Music: Ricardo Malerba / Dante Smurra – Lyrics: Julio Navarrine
From the urbane, Parisian ‘Lady of the Camellias’ to the ‘Girl of the Jasmines’ in the slums of Buenos Aires…
This Tango depicts a fall from grace, as a fresh-faced working-class girl is gradually seduced by her false lover, with promises of bohemian freedom, of a life beyond the monotonous toil of factory work that awaits her daily. What is particularly interesting is the lightness of touch with which this sad story is told, as well as the cultural influences it reveals.
The narrative of decline is only hinted at – the jasmine bloom initially worn by the girl as a symbol of hope and anticipation of a bright future is described as dying by the end of the song, the useless guardian of the heart and spirit the young factory worker has already relinquished.
Y en el pecho tembloroso de la reina suburbana, un jazmín agonizaba cuando ella dijo: “Sí…”
And in the quivering breast of this princess of the slums, a jasmine bloom withered when she said ‘Yes…’
This tale of false and unhappy love is also conveyed through the multiple references to doomed and imperfect loves and tragic heroines of late 19th century literary and musical French culture: her seducer calls the girl with the jasmine blooms his ‘Marguerite of the slums’, in reference to the tragic figure of Marguerite Gautier, the main character of Dumas’s ‘The Lady of the Camellias’, Mimi (‘La Boheme’, by Puccinni) and a ‘Grisette of Buenos Aires’.
Él le dijo: “Margarita del suburbio tan lozana, sos la estampa más porteña de Griseta y de Mimí.”
He told her, ‘You’re the lush Marguerite of the slums, the very picture of Grisette, the Mimi of Buenos Aires.’
This last nickname is particularly interesting as it mimics the destiny of this young working class girl: the sense of the word ‘grisette’ changed subtly throughout the ages. In the late 17th century, it simply meant a ‘working-class woman’. By the mid-18th century however, a ‘grisette’ was ’a working woman who is coquettish and flirtatious’, hence the word was no longer simply a signifier for class status, but a marker of blatant (or perhaps even worse, ungoverned!) female sexuality as well.
Because this is Tango, it could not end happily, and this song charts the fall from humble, contented innocence to a life of betrayed disenchantment.
La piba de los jazmines has been translated by Tanguito, Argentine Tango Academy in London, with the help of a fantastic milonguera friend. If you have any comment or other interpretations of the lyrics, please feel free to share your opinion, we’d love to hear what you think. 🙂
We published a tanda with La Piba de Los Jazmines.. Check it out if you want to get into a milonga mood already! 🙂
You can also check a couple of performances.
|La piba de los jazmines |
No hubo piba tan hermosa
|The Girl of the Jasmines |
From the Bajo to la Barranca,
|Más de un guapo prepotente |
hizo rollo en su ventana.
Quièn la vieron los domingos
hacer guardia en el portón
y ostentando muy ufana,
un jazmín prendido al pecho custodiando al corazón.
|Many was the handsome buck |
Who serenaded her window.
You should have seen her on Sundays,
Standing sentry by the gate
And on her breast proudly displaying
The jasmine bloom guarding her heart.
|Culpa fue de aquel soñado |
malandrín de sus amores,
que diciendo “triunfo” el solo
las cuarenta le acusó.
Volcó en un amorío
le hizo ver los esplendores,
de otra vida y de otro mundo
y ella ciega, sonriò.
| All the blame lies with that gambler, |
That wastrel she foolishly worshipped
The only one who won her heart
Was the one who broke her spirit
Weaving his seduction
He offered a glimpse of splendour
Of other lives and other worlds.
And blindly, she beamed at him.
|Él le dijo: “Margarita |
del suburbio tan lozana,
sos la estampa más porteña
de Griseta y de Mimí.”
Y en el pecho tembloroso
de la reina suburbana,
un jazmín agonizaba
Cuando ella dijo: “Sí…”
|He told her, ‘You’re the lush |
Marguerite of the slums,
The very picture of Grisette,
The Mimi of Buenos Aires.’
And in the quivering breast
Of this princess of the slums
A jasmine bloom withered
When she said ‘Yes…’