El Choclo

El_chocloHave you ever heard Luis Armstrong played in a traditional milonga? Did he really sing tango? As a matter of fact, he did, and his “Kiss of fire” was quite a popular number, indeed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAMpxy1EAc8

Now, how about Russian chanson? Could you recognize which tango is played here? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7woFQTbu68

Well, as you have guessed, both “Kiss of Fire” and “Na Deribasovskoi otkrilasya pivnaya” (this is the name of the second tango) are remakes of “El Choclo”, one of the oldest published tango, composed by Angel Villoldo, and, probably, the most popular tango after “La Cumparsita”. So popular that at least on one occasion, and it was during the World War I, “El Choclo” was confused with the Argentinian anthem, and played where the anthem was due.

Angel Villoldo (1861-1919) was a man of many talents and many lives. He was typographer, a clown, a cuarteador (an assistant on horse races), a tram driver… a poet, a musician, a composer… Coming from the lower stratum of the society, everything he wrote, composed and performed was marked with a solid grain of sarcasm, and rather shameless wording. He was not “one of” but the pioneer, who, together with Gobbi Sr. and his wife Flora Rodiguez introduced tango to Paris in 1907.

However, only a few years before that the status of tango even in Buenos Aires was rather low. In 1903 Villoldo was working in Concierto Varieté, singing, and playing flute and guitar. One evening, when a friend of Villoldo, Jose Luis Roncallo, a conductor of a classical orchestra in an upscale Restaurante Americano, showed up, Villoldo told him:

“Just listen to this!” and played his newly composed tango. “How is it?”

“But this is wonderful! The best you ever wrote! You must publish it!”, exclamed Roncallo.

“Well then, why don’t you premier it with your orchestra?” asked Villoldo.

“Are you out of your mind? With my classical orchestra?! Listen, old man, tango is a bad word in the high society…” quickly backed off Roncallo.

“Wait,” answered Villoldo. “Why do we have to tell anyone that it is a tango? Just announce it as a creole dance, and that’s it!”

“Oh, well… what is the name of your ‘creole dance’?”

“El Choclo!” was the answer.

And so, on the November 3, 1903 the high society was applauding to the punchy rhythm of the ‘danza criolla’, not having a slightest suspicion that they are endorsing the first page of history that will soon develop into thousands of lawful descendants of “El Choclo”. Soon after that, Villoldo published the scores, having dedicated this tango to Jose Luis Roncallo.

Why “El Choclo”? The capital letter alludes to a nickname, and nickname it was, of a pimp that was based in the surroundings of Junín and Lavalle, and called El Choclo because of unusual color of his hair. The original lyrics, by Villoldo himself, obviously was not published with the music, and there were several more short-lived attempts, by Villoldo and others. The stanza that is sung by Angel Vargas belongs to Juan Carlos Marambio Catán. But it was in 1947 when Enrique Santos Discépolo wrote its definitive stanzas: “Con este tango que es burlón y compadrito/ se ató dos alas la ambición de mi suburbio…” that Libertad Lamarque premiered in the Mexican movie “Gran casino”.

This tango was recorded by so many orquestas that it is simply impossible to list them all. Here are only a few, most recognizable recordings:

Juan D’Arienzo (1937): https://youtu.be/0z_fP0UsYKk
Carlos Di Sarli (1954): https://youtu.be/nlIF6a8kqgc
Angel D’Agostino with Angel Vargas (1941): https://youtu.be/gAa-5jpBm30
Tita Merello (1949, video): https://youtu.be/I3PKtEjNtP4
Modern recording by Gabi Moreno: https://youtu.be/SftGVCuQ9iY

Castellano lyrics by Catán and Discépolo with English translation: https://letrasdetango.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/el-choclo/

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