Tango Singalong

Making sense of the lyrics...

Malevaje – Love changes a gangster


This month we’re looking at the life and story of composer Juan de Dios Filiberto, who rose from musical illiteracy to one of the top spots in tango history.  His music was passionate, rough around the edges, and a little odd.  He wrote some great instrumental hits, but in the song category he has one tango that stands out above the others.  ‘Malevaje’ was a collaboration with Enrique Santos Discépolo, one of tango’s greatest lyricists and an excellent composer himself. 


This topic in ‘Malevaje’ is rather unique in tango.  We’ve already discussed the trope (see ‘Che papusa, oí’) in which a tango tough guy (pimp/gangster of humble origins) tells a woman of his same social class that after she is done galavanting with rich men on the aristocratic tango scene, she will return to the neighborhood, and to him, humbled and begging forgiveness. 


In this case the tables our turned.  The narrator is a gangster who has fallen in love.  This time he says to the girl: ‘what have you done to me?  I’m losing my tough guy powers! The gang (malevaje) doesn’t recognize me anymore.  I can’t fight, I cry I night, I don’t want to go to jail or die because I’d miss you.’  And all of this told in two verses and a chorus, with Discépolo’s masterful poetic command.


As I look at ‘Malevaje’ I wonder if there is another tango that describes a similar storyline.  There’s got to be a mafia movie that does.







Tango 1929
Music: Juan de Dios Filiberto
Lyrics: Enrique Santos Discépolo



Tell me, by god, what have you done to me?
I’ve changed so much
I don’t know who I am.
The guys in the gang
Look at me in disbelief…
They can see I’m losing my reputation
As a tough guy who used to
Stand out in battle…
Can’t you see that I’m drowning,
Defeated, hobbled
By your heart?

I saw you dancing an arrogant tango
With deep, sensual rhythm
Just seeing you made me lose
My confidence and bravery
My swagger
Thanks to you I don’t even put a cigarette
Behind my ear like when I was tough…
Next thing you know
I’ll be on my knees in church!

Yesterday, afraid of killing a man
I ran away
Instead of fighting
I was afraid of going to jail or dying;
I thought of not seeing you and shuddered…
If I, who never backed down,
Cry in anguish
At night in my room,
Tell me, by god, what have you done to me?
I’ve changed so much
I don’t know who I am.




Decí, por Dios, ¿qué me has dao,
que estoy tan cambiao,
no sé más quien soy?
El malevaje extrañao,
me mira sin comprender...
Me ve perdiendo el cartel
de guapo que ayer
brillaba en la acción...
¿No ves que estoy embretao,
vencido y maniao
en tu corazón?

Te vi pasar tangueando altanera
con un compás tan hondo y sensual
que no fue más que verte y perder
la fe, el coraje,
el ansia 'e guapear.
No me has dejao ni el pucho en la oreja
de aquel pasao malevo y feroz...
¡Ya no me falta pa' completar
más que ir a misa e hincarme a rezar!

Ayer, de miedo a matar,
en vez de pelear
me puse a correr...
Me vi a la sombra o finao;
pensé en no verte y temblé...
¡Si yo, -que nunca aflojé-
de noche angustiao
me encierro a yorar!...
Decí, por Dios, ¿qué me has dao,
que estoy tan cambiao,
no sé más quien soy?

Learning Tango Guitar III

Intro to Melody


I’m a long time teacher and (and student) of tango guitar.  This series of articles is for tango guitar students and guitarists interested in pursuing tango. Contact me for more information on lessons and workshops



Today we’re doing an overview of the concept of melody in tango.  You probably know that when a jazz musician looks at a lead sheet (chord symbols and melody) that musician is able to read the simplest information and produce music that sounds like jazz. Now suppose someone hands you a tango lead sheet and asks you to play the melody.  What would you need to know to make it sound like tango? 

In very general terms, here are the keys that will get you there.


-phrasing and articulation
-Ornamentation (specific to guitar)


And of course listening to recordings.  Always do lots of listening. 


Ok, let’s take a look at the keys to melody in tango:


Phrasing and Articulation

Some tango music is notated with the phrasing incorporated.  Perhaps the guitar part to a quintet arrangement will be written this way (although perhaps not – be careful).  A lead sheet, however, is written without phrasing added, meaning that the melodic rhythms are all ‘straight.’  For a stark example of this, look at the sheet music for‘Uno,’  and listen to a recording of a singer.  You can do both on this Todotango page.  (Click the 'score' tab for the sheet music, and 'music' tab for recordings).

