel Castriota. Like most tango composers, Castriota hadn’t had much widespread success with his music. Then along came Pascual Contursi. A poet, lyricist & sometime musician, Contursi had a knack for writing words to accompany tango tunes. And write he did, without Castriota’s permission! He even went so far as to change the song’s name from “Lita” to “Percanta que me amuraste”. Luckily, the potential for disaster was averted by the very talented, very charismatic, Carlos Gardel.
In early 1917 Carlos Gardel was still in the early stages of his singing career, playing mostly in clubs and private parties. January of that year he would change the course of tango history forever & cement himself as one of the best known, most beloved tango artists. Yes, there was tango music, and tango lyrics, but until then no one had really performed a “tango-canción” (tango-song). Gardel was on to something though. The blend of brooding lyrics, melodramatic music & dashing singer were just what the population of Buenos Aires (and the rest of the world) craved. The first recording of the now re-re-titled “Mi Noche Triste” from April of 1917 is said to have sold 10,000 copies & is certainly the most popular tango song of the post WWI era.
For Gardel this was only the beginning of a career that would span several decades until his untimely death in 1935. His resume includes musical & lyrical compositions, tours of Europe, South America & the United States, & of course staring in several overly sentimental movies.
Contursi’s popularity also continued for a while thanks to another set of lyrics he wrote, for another tune he didn’t write. This time it was Matos Rodríguez’s “La Cumparsita”. Like “Mi Noche Triste” though the song’s ultimate popularity was thanks to Gardel’s rendition. By 1932 Contursi would find himself destitute in Europe only to be brought back home to Argentina by, you guessed it, his friend Carlos Gardel. You could almost say Gardel was Contursi’s guardian angel.
The only one of the trio behind “Mi Noche Triste” who didn’t find continued success was poor Samuel Castriota. While he continued to play with his band and compose music, none of his later songs would have the same impact as the first. But instead of feeling bad for him, let us celebrate the song that did give him his 15 minutes of fame. Today’s song…”Mi Noche Triste”.