t is widely thought that at the beginning of the twentieth century tango was a kind of music that was popular only in Buenos Aires. Furthermore, precisely and wrongly, people used to affirm that it was confined to the interior of the whorehouses or, to say the least, limited to the outskirsts. There is a lot of evidence that testimonies a wider popularity which covers the whole city and even the interior of the country. And maybe even more surprising is that from 1905 it was widely spread abroad.
In this work we shall refer especially to the recorded output, as means of diffusion of tango music. As for financial figures, at the turn of that century either the price of the records or the playing machines were expensive. It turns out eloquent about what characteristics had those who bought those products. It was evidently people with a buying capacity different from the needy, neither peripheral inhabitants nor outskirts dwellers.
But we won't focus on the sociological aspect but on the geographic and commercial side of the tango diffusion. We have to take into account that until around 1910 the main portion of the recorded material in the world had an international character, that is to say, was shared by the buyers of America and Europe. Then, they achieved larger catalogues than if otherwise they offered exclusively local repertoires. Furthermore, by that time the recorded sound still had, a strong component of technical magic, by which to a certain extent little mattered what was heard as long as you owned the miraculous device.
Within that context, in 1905 recordings of our native repertory were made in Paris and London. For that purpose national singers and monologue performers were sent. As for the instrumental aspect, the plan of recordings included, among other genres, tangos played by a group called Banda Real Militar. Let us compare these data with the sheetmusic of "La morocha" composed by Saborido which because it was written in the late 1905, it would have only reached Europe after a voyage on the Fragata Sarmiento in 1906. That is, approximately one year later.
So denoted the implicit circulation of printed tango music throughout the Old Continent during 1905, let us remember that those discs released by the Gramophone label belonged to the European international catalogue of that trademark. Besides, this company was associated to the North American Victor, then the aforementioned matrices were also pressed in the United States and distributed there and in the countries of Central and South America. Of course, through both labels those records reached their main destination, in other words, our country, due to their essentially Argentine-Uruguayan repertoire.
The abovementioned Banda Real Militar cut a curious matrix with two tangos. It was the 2.052e, on the one-sided disc Victor 3.009 and the two-sided disc 62.146-A with "Guido" and "La payada" composed by José Luis Roncallo. As well this band recorded the tango "Ay, chinita" whose author we don't know, matrix 2.084e, discs 3.014 (one-sided) and 62.151-A (two-sided).I repeat that these simple data, totally contradict those who say that tango had a limited presence, and linked it to infamous locals of the Buenos Aires outskirts.
Another case refers to the Columbia company. The discs manufactured in the USA had different series, but for our purpose we are interested in the "C" whose target was the Spanish-speaking market, in general, and the "T", exclusive of Argentina. For this enterprise in 1913 the Orquesta Típica Pacho recorded a tango entitled "Chile", released here as disc TX 766, matrix 57.227. But curiously it was also distributed in the Chilean territory with the international record label C 2.744. Even though it would have been sold only in Chile, see where and when genuine tango played by the famous Cuarteto Pacho was heard. Was that the only record of that orchestra sold there?
Considering the wide spectrum of the concept Spanish-speaking, Pacho was not the only Argentine artist that appeared in the "C" series. And furthermore, take into account that the Central and South American countries of the Pacific coast were completely supplied by the ships that came from the north. Then, it would be possible the presence of Argentine repertory in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in whose harbors ships stopped before reaching Chile.
We have another example. As in our country there were no factories until 1919, records were made in the United States (Columbia and Victor) and Germany (the rest of the numerous labels). Because of that, when World War I broke out the German industry devoted itself to war material and the flow to Argentine abruptly ceased. In order to correct this situation, the owners of those surviving local labels started negotiations with the two factories established in Brazil by then.
The most important of them was Odeon of Rio de Janeiro owned by Fred Figner. It began in the late 1914 and early 1915 to manufacture discs of that trademark with matrices cut here for the Argentine market. However, there are discs of the early 1920s with tango recordings by the orchestras led by Firpo and Canaro which were officially released in Brazil with the record label of Odeon of that country. Since when had it been happening? Were discs of other artists, for example, Gardel, simultaneously distributed in Brazil?
This double distribution can be seen as well in the other factory, based in Porto Alegre. Its owner was Saverio Leonetti, who pressed the matrices sent from Buenos Aires by the ERA and Atlanta labels for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets. But he also released them through his own labels in the southern area of Brazil. This operation, with which recordings of tango orchestras were even sold in Sao Paulo (and possibly in Rio de Janeiro), lasted approximately since 1915 to 1920.