As you can see, the melody is written as a series of straight 16th notes, but no singer (or instrumentalist) would play it that way.  We won’t get into details here, but by using a handful of rhythmic concepts you can start to make those straight notes sound like tango.

The same goes for articulation: a good arrangement will specify articulation, but when you are playing a melody from a lead sheet (or by memory) you’ll want to impose staccatos, legatos, and well-placed accents, as Roberto Grela does at the beginning of ‘Gallo ciego.’  Check out how the first three phrases use staccato and accents, and then Grela plays the final phrase using mostly legato.  As with phrasing, there are a few classic articulation patterns that you can incorporate into your playing and apply to melodies.


Melodic feel is perhaps more abstract and difficult to nail down.  Feel is a rhythmic concept, but it can apply to melody, or ensemble.  Listen to ‘Fuimos’ played by Roberto Grela and Ciro Perez.  It’s incredible how the lead guitar rhythm guitars manipulate the feel – pushing the time forward, pulling it back, playing straight, and playing rubato. 



Some ornamentation is a good idea on just about any instrument, but as guitarists playing melody we face a very specific problem: our instrument has virtually no sustain, and produces very little volume.  When we play longer note values we face the risk that they fade away, leaving empty spaces.  Sure, sometimes we want those spaces. The rest of the time, however, we need to fill them somehow.

For a perfect example let’s go again to Roberto Grela, the absolute master of this concept.  The melody to ‘El abrojito’ starts with a measure of two half notes (D, B).  Listen to how Grela handles this measure, here, at 1:47.  He plays four notes before the measure even starts, and then gets in another 13 before it’s over:

From 2 notes to 17…guitarists work hard for the money!


Fills and Variations

I’ll introduce fills and variations briefly.  Each one merits its own article in the future.  Fills, called pasajes de enlace by tango musicians, are fragments of melodic material that fill in the gaps between melodic phrases, tie sections together, and indicate entrances.  In other words, the idiomatic glue that holds tango melodies together.  Some fills are characteristically handled in the bass, and others upper registers.  A clear illustration of the use of fills is this version of ‘Mano a mano’ by Edmundo Rivero.  After every phrase Rivero sings, the guitars ‘fill’ the space with a short melodic figure. 

Variations, usually made of of 16th notes, are a staple of the tango orchestra sound and are principally played by the bandoneon, although they can be played by other instruments as well, and often come at the end of an arrangement.  Variations are based on the melody (see ‘theme and variations’ in classical music).  Tango guitarists play 16th note variations and there are many examples of guitar ensembles where variations are played by more than one guitar in harmony or in octaves.  Three things about variations: 1) learn the classic ones because it’s good to know them 2) use them as exercises for building technique and speed and 3) eventually, create your own.

Tango Singalong

Making Sense of The Lyrics…


Che papusa oí – A Tango with a Classic Trope

This month as we look at the Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, much of the focus is on his tango La cumparsita, probably the most famous tango in history, and officially 100 years old.

Matos Rodríguez, not a trained musician when he wrote his first and biggest tango, decided to apply himself and in subsequent years composed tango after tango, most destined for obscurity.

At least one of his other tangos became well known, and he said it was his favorite: Che papusa oí.  It’s a great tango and deserves the attention.


The lyrics are particularly good and are written by one of tango’s greatest poets, Enríque Cadícamo.  In them we see one of tango’s classic tropes: A man’s complaint that a girl (an ex girlfriend, a prostitute in his employ) is pretending to be high-class in the aristocratic tango scene, but he knows who she really is: she comes from poverty, like the tango itself, and sooner or later she will fail and come back her neighborhood, the tango, and the perhaps the narrator himself.  In many tangos this narrator portrays himself as benevolent, as having had nothing but her best interests at heart.  


Tango arose as lower class music in the outskirts of Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century.  By the 1920’s tango had conquered Paris and as a result the aristocratic social scene of Buenos Aires.  The storyline in Che, papusa oí has been repeated in tango after tango: Muñeca brava, Mano a mano, Esta noché me emborracho, are only a few. If you want to examine social, cultural, or gender topics in tango history you're in fertile territory with Che papusa oí.  With Cadícamo's masterful writing and Matos-Rodríguez' solid composition, it's one of the better tangos of it's kind.

