Tanda of the week: Héctor Varela canta Rodolfo Lesica

Tanda of the week: Héctor Varela canta Rodolfo Lesica

Last week, I challenged myself to put together a good starter tanda. Well, this ain't it. It can break your heart, however. Would you accept that instead?

Héctor Varela was pretty famous in his time, and you will occasionally hear his orchestra at milongas and festivals (not on encuentros, I assume). I don't know if he minds, though: he made his dent in the tango history, and whatever is currently in or out of vogue, he is sure to come back - like the Terminator.

And the Terminator he is: I don't know who else should symbolize the absolute emotional maximums achievable in tango. Behind him, a wasteland of debris and tortured souls. You can't beat him at his game: if you tried, you'd produce a parody at best.


1) Historia de un amor (1956, F minor, 64 BPM)
2) Sin barco y sin amor (1955, C major/minor, 64 BPM)
3) Y todavía te quiero (1956, A minor, 66 BPM)
4) Canzoneta (1954, D minor/major, 66 BPM)

This tanda would fit the occasion when I don't want to give my dancers any break. It's dark end-to-end, with only a few passages in the major key.

I don't do this often. When I do, I mean it.

This Historia de un amor is at the top of my list. I love the versions by Gobbi and Donato, too, as well as that by Zaz. Given a Sophie's choice, so to speak, I'd pick Varela's.

Sin barco y sin amor starts in the major key but provides only temporary relief. It has a slow ending, which I don't like anywhere but in the last song in a tanda. I'll accept that in the 1st and 2nd if I have to. Here, I must: I wanted to put together the highlights of what Varela recorded in the 1950s with Lesica.

Y todavía te quiero makes no attempts to balance its lyricism with lighter notes. In this format (4x lyrical), its only job is not to overshadow the closer. I think it tries hard but I doesn't, fortunately.

My story of Canzoneta mirrors what I wrote about Historia de un amor. Both Gobbi and Pugliese recorded it with Jorge Maciel, and their takes are legendary. Do I have to pick favorites every time? I don't, but the first time I heard it was with Varela and Lesica, and their recording is thus laid deepest in my memory, yet to be replaced.


When I was a new DJ, I liked to play Varela a lot. I suppose that many times I was the only person in the room having fun.

Nowadays it takes a lot of warm-up before you can put Varela on the front burner. It's too intense. To be fair, it takes a mature dancer to do it right. You can't take Varela literally, and you sure as hell can't "go with the flow": you would kill the ronda.

I think the trade-off, when applied responsibly, is worth it. Don't succumb, don't go crazy, internalize the passion and project using your feet only what you can project safely.

These days I don't dance (thanks for nothing, COVID) so it's private practice only. I danced this tanda with my 2-month old son in my arms. He gets agitated in the evenings and tango calms him down. Even Varela. I was impressed how well he followed my lead.

He had no issues with the rubatos, none.

It really isn't all that hard.

image credit goes to Nijwam Swargiary

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