Perhaps the greatest singer Argentina ever produced died eighty years ago today in a plane crash near Medellín, Colombia. The following is a re-post from Multiply.Com dated July 4, 2011:
The most enduring popular music of Argentina and Uruguay is tango. Both countries lay claim to have originated it, though from our point of view, some six thousand miles north of the Pampas, it hardly matters. Suffice it to say that there was one master of the form who from 1917 to 1935 made such a mark that he will never be forgotten.
I am referring to Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), who died in a plane crash near Medellín, Colombia, at the height of his career. According to the Argentina Independent, Gardel’s story comes replete with all the makings of a folk hero: immigrant origins, a middle class upbringing, musical genius, and a tragic death. As is typical of an artist as high profile as Gardel, controversy lingers surrounding the location of his birth: though his lawyer recently presented an original birth certificate of Charles Romuald Gardés, born in Toulouse, France, any Uruguayan will remind you that Gardel often affirmed that he was born in Tacuarembó, Uruguay: “My heart is Argentine, but my soul is Uruguayan, because that is where I was born,” he once declared.
Gardel grew up in the Abasto neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where he attained the affectionate nickname ‘Carlitos’ and learned to sing operas and Argentine folk music while working as a professional applauder in opera houses. He recorded his first tango, ‘Mi Noche Triste’ (My Sad Night) in 1917. Until then, tango had been an almost entirely instrumental form of music. Gardel’s music revolutionised the genre by bringing tango from underground dance salons to upper class and international popularity. His name continues to serve as a synonym for tango, and his songs live on as classics of the modern era.
Perhaps his most famous tango is ‘Por una Cabeza’ (By a Head), which tells the story of a horse-track gambler who is addicted to excitement and romance. Just by happenstance, Gardel recorded his most famous tango on film. You can see it by clicking here.
Whether he was born in France or Uruguay doesn’t matter any more. What matters is what he did to a musical form that took the world by the storm in the 1920s. It all started when Rudolph Valentino made his silent film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921. Audiences wanted to know more about the music that their screen idol was dancing to, and so from the piano score of a silent film it spread like wildfire.
In preparation for my  trip to Argentina, I am loading my MP3 player with tangos by Gardel and others. You might want to see some more of the YouTube videos clips featuring his lyrics sung by him (as opposed to instrumental versions).
The lyrics of the early tangos were written in the lunfardo dialect of Argentinian Spanish (or Castellano), which essentially a form of slang which emerged from the slums of Buenos Aires.