Che papusa oí
Tango 1927
Music: Gerardo Matos Rodríguez
Lyrics: Enríque Cadícamo


See below for definitions

Hey beautiful, you speak with an affect
And coyly say ‘mishé.’
With your exaggerated poses
You’re the most elegant milonguera.
Your clothes are chic, you dance a corte,
With odd snobbery you snort cocaine,
And in a sleek car you go from north to south
like a high-class dame.

Hey babe, listen
To the melodic chords of the bandoneón
Hey babe, listen
To the anguished beats of your poor heart
Hey babe, listen
To how this tango tells of your past…
Today you live in
The lap of luxury
But tomorrow I’d like to see how you’re doing…


Pretty milonguera, you’re young and attractive
With cheeky eyes of crème de menthe,
With French-affected speech, a catty look
and sinful ruby-colored mouth,
At the milonga your cheap jewelry
Has a fraudulent, majestic shine.
As you dance tango after tango
You turn clever men into fools.







Muñeca, muñequita que hablás con zeta
y que con gracia posta batís mishé;
que con tus aspavientos de pandereta
sos la milonguerita de más chiqué;
trajeada de bacana, bailás con corte
y por raro snobismo tomás prissé,
y que en auto camba, de sur a norte,
paseás como una dama de gran cachet.

Che papusa, oí
los acordes melodiosos que modula el bandoneón;
Che papusa, oí
los latidos angustiosos de tu pobre corazón;
Che papusa, oí
cómo surgen de este tango los pasajes de tu ayer...
Si entre el lujo del ambiente
hoy te arrastra la corriente,
mañana te quiero ver...

Milonguerita linda, papusa y breva,
con ojos picarescos de pippermint,
de parla afranchutada, pinta maleva
y boca pecadora color carmín,
engrupen tus alhajas en la milonga
con regio faroleo brillanteril
y al bailar esos tangos de meta y ponga
volvés otario al vivo y al rana gil.


Mishé: a man who pays for a woman’s services

Milonga: a social dance

Bandoneón: A musical instrument related to the concertina, of german origin and popularized in Argentina and Uruguay, where it became the most emblematic instrument of tango.

Milonguera: a woman who dances at milongas

Corte: in tango dance, a sudden turn in direction, generally done by holding for several beats

Learning Tango Guitar II

I’m a long time student and teacher of tango guitar.  This series of articles is for tango guitar students and guitarists interested in pursuing tango.  Contact me for more information on lessons and workshops.


Rhythms or ‘Genres’ in tango


Now that we’ve given a general introduction to tango guitar (see article I) let’s talk about a practical matter: the different rhythmic song forms, or ‘genres’ we encounter in tango music.  There are three main genres in tango:


In this article we're going to focus on the rhythmic foundations of each genre.  All three have origins tied to dance, and mastering the rhythmic feel is key to playing them well.  Like many other types of Latin music, tango has some African roots and a connection to drums, although drums themselves did not end up in tango.  In their place, other instruments assumed a percussive role.  You can hear it in the piano, bass, and bandoneons in orquestas típicas * and small ensembles, and you hear it in guitar groups.

I'd estimate that most tango repertoire contains about 80% tangos, 10% valses and 10% milongas. 

Here’s an introductory look at each of the three genres:


Vals is the Spanish word for waltz.  This Austrian dance form made its way to Latin America with the Spaniards and installed itself firmly in popular music all over Latin America.  Waltzes are an important part of argentine folk music or folklore, and the valsecito criollo made its way into the urban repertoire of tango and stayed there. 

There are different ways to produce the vals rhythm on the guitar, but we can safely say that it’s relatively easy to create the basic feel, which fits the guitar naturally.  The vals is in 3/4 time and is written that way.


The milonga that is used in tango music is an upbeat 2/4 rhythm.  There are two accented beats and a dotted rhythm commonly called a habanera** pattern.  Other rhythmic modes appear: tenuto quarter notes (for harmonic changes) or eighth-note bordoneos, for example.

The upbeat milonga used in tango music has a rural cousin, the milonga campera, which comes from the folk music of the Buenos Aires region.  This is the folk music of the payador, a singer who would accompany himself with a guitar.  The milonga campera is a slow milongawhose accompaniment is made up of bordoneos.


