Argentine Tango Singer – Roberto Goyeneche, ‘El Polaco’

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While the Argentine tango singer Roberto Emilio Goyeneche was nicknamed ‘El Polaco’ (‘the Pole’) for his blond hair and thinness like Polish immigrants of the time, he was actually of Basque descent. He is considered to have epitomised the bohemian life of 1950s Buenos Aires.

Goyeneche was born on 29 January 1926 in the neighbourhood of Saavedra in Buenos Aires. His career in music began in 1944, when he was 18 years old. After winning a local contest, Goyeneche joined the orchestra of Raul Kaplun. His debut performance was broadcast on Radio Belgrano. He then went on to sing with Angel Diaz for Horacio Salgan’s orchestra. It was Diaz who gave Goyeneche the nickname ‘El Polaco.’

In 1956, Anibal Troilo, a dear friend and a bandleader with an eye for talent, hired Goyeneche to join his orchestra. Together, they recorded 26 songs. In 1963 he started his solo career, which had the highlight of Goyeneche being the first singer to record Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Balada Para un Loco’ (‘Ballad for the Crazy One’). He continued to sing under other great maestros of the time, such as Armando Pontier, Raúl Garello, Atilio Stampone, Baffa-Berlingieri and many others. Goyeneche later reunited with Troilo to record two LPs, ‘El Polaco y yo’ (‘The Pole and I’) and ‘¿Te acordás Polaco?’ (‘Do You Remember Polish?’)

Goyeneche had the reputation of being a singer like no other. His diction was deemed perfect, even in the later years of his life. He was expressive in his phrasing and added particular details to his recordings and performances which made him a unique vocalist. He had his way of handling accents and silence, he delayed some words of the lyrics, he would intimately whisper a line–all of which made him exceptional and easily recognisable.

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Goyeneche was also considered a singer who was a respectful interpreter of the tango rhythm during a period when soloists mixed with ballads or other sophisticated songs with a tango influence. He recorded hits like ‘El Motivo’ (‘The Motive’), ‘La última curda’ (‘The Final Curse’), ‘Naranjo en Flor’ (‘Orange Blossom’), ‘Qué Solo Estoy’ (‘How Lonely I Am’), ‘Lejana Tierra Mía’ (‘Far Away From My Land’), ‘Volvió una Noche’ (‘He Returned One Night’), ‘Pompas de Jabón’ (‘Soap Bubbles’), ‘Afiches’ (‘Posters’), ‘Maquillaje’ (‘Makeup’), ‘Malena,’ ‘Soy un arlequín’ (‘I’m A Harlequin’), ‘Maria,’ ‘Garua’ (‘Drizzle’), ‘Cuando Tallan los Recuerdos’ (‘When They Carve Memories’), and ‘Ya Vuelvo’ (‘I’ll Be Right Back’).

He toured internationally, with notable performances like singing in the ‘Tango Argentino’ at City Centre in 1985 and in Paris in 1987.

Even in the 1980s, Goyeneche was still an active performer, appearing as a special guest in movies like ‘El Exilio de Gardel’ (‘The Exile of Gardel’) and ‘Sur’ (‘South’) directed by Fernando Solanas.

Goyeneche died of kidney and heart failure on 27 August 1994 in Buenos Aires. He is considered one of the greatest tango singers of all time. He made more than 100 records over his 40-year career. An avenue of his childhood neighbourhood of Saavedra is named after him.

Julio Sosa, ‘El Varón del Tango’

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The tango singer Julio Sosa or ‘El Varon del Tango’ was born Julio María Sosa Venturini on 2 February 1926 in Las Piedras, a Canelones Department suburb of Montevideo, Uruguay. Sosa is considered to be one of the last great tango singers back when tango was winding down after reaching its peak in the 1940’s.

