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Enrique Santos Discépolo (1901 – 1951)

Today, on December 23rd., we remember Enrique Santos Discépolo’s journey to eternity, alias “Discepolin”, who, in his short but fruitful life was an argentine actor, an author, a tango composer, an orchestra and film director.

Tango has had many extraordinary lyricists, but the deep sensibility with which Discépolo communicated had never been heard in popular music before. Even though it is considered that he produced a very small amount of work, about 40 themes, his lyrics and compositions are extraordinary due to the quality of his poetic expression, his content, the incorporation of his vocabulary of his own creation (popular city lexical in his own terms, twists and slang expressions), and because of how he contemplated the social, economic and political issues that Argentina was undergoing in the beginning on the 20th century.

Discépolo, being a man of theatre and film, an actor and an author, used to create living characters in his lyrics, them being essentially sentimental, and yet looked upon as a failed individuals, deceived, as people who seem to go in the opposite direction than the rest of the world, and who nevertheless can’t help referring to life’s injustice. According to Horacio Ferrer and Luis Sierra, they are profoundly predisposed to accept the happiness that life has (as in must) to offer them. They believe they deserve this happiness because they are honest, pure and even naïve in considering they are worthy of receiving life “how it should be” and not “how it is”. Yet all of a sudden, life shatters “all illusion” in one blow. Instead, Oscar Conde considers that some of his characters assume a messianic position founded on the certainty that someone must morally make up for the world’s chaos. 

Sergio Pujol describes his Tangos as “small theatrical scenes”. It’s a characteristic that, to some, partially explains the lyrics’ drama and their hopelessness, pessimism, sourness, pain, endless boredom, defeat and aggravation of reality’s parodic elements. Others, instead, even though they understand them as being theatrical, they also point out a humoristic, ironic, rebellious, provocative intentionality, focused on social conscience and therefore inspiring.

A characteristic that Pujol highlights, is that it was very important for Discépolo to compose his own music and lyrics, and that he used to say that “the melody is the most important element”. Some of this can be perceived when one sings or listens to his work. This makes him different to other lyricists.

Seven of Discépolo’s tangos are amongst the one hundred ranking of most fundamental tangos, according to Oscar del Priore and Irene Amuchástegui. They were selected by the authors based on the number of commercial recordings. Los titles of his exclusive music and lyrics are: “Yira yira”, “Esta noche me emborracho” (which means “Tonight I’ll get Drunk”) y “Cambalache”; Instead, in “Confesión” the lyrics were composed in collaboration with Luis Cesar Amadori and in the themes “Malevaje”, “Cafetín de Buenos Aires” and “Uno”, even though the lyrics belong to his authorship, the musical composition of the first theme was created by Juan de Dios Filiberto and of the second and third by Mariano Mores.

Carlos Gardel, recorded some of his tangos: “Qué vachaché”, “Esta noche me emborracho” (which means “Tonight I’ll get Drunk”), “Yira yira”, “Chorra”, “Victoria”, “Secreto” (which means “Secret”), “Confesión” (which menas “Confession”) and “Malevaje”, aswell as a waltz, “Sueño de juventud” (which means “Youth Dream”).

Other than all of these titles which we have recalled, we also remember magnificent pieces of work such as: “Alma del bandoneón” (which means “Accordion’s Soul”), “Confesión”, “Desencanto” (which means “Disenchantment”) and “Tu sombra” (which means “Your Shadow”) (lyrics were written in collaboration with Luis Cesar Amadori); “Carrillón de La Merced” (in collaboration with Alfredo Le Pera); “Fangal” (lyrics and music in collaboration with Homero Expósito); “Justo el 31” (with Ray Rada); “Canción desesperada” (which means “Desperate Song”), “Cuatro corazones” (which means “Four Hearts”), “Chorra” (which means “Thief”), “Infamia” (which means Calumny”), “Qué sapa señor” (which means “For you to know Sir”), “Quién más quién menos” (which means “Who more, who less”), “Secreto” (which means “Secret”), “Sin Palabras” (which means “Without words”), “Soy un arlequín” (which means “I’m a Harlequin”) and “Tormenta” (which means “Storm”) all of which were composed, in lyrics and music, by Discépolo.

Finally, in 1947, he writes new lyrics for “El choclo” (which means “The Corn”) (1903), keeping Ángel Villoldo’s (1861-1919) music, in which he remembers Tango’s origins as a way of living, as a lifestyle. In Discépolo’s version, which is different to the one originally written by Villoldo, or the following one, done by Juan Carlos Marambio Catán, a character called “Carancanfunfa” is mentioned. He prays “your flag has become part of the sea”. This character, according to Ricardo García Blaya, had probably been inspired by the movements of Casimiro (El vasquito) Aín, the chairman on the dancers who took and taught tango dance in Europe. He made these movements when he accompanied the “caracafú” (heel tap), and in his shows he used to wrap himself with the Argentine Flag.

He made his physical farewell from this world on December 23rd, 1951, when he was 50 years old, and as he himself said, “your absence is a torment with tortures without killing” (from his waltz “Tu sombra”).

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