Tango Lyrics in Spanish and English


Malena (1942)


Music by: Lucio Demare
Lyrics by: Homero Manzi
Translated by: Alberto Paz
Return to Table of Contents
Last update on: 3/6/06

The making of Malena
by Alberto Paz
Edited by Valorie Hart

Elena Tortolero, the daughter of natives from Andalucia in Spain, was born in Argentina but grew up in Brazil because her father was named to head the Spanish diplomatic office in Porto Alegre. She acquired a highly polished bilingual education in Spanish and Portuguese and she also developed a natural inclination for singing internationally popular songs. She became a professional singer, known as Helena de Toledo. Porto Alegre, being the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, shares many regional melodies that are close to the Argentine tunes heard on the other side of the border. So it wasn't strange that Helena introduced the Tango to her repertoire.

Homero Manzi (1907-1951), a fine Argentine poet who seldom left the boundaries of the Argentine soil, had visited several Latin American countries to attend conferences and give lectures on one of his favorite subjects: nationalism and the rights of authors and composers to protect their intellectual work. Making a stop in Brazil, Manzi happened to be one night in the audience of a night club where he heard Helena sing. Far from Buenos Aires, Manzi was inspired by the emotional discovery of the music of Buenos Aires in a foreign environment. The unusual physical and spiritual authenticity of Helena’s delivery touched him. On the trip back to Buenos Aires he jotted down the verses describing Helena, whom he had renamed Malena.

Once Homero Manzi completed the literary structure of the song, he delivered it to Lucio Demare, who tagged a catchy tune to it and turned over to Anibal Troilo. Pichuco premiered it during the 1942 carnaval season, with the voice of Fiorentino. Helena de Toledo moved from Brazil to Cuba. There she met singer Jenaro Salinas They fell in love and they got married. Sharing a love for life and art, they traveled together. It is in Mexico where Helena first heard "her Tango" and found out about the circumstances that provoked its creation. The legend says that, feeling overwhelmed by the image cast from the verses, Helena decided to give up singing. So "Malena" became Elena Tortolero de Salinas.

Eventually she and her husband returned to Buenos Aires where they set up residence. Jenaro continued touring Latin America, while she began to establish herself as an artistic agent. In 1957 while on tour, Jenaro tragically died in Caracas, Venezuela. Two years later on a business trip to the Republic Oriental of Uruguay, Elena passed away. Close friends affirm that she never laid claims to being the Malena of the Tango. She was a woman that Buenos Aires got to know as a common human being, with a name and surname alien to the simple name that poet Homero Manzi gave her to transform her, in a moment of inspiration, into a melodic princess on peoples’ lips. People never knew nor will ever know how she sang.
Sources: Asi nacieron los tangos, by Francisco Garcia Jimenez - Acho Manzi, personal interviews.

Version en castellanoEnglish translation
Malena canta el tango como ninguna
y en cada verso pone su corazon.
A yuyo del suburbio su voz perfuma,
Malena tiene pena de bandoneon.
Tal vez, alla en la infancia, su voz de alondra
tomo ese tono oscuro del callejon,
o acaso aquel romance que solo nombra
cuando se pone triste con el alcohol.
Malena canta el tango con voz de sombra;
Malena tiene pena de bandoneón.

Tu cancion
tiene el frio del ultimo encuentro,
tu cancion
se hace amarga en la sal del recuerdo.
Yo no se
si tu voz es la flor de una pena,
solo se que al rumor de tus tangos, Malena,
te siento mas buena,
mas buena que yo.

Tus ojos son oscuros como el olvido,
tus labios, apretados como el rencor,
tus manos, dos palomas que sienten frio,
tus venas tienen sangre de bandoneon.
Tus tangos son criaturas abandonadas
que cruzan sobre el barro del callejon,
cuando todas las puertas estan cerradas
y ladran los fantasmas de la cancion.
Malena canta el tango con voz quebrada;
Malena tiene pena de bandoneon.
Malena sings the tango like no one else
and in every single verse she pours her heart.
Like a slum weed her voice exude
Malena has the sadness of a bandoneon.
Perhaps, back in her childhood, her lark’s voice
acquired that dark intonation of a back alley,
or maybe it is the romance she only names
when she gets sad with the alcohol.
Malena sings the tango with a somber voice;
Malena has the sadness of a bandoneon.

Your song
has the cold of the last encounter,
your song
embitters itself with a salty remembrance.
I don’t know
if your voice is the bloom of a sadness;
all I know that in the muttering of your tangos, Malena,
I sense you are better,
much better than me.

Your eyes are dark like the oblivion,
your lips, pressed tight in a grimace of rancor
your hands, two doves that suffer the cold,
your veins have blood of bandoneon.
Your tangos are forsaken creatures
that walk across the mud of a back alley,
when all the doors are locked
and the spirits of the song howl.
Malena sings the tango with a choking voice,
Malena has the sadness of a bandoneon.

Do You Have Any Questions, Requests or Comments?

Your name, please 

Write  your message in the space provided below, please