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  • Enrique Santos Discepolo (lyrics) - Various (singer)
  • Cambalache
  • Released in: 2014

One of the most iconic tango lyrics of all time, "Cambalache" bitterly describes the disappointments and cruelty that have defined the 20th century. Many of its caustic lines have become an inextricable part of Argentine culture.

REVIEW BY Guido Pellegrini Music EXPERT
Review posted: 17/10/2013

Probably the most iconic tango lyrics ever written, “Cambalache” is sour, world-weary, and sarcastic. Internationally, tango is perhaps better known for its intricate dance, and perceived as romantic and sensual. To Argentines, however, tango is often the music of lament and nostalgia, like a South American version of the American blues. It wasn’t always like this, of course. When it first started, tango was often lewd and sexually graphic, offering such eyebrow-raising titles as “Let it die inside” and “Shake my curtains.” Eventually, though, lyrics began to explore more melancholy terrain, like betrayed love, lost youth, and certain death. And, in the works of author Enrique Santos Discepolo, tango ventured into social and political criticism.

“Cambalache” – which means “bazaar” in Spanish – was released right in the middle of what is known as the Infamous Decade in Argentina, a period of thirteen years book-ended by military coups in 1930 and 1943, and marked by political corruption and persecution. From this complicated time emerged Discepolo’s vitriolic tango, which is now a quotable classic in its home country, where nearly everyone knows at least a few lines.

"Probably the most iconic tango lyrics ever written, 'Cambalache' is sour, world-weary, and sarcastic."

The song starts with a strong statement of intent: “That the world is and will be a filthy place, I know.” And the anger never lets up. Indeed, “filthy” is perhaps too mild a word to translate the original “porquería.” The world isn’t simply “filthy,” but more like “a piece of crap.” Other such cheerful lines include: “Nobody can deny that the 20th century is a deployment of insolent evil” and “Nowadays, it’s the same thing to be a traitor or a rightful man.” The most famous bit, though, is: “Like in the impertinent shop windows of bazaars, life has turned upside down, (…) and the Bible cries against a heater.” In this topsy-turvy world, a holy book weeps next to a household appliance, and a working man, a pimp, a hero, and a crook are equally admired or forgotten by a society that has lost its moral compass.

This being tango, of course, there’s a healthy dose of slang. Thieves are called, not “ladrones,” as would be normal in Spanish, but “chorros.” And stealing is not “robar,” but “afanar.” Both terms are in use even today. Likewise, “caradura,” which can be translated as “stone face,” describes a shameless person. It is not exclusive to Argentina, but it remains a very common word there. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Bible is said to have been injured by a “sable sin remaches,” a phrase so obscure not even Argentines can agree on what it means. It apparently refers to a kind of bathroom hook or nail, used to hold cheap toilet paper in the early 1900s. Some have even suggested that, since the poorest could not afford conventional toilet paper, these hooks or nails held the pages of phone books or… Bibles. Then again, Discepolo might simply have been waxing Surrealistic. We’ll never know.

"Discepolo’s vitriolic tango, which is now a quotable classic in its home country, where nearly everyone knows at least a few lines."

“Cambalache,” despite (or because of) its boundless cynicism, remains profoundly popular in Argentina. Many have covered it, including traditional tango singers like Carlos Gardel, Tita Merello, and Julio Sosa, modern singers like Julio Iglesias and Andrés Calamaro, and even a rock band like Sumo. The decades that followed Discepolo’s lyrics brought along a slew of succeeding military coups, thousands of resulting deaths, and several economic crises, all but confirming the song’s slogan: “20th Century bazaar, problematic and feverish.” Against so much upheaval, perhaps “Cambalache” has played a kind of therapeutic role over the years.


Que el mundo fue y será una porquería
ya lo sé...
(¡En el quinientos seis
y en el dos mil también!).
Que siempre ha habido chorros,
maquiavelos y estafaos,
contentos y amargaos,
valores y dublé...
Pero que el siglo veinte
es un despliegue
de maldá insolente,
ya no hay quien lo niegue.
Vivimos revolcaos
en un merengue
y en un mismo lodo
todos manoseaos...

¡Hoy resulta que es lo mismo
ser derecho que traidor!...
¡Ignorante, sabio o chorro,
generoso o estafador!
¡Todo es igual!
¡Nada es mejor!
¡Lo mismo un burro
que un gran profesor!
No hay aplazaos
ni escalafón,
los inmorales
nos han igualao.
Si uno vive en la impostura
y otro roba en su ambición,
¡da lo mismo que sea cura,
colchonero, rey de bastos,
caradura o polizón!...
¡Qué falta de respeto, qué atropello
a la razón!

¡Cualquiera es un señor!
¡Cualquiera es un ladrón!
Mezclao con Stavisky va Don Bosco
y "La Mignón",
Don Chicho y Napoleón,
Carnera y San Martín...
Igual que en la vidriera irrespetuosa
de los cambalaches
se ha mezclao la vida,
y herida por un sable sin remaches
ves llorar la Biblia
contra un calefón...

¡Siglo veinte, cambalache
problemático y febril!...
El que no llora no mama
y el que no afana es un gil!
¡Dale nomás!
¡Dale que va!
¡Que allá en el horno
nos vamo a encontrar!
¡No pienses más,
sentate a un lao,
que a nadie importa
si naciste honrao!
Es lo mismo el que labura
noche y día como un buey,
que el que vive de los otros,
que el que mata, que el que cura
o está fuera de la ley...



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