7 essential Spanish words for understanding tango lyrics
When you are dancing in milongas, have you ever wonder what those tango lyrics you are listening to are about? While understanding the whole Spanish lyrics often requires a near-native level of Spanish, which we may not be there yet, knowing some words that frequently appear in the lyrics would definitely help us to get a feeling of what the song is about, and makes it easier for us to get into the mood while dancing to it.
In this blog post we have compiled a list of 7 common Spanish words in tango songs, each with its explanation in English, and an example of a tango song in which the word appears.
“Amor” means love, and perhaps the central theme of all tango.
One representing tango song that contains this word is “Hasta Siempre Amor” (Farewell, love) (Music by Donato Racciatti; lyrics by Federico Silva). The song has been interpreted by many different orchestras, such as D’Arienzo, Di Sarli, and Salamanca.
When we listen to the song, we will hear the phrase “hasta siempre amor” being repeated many times in the lyrics, for example:
“Hasta siempre, amor,
cuando sueñes conmigo
(when you dream about me)
en las noches de frío
(on cold nights)
ya no estaré…”
(I will no longer be there…)1
Click here to listen to the version by orchestra Juan D’Arienzo and singer Jorge Valdez.
“Abrazo” means embrace, the essential element of tango. The verb form of the word is “abrazar” (to hug).
We can find the word “abrazar” in “Volvamos a empezar” (Let’s start over again) (Music by Daniel Álvarez; lyrics by Eduardo Maradei):
Nuestro cachorros como ayer
(Our kids (puppies) are just as before (yesterday))
Como me abrazan otra vez…”
(How they hug me once again…)2
Click here to listen to version by orchestra Alfredo de Angelis and singer Óscar Larroca.
“La despedida” (Farewell) is a recurring theme in tango.
The song “Fueron tres años” (3 years have passed) (Music and lyrics by Juan Pablo Marín) describes the heartbreak of a man separating from his lover:
“Aún tengo fuego en los labios,
(I still have fire on my lips)
del beso de despedida.
(from the farewell kiss.)
¿Cómo pensar que mentías
(How could I think you were lying)
si tus negros ojos lloraban por mí?”
(if your dark eyes were crying for me?)2
Click this link to listen to the version by orchestra Jorge Dragone and singer Argentino Ledesma.
“Mentira” means lie, and “mentir” is the verb form (to lie).
The song “Y todavía te quiero” (And still I love you, music by Luciano Leocata; lyrics by Abel Aznar) tells the torture and pain of a man being repeatedly deceived by the one that he loved:
“Sin embargo… ¿Por qué yo no grito
(But … Why I don’t cry)
que es toda mentira, mentira tu amor
(it’s all lies, your love is a lie)
y por qué de tu amor necesito,
(and why I need your love,)
si en él sólo encuentro martirio y dolor?”
(if in it I only find martyrdom and pain?)1
Click here to listen to how the song was interpreted by orchestra Di Sarli and singer Jorge Falcon.
Corazón (heart) is an important word in tango. How can you dance without your corazón?
In the song “Corazón ”, the lyricist Hector Marcó told a story via the lyrics how a man talked himself (his heart) to get over from a girl who had betrayed him:
no la llames
(don’t call to her)
ni le implores—
(don’t beg her for anything—)
que de tus amores
(from the ones you love)
nunca has merecido
(you have never deserved)
(so much humiliation.)3
The song was written by Carlos Di Sarli, let’s listen to how his orchestra and singer Roberto Rufino interpreted the song (Click here).
“Adios” means goodbye, another frequently appear topic in tango lyrics.
In “El adios” (Music by Maruja Pacheco Huergo), the lyricist Virgilio San Clemente wrote about the sorrow of parting from a lover:
“El sueño más feliz,
(The happiest dream,)
moría en el adiós
(died in the goodbye)
y el cielo para mí se oscureció
(for me, the sky became dark…)1
We have selected “El Adios” (The Goodbye) by orchestra Pugliese and singer Jorge Maciel for you, a powerful and sorrowful interpretation of the song (Click here to listen to the song).
Many songwriters expressed via tango lyrics their different kinds of “dolor” (pain) in life: the pain of losing a lover; parting from their family or being betrayed.
In this song “Lejos de Buenos Aires” (Far from Buenos Aires, music by Alberto Suárez Villanueva), the lyricist Oscar Rubens wrote about the pain of an old person recalling what he had abandoned: his family, his girlfriend and everything back in his native city Buenos Aires in order to chase after his dream, and at the end feeling lonely and regretful of staying on a foreign land where nobody cares about him:
“Lejos de la gran ciudad
(Far from the great city)
que me ha visto florecer,
(that witnessed my flourishing)
en las calles más extrañas
(in these strange streets)
siento el alma oscurecer.
(I feel the darkening of my soul)
Nadie observa mi final,
(No one notices my ending)
ni le importa mi dolor,
(nor care about my pain,)
nadie quiere mi amistad,
(nobody wants my friendship,)
sólo estoy con mi amargor…”
(I am just alone with my bitterness…)2
Click here to listen to the interpretation of the song by orchestra Miguel Caló, singer Raúl Berón.
References (Tango lyrics and translations)
The lyrics and translations of tango songs appear in this blog post were adapted from various online and published sources:
1. “Tango Lyrics page in Spanish with English translation” maintained by Alberto Paz: https://letrasdetango.wordpress.com/
2. “Tango words-a guide to tango lyrics with English translation Vol.1” by Manuel Garber: http://tangowords.com/
3. “Poesía de gotán: The poetry of the tango”: https://poesiadegotan.com/2009/04/09/corazon-1939/