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Interview to Luis Cardei a year before his death

By Irene Hartmann
translated by Dolores Iglesias Rocha 

 
 

Tanguitos from a porteño elf 

cardei1.jpg (110022 bytes)Luis Cardei obtained "moderate success" while performing in well known downtown bars in Buenos Aires. He would always show up by himself, with a small bench and his bandoneón player. Because of the fact that he did not interpret any of Piazzolla´s tangos, among other things, his repertoire was quite peculiar.

He is now ready to respond to our inquiries. He’s sitting at his dinning room table, cigarettes at hand, a good luck charm bracelet, and his wireless telephone that would not stop ringing. Once in his house, you can’t avoid the smell of tango in the air.

It was 35 years ago when he first performed in public. He was 15, and it took place in a contest held in an argentine neighborhood called Villa Urquiza, where he lived all of his life. 

What would you say to a person who detests tango?  
If he’s argentine, one of my own native country, I would be very worried; if he’s porteño (native from Buenos Aires), I´d be very sad. I would know for sure that he’s failing to recognize his identity. To despise tango is to despise your own neighborhood, the schools were you grew up, memories of friends, old girlfriends and even your own mother. Tango is us. We are the essence of tango. We, who do not feel as a Hungarian, nor as frenchman, but as: criollos.(The immigrant mix between the europeans and the argentines)

The Neighborhood

He’s dressed in black from head to toes. He is very easy going but gets very upset with the idea or mighty possibility of having the "neighborhood" concept disappear. "Of course it still exists!" the thing is that it is being a bit ignored. "Haven’t you noticed that if someone asks you ‘where you live’ you answer Chacarita; (name of neighborhood), you see, the concept of neighborhood still exists".

When talking about tango one feels the conversation constantly flowing, just like the dance. As if one were in a dance floor. Going from tango-songs, to orchestras, singers, lyric writers and memories.

"Luisito" as he usually calls himself, shares with us the fact that the 24th of June will be a very special day. "It is like a patriotic day for me. It is the death anniversary of the person who in my opinion invented my passion, the inventor of singing tango as a genre. He was an extraordinary human being, good pal, gallant, and very clean cut...he was Carlitos."  

Carlos Gardel was the biggest and best tango exponent, and is still standing. There is a popular saying that implies that he sings better each day. What do you think about him as a composer?  
If I were to answer this question fast, or to somebody older; I´d say that he was a great composer. But, you’re young and you expect sincerity, so I’m going to be honest with you. Gardel was always being offered something. Somebody would tell him "Look what I did, do you want to sign it for me?" So I’m not so sure that he wrote everything himself.

Women and Tango

When it comes to women, Cardei is always very gentile. No matter who it may be, Cardei usually compliments the ladies. He does not consider himself very good looking, specially because of his legs. He was born hemophilic and had to remain in bed for several years. This is the reason why his legs did not grow in proportion to his body. But he is very sexy. He has this look in his eyes that not only make him very attractive, but also dissuade the answers during the interview; creating a very special atmosphere. Involuntarily his glances unintentionally modulate the mood of the interview. 

Do you like any female singers?  
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Yes, women... I always have the impression that they do everything right. Everything about them is beautiful. Whenever I see a woman doing something, whatever, I always know I’m going to love it. Just imagine how much I can possibly enjoy a woman when she’s singing. 

Would you name one in particular?  
I do have my own students, both male and female. I like some of them very much. I always try to find them a suitable girly repertoire. A woman should never stop being a woman, especially when she’s singing. 

But are you going to name one?  
Well...I like Lidia Borda a lot.

He does not like having to admit that he dislikes something. And when he finally does, he really goes around the bush before answering. But when it comes to Adriana Varela, he can’t help accepting the fact that she is not of his style. "It’s not that I don’t like her, she’s just not my style"(...)  

Is it because of her manly attitude when singing?  
No. Because of her repertoire. I think a woman should try to find more feminine tangos. I think she shouldn’t sing tangos like "Che Vampiresa" or "Muñeca de Arrabal". It’s not a sacrilege, but it doesn’t look right.  

Are there any tangos for women?  
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Definitely. They are a bit tacky, but they exist. For example, eh... ( he takes a minute to think). It can be difficult because there aren’t that many, but for instance, there’s "Padre Nuestro". It may sound tacky, but it is basically about faith. It goes something like "Our father who arts in heaven , you who knows it all, and sees it all..." It’s a prayer were she sings for her beloved one to come back, after she’s been dumped by him. It’s connotation is very human.

While chatting with a tanguero quarreling is never out of the question when it comes to certain topics. According to Luisito, Astor Piazzolla, the composer, is also out of the limits of tango. He says "There’s tangueros and Piazzollistas. I personally think Piazzolla made up this very beautiful music very much like Buenos Aires, but..that it is not tango." (...) 

You always sing with a bandoneon player at your side. Do you play any instruments?  
No, due to my hand problems I can barely play the guitar. (Back to the hemophilia). But I do play some guitar to my wife Maria while she’s fixing a meal.

Cardei says he has never tried composing because he does not like the singer-composer idea, and adds " I’m very respectful, I leave the composing for those who know"

Very gentlemanly, even a bit sexist (only a bit), extremely sensitive, short, and practically unable to carry out certain activities and movements that require body skills;

Luisito is pretty much like a chameleon who changes moods in accordance with the tone of each question. He can easily laugh about an anecdote, become sad when approaching some death story, and proves us how much he hates his illness, although it is very subtle. He is easily moved. He most likely reaches out and grabs the heart of the public and gives them back afflicted and anguished. This is accomplished by the mere fact of his presence.  

What tango are you going to listen to once I finish and leave?  
I think of my self as a person who lives the present. I am now here with you, so I wouldn’t listen to whatever. I´d choose a waltz called "A Unos Ojos".  

Why?  
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It is a waltz "Criollo" (Spanish-American native). The lyrics describe the different situations and emotions in a woman’s look and what they cause the author when he sees those eyes. It describes the calmness of the waters and a pure crystal soul.

He now coughs. Grabs the edge of the table with both hands and starts singing without having been asked to do so; just for the pleasure of it: "Bien tu sabes que mi vida está en tus ojos/ ellos son mi alegría y mi amargura...(You know very well that my life is your eyes/ they are my happiness and my biterness...) I don’t remember the rest, but it goes something like; your eyes make me feel sad when they cry, and I feel...what was it?...ah, yes...tenderness."