Felix Picherna, a famous DJ from Buenos Aires, upon his return from Europe, where he had spent many years, remarked that “In Europe, I’ve learned to appreciate Canaro’s music”. Indeed, Francisco Canaro has much wider exposure in Europe, compared to Buenos Aires, or US/Canada. And, thinking of Canaro, the first tango that comes in mind, is, of course, the immortal “Poema”. Interestingly enough, the birth place of this tango is neither in Buenos Aires nor in Montevideo, but somewhere on a road between Rome and Berlin.
Argentine tango was introduced to Parisian aristocracy as early as in 1907 (see “Tango Stories: El Choclo”). After the end of the World War I tango has spread all across Europe, Russia, and Japan as well. One of the most prominent figures in European tango was Manuel Pizarro. In early twenties he directed, simultaneously, 5 (five) orquestas operating under his name in major European cities.
In 1924, in Buenos Aires, Julio De Caro proclaimed “El tango también es música”, and, with his sexteto gave a birth to a new tango epoch – Guardia Nueva (see “Tango Stories: Amurado”). In the same year Eduardo Bianco, appeared on the European tango horizon. As a child, Bianco studied violin in his home town of Santa Fe. Later, he tried his luck in Buenos Aires, but, by his own admission did not have much of success there. And so, he decided to move to Paris.
After a half-year contract at the Capitol restaurant in Paris and a short stint with Pizarro’s orquesta, Bianco teamed up with Bachicha (Juan Bautista Deambroggio), former lead bandoneon in Roberto Firpo orquesta, and so Orquesta Tipica Bianco-Bachicha was born. The orquesta included a drummer (NB!) and double-bass player Mario Melfi from Argentina. During the long European tours, Mario Melfi mastered bandoneon under the guidance of Bachicha, a few years later Bachicha left Bianco and formed his own orquesta, but Melfi stayed. Bianco and Bachicha music developed an unmistakeably European flavor, and, as such it is rarely, if ever, played in the Americas… except for just this one tango…
… Around 1931 Bianco orquesta was on a long tour across Europe. Behind remained Spain, Portugal, England and Italy, and their next destination lay in Germany. On one, particularly long stretch of the road, some musicians fell asleep, but Mario Melfi was improvising a slow, simple melody to the sound of the car’s motor, when suddenly Eduardo Bianco joined him with his violin. The melody caught up everyone’s attention, and soon the whole orquesta was playing together, with Bianco singing improvised verses. Later, Eduardo Bianco shaped this melody into an elegant, slow tango, and registered it, together with his lyrics, to his and Mario Melfi name. Thus, the famous “Poema” was born out of a cross-country trip…
… In the same year 1925, when first Bianco-Bachico orquesta was formed, Italian-born and Argentine-raised Roberto Maida made his professional debut as a singer in an early Miguel Caló sexteto. The debut followed by quite a successful tour to Spain, which ended in 1930. Upon his return to Buenos Aires, Maida met with Francisco Canaro and cut a single test record with Canaro orquesta. Only one season later, Maida is in Europe again, and, on his second trip he performed with Bachicha orquesta in Portugal, and then, on invitation of Prince of Wales, with Pizarro orquesta in London. Both Pizarro and Maida became quite annoyed by rather snobbish British tastes, and so they decided to return to Paris. At about same time, the long European tour of Eduardo Bianco was finished, and he also returned to Paris with his orquesta. Maida was offered a place in Bianco orquesta… and this is where he first met “Poema”, at this time being performed by Bianco himself as a vocalist.
Upon his second return from Europe in mid-1933, and one-year stint on Radio Belgrano, Maida teamed up with Canaro again. The recording sessions followed one after another, and in June 1935 they commited “Poema” to a record… without a single hint as to how popular this tango would become three quarters of a century later: https://youtu.be/x7wt-49kneA
Thanks to Paul Bottomer and his Today Tango Is… video channel we are lucky to present several, rather rare recordings of Poema, with Castellano lyrics and English translation in the video notes:
Original recording by Orquesta Eduardo Bianco (1932): https://youtu.be/7PkPQzrQ1Jw
Orquesta A. J. Pesenti with Nena Sainz: https://youtu.be/5uO9U8rmcJM
Orquesta Juan Sánchez Gorio with Luis Mendoza (1954-55): https://youtu.be/Sangc6FOGSA