Tango is written in 4/4 quadruple meter (although for many years it was notated in 2/4 and then 4/8 – see below).  It’s the most complex of the three genres and the most difficult to master.  Within the 4/4 meter there are several rhythmic modes that combine to produce the rhythmic basis of tango:

Marcato – this is the main mode and has many variations on one theme: accented quarter notes.  In a traditional tango arrangement, the accompaniment uses marcato most of the time.  The specific way that musicians accentuate and articulate the different marcatos it what makes an accompaniment truly feel like a tango.

Síncopa – this mode is the counterbalance to marcato and can be used to break up its monotony of even beats.  There are many different ways of playing síncopas but the general characteristic is a very specific question and answer that lasts one measure.  The first half of the measure or ‘question’ starts with two eighth notes and the second half, or ‘answer’ is a single note on beat 3.  I’m describing síncopa in the most general terms possible. 

There are several other rhythmic modes used in tango accompaniment: bordoneo, half notes, 3-3-2 and umpa-umpa are a few.  I discuss them in detail in my workshops and lessons, and we can dig in to them in future posts.

Finally, I’ll say this: the tango feel that we consider standard today (four beats per measure) evolved in roughly the 1940’s.  Up until that point tango was played with a feel that used the habanera pattern and therefore sounds more like a medium-tempo milonga to our ear.  I’ve heard musicians refer to old tangos, ‘Zorro gris’ for example, as ‘tango milongas’ for that very reason.

Why 2/4?  Why 4/8?

Here’s a little history behind a technical question – why is tango sometime referred to as ‘dos por cuatro’?  And further to that, why is the old tango sheet music written in 4/8? Musically it doesn’t make a difference and as a musician you might not care, but if someone asks you it’s nice to have an answer.  Here goes:

The in the guardia vieja or ‘old guard’ period tango was played with a habanera feel.  It makes sense to notate that feel in 2/4, as it sounds.  Over time, tango groups started marking four beats per measure.  It no longer made sense to use 2/4, so they started notating in 4/8. 

My guess is that at a certain point in time somebody decided that 4/8 is a silly time signature and started using 4/4, which is easier on the eyes, maybe because it’s considered ‘common time’ and as kids we all got used to it.

Other rhythms (folklore)

One final note about genres that should be of particular interest to guitarists: there has long been a tradition in Argentina of the cantor nacional – the singer of ‘national’ repertoire.  The repertoire of such singers was essential folkloric, and specifically the folk music of the Pampa/Buenos Aires region, which includes genres such as: estilo, cifra, triunfo, huella, and milongaCarlos Gardel began as such a singer and made many, many recordings of folk music before becoming a tango singer.

Ignacio Corsini and Agustín Magaldi were national singers and contemporaries of Gardel, and later on singers like Nelly Omar and Edmundo Rivero continued the tradition. 

The repertoire of such singers is alive and well in Argentina today.  Tango musicians who aren’t guitarists may have little awareness of this music, but if you’re a tango guitarist you should become familiar with the repertoire.  It’s one of the things that makes being a tango guitarist special, and it’s a gift worth embracing.


* the orquesta típica is the type of group that became standard during the development of tango and is probably the most widely recognized and representative format in this music.  It’s like the big band in jazz: large and made to fill a dance hall.  The típica’s instrumentation grew out of the tango sextet: piano, bass, two violins and two bandoneons.  Over time the number of violins and bandoneons grew to roughly 4 each, and in some orquestras one cello and one viola appeared, to reinforce the string sound.

** habanera refers to this pattern: 


*** for more on the cantor nacional see this todotango article (in Spanish)



Tango Singalong

Making sense of the lyrics

The Original El Choclo – Help Me Understand These Lyrics!

El choclo by Ángel Villoldo is one of the most famous tangos, and also one of the oldest, published in about 1905 and possibly written a decade or so before that.  The standard version that musicians and singers use today is in fact a 1947 re-working by Enríque Santos Discépolo, with new lyrics and a rhythm that is recognizable today as ‘tango.’

But today we’re going to look at the original lyrics, written by Villoldo himself, and try to unravel their mysterious meaning.  Villoldo said that El choclo was simply about a choclo, or corn cob, which was his favorite parte of a traditional stew called puchero.

