Making sense of the lyrics...
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.
Music: Juan de Dios Filiberto
Lyrics: Enrique Santos Discépolo