This morning I woke to the news of the death of Juan Carlos Cáceres in Paris. All of us who have jumped up and grabbed a partner when we heard the opening chords of “Tango Negro” or “Tocá Tangó” know very well the beauty and joy of his creations. Those words are forever soaked in his music. I cannot say “Tango Negro” without a little voice inside my head repeating “Tango Negro” afterwards, just as in the song. Same thing happens with “Tocá Tangó”: those words don’t come out normally; they are drenched in his music and burst out sung not spoken.
When I last saw Cáceres in Paris at a concert we performed at his atelier in Montmartre, he was already ill with the brain tumor that would eventually bring him down. He complained of the things he could not do, how hard it was for him to even write.
Cáceres was a lion. He was not a soft, cuddly grandfatherly character. He was cranky and curmudgeonly. He chased every skirt that crossed his path. He could be arrogant and unbearable at times. Even those who were closest to him — or especially those people — would have running battles with him which might go on for years at a time.
Ariel Prat was one of those. But I was standing beside Prat when he learned that Cáceres was ill. We were at a street milonga in Villa Urquiza. Prat had just come off the stage and a friend from Paris told him that Cáceres was dying. Prat, shaken, said, “We’ve got to do something.”
Since that night in February, Prat worked tirelessly and hastily to organize a celebration of Cáceres in Buenos Aires. “I couldn’t allow him to go from this world without there being some sort of official celebration of his work in Buenos Aires. He deserves that.”
Prat worked the halls of the Ministry of Culture and called up musician friends to come and play. He arranged a concert at the iconic Auditorium at Radio Nacional, that temple erected to the glory of Argentine music. Importantly, he also arranged to have the concert filmed and delivered to Cáceres while he could still see it.
The concert took place on April 1. Cáceres died on April 5.
Many artists got up on stage to perform their versions of Cáceres songs. (María Volonté and I played “Bar Florida,” a melancholy, down-tempo tune about a love affair that never even got started.) At the end of the night, everyone joined on stage to sing “La Retirada,” a song Prat and Cáceres composed together. Inspired in the retiradas (exit songs) that the murga groups sing when they finish their performance and are saying goodbye, it becomes an anthem in the hands of Prat and Cáceres: the show is over, the magic of carnaval is receding quickly, soon only memories will remain.
Cáceres in the afterlife will remain the lion and quilombero he was in this one. The streets of Heaven will be more lively for it.
Enjoy Ariel Prat on YouTube:
Just found out about Juan Carlos today, more than a year after his passing. We met almost sixty years ago when we were young jazz musicians in Buenos Aires. As with almost everybody else, we did have some tempestuous moments, one of which ended with punches thrown. Juan Carlos, or “el Gordo”, as he was affectionately called on occasion, introduced me to the beatnik influenced underground jazz scene in Buenos Aires, where I made friends, suffered a broken heart, and developed an affinity for art, music, and the pursuit of excess. With gratitude, I bid you adieu, JC…