Here’s a recording of Villoldo himself singing the lyrics in 1912:


Before we take the composer's explanation at face value we should note that Villoldo was from the first era of tango, the ‘old guard.’  Not only did tango start out as music played in bordellos, but a number of tangos were written and published with suggestive double-entendres in the titles and lyrical content (an interesting topic for a future post)  and some have suggested that the original El choclo lyrics fall into the category of ‘whorehouse tangos.’  Do the lyrics describe a sex act?  A part of the anatomy?

Whatever the case, these lyrics are cryptic, contain some outdated idioms, and in some places are just plain bizarre.  And then there are words like ‘humilloso’ that seem so out of place that I wonder if someone transcribed Villoldo’s recording, misunderstood a word, and then wrote down their error for posterity. 

So…please help!  I have done my best to offer a translation below, but I would love to hear your ideas.  Contact me or post a comment on Facebook.


El choclo
Tango, ca. 1905
Lyrics and Music: Ángel Villoldo

The plant grows from a seed
And then gives us a corn cob
That why he growled
That it was humiliating.
And since I’m just
A notorious tanguero
I mumur with joy
‘it’s excellent.’

Some ears of corn
Are golden
Those are the ones I adore
With tender passion,
When working
Covered in thistles
I have stubble
Like a humble peasant.

Of lavender it turns blond
In long locks
I contemplate couples
If it is like growing,
With those whiskers
That the virgin land
Offers to the
Noble commoner.

Sometimes the corn
Roasts over the fire
It calms passions
And the joy of love,
When any commoner
Is cooking it
And another is preparing
A good mate.

Once the cornmeal
Is prepared,
Benath a canopy
You hear a pericón,
And under the eaves
Of a decrepit shack
From someone’s chest.
Soars a joyful song.

De un grano nace la planta
que más tarde nos da el choclo
por eso de la garganta
dijo que estaba humilloso.
Y yo como no soy otro
más que un tanguero de fama
murmuro con alborozo
está muy de la banana...

Hay choclos que tienen
las espigas de oro
que son las que adoro
con tierna pasión, 
cuando trabajando
llenito de abrojos
estoy con rastrojos
como humilde peón.

De lavanda enrubia
en largas guedejas
contemplo parejas
si es como crecer,
con esos bigotes
que la tierra virgen
al noble paisano
le suele ofrecer.

A veces el choclo
asa en los fogones
calma las pasiones
y dichas de amor,
cuando algún paisano
lo está cocinando
y otro está cebando
un buen cimarrón.

Luego que la humita
está preparada,
bajo la enramada
se oye un pericón, 
y junto al alero,
de un rancho deshecho
surge de algún pecho
la alegre canción.

Learning Tango Guitar I

I’m a long time teacher (and student) of tango guitar.  This series of articles is for tango guitar students and guitarists interested in pursuing tango.  Contact me for more information on lessons and workshops.


What is Tango Guitar?


First, this is what tango guitar looks and sounds like, played by the masters:

Hugo Rivas, solo guitar with pick

Anibal Arias, solo guitar fingerstyle

Palermo Trio, guitar ensemble

Salgán-De Lío, electric guitar and piano

Nelly Omar, singer with guitar quartet


Ok...how do I learn how to do that?  


What Is Tango Guitar?

Before we define tango guitar, what is tango?  Tango is a genre of popular music that developed in the 20th century in the city of Buenos Aires*. Think of it as having a similar timeline to jazz in the 20th century– from folkish roots to cabaret/dance music, to art music.  As string/piano/bandoneon combos developed into the sound that many consider to be ‘the sound’ of tango, the guitar (which had been in tango for longer) took a parallel route, mostly accompanying singers in groups of 2-4 guitars.  The guitar then made its way into other small ensembles such as the mixed quintet (usually with electric guitar) and the bandoneon/guitar duo.  More than other instruments in tango the guitar has a connection (by repertoire and tradition) to Argentinean folk music.  That’s a plus for us guitarists, as it gives us a door into a neighboring world.

What Isn’t Tango Guitar?

