"Mooring Lines"

From 1935 to 1945 tango grew and changed in ways it never had before—and never would again. Great poets sat in the confiterias writing lyrics, and the orchestras were playing to packed milongas every night. Tango owned the city, and the incredible creativity and energy in the air must have inspired everyone. There’s a lot of speculation about when and where tango was born, but I think the answer is easy. While the rest of the world was tearing itself apart with war, tango was being born in Buenos Aires. It all comes from those ten years. The most golden time of the Golden Age.

We just listened to a couple of tangos from 1938, so let’s jump ahead to 1944 and see what’s new. The tango is Amarras. An amarra is a mooring line used to tie a ship to the dock (or maybe in this case, a tree on the bank of the Riachuelo). The guy in this tango has a lancha carbonera; a boat that he uses to transport coal up the Riachuelo, into the heart of tango.

But the action in this tango takes place in a recova. A recova is a sidewalk with the floor of a building extending over the top of it, and arches opening onto the street. Recovas are part of the Spanish Colonial architecture of America, and they still exist in the older parts of BsAs around markets and government buildings—which is good, because it gives our boatman some gloomy shadows to wander around in as he deals with... what else? Woman trouble:


AMARRAS, D'Arienzo con Mauré



I wander like a tormented shadow
in the gloom beneath the recova.
I think about myself...
and I am nothing!

I'm like my lancha carbonera,
put into port...
tied firmly to the bank.

I'm tied to my past.
I'm a ship that's anchored.
I feel her hooks in my flesh,
biting me, grabbing me.

I cry about the days
that will never return.
I look for the kisses
that I will never have...

I'm like my lancha carbonera,
put up onto the bank...
to sail no more.

The kisses I lost
when I realized
she didn't love me
were storms of pain,
filled with dread...
Now I am nothing!

I only know I suffered...
I fell, and I rolled
into the abyss.

I only know that your goodbye
is a mockery of the pain
that stays with my every step.

Now that I know you aren't coming,
I endlessly wander the recova.
I search for the courage
to leave... to move on,

so I can kill my obsession,
far from you,

and die in peace.

Vago como sombra atormentada
bajo el gris de la recova.
Me contemplo...
y no soy nada!

Soy como mi lancha carbonera,
que ha quedado recalada...
bien atada a la ribera.

Yo también atado a mi pasado.
Soy un barco que está anclado.
Y siento en mi carne sus amarras
que me muerde, que me agarra.

Lloro aquellos días
que jamás han de volver.
Busco aquellos besos
que jamás he de tener...
Soy como mi lancha carbonera,
que ha quedado en la ribera...
no parte más.

Aquellos besos que perdí
al presentir
que no me amaba
fueron tormentas de dolor
llenas de horror...
¡Hoy no soy nada!

Yo sólo sé que pené...
que caí, y que rodé
al abismo del fracaso.

Yo sólo sé que tu adiós,
en la burla del dolor,
me acompaña paso a paso.

Ahora que sé que no vendrás,
vago sin fin por la recova.
Busco valor
para partir... para alejarme,
y así matando mi obsesión,
lejos de ti,
poder morir.



This is one of a handful of tangos that I got addicted to when I first began dancing. I picked up some of the lyrics, and now I can't walk into a recova without humming it. "Vago, como sombra tormentada... bajo el gris de la recova..."  We used to dance to it all the time, but then it seemed to go away. Maybe Alej and I started going to places that didn’t play it as much, but writing this page has brought it all back. I had to listen to it about 30 times to get the words right, and now I'm re-addicted. I found that just like Gardel, Mauré gets better every time he sings it. And that D'Arienzo violin gets better, too.


Dancing Tip

If you like Amarras, there's nothing wrong with standing up next to your computer and moving around. Dancing by yourself is a great way to get in touch with the music. We'll copy the music control here, in case you want to try it:

AMARRAS, D'Arienzo con Mauré


You don't need space or big movements, and you don't need to worry about a partner. A man or a woman can do it, and it doesn't matter at all what it looks like. Do what comes naturally. If you want to swing your arms around a little when Mauré starts to sing, go for it. You can enjoy D'Arienzo's beautiful introduction by simply changing weight back and forth from one foot to the other:

     Step-step...         step-step...         step-quick-step...
     Strong-strong...   strong-strong...   strong-weak-strong...

Try to hit a quick 1-2-3 along with D'Arienzo when he emphasizes something. When Mauré comes in with the first few lines, add something new. Begin to float and turn. Move smoothly, like a shadow in the recova. Let the motion come through your chest, while your upper body drifts and floats. Now, you're a part of the little opera that's taking place—you've become "nothing", like the boatman. Drifting weightlessly, carrying your partner along.