Sosa worked a myriad of unrelated jobs before becoming a star. He was born to a rural labourer, Luciano Sosa, and a washer-woman, Ana Maria Venturini. The young Sosa grew up in poverty. After finishing elementary school, he worked as a peddler’s assistant, itinerant biscuit vendor, municipal pruner, wagon washer, drugstore distributor and second-class sailor in the Naval aviation. His love for singing made him sign up for any available contests. He took off as a vocalist in Carlos Gilardoni’s orchestra and later moved to Montevideo to sing with the orchestras of Hugo Di Carlo, Epifanio Chaín, Edelmiro D’Amario and Luis Caruso. He was able to record for the first time in 1948.

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In June of 1949, Sosa moved to Buenos Aires, where he started out by singing at cafes and tried out for Joaquin Do Reyes’ orchestra, but did not succeed when the orchestra leader thought Sosa’s voice was somewhat harsh for his ensemble. Sosa finally got his big break when, in August of that year, he was discovered by the lyricist Raul Hormaza, who introduced Sosa to Enrique Maro Francini and Armando Pontier. The latter two were in search of a new singer for their orchestra. Before this gig, Sosa was only being paid twenty pesos a night, but he began earning 1,200 pesos a month.

Sosa went on to work with numerous other orchestras, including Francisco Rotundo’s. During this time, his most notable record included “Justo el treinta y uno”, “Bien bohemio” and “Mala suerte”. In 1955, he reunited with Pontier and cut such classics as “La gayola”, “Quién hubiera dicho”, “Padrino pelao”, “Martingala”, “Abuelito”, “Camouflage”, “Enfundá la mandolina”, “Tengo miedo”, “Cambalache”, “Brindis de sangre” and “No te apures Carablanca.”

Sosa showed his artistry in other ways when, in 1960, he released a book of poems, “Dos horas antes del alba” (“Two Hours Before Dawn”). He wrote tango lyrics as well with Edelmiro D’Amario. Also, in 1960, Sosa decided to become a soloist. He requested bandoneonist Leopoldo Federico to organise an accompanying orchestra. The foray proved to be a success. Sosa achieved record sales that seemed impossible for a tango singer in those days, when the young people were more drawn to nueva ola (the new wave). In 1964, Sosa sang and danced “El firulete” for the film “Buenas noches, Buenos Aires.”

Another one of Sosa’s passions was automobiles, specifically sports cars. He owned an Isetta, a De Carl 700 and a DKW Fissore model. All three cars involved him in collisions, but it was the third one that proved to be fatal. In the early hours of 25 November 1964, he crashed high speed his DKW Fissore into a traffic light at the corner of Figueroa Alcorta Avenue and Mariscal Castilla Street in Buenos Aires. He was brought to the Hospital Fernandez and passed away the next day at the age of 38. Just two days before, he had sung his last tango on the radio, “La gayola.”

Carlos Gardel, The Man Who Introduced Tango to the World

Carlos Gardel, Argentine Tango Singer

Born Charles Romuald Gardes, Carlos Gardel is known as “The King of Tango” and “The Creole Thrush.” His mother, Berthe Gardes, was poor and unmarried, and while his father is unknown, he is widely believed to be a businessman named Paul Lasserre. Gardel’s birthplace remains disputed to this day. There is a birth certificate stating he was born in Toulouse, France, but there is also a passport with Uruguay as his birthplace.

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Historian Luis Feldman says on the subject, “Since he could not return to France with the name of Charles Romuald Gardes, because he was a war deserter, he made a passport in the name of Carlos Gardel, born in Tacuarembo, Uruguay, on December 11, 1887.”

What is for certain is that Gardel came to Argentina in 1893 when he was two years old. He grew up working at opera houses as a professional applauder who roused the audiences. In 1906, Gardel quit high school and composer Jose Betinotti started mentoring him. Betinotti gave him the nickname “El Zorzal Crioll” (“The Creole Thrush”) for having a voice as lovely as a songbird’s. Gardel began his career at bars, parties, and restaurants. In 1910, he officially changed his name to Gardel as well as acquired the nickname, “El morocho del Abasto” (“The dark-haired guy from Abasto”).