-       Flamenco guitar

-       Bossa Nova, or any other Brazilian guitar style

-       Salsa, son, or any other Caribbean guitar style

If you’re new to the universes of Latin music or Spanish guitar, welcome.  There are many, many branches of this tree, and though there are common roots, each genre of music is a world of its own.  Once you’re inside a genre you’ll probably find it completely different from the others.  Similar to a few other Latin genres, tango was born of a mixture of Spanish and African roots. It then took on a dose of European flavor, especially from the Italian immigrants that flocked to Buenos Aires in the early 20th century.  They left their mark on tango, and on Buenos Aires, in countless ways: the vocabulary, emotion, phrasing, and temperament of tango reveal a strong Italian influence.

Finally, the guitar in tango is diverse and has developed several modes: nylon guitar with flatpick, nylon fingerstyle, electric guitar with and without a pick, solo and ensemble styles. 


What Are The Keys To Tango Guitar?

I’ll expand upon these keys in future posts. 

  • Repertoire, repertoire, repertoire
  • The idiomatic building blocks of tango: melodic, rhythmic/harmonic, and complimentary material (i.e. ‘fills’)
  • Techniques specific to the guitar, and those derived from other instruments.


How do you get there?

If your goal is to become a tango guitarist, here are some practices I recommend. I found them invaluable in my development.

  • Listen

Listen to as many recordings as you can.  Here is a list to get you started.***

  • Play with others

This might mean a weekly session with a friend who is also learning, or rehearsals and gigs with fellow musicians.  Always push each other to learn new tunes.

  • Transcribe

A great way to absorb language, phrasing, and idiomatic material is to transcribe recordings.  Two ideas to try: transcribe short segments that capture your imagination, and try transcribing instruments other than guitar.

  • Learn arrangements

Another great way to incorporate musical language is to learn arrangements.  For guitarists this might mean learning a complete solo guitar arrangement, or it might mean learning a guitar part from a group arrangement.

  • Take lessons

Nothing can replace working with a good teacher, because they can listen, observe, give you feedback, give you new ideas, and push you in the right direction.  If you’re new to tango guitar find a guitar teacher.  At other stages in your journey it may make sense to learn from other instrumentalists as well.

  • Find the old masters

An invaluable way to connect with tradition is to find a master musician who was part of a previous generation.  In some cases the old masters aren’t even ‘old’ but people your own age who have connected and learned from elders.  It’s a good idea to be open – learning doesn’t only occur in a formal setting.

  • Learn songs and sing them

Tango music is full of songs.  Songs with lyrics.  There is no better way to incorporate musical material than to sing it.  Memorize lyrics, write them out, find your key, sing them to yourself.  Don’t worry if you’re a terrible singer and won’t perform in public – trust me, this is a great method.  Plus, tango guitar is tied to singers by tradition, so the more you know these songs inside and out, the better.


Tango Guitar Roles

The guitar has multiple roles in tango.  As a guitarist you may end up pursuing one or more than one way of playing. 

  • Solo guitar (complete ‘classical’ style arrangements)
  • Guitar groups (roles can be divided into lead and rhythm)
  • Guitar in mixed ensembles (written parts with lines and/or rhythm, parrilla** playing, electric or nylon guitar)
  • Solo guitar with singer (classical style or more traditional accompaniment with pick)
  • Two or more guitars with singer (traditional accompaniment, parrilla** or arranged)

 In summary - tango is a genre of Latin music with fascinating roots.  The guitar has a special role in tango, with links to folkloric music, the singing tradition, and with multiple conceptual approaches.  If your curious about learning, or series about your development, stay tuned for more articles in this series.


*Tango is a genre of music from Buenos Aires that starting developing before 1900, enjoyed massive popularity in Argentina and the world, especially as dance music in the 1940’s, and since then has undergone different periods of ebb and flow.  Different tendencies have developed.  Astor Piazzolla was a tango musician who brought is own art music to audiences and musicians outside of Argentina and outside of the tango tradition in the 1970’s.  Around the year 2000 a new surge of tango activity began to grow in Buenos Aires.  Today the local scene is more alive than ever, with current tango composers, groups of all flavors, camps, training orchestras, and radio programs, and contests.


 ** Parrilla playing means playing without arrangements.  Much in the way that jazz musicians can play on the spot, with no rehearsal or even experience with their bandmates, tango musicians can throw together a performance with little or no preparation or discussion.  To do this well, of course, each musician must have a sensitive ear and a masterful knowledge of repertoire, language, and even standard versions of songs.  Don’t let that last sentence scare you – parrilla playing is a great way to develop your musicianship and you should start working on it right away.   

