Whilst the first tangos had no written lyrics, in some cases, either the musicians or a singer (the “payador”, folksinger, minstrel) improvised some in the spur of the moment.
The first tango with written lyrics is widely thought to be “Dame la lata”, composed by Juan Perez around 1880, and considered to be one of the first examples of lunfardo poesy. It is quite likely that other tangos have been written at the same time – including “El Tero” and “Andáte a la Recoleta “.
First tangos were quite crude in terms of themes and language, as they reflected the reality of the poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires at the time.
The story behind “Dame la lata”
“Dame la lata” can be translated as “Gimme the tinplate”. It is set in a brothel and by talking about how money changed hands, it also evokes the life of prostitutes, pimps and brothel managers.
Tinplates or metal tokens were used in the prostitution scene in Buenos Aires at the time the song was written. Brothel managers received cash from clients and gave tinplates to the prostitutes, who would then hand them to their pimps. In exchange of tinplates, prostitues would only get a portion of the money back. The system was put together to prevent prostitutes from having access to the money they were making, ensuring they could not gain any independance.
“Dar la lata” is an expression that is still used in modern Argentine Spanish and now means to bother someone.
Listen to “Dame la lata”
Sorry, we only found an instrumental version of “Dame la lata” but it’s still interesting to hear the simple arrangements of the Guarda Vieja.
“Dame la lata” translated in English
Dame la lata
Que vida mas arrastrada
Dame la lata que has escondido,
Gimme the tinplate
It’s a miserable life
Cough up the tinplates, you slag
Thanks a lot to Juan Pablo and Cassilda for their kind help on the translation of this song, two wonderful milongueros and dear friends.
See you tomorrow to open your next Tango Advent Calendar window!
Abrazo, Nati y Bruno