Notas de bandoneón (Notes of a bandoneon)

Music about heartbreak, sadness and longing is something we see across cultures and around the world, and the genre of tango is no exception: often, the lyrics talk about these realities of life in their different forms, but without any particular (historical) context and without anything thematic that would set it apart from other genres. However, tango music and lyrics do have their distinctive character as, like I always say, the folklore of Buenos Aires as a city and culture. That means you also have lyrics that are quite specifically about certain traditions or characteristics of the city, about places or types of characters dwelling the streets, and also often about the bohemian lifestyle of nightclubs and tango dance halls.

The orchestra of Ángel D’Agostino, usually referred to as D’Agostino-Vargas because the orchestra and singer are so uniquely inseparable, is one of the richest orchestras in terms of the different ”landscapes” of that exciting Buenos Aires from the past. In general, the orchestra sound is deeply nostalgic and always transports me not only to the typical streets and corners of the city but particularly to how I imagine they were in the era this music was recorded. And less metaphysically, perhaps, it’s quite possibly (just guessing here) the orchestra with the most lyrics about life in Buenos Aires and other concrete historical, cultural phenomena connected to it. It’s important to realize that a sizeable amount of these stories and anecdotes refer to even older times that were looked at with nostalgia and a sense of loss by the musicians and lyricists of the Golden Age of tango music and even earlier.

The lyric below is a reflection of not only the more universal themes of lost love or sorrow about life in tango but also some of the cultural themes that I mentioned above. First, it refers to an extremely important topic in tango lyrics, namely the distant neighborhoods, usually poor, on the outskirts of the city, that are often looked at with nostalgia (like a type of ‘innocent’ life from the past) or a current longing to return to said areas. These ‘suburbs’ (sometimes literally called ‘suburbio’) tend to be called ‘arrabal’ in the lyrics and host a number of archetypal figures, such as the tough guys who dominated the streets or the virtuous local girls who ended up as a prostitute in the city center. And the second ‘trope’ we see in this lyric is the bohemian lifestyle of the tango world in Buenos Aires: the main character has returned to his poor neighborhood and is now lonely because of the life he chose to live in that bohemian environment. I think this lyric, and the way the orchestra brings it to life in the recording (notice how the bandoneons complement the singing!), are a beautiful representation of the melancholy of tango through its typical scenes and ‘landscapes’ and how the protagonist experiences them.

Notas de bandoneón (Notes of a bandoneon)
Composition: Orestes Cúfaro and/or Francisco de Lorenzo
Lyrics: Enrique Cadícamo

Tengo en un barrio apartado
una casita chiquita
refugio para mis cuitas
de calavera olvidado.
Solo, sin nadie a mi lado
sin un cariño quedé.
Porque de tanto que amé
sin un amor me he quedado.

In a distant neighbourhood
I have a little house,
a shelter for my sorrows,
for having been a womaniser.
Alone, with no one by my side,
I am left without affection.
For as much as I have loved,
I have been left without a love.

Llegan notas de bandoneón
en la noche de mi arrabal
son las notas de un corazón
que al pasar, el viento trae…
Llegan notas de bandoneón
y es más negra mi soledad.
Llueve en mi alma su triste son
y hace florecer mi honda emoción.

Notes of a bandoneon sound
in the night of my barrio.
They are notes of a heart,
carried by the wind.
Notes of a bandoneon sound
and my loneliness becomes darker still.
The sad sound raining in my soul
makes my deep emotion flourish.

(Por eso en mi noche triste
sólo… más viejo y cansado,
recuerdo muy apenado
lo mucho que me quisiste.
Sabiendo que te perdiste
yo vivo evocándote,
y sueño esperándote
aquí, en mi barrio apartado.)

(And so, in my sad night,
alone, now old and tired,
I remember sadly
how much you loved me.
Knowing that I lost you,
I live remembering you,
while I dream of your return
here, in this distant neighborhood.)