*** Here's a great starter list for listening, organized by instrumentation

Guitar Ensembles

 Roberto Grela
Palermo Trío

Guitar Ensemble with Singer

Carlos Gardel
Edmundo Rivero
Nelly Omar

Ensembles including guitar

Cuarteto Troilo Grela
Cuarteto Federico Grela
Salgán - De Lío(Horacio Salgán & Ubaldo De Lío)
Quinteto Real (and Nuevo Quinteto Real, both led by Horacio Salgán)
Ciriaco Ortiz & Ubaldo De Lío


Orquesta Típicas

Anibal Troilo
Carlos Di Sarli
Osvaldo Pugliese
Julio De Caro
Piazzolla (1950’s)

Singers w/Orquesta

Roberto Goyeneche (1950's - 1970's)
Roberto Rufino - Bandoneón de mi ciudad 

Ensembles (no guitar)

Sexteto Mayor
Sexteto Tango

Solo Guitar

Anibal Arias
Juanjo Domínguez

Tango Singalong

Making Sense of The Lyrics…


Verdemar - Another Tango About Gricel?


This month while we celebrate the birthday of Carlos Di Sarli, one of the most popular orchestra leaders in the history of tango, I’m taking a look back at his compositions. His most famous piece is ‘Bahia Blanca,’ an instrumental named after the city where Di Sarli was born. What about Di Sarli’s collaborations with lyricists? One of the more interesting songs is ‘Verdemar,’ which he wrote with José María Contursi, one of tango’s top lyricists and the main character in a life-imitates-art drama.

José María Contursi is the lyricist most famous for his tango ‘Gricel,’ (music by Mariano Mores) and the true story on which it was based.  Contursi fell in love with a woman named Gricel, though he was already married and had a family. Much later in life, after the deaths of his wife and Gricel’s husband, he and Gricel were married. It was said (supposedly by Contursi himself) that for almost 30 years he wrote tango after tango inspired by Gricel.

Is ‘Verdemar’ one of them? Thematically it could be. Written in 1943, a year after ‘Gricel,’ this lyric describes a familiar cycle: finding love, losing it and then hoping for its return. These lyrics are straightforward:

You'll come back, Verdemar
My soul can sense your return.

In the context of Contursi’s personal life, these lyrics take on extra meaning. If it’s true that he wrote tango after tango for Gricel, then this is probably one of them.

Di Sarli composed lush, romantic music for ‘Verdemar,’ his only collaboration with José María Contursi, one of tango’s greatest lyricists. This month, as we explore Di Sarli’s profile, this lesser-known lyric can open the door for a future exploration into José María Contursi’s lyrics. 


Tango 1943
Music: Carlos Di Sarli
Lyrics: José María Contursi

Verdemar ... Verdemar ...
Your eyes filled with silence. I lost you, Verdemar.
Your yellowed hands, your pale lips.
And the cold of the night over your heart.
You're missing, you're gone, Your eyes are shut, Verdemar.

I found you on a whim and you lit up my life. 
I forgot my hours of anguish.
But then life was cruel to you
And my kisses froze on your lips.
And now ... what course will I take?
I'm lost on the road where the sun doesn't rise.


You'll come back, Verdemar
My soul can sense your return.
You'll arrive, you'll arrive ...
Your spirit will travel on a white road
Searching for my tired self,
and here you'll find me.
You're missing, you're gone,
Your eyes are shut, Verdemar.

Verdemar... Verdemar...
Se llenaron de silencio tus pupilas.
Te perdí, Verdemar.
Tus manos amarillas, tus labios sin color
y el frío de la noche sobre tu corazón.
Faltas tú, ya no estás,
se apagaron tus pupilas, Verdemar.

Te encontré sin pensarlo y alegré mis días,
olvidando la angustia de las horas mías.
Pero luego la vida se ensañó contigo
y en tus labios mis besos se morían de frío.
Y ahora... ¿qué rumbo tomaré?
Caminos sin aurora me pierden otra vez.

Volverás, Verdemar...
Es el alma que presiente tu retorno.
Llegarás, llegarás...
Por un camino blanco tu espíritu vendrá
Buscando mi cansancio y aquí me encontrarás.
Faltas tú... Ya no estás...
Se apagaron tus pupilas, Verdemar.