In 1911, Gardel and singer Jose Razzano began what would be a lasting duo, and would expand to include guitarist and singer Francisco Martino and later, Saul Salinas. The quartet toured without much success and the latter two members eventually left. The remaining two continued under the name “Dúo Nacional Gardel-Razzano.” They played in major theaters throughout Argentina and in 1915, to Uruguay and Brazil.

Gardel’s rising career almost met an untimely end when he was shot in the chest on December 11, 1915. After performing at the San Martin theater, he was wounded during a bar room argument. The bullet of Ernesto Guevara Lynch (father of Che Guevara) was lodged in his lung and would stay there for the remainder of his life.

It was in 1917 when Gardel decided to make the move to tango. He was approached by songwriter Pascual Contursi, who had written lyrics to a tango originally titled ‘Lita’ by Samuel Castriota. Gardel performed the newly titled ‘Mi Noche Triste’ and the audience went wild. The song became the first ever recorded vocal tango.

In 1923, Gardel, together with Razzano, toured Europe, consequently introducing the rest of the world to vocal tango. Razzano left in 1925 and Gardel officially became a solo artist. He arrived in Paris in 1928 and the French enthusiastically embraced his style of tango.

Gardel broadened his horizons further when he signed a deal with Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures. While in France in 1930, he starred in his first feature film, ‘Luces de Buenos Aires,’ which was a hit in Latin America. In 1932, Paramount teamed up Garden with lyricist Alfredo LePera and together, they would write some of Gardel’s greatest hits, both songs and films.

In 1935, while promoting their latest film, ‘El Día Que Me Quieras,’ Gardel’s career and life met a tragic end. On June 24, he, LePera and the rest of their entourage boarded a plane in Medellin, Colombia. As the plane was getting ready to take off, it crashed into another plane killing Gardel. When the news spread, millions across Latin America and around the world mourned the loss of an icon. To this day, he is still considered an ambassador of Argentine tango and culture. He is buried at Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Adriana Varela, Tango Singer

Adriana Varela, Argentine Tango Singer

One of the biggest tango stars of today is Argentine tango singer Adrian Varela. She was born Beatriz Adriana Lichinchi on 9 May 1952 in Avellaneda. She is regarded as a talented tango performer and is known for singing both beautifully and sensually. A review by the BBC compares Varela to the Portuguese singer Mariza and no other contemporary female tango singer can rival Varela for sheer style and versatility.

Varela’s career launched in 1991 with a cassette tape called “Tangos.” Two years later, in 1993, she released her second album “Maquillaje” (“Makeup”). This record is particularly notable for her work with renowned tango artists, namely Roberto Goyeneche and pianist Virgilio Expositio. “Maquillaje” would go on to win the ACE (Asociación de Cronistas del Espectáculo or “Association of Show Writers”) awards for two years in a row. The ACE Award is a film and theatre award of Argentina that began in 1992.

Although she received some strong resistance from tango traditionalists, Varela’s fame continued to rise steadily. Between 1991 and 1996, she recorded three more albums:  “Corazones Perversos (Perverse Hearts)”, “Tangos De Lengue – Varela Canta A Cadícamo“, and “Tango En Vivo (Live Tango).” The latter was recorded live on June 1996 at the Coliseo Theatre in Buenos Aires. From 1996 to 1998, she grew even more in popularity. She performed at famous festivals, such as “La Mar De Músicas (The Sea of ​​Music)” in Cartagena, the Porto Alegre festival, and the Grec Festival in Barcelona. At the Grec Festival, Varela received a standing ovation that lasted for several minutes. She also held a recital in the woods of Palermo before an audience of 50,000.

Varela later participated in the Bajofondo Tango Club, an alternative electro-tango group. As lead singer, her notable performances with them include “Perfume” and “Mi Corazón (My Heart).” The group are considered tango innovators. In 1998, Varela joined the group Sexteto Mayor and recorded “Trottoirs de Buenos Aires.” Varela also enjoyed fame in other parts of the world. In 2001, she performed at the Chaillot National Theater in Paris and at Teatro Lope de Vega in Madrid.  In 2002, Varela was awarded the Carlos Gardel Award for Best Female Artist.

