Samstag, 20. April 2024

Gardel in New York - Chapter 5: Gardel sings in English


Chapter 5: Gardel sings in English
by Terig Tucci with annotations by Camilo Gatica and José Manuel Araque

The NBC programs, already well underway, continued with growing success, delighting equally the public and the directors of the radio station. The Latin American colony of New York, which then numbered more than half a million souls, was glued to the receivers to listen to Gardel's programs. The newspapers of the city were putting him among the most select ones that were offered by the radio. Despite the fact that most of the American public did not understand -as is natural- the Spanish text of the songs, his adherents multiplied in an astonishing way; the word was spreading, the artist was gaining a foothold. And while the dramatic meaning of his songs remained a mystery to the American public at large, the beauty of his vocal artistry, the sheer delight of his singing, were enough incentives to attract and captivate.

The management of the radio station, with the purpose of stimulating the interest of the commercial agencies sponsoring the programs, proposed that Gardel should sing in English. The artist was unfamiliar with the language and feared that singing in a language that was foreign to him might seem presumptuous. He did, however, lend himself for the experiment that was made with this attempt.

Some of the refrains of Argentine songs, those that were best adapted, were translated into English and written phonetically. For example... the phrase I LOVE YOU was written with Spanish sounds: ÁI LOV IÚ. After one or two auditions, Gardel refused to continue his efforts to sing in a language that was totally unfamiliar to him.

There were, in truth, powerful reasons of professional sincerity in his refusal.

-How can I sing," Gardel explained, "words I don't understand, phrases I don't feel. There is something in me that vibrates to the sound of words that are familiar to me, that are deeply rooted in the most intimate part of my being; words that I learned in my childhood, that have the meaning of things very much ours, impossible to transmute. My language, gentlemen, is Spanish... or better yet, porteño. The question "¿Me quieres?" does not contain for me the emotion that becomes in the same porteño question ¿Me querés? The pronoun VOS, instead of TÚ; the verb VENÍ, instead of VEN... They are archaisms of old affirmation, that come to us from our ancestral trunk. What a pity, friends that I cannot satisfy your desires! I know how to sing only in criollo!

All of us, including the NBC directors present there, remained silent, not knowing what to say. We all understood and respected the integrity of the artist.