Tango Habanero (‘Youkali’)

Tango Habanero (or ‘Youkali’) is probably the most popular music piece of the (musical) play ‘Marie Galante’ (based on a novel written by Jacques Deval). There is too much to tell about ‘Marie Galante’: first of all, the book was quite a hit and even attracted the eyes of a Hollywood studio which eventually adapted it for the American audience (and unfortunately, heavily changed the original storyline to include a happy end) [1934].

Because of the novel’s success, Weill was asked to compose the music for the upcoming play. Weill, short on time, eventually settled on combining newly composed tunes and earlier written pieces. To make things worse, the composer and Deval didn’t really get along very well. Weill wrote to his wife:

Deval is causing major headaches. He is absolutely the worst literary schwein I’ve ever met, and that’s saying a lot. [… H]e said he could concentrate on Marie galante 100%. So I call him today, and he says he is taking off in two weeks—for Hollywood! In other words, he has no intention of writing the play.

The play eventually premiered but closed within 2 weeks because of bad reviews. The music however survived, surprisingly: the song ‘J’attends un Navire’, for example, was adapted by the French resistance during the Second World War. And in 1946, the ‘Tango Habanero’ was set to words by Roger Fernay and transformed into the French song we now know as ‘Youkali’, to much acclaim, of course. Many critics agree that with the songs and music for ‘Marie galante’, Weill perfectly captured the French sentiment and identity.

So, ‘Youkali’ then (30+ second fragment), or rather, the ‘Tango Habenero’. The song itself has been sung by many sopranos and popular singers, most notably by Canadian soprano Teresa Stratas (perfect YouTube video), for the ‘September Songs’ project. The song is also part of Ute Lemper’s repertoire: Personally, I’m not a great fan of her voice and presentation though (but then, some people prefer modern versions of the song).

1. Excellent background on ‘Marie galante’.
2. I also see that the Roma Opera performed ‘Marie galante’ in 2007 (YouTube), starring soprano Chiara Muti (warning: Italian language ahead).

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