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argentina: no soy muy tanguero

Tita Merello

I’m not an enormous fan of tango, but there are quite a few songs that I’ve grown to love. And before you ask, no… I’ve never taken a dance lesson. Far from being clumsy on my feet —I grew up in Memphis, after all— it’s one of those cultural experiences I keep saying I’ll do one day.

That day has yet to arrive, but I thought of something yesterday when Jeff & I were discussing the difficulties of translation. He’s done a very nice month-long series of posts about Borges since June 2006 was the 20th anniversary of his death. We had trouble agreeing on how to translate one simple line of poetry, so I decided to take the ultimate challenge… translating a tango song. I think I’m asking for trouble.

One of my favorite tango performers is fiesty singer/actress Tita Merello. Some of her well-known tango songs are “Arrabalera” & “Se dice de mí.” True classics. Her style is very in-your-face. You don’t like what she says or how she looks? Too bad. Your loss. That’s the kind of brashness she’s associated with & now you know why I like her so much.

“Qué vachaché” was written by Enrique Santos Discépolo in 1926 & instantly became a permanent part of her repetoire. It’s funny how the song is 80 years old & still rings as true as when it was first written. Since tango is heavy in lunfardo (local slang), I’ve chosen to go heavy on English slang. While it may not be the best translation out there, I tried to convey the sense of sarcasm that pervades this song.

Piantá de aquí, no vuelvas en tu vida.
Ya me tenés bien requeteamurada.
No puedo más pasarla sin comida
ni oírte así, decir tanta pavada.

¿No te das cuenta que sos un engrupido?
¿Te creés que al mundo lo vas a arreglar vos?
¡Si aquí, ni Dios rescata lo perdido!
¿Qué querés vos? ¡Hacé el favor!

Get outta here, don’t even think about coming back.
I’ve had it up to here with you.
I can’t go hungry anymore
or listen to you talk so much crap.

Don’t you realize you’re being played?
You really think you’re going to fix the world?
If here, even God can’t save those who are lost!
What can you do about it? Puh-leeze!

Lo que hace falta es empacar mucha moneda,
vender el alma, rifar el corazón,
tirar la poca decencia que te queda…
¡Plata, mucha plata! ¡Yo quiero vivir!

Así es posible que morfés todos los días,
tengas amigos, casa, nombre…y lo que quieras vos.
El verdadero amor se ahogó en la sopa:
la panza es reina y el dinero es Dios.

What you need to do is horde lots of cash,
sell your soul, raffle off your heart,
throw out the little bit of decency you’ve got left…
Money, lots of money! I want to have it all!

That way you can chow down everyday,
you’ll have friends, a house, a good name… whatever you desire.
True love is gone with the wind:
the stomach rules & money is my religion.

¿Pero no ves, gilito embanderado,
que la razón la tiene el de más guita?
¿Que la honradez la venden al contado
y a la moral la dan por moneditas?

¿Que no hay ninguna verdad que se resista
frente a dos mangos moneda nacional?
Vos resultás –haciendo el moralista–
un disfraza’o…sin carnaval…

But don’t you see, you obvious fool,
that the one who’s right is the guy with the most bling?
That honor is sold for cash
and morality is handed out for mere pennies?

That there is no truth that can stand up
to cold, hard cash?
Sitting on your high horse, you end up being
All dressed up… with no place to go.

¡Tirate al río! ¡No embromés con tu conciencia!
Sos un secante que no hace ni reír.
Dame puchero, guardáte la decencia…
¡Plata, mucha plata! ¡Yo quiero vivir!

¿Qué culpa tengo si has piyao la vida en serio?
Pasás de otario, morfás aire y no tenés colchón…
¿Qué vachaché? Hoy ya murió el criterio!
Vale Jesús lo mismo que el ladrón.

Go jump in the river! Get over it!
You’re a partypooper who takes the fun out of everything.
Give me something to eat, you can keep your decency…
Money, money, money! I want it all!

Am I to blame if life has made a fool out of you?
You claim to live on air alone with nowhere to lay your head…
But what can ya do? There are no standards these days
A thief gets as many props as Jesus.

Walking along Avenida Corrientes yesterday, the front display in one of the bookstores was an enormous pile of Clarín tango CDs. Their 20-disc series covers the greatest names in tango music, past & present. Starting in September 2005, there was one available every week at the corner newsstand for 15 pesos. Now that the series is over, they’re going for 9 pesos each. U$S 3 for an huge booklet full of history, lyrics, photos & interviews?! Even if you aren’t very tanguero, it’s a great price to experience excellent tango.