The tango singer resumed her solo career in 1999. Under the artistic direction of Uruguayan Jaime Roos, Varela formed the album “Cuando El Río Suena (When The River Sounds).” This album explored musical styles and is considered Varela’s international debut. Songs featured were written by José Maria and Pascual Contursi, Homero Expósito, Mariano Mores, and Roberto Goyeneche. In 2005, she released an album, “Encaje (Lace),” which included performances at the Ópera Theater in Buenos Aires. Varela won her second Carlos Gardel award in 2007 and that same year, held two performances in Santiago de Chile with the orchestra La Selección Mayor composed by great musicians of the genre and led by maestro Lepoldo Federico. Her latest album, called “Adriana Varela y piano” was released in 2014 with accompaniment by pianist Marcelo Macri.

Varela is also an occasional actress, having minor roles in films such as “Al Corazón (To The Heart)”, directed by Mario Sábato, and in Marcelo Piñeyro’s “Plata Quemada (Burnt Silver).”

Tango Singer, Edmundo Rivero, More Than Just ‘El Feo’

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Born Leonel Edmundo Rivero, this Argentine tango, singer, composer and impresario was nicknamed ‘El Feo’ (‘The Ugly Guy’) for his appearance due to his acromegaly. However, Rivero is considered a great artist and his bass range is something of a rarity in the genre, where fans are used to hearing baritones and tenors.

Rivero was born on June 8, 1911 in Valentin Alsina, a suburb in southern Buenos Aires. Since he was a child, his parents, Anubal and Anselma, encouraged Edmundo and his siblings to become interested in music. At the National Conservatory, the young Rivero was disciplined in classical music, studying singing and then the guitar.

During his adolescence, Rivero’s family moved to the Belgrano neighbourhood, where tango was becoming a dancing phenomenon. Rivero’s first professional appearance was with his sister Eva on Radio Cultura. On the same broadcasting, the radio station hired him to play for accompaniment. He also started playing Spanish classical music at recitals in theatres.

Rivero first worked with Jose De Caro’s orchestra, then worked with Emilio Orlando and Humberto Canaro. Eventually, his talent piqued the interest of De Caro’s more famous brother, Julio, and drafted Rivero into his orchestra. From this point on, Rivero’s fame grew and his nickname of ‘El Feo’ stuck. Rivero also joined Anibal Troilo’s orchestra, creating more than 20 recordings, including duets with Floreal Ruiz and Aldo Calderon. The public started associating Rivero with tangos like ‘El último organito’ (‘The Last Organ’), ‘La viajera perdida’ (‘The Lost Traveler’), ‘Yo te bendigo’ (‘I Bless You’), but especially with ‘Sur,’ the tango by Homero Manzi and Troilo.

Dance Classes BrisbaneDuring these years, however, Rivero evidently didn’t last long in orchestras. He would claim that his deep voice–unconventional then–was something of a severe handicap. It was in the 1950s when he hit his stride as a singer and started his career as a soloist. In the 1960s, he was accompanied by another guitar group of Rafael Del Pino, Héctor Davis, Héctor Barceló, Rubén Morán and Domingo Laine. During a period in tango when orchestra dominated, a guitar-only accompaniment was considered a bold statement by Rivero and this associated him with the aura of the countryside.

In 1969, Rivero opened his own tango club, El Viejo Almacén (The Old Warehouse), located in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. Great figures in tango and art were recurring visitors, such as Joan Manuel Serrat and Camilo Jose Cela.

Rivero also worked on a number of films. In the 1950 film ‘El cielo en las manos (The Sky in Your Hands’), he sings the title theme composed by Astor Piazzolla and Homero Carpena. In Al Compás de tu Mentira, he sings ‘No te engañes corazón’ (‘Do Not Cheat Yourself, Heart’) by Rodolfo Sciammarella. He also appeared in the Armando Bo film, ‘Pelota de cuero’ (‘Leather Ball’).

