Translation from Revista Ñ (Clarín), with media research by Luigi Seta
Throughout the 20s, the use of cocaine is reflected in tango, being this a topic maybe little known outside of the Rio de la Plata. Drugs at the time (and its addiction) where almost the exclusive field of the “Niños Bien” ("rich kids", sons of the oligarchs, livestocks ranchers and the related upper middle class) that fueled for the exorbitant surplus of their families, went to Paris to study, discovered the ascendent tango, to then comeback and mix the dance with their unprejudiced habits. Let’s take a look at how tango transpired this... LS.
The night as territory of excesses also rhymed sometimes with tango. The link between tango and cocaine is a veiled relationship. In the murmur of the tango world, it is said, it is suspected, but nobody puts the matter down in black and white. Now, why is the question not asked in other environments, such as cinema industry, horse races, or medicine?
|The cabaret in the 1920s|
Cocaine has more than one expression in the Lunfardo jargon (merlusa, chabona, camerusa, falopa, etc.). One of them, the best known in our country and in those years, is the word “merca”. There are two hypotheses about its origin: the first is the writing by Oscar Conde, a member of the Buenos Aires Lunfardo Academy and author of several books on the subject. He argues that "merca" is a apocopated form of "merchandise." The other version is the one that maintains that it is a derivative of the American laboratory "Merck", at the same time the last name of the owner of the company.
|The lunfardo word "merca" derived from "Merck"|
In the 20s, when tango splendor began, the use of cocaine was banned. Actually in 1919, with Mr. Hipolito Yrigoyen as president, only pharmacies and drug stores could import opium, morphine, hemp and cocaine; but nobody paid attention to him. In that same decade, before and after its definitive ban, cocaine, morphine and opium were a recurring habit.
In the magazines of the time, the use of drugs was a motive for journalistic notes. In Caras y Caretas, (faces and masks, an immensely popular topical magazine of the time), it is denounced that the drug is expanded and that it is easily achieved: "It goes without saying that the cabarets are the indicated centers for the trade of this kind of “joys”".
The cabaret, where drugs were distributed, was one of the tango’s environment. Cannot be found anywhere who consumed, although there was no persecution and the use of cocaine was not a public issue for authorities. However, throughout the 20s, the use of drugs is reflected in the lyrics of the tango canción.
The song where this is most eloquently presented is "Los Dopados" (the doped), with lyrics by Raúl Doblas and Alberto Weisbach and music by Juan Carlos Cobián (later it will be "Los Mareados", with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo). Before being a tango, it was a sainete (popular opera piece, consisting in a one-act dramatic vignette, with tango music) written by Weisbach where the subject was drug use.
The action of the "Los Dopados" sainete transcurre in a cabaret, where the high society “boys” get their grams and in the background, drama is developed over an excess of stimulants that translates into an atmosphere of sneer and violence.
Javier and Geraldine dancing to "Los Mareados" (Los Dopados)
Maestro Pugliese instrumental version
Please note how the dancers interpreted the drama
The following are tangos, among others, where these type of lyrics are heard:
"El Taita del Arrabal" (the outskirts goon) by Manuel Romero, 1922: "Poor goon, many nights, fully doped with morphine, sleeping in a corner, under a cop’s vigilance."
"Milonga Fina" (flapper girl) by Celedonio Flores, 1924: "You declared yourself as flapper girl when you left the barrio with that little-clever guy, who fool you with cocaine and took you to Armenonville (the most famous and upscale cabaret in the 20s).
"Griseta" (factory girl, tango explanation on the precedent link) by J. González Castillo, 1924: "And one night of champagne and snow, at the funeral's whisper of a bandoneon, poor dear, she felt asleep...".
"Fanfarrón" (braggart) by E. Cadícamo, 1928: "Those are lies... pure fantasy, that you dope with cocaine and when being bored you “go for a walk” in a Citroén".
All these verses are from the Roaring Twenties in Buenos Aires. The tango canción is incorporated into that cloud of foreignness and consumption... of a walk on Florida Street and of love affairs in the downtown's Madame houses.
Modernity at this time becomes unbearable for those who foreshadow an entourage from the previous times. For others: the young people of a restless and quarrelsome middle class, with clenched teeth and glassy eyes, modernity is the fun of the cabaret with its ritual. What followed.. it remained silent.
Perfume based on cocaine - 1930s
In the cluster of conjectures, it was said that, from the 40s onwards, the mountains of the Córdoba province were the most suitable place to cure addiction. Beyond the rumors, what is true is that the relationship of tango with coke and heroine has been a matter since the late 1880s.
Tango and tanguer@s are little to nothing interested in that.