Roberto Selles

istening to Roberto Rufino when he sang “María” or “La novia ausente” or “Malena” or any of the tangos he had chosen for his repertoire, was to realize that that tango was unraveling little by little and that the words sprang up separately, without forsaking the whole that gathered them, with the proper strength they had to have in their context.

Rufino was that: a storyteller, a phraser, an interpreter that perfectly knew which was the meaning of what he was singing.

He was born on January 6, 1922, on 753 Agüero Street —in the heart of the neighborhood of el Abasto—, son of Lorenzo Rufino and Agustina Guirin, although in his birth certificate is written the day he was filed on the records, on the 8th day of that same month and year. A little bit yonder, on Agüero and Guardia Vieja Streets, the café O'Rondeman was placed, where Carlos Gardel attempted his early songs. A premonition? Maybe, because Rufino as well started at the old café of his neighborhood, which still was run by the Traverso brothers. But there is a further coincidence: in the same year, 1935, his father and Gardel died. And in 1936, a few days after the cortege which was mourning Carlitos to his final abode had passed along Corrientes street, El pibe del Abasto —as he was called since the early days at O'Rondeman, made his professional debut; he was also called El pibe Terremoto— at the Café El Nacional, as vocalist of the Francisco Rosse typical orchestra, to switch, a little bit later, to Petit Salón, with Antonio Bonavena orchestra, composer of “Pájaro ciego” and uncle of the would-be boxer.

To Bonavena followed, in Rufino´s artistic career, the orchestras of El Cieguito” Camilo Tarantini, of José Felipetti (Natalín) —the one of the waltz “Pabellón de las rosas”— and of Anselmo Aieta.

Then the destiny foreseen by don Lorenzo had been definitively left behind: at that time he quit high school in his third year. Tango would be his only destiny.

But we are still in the singer's prehistory and 1938 will be a key year. Carlos Garay, Carlos Di Sarli´s agent, heard him sing the tango written by Di Sarli and Enrique Carrera Sotelo, “Milonguero viejo”, he told his principal about it and the latter included him in his orchestra, with which he was able to record on December 11, 1939, the tango “Corazón”, by Di Sarli and Héctor Marcó. Fame had already touched him with its magic wand and «at the age of 21 or 22, he had a unprecedented discographic record», as the journalist Jorge Sturla says.

In fact, he recorded, together with Di Sarli, forty-six numbers. Meanwhile, he had two brief breaks, with the orchestras of Alfredo Fanuele (1941) and Emilio Orlando (1942), to once again reunite with El Señor del Tango, in 1943.

A year later, he split with the orchestra which launched him into popular acclaim; it was time of taking a chance as soloist. He made his debut as such, accompanied by his orchestra, and entrusted Atilio Bruni with the conduction of it, on Radio Belgrano, where he was called El Actor del Tango.

Subsequently, his accompanying ensemble was led by Alberto Cámara —with whom he recorded his first disc as soloist, for the Uruguayan label Sondor in 1945— and Porfidio Díaz, with whom he cut a second record, for the Chilean Victor Company(1946).

Between 1947 and 1950, he was again a vocalist for someone else's orchestras, those led by Enrique Mario Francini-Armando Pontier and Miguel Caló, to go on performing as soloist between 1952 and 1954. During the two following years he was singer in Roberto Caló's outfit, and later he went on as soloist, save for brief stints with some directors, such as Francini (1957), Pontier (1961-1962), Aníbal Troilo (1962-1965) and Miguel Caló (1966, to record a long-playing disc).

It is curious Rufino's short labor as melodic singer, under the nickname Bobby Terré, with which, it can be said, he did not stepped into history. As such he cut recordings between 1957 and 1960, alternating with his own name as tango artist. His appearances at the Radio El Mundo large studio, with public attendance, were hidden behind a mask, because he was introduced as The Masked Bobby Terré; it was not a question of «avivar a la gilada» (to alert the fools).

At its time his interpretations of “Adiós adiós adiós”, “El teléfono”, “Vuelve, amor” and “La luna y el sol” had a sort of repercussion. But that was all. Terré was again Rufino and Rufino would never again depart from tango.

A capacity less known than that of singer, but anyway not ignored, was that of composer and lyricist. He is author of numerous works, such as “Muchachos, arranquemos para el centro”, “Eras como la flor”, “¡Cómo nos cambia la vida!”, “¡Calla!”, “Destino de flor”, “Dejame vivir mi vida”, “La novia del suburbio”, “Soñemos”, “Tabaco rubio”, “El clavelito”, “No hablen mal de las mujeres”, “Los largos del pibe”, “En el lago azul”, “Carpeta”, “El bazar de los juguetes”, “La calle del pecado”, “Julián Tango”, “Manos adoradas”, “Porque te sigo queriendo”, “Qué quieren yo soy así”, “Lita”, “Boliche”, etc. Among his authorial collaborators —musicians and lyricists— we can find Roberto Casinelli, Manolo Barros, Mario César Arrieta, Marvil, Roberto Caló, Cholo Hernández, Julio Navarrine, Héctor Marcó, Horacio Sanguinetti, Reinaldo Yiso, Angel Cabral, Alberto L. Martínez, Alejandro Romay and others.

His latter years were of indefatigable activity; he seemed to be eternal. But years do not pass in vain, and his latter appearances turned out pathetical, with an audience who kept on being loyal and that even had to kindly prompt him the lyrics when his memory failed, in a vain effort of seeing him as the major singer he had been.

On the other hand, each time he stepped on a stage it seemed impossible to make him leave it; it was as if he would need to hold to the show forever and to the company of his fans. Anyhow, in 1997 justice was done: he was honored as Ciudadano Ilustre de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires” (illustrious citizen of the city of B.A.), and in 1998, Ciudadano Ilustre de la Cultura Nacional” (illustrious citizen of the national culture). It was the culmination of his career; a culmination, undoubtedly, deserved.

On February 24, 1999, his heart stopped beating at the intensive care room of the Fundación Favaloro. On the 25 in the morning, the people said goodbye to his remains in the Chacarita cemetery, singing that tango he so many times had unraveled word by word, so as the meaning of what the author had written was not missed: «Malena canta el tango como ninguna...» (Malena sings tango like nobody else). Maybe only one thing was missing, to have said Rufino instead of Malena.

Originally published in the fascicle 34 of the collection Tango Nuestro issued by Diario Popular.