Ricardo García Blaya

he unforgettable musician and inspired melody maker based for many years in the city of Rosario, province of Santa Fe, was in fact a porteño born in the neighborhood of Palermo Viejo. His father taught him violin, later he studied piano and music reading.

His family subsequently settled in Carmen de Patagones, the city placed farthest south in the province of Buenos Aires. His dad, don Francisco bought a bandoneon and started to study the instrument while his son Domingo watched him attentively. It happened the same thing as with the violin.

The bandoneon caught him definitively, and besides his father’s lessons he learnt with method books for bandoneon playing.

Back in Buenos Aires, he began high school and went on patiently studying bandoneon on his own.

Already in the school of medicine, he decided to further study at the conservatory run by Pedro Maffia and Sebastián Piana.

At age sixteen, with his sister Nélida, whom Domingo had introduced into music, he formed the Federico duo to appear at downtown sceneries, on different radio stations of Buenos Aires and in a few tours throughout the country.

His enthusiasm for tango and the public recognition made him give up his college studies to fully devote himself to music. He started to compose and write his own pieces. He became a good arranger and put together an all-girl orchestra, in which his sister had an outstanding role.

Some time later he swapped to the Scarpino’s outfit, later to the Juan Canaro Orchestra to finally join Miguel Caló’s in 1941.

About this period Sara Ribot tells us (Tango y lunfardo magazine Nº 55, Chivilcoy, March 23, 1990): «A funny story took place at the opening of his tango “Al compás del corazón (Late un corazón)”. As soon as Federico joined Miguel Caló’s outfit he showed his tango to his colleagues and it was warmly accepted. The members of the orchestra wanted to play it, but the singers Raúl Berón and Alberto Podestá had doubts because they did not know the lyrics well yet. One day they decided to premiere it without Caló’s consent; a lark, a gaily mischievous action for the sake of fun. The leader was not used to go to the tearoom where they played in the afternoons. As the vocalists did not want to sing it, one of the most fervent enthusiasts of that tango piece, Enrique Francini, decided to do it. So was the improvised debut of this tango, with great public acclaim. The audience wanted to hear the piece again. When Caló arrived the public were requesting that the tune be played one more time. As he did not know what was about, he asked them to play it and it immediately was included in the book».

«“Yo soy el tango” was also written in 1941, with lyrics by Homero Expósito. It was the first recording by Troilo with the singer Francisco Fiorentino».

In 1943 he split with Caló to put together his own orchestra, with which he debuted to great acclaim at the Select Buen Orden café, with his vocalists Alberto Tagle and Alfredo Castel. As a curious information we can say that the double bass was played by his father who, always eager in his search, had as well learnt the secrets of this instrument.

The orchestra was lined-up with Domingo Federico, as lead bandoneon and leader; the bandoneon players were Eduardo Cortti, Priori and Thompson; Enrique Cantore, Pando, Tallaferro and Ternaski on violins; Mario Garcés was the pianist and on double bass was Francisco Federico.

Besides Alberto Tagle and Alfredo Castel, he had Ignacio Díaz, Carlos Vidal, Oscar Larroca, Mario Bustos, Hugo Roca, Enzo Valentino, Dante Rossi, Carlos Valdés, Armando Moreno, Rubén Sánchez and Rubén Maciel as vocalists.

Of all them, Carlos Vidal was undoubtedly the most outstanding. The one who imposed all his personality, in renditions that shall remain indelible in our memory, such is the case of tango tunes like “Yuyo verde” and “Yo”.

He was hired by Radio Splendid and played at the most important sceneries and ballrooms in Buenos Aires.

As for the balls and habits of the 40s, Federico himself tells us: «by that time there were three types of public. A group that came to listen and another group of dancers, in quantities that varied according to the orchestra, in our case the proportion was balanced. And an universal group: the mothers. The mothers were a ring of women that surrounded the ballroom, more noticeable at the neighborhood clubs and more diluted in the big salons, but always present. They were chaperons. What was funny was: if after the ball, you slightly touched a girl's hair, they would kill you; but paradoxically, dancing, you can walk her home».

His work as skilful composer did not stop. So true gems of the genre were springing up of his notable inspiration: “Yuyo verde”, “A bailar”, “Tristezas de la calle Corrientes”, “Percal”, among other quite beautiful tangos.

In 1944 he cut his first record which had on one side an instrumental tango of his “Saludos” and on the other, “La culpa la tuve yo”, with Ignacio Díaz on vocals. This was the only recording of the singer with the orchestra.

As we already said, Federico was an exceptional melody maker, a great composer. Among his compositions, besides the tango pieces abovementioned, these stand out: “Con el mayor gusto”, “Déjame volver para mi pueblo”, “Futuro”, “La noche y marfil”, “Tropical”, “Cosas del amor”, “Para usted amigo” and in his last stage: “Fueye azul”, “Tango íntimo”, “En la calle [b]”, “Dibujos”, “A María Rosa”, “Muy suave”, “Pachito [b]”, “Un cigarrillo muerto”, “Memorias”, among others.

Ricardo Barbieri tells us (Tango y lunfardo magazine Nº 55): «after a brilliant career, in 1963, Domingo Federico was again summoned by Miguel Caló, and alongside Armando Pontier, Enrique Francini, Raúl Berón and Alberto Podestá —among others—, put together once more La Orquesta de las Estrellas (The All-Stars Orchestra), a line-up that debuted on Radio El Mundo, playing on the Monday and Thursday shows at 9 PM in a cycle that would last three months, a season in which a new tango by Federico and R. Koy was premiered. It was titled “En la calle [b]”, with the vocalist Raúl Berón. Later this number, together with eleven compositions more, would comprise the only LP that this orchestra recorded for Odeon. The aggregation as well appeared on channel 9 and played in different shows».

Later he would definitively settle in the city of Rosario, where he married and formed a new orchestra with outstanding musicians of Rosario and the vocalists Rubén Sánchez and Rubén Maciel. He also played on radio, on television, made recordings for the labels Victor, Embassy and Rosafon, and appeared at ballrooms, many times with a smaller outfit, Trio Saludos.

Before his last orchestral experience he had made 45 tours throughout Argentina and Latin American countries and 120 recitals in Japan, first as bandoneonist in the Francisco Canaro Orchestra in 1961 and later leading the A lo Pirincho Quintet.

In Rosario he devoted himself to his vocation of teacher at the University and conducted an orchestra lined-up by his students.

«I wanted to put together an orchestra comprised by young people, and here it is: Orquesta Juvenil de Tango de la Universidad Nacional de Rosario(Juvenile Tango Orchestra of the National University of Rosario). If I deserve any merit, is to have introduced this people to tango. They have a solid musical academic instruction, they even sight-read the Bible. But it was necessary to make them understand certain aspects of the language of tango, the rhythm values and the phrasings we use. And they responded quite well».

Domingo Federico was a great among tango artists and his work is of such a quality that many of his compositions turned out genuine classics of the genre.