Such activity, about which we ignore if it was consented by the Argentine impresarios and artists, was an important and unimagined diffusion in the Brazilian market. Let us say that it was a truly cultural penetration. An example, but absolutely unique, are the recordings of the tangos "Re fa si" and "Tierra negra" made by the Orquesta Típica Pacho in 1917. The disc released in our country with matrices 32 and 34, bore the disc number 2.016 of the local label ERA. Up to here, everything was all right. But furthermore Leonetti released those same matrices with the disc Nº 209 of his Brazilian label Phoenix, which according to data of its record label, in fact was even sold in Sao Paulo. Pay attention that at the same time that the famous "Re fa si" was premiered in Buenos Aires it was widely spread throughout the south of Brazil!
Because of that it should not be surprising that the Julio De Caro Orchestra was summoned to appear in Rio de Janeiro in 1927. It is generally thought that that aggregation originated the contact of the Brazilian audiences with tango. But on the contrary, they had been in contact with it through recordings since nearly fifteen years before! So De Caro did not travel to attempt to impose a musical genre but to satisfy a previous existing demand for tango. In sum, what is generaly regarded as a generating cause was in fact an effect.
Another case, also known that took place in Chile, is the proliferation in that country -at least since the mid- 1910s-, of "pirate" discs copied from original recordings. I can't precisely say how this parellel market was nurtured and prospered having originals from Victor, Odeon and Brunswick. Even though the names of the artists appear adulterated, or a laconic indication that they are sung by a "tenor" or performed by an "orchestra", artists of the aforementioned trade marks can be recognized. As a curiosity, the discs had on each side two different performers of the same label and even of two competitors.
Due to the number of copies that were included in the lots of second-hand records -about ten years ago-, we can estimate that at that time (from 1914 to 1930) the sales of those records were about a 20% of the material offered in Chile. And according to what was written on the record labels of some, those trademarks (there were several) would have been awarded at an exhibition in Bolivia. Then, remembering what was said about the coastal countries of the Pacific, and disregarding its illegality and where they were manufactured, we have to take into account this other unknown source of diffusion of our tango.
As a curiosity, the oldest pirate disc found by us corresponds to the original Victor 65.904-A, matrix B 14.285-1, with the tango "Alfredo y Juanito" by Celestino Ferrer, recorded by the Orquesta Argentina Loduca in USA, on January 7, 1914. Of course, in order to conceal the origin in the fake disc either the title and the name of the interpreter were distorted. But the disc number is still visible on the lacquer, like in many cases.
But it was not the only way by which Chile had a supply of Argentine recordings. Already by 1923 Victor records manufactured in the United States were coming to our country. Later when by the end of the decade the factories of Odeon began to be established -at the beginning as an exclusive activity of Max Glücksmann-, Victor and Brunswick, immediatately, started to release discs manufactured with Argentine matrices. Furthermore, there are recordings that only were published in Chile, as well as discs with recordings on the other side of the disc different to the ones known in Argentina. And I am talking about the orchestras led by Canaro, Firpo, Maffia, Brignolo, Típica Victor, the vocalists Charlo, Azucena Maizani, Alberto Gómez, Ruiz-Acuña, Rosita Quiroga, Agustín Magaldi, etc. What a diffusion of tango outside our country!
To add more about this, a catalogue of the early 1930s announces the sale of records of different Argentine tango orchestras. Because it was a periodical publication with previous issues, we can guess that that kind of recordings were sold since around 1926. Where was the shop that sold them? Naturally, in La Paz, Bolivia. Genuine Argentine tangos by orchestras like those of Canaro, Firpo, De Caro or Maffia were sold in Bolivia at least since 1926. Even though the labels advertised were Odeon and Brunswick, by the above said reasons, it is possible that the catalogue of Victor was also commercialized.
Based on this panorama, we can say that the films of Gardel were not made to generate a market but, on the contrary, to satisfy the already existing demand. It turns out logical that after some years of hearing discs by the singer and with the arrival of sound movies, the Spanish-speaking audiences would have liked also to enjoy his image. Hence, the decision of shooting such films. As in the case of the trip of Julio De Caro to Brazil, the alleged cause was, in fact, a consequence of the previous popularity achieved through records. Whether it be of an interpreter, in particular, or of tango as a generic musical expression.
If what was said contradicts those who like to confine tango to locals of bad reputation, or to the mythical corner of Suárez and Necochea, or only to Buenos Aires, or only to our country, well, luckily... it was not that way!