Siempre Es Carnaval

by Naomi Harris

I started thinking about tango lyrics when one of my teachers told me about one of his performances; he explained how his partner (who wasn’t a native Spanish speaker, he emphasized), didn’t listen to the lyrics and ended up smiling hugely through the depressingly sad song they were dancing to.  My teacher described this as an example of how we need to understand the lyrics to fully understand the song, because even songs that sound happy and upbeat could be sending a different message entirely.  

Well, not for nothing had I spent the last three years translating and performing literary criticism, so I decided not to take his word for it.  The song they danced to was “Siempre es Carnaval,” by Fresedo, a song about deception, masks, debts, and everlasting Carnival.  And yes, the song is dreadfully depressing; despite the cheerful-sounding music, the tone is sarcastic and cynical as the singer describes dishonesty and the garish nightmare of a never-ending Carnival.  

¡Y viva el carnaval!
Vos ves siempre lucecitas,
sos la eterna mascarita
que gozás con engañar.
And long live Carnival!
You always see fairy-lights,
You are the eternal masquerade
Because you revel in trickery.  

After thinking about the lyrics and then listening to the song again, I found I sided more with the smiling partner than with my teacher; to me, the image of her broad, unwavering smile mimics the unnerving, inauthentic smiles that the lyrics describe. Overall, I thought my teacher underestimated his partner’s interpretation of the music, since her incongruous smile conveyed more of the discomfort of the song than his grave face, and, rather, that the combination of their smiling and frowning faces illustrated the discordant lyrics and music perfectly.  But don’t believe me; look up the lyrics for yourself!  Todotango and poesiadegotan are excellent resources to learn more about what you listen to, which I highly suggest you do.  Learning the dance without learning the music is like learning to climb stairs but never going hiking; you can do it mechanically, sure, but you miss a spectacular view.  Only, in this case, you miss the poetry, the meaning, and the culture.

siempre es carnaval