Tangazos: A Tribute to Alberto Podestá

by Derrick Del Pilar

Craftsman of Return, Oxygen Tango

There are dancers’ singers, whose voices cause eyes to dart around the milonga, feet to tap restlessly, and fingers to drum on tabletops. There are singers’ singers, whose voices are best enjoyed at home, ensconced in a wing chair, perhaps with a snifter of good brandy in hand. And then there are the truly great singers, whose voices simultaneously pluck our heartstrings and impel our bodies to dance.

One of these rare titans of tango is still singing Buenos Aires—and he will soon grace our shining seacoasts with his presence, backed up by Alex Krebs’s orchestra, a bridge connecting us to the Golden Age. I am speaking, of course, of the inimitable Alberto Podestá. Before he was even twenty years old, he had recorded classics with Caló, Di Sarli, and Laurenz, timeless pieces that we tirelessly dance to this day.

This list includes but a few of the myriad excellent songs that Podestá recorded in the Golden Age—there are many more that are equally worthy, like “No está,” which was on my first list of tangazos.

Recién (Just Now) (1943)

with Orq. Pedro Laurenz

“I thought I’d meet the scorn of you forgetting me, and instead I only find the punishment of all your forgiveness.”

After suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (to borrow from the greatest English poet) a man returns to someone he abandoned in his wild youth and instead of being chastised, he is welcomed and forgiven. Who is this perfect, kind, loving woman? The lyrics are quite ambiguous, but besides the treacherous girlfriend, the loving mother is the second most common female archetype in tango...

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 26

Todo (Everything) (1943)

with Orq. Pedro Laurenz 

“And so love, a cup of light filled with alcohol, filled with blue, came again with its songs to fill us with illusions.”

Sometimes when we are in the throes of passion, we abuse superlatives, because that is the only way we can use language to express how we feel. I gave you everything, all I had, all of it, and no one else has ever has given that much to someone else, no one ever could, and I’ll never get that back. Except we’ve all felt that way, haven’t we?

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 26

Garúa (Drizzle) (1943)

with Orq. Pedro Laurenz

“The wind carries a strange lament, the night is like a deep well of shadows, and among the shadows I walk so slowly…”

When we are distraught, we tend to notice and remember the weather only if it seems to reflect our inner state. Someone issues an ominous warning, just as lightning strikes and thunder rumbles in the distance. Someone breaks our heart, and we feel grey and damp as the drizzle outside.

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 26

Nunca tuvo novio (She Never Had a Lover) (1943)

with Orq. Pedro Laurenz

“And as you weep, the tears that tremble with your emotion fall on the pages of your old book; you see your heart weakly beat.”

The girl described in this song is almost a female inversion of Don Quixote: the novels she reads shape and affect her life, but she doesn’t go out looking for action. She sits around, sure that  Prince Charming will show up. But sorry to say, he isn’t coming. Sometimes good things don’t come to those who wait.

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 26

Paisaje (Landscape) (vals, 1943)

with Orq. Pedro Laurenz 

“I bought you one afternoon, distant landscape, with your golden frame and your autumnal theme. I hung you on the wall across from her portrait, across from her portrait that’s no longer there.”

The autumn rains of April, grey clouds and blue paths, reflect the sorrow of losing a lover. Though I wonder, if this pine-tree filled landscape is so distant, perhaps it represents somewhere in the Northern hemisphere, where spring reflects the Southern autumn, which I can hear in the swirling rhythm of this vals.

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 26

Junto a tu corazón (Close to Your Heart) (1942)

with Orq. Carlos Di Sarli

“I will be wrapped in shadows once again, and among these shadows I too shall become a shadow.”

Most of the great romantic tracks that Podestá recorded with Di Sarli—“Nada,” “Nido gaucho,” “Tú, el cielo y tú,” “Volver a vernos,” among others—are not available on iTunes (amateur aficionados might want to consider this CD). But this one is.

A love, a betrayal, an abandonment. Di Sarli’s fingers on the piano, Podestá’s voice. What could be more classic?

iTunes Album: Cafetín de Buenos Aires

Rosas de otoño (Autumn Roses) (vals, 1942)

with Orq. Carlos Di Sarli

“You are perseverance, I am patience. You are tenderness, I am piety. You signify independence, and I symbolize freedom.”

In one of my favorite films, Adaptation, the fictional twin brother of real life-screenwriter Charlie Kaufman says, “You are what you love, not what loves you.” This tango expresses precisely that sentiment: that, even when unrequited, loving a worthy person can elevate you—though the obsession may make you sick with sorrow.

iTunes Album: Valses que no se olvidan

Dos fracasos (Two Failures) (1941)

with Orq. Miguel Caló

“We are two failures who fell in love, parted, then forgot it all.”

It takes a self-aware individual to admit mutual fault in the breakup of any relationship, romantic or platonic. And in tango, we may expect the man to blame a treacherous woman for his ills. But in this bittersweet little gem, lyricist Homero Expósito slyly subverts our expectations, and presents us with a reflection on a distant love lost.

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 45

Si tú quisieras (If You Wish...) (1943)

with Orq. Miguel Caló

“Stirring up photos in my heart, your peerless image filled my life.”

Would you ever bend the heavens and stop time to get back someone you lost? Would you be willing to wipe the slate clean and start over again, to forgive all past wrongs? The answer, for the man singing this song, is a definitive “yes!”

iTunes Album: Grandes Del Tango 45

Bajo un cielo de estrellas (Beneath a Star-Filled Sky) (vals, 1941)

with Orq. Miguel Caló

“A long time after leaving, I return to the neighborhood I once left behind...”

We all know that you can’t go home again...can you? Maybe you can, this vals suggests. Maybe on the quaint urban streets where you grew up, so pleasant yet so sad, under the shadows painted by the trees, you can become again, just for a second, the dreamy-eyed kid you once were. When he sings now, at almost ninety years old, I believe that Alberto Podestá can.

iTunes Album: Valsecitos de antes


Derrick Del Pilar

Tango found Derrick Del Pilar in 2006, when he was living (and studying) in Buenos Aires, in a small apartment a few blocks from Evaristo Carriego’s house. In Buenos Aires, he studied the social dance with Lidia Ferrari, and despite the vociferous dissatisfaction expressed by the first lady he managed to cabecear in Salón Canning, he has immersed himself in tango ever since. From 2006–2008 he was a regular on the social dance scene in the up-and-coming tango community of Tucson, Arizona. From 2008-2009, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Derrick studied extensively with many of the world-renowned tango teachers who spend time in Northern California. He has also lived, danced, DJed, and lectured in the communities of Eugene and Portland, OR. Derrick is a thoughtful tango DJ who has shared tandas of music by the Golden Age maestros at festivals and venues in Chicago, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Southern California, and the Bay Area, including the Portland Tango Festival and the San Francisco Tango Marathon. In May 2008 Derrick received a B.A. from the University of Arizona with a double major in Spanish & Portuguese and Creative Writing, and in December 2009 he received an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley—with a focus on the history and literature of Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th century. He also lectures on tango lyrics and history at festivals around the U.S.