Terence Clarke

Home » Uncategorized » “Tinta Roja”…Depending on the singer, it can break your heart.

“Tinta Roja”…Depending on the singer, it can break your heart.

“Tinta roja” is a much-loved tango that was written in 1941 by Sebastián Piana and Cátulo Castillo. It has been recorded by most of the important tango orchestras with singers of equal distinction. Here are three versions of it, by three different singers, in three very different styles.

The first, by the orchestra of Anibal Troilo with the voice of Francisco Fiorentino, has an old-fashioned sweetness that, although beautiful, does not for my money represent the disaster that is told by the lyrics. I think Troilo was trying for the kind of heartfelt nostalgia for a lost youth that is featured by so many tangos. But it doesn’t work for me here because, in the second half lyrics of the song, the feelings express such barren loss. Here it is.

The second version is sung by Roberto Goyeneche, the famous “Polaco.” A man of the streets (before he was discovered, he was a Buenos Aires municipal bus driver who would sing tangos without accompaniment while driving. That’s how a record producer found him.) Goyeneche’s version of “Tinta roja” has a harder heart. His sadness in this version is much more authentic than that presented by Fiorentino. The orchestra behind him (also that of Anibal Troilo) surges through the song with almost Hollywood-style over-arrangement. But for me, Goyeneche’s voice saves the day. This man ‘s anger is lined with sadness.

The third version is a very contemporary one, sung live by Ruben Juarez, who accompanies himself on bandoneon. I believe Juarez, in both his playing and singing, catches the despair and fury of “Tinta roja’s” lyrics. The man walking about in the dark alleyway of this tango is coming apart. He suffers quietly sometimes, angrily at other moments, enraged finally. For me it is the most authentic version of this tango I’ve ever heard. See if you agree.

Here are the lyrics to “Tinta roja,” first in Spanish, followed by my translation to English:

Tinta Roja

tinta roja en el gris
del ayer…

Tu emoción
de ladrillo feliz
sobre mi callejón
con un borrón
pintó la esquina…

Y al botón
que en el ancho de la noche
puso el filo de la ronda
como un broche…

Y aquel buzón carmín,
y aquel fondín
donde lloraba el tano
su rubio amor lejano
que mojaba con bon vin.

¿Dónde estará mi arrabal?
¿Quién se robó mi niñez?
¿En qué rincón, luna mía,
volcás como entonces
tu clara alegría?

Veredas que yo pisé,
malevos que ya no son,
bajo tu cielo de raso
trasnocha un pedazo
de mi corazón.

tinta roja en el gris
del ayer…

de mi sangre infeliz
que vertí en el malvón
de aquel balcón
que la escondía…

Yo no sé
si fue negro de mis penas
o fue rojo de tus venas
mi sangría…

Por qué llegó y se fue
tras del carmín
y el gris,
fondín lejano
donde lloraba un tano
sus nostalgias de bon vin.


Red Ink

Thick wall,
Colored red in the grey
Of yesterday…

The feelings
Of the happy brick
In my alleyway,
With a smudge
Coloring the corner…

And to the cop’s badge
That in the thickness of night
Celebrates the end of its beat
Like a simple brooch…

And that carmine-colored mailbox,
And that little tavern
Where the Italian guy weeps
For his faraway blonde amor,
Washing it down with a glass of good wine.

Where will my neighborhood be?
Who took my youth away?

In which corner, my moon,
Were you emptied, as you were,
Of your clear happiness? 

On the sidewalks that I walked,
The bad guys now no longer there,
Beneath your flattened sky,
There walks in the night
A piece of my heart.

Thick wall,
Colored red in the grey
Of yesterday…

The boiling over
Of my sad blood,
Shed on the little geranium
On that balcony
That hid her…

I don’t know…
Was it the blackness of my pain
Or the red of your veins,
Blood of mine?…

Why did she come and then go,
Passing the carmine
And the grey,
And the faraway tavern
Where the Italian wept away
His wishful longings with a glass of good wine?

The translation to Spanish of Terence Clarke’s novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, was published on December 1. Titled La espléndida ciudad, is available in bookstores worldwide and at all the usual online sites.

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