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Whatever the case, these lyrics are cryptic, contain some outdated idioms, and in some places are just plain bizarre.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.