Rivero was an author as well, writing two books: ‘Una luz de almacen’ (‘A Warehouse Light’) and ‘Las voces, Gardel y el tango’ (‘The Voices, Gardel and the Tango’). He was in the process of writing a third book on the Lunfardo language and poetry, but Rivero passed due to a heart ailment on January 18, 1986 at the age of 74.

Alberto Castillo, The Singer of the 100 Barrios

Alberto Castillo, Argentine Tango Singer

Born Alberto Salvador De Lucca, Alberto Castillo was a renowned Argentine tango singer and actor. Before he became ‘El cantor de los cien barrios portenos’ (‘the singer of the 100 barrios’), Castillo was raised in the neighbourhood of Floresta in Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of Italian immigrants Salvador De Lucca and Lucia Di Paola. At a young age, Castillo was already interested in music, taking violin lessons and singing whenever and wherever he could.

Alberto Castillo, Argentine Tango SingerAt 15, fate struck when he was singing for his friends and the guitarist Armando Neira heard him. Neira added the young Alberto to his band, marking the young man’s professional debut under the name of Alberto Dual (and occasionally, Carlos Duval). Castillo went on to sing with the orchestras of Julio De Caro in 1934, Augusto Berto in 1935 and Mariano Rodas in 1937.

In 1938, Castillo temporarily left the music scene to devote his time to studying medicine, but by 1939 he was back again singing for Typical Orchestra Los Indios led by the dentist-pianist Ricardo Tanturi. Castillo began recording in 1941, his first hit being ‘Recuerdo’ by Alfredo Pelala. A year later, Castillo graduated with a gynecologist degree and worked as a professional physician from his parents’ house.

Alberto Castillo, Tango SingerEventually, Castillo gave up his medical profession to be a full-time singer. His style of entertainment at the time was considered unprecedented–the way he moved on the stage with his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, shirt unbuttoned, tie loose, and bouncing the microphone to and fro. He would even improvise boxing matches when singing ‘Asi se baila el tango.’ One of his most successful recordings was ‘Cien barrios porteños (the one hundred barrios of Buenos Aires),’ which gave birth to his nickname.

Castillo’s popularity was so great that, in 1944, when he sang at Teatro Alvear, the police had to stall traffic on the streets. Castillo eventually split from Tanturri and became a soloist. He also was a lyricist, writing songs such as ‘Candonga,’ ‘Yo soy de la vieja ola,’ ‘Muchachos, Esuchen,’ ‘Cucusita,’ ‘Asi canta Buenos Aires,’ ‘Un regalo del cielo,’ ‘A Chirolita,’ ‘Donde me quieren llevar,’ ‘Castañuelas,’ ‘Cadia dia canta mas,’ ‘La perinola,’ and ‘Año neuvo.’

Castillo started his acting career in 1946, first appearing in ‘Adiós pampa mía.’ He appeared in several more films like ‘El tango vuelve a París’ in 1948 with Aníbal Troilo, ‘Un tropezón cualquiera da en la vida’ in 1949 with Virginia Luque, ‘Alma de bohemio’ (1949), ‘La barra de la esquina’ (1950), ‘Buenos Aires, mi tierra querida’ (1951), ‘Por cuatro días locos’ (1953), ‘Ritmo, amor y picardía’, ‘Música’, ‘alegría y amor,’ ‘Luces de candilejas’ (1955, 1956 and 1958 respectively. The last three films also starred rhumba dancer Amelita Vargas.

But even as a man of music, Castillo still spent some time as sports physician. In December 1951, he tended to members of the Velez Sarsfield football team, which he supported.

Castillo recorded music well into the end of the 20th century, recording ‘Siga el baile’ in 1993. He passed away on July 23, 2002 and is buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.