Maybe I’m slowly convincing myself that I enjoy tango. Not enough to dance like Caroline, but at least enough to get a feel for what it’s all about. The problem with any compilation is that there will be songs missing. Compilations are 100% subjective. For me, an obvious omission on this CD was “Niño Bien.” Since they didn’t include it, I decided to post it here.

The song is basically about a guy who tries too hard to impress & is very pretentious. But Tita can spot it a mile away & calls him on it. I wish I had met her in person before she passed away in 2002! Again, this wasn’t easy to translate although there are only 3 verses. My apologies for any glaring errors, & some things are explained in notes below. Have a good laugh.

Niño bien, pretencioso y engrupido,
que tenés berretín de figurar;
Niño bien, que llevás dos apellidos
y que usás de escritorio el Richmond Bar;

vanidoso, la vas de distinguido
y siempre hablás de la estancia de papá,
mientras tu viejo, pa’ganarse el puchero,
todos los días sale a vender fainá.

Pretty boy, pretencious & misled,
You really wanna be all that;
Pretty boy, you use your full name*
& claim the Richmond Bar** as your office;

So vain, you try to be distinguished
& always talk about dad’s estate,
meanwhile your old man, just to get by,
goes out everyday to sell fainá***.

Vos te creés que porque hablás de ti,
fumás tabaco inglés, usás guantes caquí
y te cortás las patillas a lo Rodolfo,
sos un fifí.

Porque usás la corbata carmín
y allá en el Chantecler la vas de bailarín,
y te mandás la biaba de Gomina,
te creés que sos un rana y sos un pobre gil.

You think because you use “ti” instead of “vos,”
smoke English tabacco, wear khaki gloves
& cut your sideburns like Rudolf Valentino
that you’re the shit.

Because you wear a fancy tie
& in the Chantecler**** you play at dancing,
you slick your hair back,
you think you’re da bomb & you’re really just a loser.

Niño bien, que naciste en el suburbio
de un bulín alumbra’o a querosén,
que tenés pedigrée bastante turbio
y decís que sos de familia bienº,

no notás que estás mostrando la hilachaº
y al caminar con tu aire triunfador
se ve bien claro que tenés mucha clase
para lucirla detrás de un mostrador.

Pretty boy, born in the suburbs
in a love nest lit by kerosene,
your pedigree is pretty sketchy
while you claim to be high class,

Everyone can tell that you’re faking it
& walking with that snooty attitude
it’s very clear you’ve got a lot of class…
to show off behind a salescounter.

* Most Argentines (contrary to the rest of Latin America) only use one of their last names. Using both is seen as extravagant.
** Former classy hangout of Borges on Calle Florida which lost a lot of its charm. In fact, it was sold & closed in Aug 2011 & replaced with a Nike store.
*** Fainá is a flatbread made with garbanzo bean flour, oil, water, & salt. Basic protein, basic food.
**** A famous cabaret in Buenos Aires.
º Tone is everything. Listen to the way Tita says “bien” as if it were French & mocks his pretentious attitude. Also pay attention to the knowing way she sings the second phrase marked. It’s the equivalent of “damn, who do you think you’re fooling?!”

[Originally published 21 Jun 2006 & 12 Jan 2007. Listened to a little Tita Merello the other day & thought about these posts.]

4 thoughts on “argentina: no soy muy tanguero”

  1. If you understand and like the style of Tita… then you got the best of Argentine tango. I am not a tango fan either, but I love her. And nothing, really nothing, beats her singing “Se dice de mi”.

    1. That’s definitely one of her better songs. It’s funny… I’ve never cared that much for Gardel but there are certain singers I really like. I guess that happens with any kind of music. Saludos!

  2. I think you did a pretty good job of translating Qué vacheche and El niño bien. I have a few quibbles but overall you saved me hours of work. I would like to use your translation of Que vacheche in a scholarly article on Subiela (Argentine filmmaker) and Cortázar, since Cortázar cites the line “Qué vacheche” and I have a footnote on that tango. Subiela keeps the poem by Cortázar at his side when he writes his scripts.

    Please send me an email with your full name so I can give you proper attribution in the article.

    BTW scholarly articles are never paid.

    Thanks so much for the music links too. I had not heard the song before.


    Nancy Membrez
    Assoc. Prof.
    University of Texas at San Antonio

    1. Hello Nancy – The translations were a collaborative work. I had most of it done, then asked a couple of Argentine friends for explanations of some lunfardo terms that are rarely used these days. Glad you found the translations helpful.

      Feel free to use the translations. No problem. If you could notify me when the article is published, I’ll download the PDF from JSTOR.


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