The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Francisco Canaro (“El pirincho”) – El Kaiser del Tango

Francisco Canaro was not only the King of Tango, but more than that, he was called the Kaiser. Why ? Let us listen to the big Canaro Tangos after a close look at his biography.

Canaro, born 1888 in San Jose de Mayo (Uruguay) as child of Italian immigrants with the name “Canarozzo” [3]. His Nickname “Pirincho” originated from his midwife exclaiming at birth that his hair looks like a “Pirincho”, a crested bird of the Rio de la Plata [1, 8].

He started his musical career soon after immigrating to Buenos Aires at the age of 10, where he and his family lived in dire poorness in a conventillo and Francisco worked as a paperboy and a house painter [8, 9]. Interestingly, it took him until 1940 to become an Argentinean citizen. You may or may not believe the story that he constructed his first violin from an empty oil can. In 1900 he already played the violin in an instrumental trio [2]. He remembered the first Tango he played was El Llorón [8]. In his biography he tells the story that, while playing with two friends in a remote township of the Province Buenos Aires in 1906, he was scared by bullets flying around and hitting the wooden structure of the platform [9].

It is true, that he finally learned to play the Tango from one of his neighbors, Bandoneon player Vincente Greco [3], in whose orchestra he started his professional career as a musician in 1908 [8]. In 2012 he composed his first Tangos “Pinta brava” and “Matasanos” and around 700 compositions and 3800 recorded tangos [5] followed until he passed away in 1964 [1, 2]. He published his memoirs in 1956 (“Mis 50 anos con el Tango”) [8].


Because Canaro started his work very early, some people classify him into the so called “Guardia vieja” (old guard) era of Tango. This is only half the truth, Canaros musical work spans from “guardia vieja” up to post “golden age” time, always adapting well to the actual musical style, so he is like other orchestras difficult to classify and calling him a “golden age” orchestra leader is probably not the whole truth.

Canaro was always very successful, not alone in music, but also in business and finally he became incredibly rich (earning him the second nickname “El Kayser”), running a business together with his brothers. His first own orchestra he founded in 1916 together with pianist Jose Martinez (Orquesta Canaro-Martinez), which later (1917) was integrated into the Orquesta Firpo-Canaro.Until 1918 he led 4 Orchestras together with his brothers, playing in the cabarets of Buenos Aires [9].

The first big Orchester with his name was founded in 1925 [3]. In 1932 he founded a quinteto (Quinteto Don Pancho, which was his nickname in Spain) and later (1940) Quinteto Pirincho, using his first Nickname. The Quintetos were only used for recording and never played for the dancers [7], but they coexisted with the big orquesta and other orquestas led by Canaros brothers.

Earning money mainly from his music, Canaro started to fight for intellectual property rights since 1918 and so he finally founded the Argentine Society of Composers and Songwriters (SADAIC= Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores de Musica) in 1935 [3].

As Tango dancers, we typically ask for the sound of his Tango Music. Canaro typically played for the dancers, so his Tangos were played with a soft, grounded rhythm. Sometimes he also played songs with a more melodical, romantical style. Canaro has invented a lot. First, he changed the music from a 2/4 measure to a 4/4 measure, making the Tango more pronounced and emancipating it from the Habanera rhythm. Secondly, he invented the sexteto tipica. When he was asked in 1916 to set up an orchestra for the carnival in Rosario [4], when the piano already was introduced by R.Firpo. Canaro set up two Bandoneones and two Violins to balance the loudness of the piano. Later he asked the Double-Bass player L.Thompson (actually a Jazz musician) to join in. This has formed the sextet tipico for Tango music.

In 1925 he visited Paris (just then in the state of Tangomania) with a Trio formed by him and his brothers, where he was really succesful. Back in Argentina, Canaro was also very successful to enter the business of radio, which started to become important at that time, making sure, his name was known to everybody and he was a mayor star at the radio[8].



After being very successful with Musicals, he had some severe financial drawbacks, when entering the film business with a company “Rio de la Plata”, he founded in 1934 [9].

Canaro played with Tango singers since 1924, mainly as Estribillistas (singing only the refrain). Starting with Roberto Diaz (the first one), the most important singers were (playing some of the really big songs for Milongas):

-Roberto Diaz


-Ernesto Fama

– Roberto Maida


-Enrique Rondo

-Francisco Amor

-Carlos Roldan


Canaro also played with female singers. Most important were Azucena Maizani, which he discovered [3]:

and Ada Falcon, whith whom he had a romantic affair from the early 20ies to the 30ies (ending tragically [6]):

Just another very famous vals is also a composition of Canaro (here in a version by Libertad Lamarque):


One of the most important Tango songs for the female voice (“Se dice de mi”) was Canaros composition, here performed by Tita Merello:

The most frequently played and also very unique Tango is of course Poema, which is a romantic tango sung by Roberto Maida. Some people say, that this song is truely overplayed at milongas, but it is nevertheless one of Canaros most beautiful Tangos.

Even if really overplayed, dancers love it, but it is quite difficult to construct a balanced Tanda around it.

So Canaro will always be the Orchestra leader who is remembered by the Milongueros as the one who played only for the dancers and always adjusted to their needs and the musical fashion.It can be argued, whether the rhythmical and musical simplicism of his compositions are a product of his musical mediocicy or a calculated style aiming at the dancers and the simple people, which he always recognized as his customers.

Even in today´s Milongas, Canaro is typically played mainly for beginners and the more complex and romantic songs are played for the advanced dancers as well.



-DJ Ricardo





4. Birkenstock, A and Rüegg, H.: Tango. DTV, 2001.





9. Reichardt, D: Tango. Suhrkamp, 1984.

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