In Abasto, Tango Meets Street Art

Buenos Aires is famous for rich artistic traditions from tango music to street art. On a short stroll around the barrio of Abasto, you can observe the colorful point of intersection between the two.

A barrio steeped in tango history

Carlos Gardel, the great tango legend, was born in France in 1890. But he emigrated to Argentina with his mother when he was only two years old, and spent his childhood years in the centrally located neighborhood of Abasto in Buenos Aires. So many years later – after playing a key role in popularizing tango music around the world, breaking hearts, selling tens of thousands of records, and perishing tragically in a plane crash at the height of his career – ‘Carlitos’ is still strongly associated with the barrio. Tourists come to visit Gardel’s childhood home, now the Museo Casa Carlos Gardel. The surrounding blocks are filled with street art paying homage to the tango great and his contemporaries.

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Mural depicting Carlos Gardel – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Tango on the walls

Probably the best-known piece of street art in the neighborhood is the mural on the corner of Jean Jaures and Zelaya. Gardel’s smiling likeness – conventionally handsome and colorfully rendered, dapper in his signature fedora – marks the entrance to the short pedestrian promenade known as Pasaje Zelaya.

Along the passageway, several buildings have been painted with lyrics and music once performed by the tango great. Particularly well-preserved is the music to the 1935 tango  ‘Volver,’ with lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera. A key stanza of the bittersweet song, in translation: ‘To return, with a withered face, the snows of time have silvered my temples. To feel that life is but a breath of air, that twenty years are nothing…’

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“Volver” mural – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Further along the block, another mural spells out the lyrics of ‘Tinta Roja,’ a 1941 tango with music by Sebastián Piana and lyrics by Cátulo Castillo. The cheerful blue and white slightly betrays the melancholy edge of the lyrics (again, in loose translation: ‘Big wall, red ink on the gray of yesterday…’)

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“Tinta Roja” mural – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Look down: on the sidewalk, the words to ‘El Último Café,’ a tango written decades later with music by Héctor Stamponi and lyrics by Cátulo Castillo, are etched into the concrete. To translate, The memory of you comes toward me like a whirlwind, returning on an autumn evening, I watch the rain, and as I look, I swirl my teaspoon in the cup…’

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“El Ultimo Cafe” lyrics on the sidewalk – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Also to look for in the neighborhood: a peeling mural that once pictured the music of the tango  ‘Cuando Tu No Estás’ (When You’re Not There) and an eye-catching wall on Jean Jaures that features Gardel’s face and the title of one of his most famous tangos, ‘Mi Buenos Aires Querido’ (My Beloved Buenos Aires.)

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“Mi Buenos Aires Querido” mural – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

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