Tango in the cabarets

There is nothing written about exactly what happened inside the cabarets of Buenos Aires.  The only way to learn about the nightlife in the cabarets is to talk to those who inhabited them–musicians and milongueros.  That’s exactly what Andrés Casak and Mariano del Mazo have done in order to gather pieces of the puzzle and tell the story of the era of cabarets in Buenos Aires from 1930-1960.

Tango in the cabarets

They invited Carlos Pazo, Mario Abramovich, and Alcides Rossi to share details as tango musicians in the cabarets during a conference of the Festival Buenos Aires Tango.  This included a special video presentation with  Leopoldo Federico and Alberto Podestá and clips from the film Vida Nocturna (1952) and Cuatro Corazones about the cabarets.

The city had cabarets in three zones:  along Corrientes from Calláo to Nueve de Julio, Nueve de Julio to Alem (known as “Bajo,” the lower part of Corrientes) and La Boca.  The cabarets opened at 23 hs and closed at 4 in the morning.  Orquestas de tango had contracts for six months, so the musicians had steady work in those days.  No one under the age of 18 was allowed to enter the cabarets, but Leopoldo Federico told the story of being hired as bandoneonist at the age of 17 to play at Tabaris (Corrientes 829).

The most famous cabarets (thanks to the orquesta that performed in them)were Chantecler(on Paraná near Corrientes) where Juan D’Arienzo’s orquesta played regularly; Marabú(on Maipu near Corrientes in “Bajo“) with Carlos Di Sarli; Singapur(Montevideo 348) with Miguel Calo and Alberto Podestá; and El Avion in La Boca.

I learned interesting morsels about the cabarets.  Chantecler had a swimming pool.  The coperas drank tea instead of alcohol with the male patrons in the cabarets who bought drinks for them.  Otherwise they would have been inebriated before the night was over. The musicians were strictly prohibited from talking with the coperas whose job was to sell drinks, engage in conversation and dance with customers.  Musicians were not allowed to leave the cabaret with a copera, although what they did outside the cabaret was their own business.

Musicians got their training with the orquestas in the cabarets.  They rehearsed in the salones of the cabarets.  In some of them, the orquesta performed from a balcony where the ladder was removed so they couldn’t return to the main floor and talk with the young ladies who worked.  That never stopped them from trying.  Some musicians ended up marrying coperas. 

The first 45 minutes of music in a cabaret was like a rehearsal when they didn’t play continuously.  Nobody danced the first hour.  The cabaret was important to the success of an orquesta for it was where new compositions were performed for the first time.  If the dancers liked it, it became a hit and then it was recorded.  An orquesta played six nights a week in cabarets from April through December with the summer months off.  The musicians were very well paid.

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