Moving this way is the first step toward having the music inside. Another way to say it is that it adds "musical symmetry" to your dancing. In Chapter 6 we discuss the importance of biomechanical symmetry in tango. You need to stay balanced and centered, so you can step the same way with either leg, and move the same way to either side. One side of your body should mirror the other. In musical symmetry, your whole body mirrors the music. In Chapter 6, there are some good examples of milongueros using "musical symmetry".

We also provide examples of some well-known performers and teachers dancing asymmetrically. Musical asymmetry happens when people try to link patterns and figures together in a milonga. Unless a dance is carefully choreographed and rehearsed with a specific tango, pre-planned steps inevitably get out of synch with the music. For instance in Amarras, there's a place where both the cadence and melody are repeated:

Yo sólo sé que pené...
que caí, y que rode

One-two three… One two three,
One-two three… One two three.

Then, it happens again:

Yo sólo sé que tu adiós,
en la burla del dolor,

One-two three… One two three,
One-two three… One two three.

When dancing to these repeated phrases in a milonga, an accomplished stage couple might move smoothly and acrobatically right through the first phrase, and continue their figure partway into the second. But then, they'd have to pause, and pick up the music again. Most audiences and people new to tango music wouldn't even notice it, but for milongueros this kind of dancing sticks out. It's like an off-key instrument in the orchestra. Or sometimes worse—like chalk screeching on a blackboard.


This tango is pronounced amárrrass, and it contains one of my favorite castellano words: "vago". We don't have it in English, but I'm sure it's related to "vagabond"—except it's a verb. It means to wander around aimlessly. Like trasnochar (to be out all night), vagar is a great castellano-tango word that we could put to good use in English.

Do you hear any differences between D’Arienzo here, and his earlier tangos on the last page? Did his music “grow”? Did it get better? Obviously, computers, medicine, and airplanes keep getting better and better—but what about music? What about art? Does art progress, or does it just change? Hard to say. But for better or worse, I think D'Arienzo has picked up a little De Caro, because the music has a smoother, fuller, more orchestral sound, and a little less of the jumpy street sound it had earlier. He may have also picked up some of what Troilo was doing, because there are more lyrics, and they seem to fit into the music better. They tell a more complete story.

But I think the biggest difference is in Mauré’s voice. It sounds like he moved away from the nasal voice of the arrabal. (In “El Bulin de la Calle Ayucucho”, this is called a “voz gangoza”.) His later voice sounds deeper; more from the chest. Mauré hung around with boxers, and his voice has the sort of masculine sound you’d expect from a heavyweight fighter—although to an Argentine of that day, the higher pitched arrabalero of Castillo might have sounded like it came from a tougher neighborhood.


Identification Tip: Biaggi

How about the piano. Do you hear Biaggi? It sounds like him—but it can't be, because D'Arienzo fired him in 1938! (See note.) I'm sure D'Arienzo liked Biaggi's sound, and he may have decided to hire someone to replicate it. But is it the same? Here are two examples of Biaggi playing with his own orchestra after he left D'Arienzo. They're from about the same time that Amarras was recorded:

BIAGGI, piano


The first part is from Gaucho Sentimiento, and Biaggi's piano has a sharp, silvery sound. Then, the part at the end is from Incendio. In Incendio it sounds like he's attacking the piano. It's like he's driving his fingers down into the keys, and it's so much louder than the rest of the music, that it almost sounds distorted—as if he's about to overload the old recording equipment.

At first, I thought the piano in Amarras sounded like Biaggi, but after listening to these two examples, I can hear a difference. And I'm sure the difference would have been even more dramatic when he was playing live in the milongas. It must have been unforgettable—the sound exploding straight from the piano, undistorted by the old recordings we hear today; his hands flying; attacking the keys—literally bringing audiences to their feet. People were staying on the floor to applaud him after the tandas, until finally, D'Arienzo couldn't take it any more, and got rid of him. That's why his sobre nombre was Manos Brujas. ("Magic Hands"... "Wizard Hands".)

After Biaggi left D'Arienzo, he took rhythmic tango picado to a new level. The opportunities to play with the compás in his tangos are endless, and for a while, some of his valses were my favorite pieces for dancing. But everything changes. I've become a little older, and more contemplative, and I know more. Some of the Castillo valses have moved up to join them... and of course there's Vargas... and Troilo with Fiorentino, and... well, I guess my list is getting top-heavy. Everything we've discussed so far in this chapter is at the top—along with about a hundred other tangos as well. The more I dance, and the more I learn, the better it gets. It's great, isn't it?