Making sense of the lyrics...
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
Music: Gerardo Matos Rodríguez
Lyrics: Enríque Cadícamo
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