One Random Single a Day #65: “Pobre madrecita” (1924) by Carlos Gardel

Here is another case where, in my inability to find an image of either the cover sleeve or the record face for the single of the day, I’ll have to introduce the review with a photograph of today’s artist (He’s pretty easy on the eyes, though!). Carlos Gardel was born and raised in Buenas Aires, Argentina and is widely known to be an important figure in the history of tango. Although primarily a composer in collaboration with lyricist Alfredo Le Pera, he is also noted for his powerful, rounded baritone vocals with which he recorded hundreds of heartfelt inclusions to the tango style. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the peak of his career when an airplane crash killed both him and Le Pera, a tragedy that was received with nationwide mourning. Since then, though, many of his compositions have become tango standards and he is widely regarded as an iconic figure in both his Argentinian homeland and other Spanish-speaking countries all around the world.

Like I said, Gardel had recorded hundreds of records throughout his career. And since this was the 20s, every single song recorded counts as a “single”, as opposed to later in the music industry when single releases were more carefully chosen. So, I really could have landed on any one of the large array of Gardel songs with equal probability; to be honest, I kind of wish I had gotten “Por una cabeza”, which is one of his most popular compositions and certainly one of the most beautiful. Nevertheless, I landed on “Pobre madrecita”, which isn’t one of his most celebrated, but it’s perfectly fine nonetheless. Backed by the gentle strumming of a guitar and nothing else, Gardel laments for a mother who sits alone, crying and in pain over a sick child. Although I am judging the lyrics based off a couple of translations I found, it’s clear that these lines read more like poetry than words to a song. The sense of rhythm is relatively loose, besides its standard 4/4 rhythm; there is no sense of a chorus, only a collection of verses; and the material itself seems more of a contemplation on the figure of the distraught mother, rather than the external circumstances that brought them to this position. We know that the child has blonde hair and blue eyes, but we know nothing of her sickness. It’s just interesting that Gardel chooses to zero in on the plight of the mother instead of the child who is very likely facing death.

Of course, he does note imply in the lyrics that the mother receives no compassion and is feeling a pain that no one else could understand. To be honest, I find it hard to believe that no one would care for the despair of a grieving mother who may lose her child (perhaps her only child). However, the latter point is especially interesting in addressing my intrigue in the previous paragraph: the pain is one that no one who hasn’t lost a child could ever understand, so Gardel is trying his hardest to describe it in painstaking, poetic detail in an attempt for outside listeners to somehow understand and sympathize with her. Whether or not he does so successfully is fully up for debate, but he sure pours his heart out with every line he sings. Although that’s pretty typical of a Carlos Gardel recording – the guy was just so undeniably romantic, and it’s clear with songs like these just how effectively he struck a chord with a whole generation of music lovers.

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