Latin America

Celebrating king of tango Carlos Gardel, 80 years on from his death

Concerts and exhibitions all over the region will be focusing on the singer’s life and work

Clips from Carlos Gardel's movies.(AGENCIA_DESCONOCIDA)

Eighty years ago, Argentina’s most famous singer, Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), was taking off from an airport in Medellín, Colombia when his plane crashed, killing him and other passengers on board.

Since his death, the Gardel legend has grown, while the fight over his true birthplace continues to this day.

Uruguayans claim that the tango singer was born in their country, and not in France, as his official biography states. He was, however, raised in Argentina and lived all of his life there.

Uruguayans claim that the tango singer was born in their country, and not in France, as his biography states

Colombia – where he died in the middle of a much-publicized Latin American concert tour – began holding a series of events on Wednesday to pay tribute to Gardel, who not only showed the world he could croon a tango but could also dance to its rhythm.

In South America, there are perhaps many young people who are unfamiliar with Gardel, or who have never heard him sing nor have seen his early movies. They may know that he helped write the Spanish-language standards El día que me quieras and Volver.

But his influence extends beyond the tango and can be found in today’s folk music and at Buenos Aires rock concerts.

So it is not surprising that this week at the Carlos Gardel Museum in Buenos Aires a CD entitled Morocho (dark one) was presented. Argentinean musician Marcelo Ezquiaga adapted 13 Gardel classics, which are interpreted by Leo García, Kevin Johansen, the Onda Vaga band, Brazil’s Moreno Veloso and Uruguayan Martín Buscaglia.

In South America, there are perhaps many young people who are unfamiliar with Gardel

But perhaps the biggest tribute to Gardel, who was also known as El Zorzal, was a concert given by Argentinean tango star Ariel Ardit along with the Medellín Philharmonic held at the Olaya Herrera International Airport, where Gardel was killed in the plane crash on June 24, 1935.

The concert, which took Ardit two years to prepare, was broadcast live on Argentina’s public television station.

Ardit’s idol died at age 45 just as he was becoming a rising international movie star at Paramount, the studio where he also made his recordings that were sold all over Latin America and different parts of the world.

Movie-goers in New York and Paris saw his pictures on screen. Gardel had become internationally famous at a time when radio, not television, ruled the airwaves and the record and movie industries were booming.

The singer died at age 45 just as he was becoming a rising international movie star at Paramount

In Uruguay, where Gardel is venerated like a saint, a new statue by sculptor Alberto Morales Saravia, was inaugurated this past week on Montevideo’s main thoroughfare, 18 de Julio, in front of a small bar called Facal.

Gardel is posed sitting on a bench in which tourists can sit next to the statue and have their picture taken.

Uruguay long maintains that Gardel was born in Tacuarembó, some 350 kilometers north of Montevideo, and not Toulouse, France, as his official biographies state.

One thing is clear, his father never recognized his son in neither France nor Uruguay because Gardel was born out of wedlock. According to Uruguayan historians, his mother or stepmother brought him to live in a shared house in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century.

A new statue of Gardel was unveiled this week in Montevideo

Regardless of where he was born, the world continues to mark the anniversary of his death by holding events.

In Maracaibo, Venezuela, opera tenor Jorge Quintero will offer a concert this coming Saturday dedicated to Gardel at the Rafael Urdaneta University.

In Colombia, the celebrations continue in Bogota, where the musical La novia de Gardel (or, Gardel’s girlfriend) premiered on Thursday at the Old Mutual Auditorium. Gardel will also be the focus at Medellín’s International Tango Festival, which kicks off next Monday.

But most of the events to celebrate his life will take place in Argentina.

Argentinean public television will show a series of his movies this weekend, including Cuesta abajo, El día que me quieras, El tango en Broadway and Melodía de arrabal.

The Buenos Aires regional parliament is also organizing a series of special events.

The Buenos Aires regional parliament is also organizing a series of special events

At the National History Museum in Buenos Aires, an exhibition opened last week entitled Carlos Gardel, the man behind the myth. The exhibition includes recordings, films, documents and even the last letter he wrote to his mother Berta Gardés (Gardel’s real last name).

“Today I leave for Puerto Rico, then Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Guatemala […] and then from there I go to New York again to sign my contracts and in July I will start working. Have patience because I am going to make all the money I can […] I will tell you by telegram where you can write me. Much love and kisses from your son who loves you and never will forget you.”

The exhibition will continue until July 26.

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