Interview to Orlando Medina,
an orchestra singer
oday my life is, as of many years before, devoted to teaching. I'm a guitar teacher and singing instructor. I help some singers with their repertoire and I do my best to improve the intonation of those who sing off key.
Furthermore I run a coterie, "La Posta de Orlando Medina", near my place, always in my hometown, with shows on Saturdays evenings till dawn. Guitar playing, tango and folklore, where I still try to sing. Sometimes I do it in a duo with my wife, Juanita del Monte. I came to know her because I was her teacher.
I soon withdrew from the night scene, the show business, and this was the reason why I was forgotten.
I recall that a kid, among my students, made a good impression on me. He was studying guitar with me for a few months and ten years later he turned up and wanted to get two tango pieces ready. His intention was to appear at a contest, but as a singer. I prepared him for that and he won. Later he sang with some orchestras and as a soloist. He was Néstor Rolán.
I started off at the school parties and as my old man was a restless guy he formed a trio which he named "Los americanitos". None of us was above twelve years old. For a rather long time we gigged in intermission shows at cinemas and theaters. We even performed alongside the actors Gogó Andreu and Marcos Zucker, the Trío Gedeón and, some times, preceding or following Ignacio Corsini and Azucena Maizani.
At the Medrano cinema theater I was accompanied by one kid that played the bandoneon, he was Aníbal Troilo. Years later, when he was already well known, I dared not to ask him if he remembered those stints.
Another anecdote, that some people do not think it is true even though Ricardo Pedevilla witnessed it, was at the Teatro Soleil on Corrientes Street: after I sang, Gardel congratulated me and made me sit on his knees. The musical evening was before 1930 and had been organized for a friend of his that was with financial problems. El Zorzal did not want to humiliate him by offering him money, so he organized a benefit performance.
I lived in Villa Crespo for a time. I recall that on the other side of the street the shop run by Julio Jorge Nelson's father was located. His son used to approach my old man to show him the lyrics of his tango "Margarita Gauthier" that he was writing then.
When dad died we came back to San Martín (an important city close to Buenos Aires).
I sang whenever I had the chance to, it was my pleasure. For a while I even studied theater with the great actress Angelina Pagano.
In 1938, two or three years after, I joined Héctor Varela. We made shows on Radio Belgrano and at the Imperio cabaret, a cellar that was on Esmeralda and Lavalle.
On the radio we appeared on Sundays at 12:30 AM, the program was named "Los ases serán sastres" (The aces will be tailors). The emcee was Juan Beltrami and after our program the famous program sponsored by Jabón Federal followed. This lasted until 1940 and, because of those inexplicable things of fate, I did not become one of the vocalists of Juan D'Arienzo's. We gigged everywhere with Varela, just at the time then leader was putting together his new orchestra and my friend was a sort of foreman of it. But we were at it when Ricardo Malerba turned up. He did not have yet a very tight orchestra. One day he introduced me to his brother Alfredo and his brother's wife, Libertad Lamarque. Ricardo told them: «I want you to listen to this kid, I'm planning to hire him». They agreed and so it was.
I was very close to Varela and his family. I very often visited his place. He was a good bandoneon player, a leading performer. I also became friends with several of his musicians. I won many bets when I said that I had been vocalist of Héctor Varela, people did not locate him before D'Arienzo.
When I split with Malerba I rested on my laurels, it was my fault not taking advantage of what I had made till then. Maybe it was not big enough, but I had my recordings and a career in tango.
Unfortunately after a good friendship with Ricardo, it changed into a bad breaking up. There were attitudes I didn't like, I thought I was displaced so I returned to my hometown. I ought not to have done it but when I realized it, it was too late.
In the Malerba Orchestra his sister-in-law's husband, Dante Smurra, was the pianist and arranger. The debut on Radio Belgrano was at eight PM and all the neighbors of San Martín were with their ears ready. The first number I sang was "El cuarteador" by Enrique Cadícamo.
By that time people say that Malerba imitated D'Arienzo because of his staccato fast beat. He had his time of splendor and later he began to decline. Then, the impresario and pioneer of the Argentine broadcasting, Samuel Yankelevich suggested him to add Antonio Maida, who had been turned down by other orchestras, as second vocalist. With him I shared a good season at the Marabú cabaret at the main time of the evening; in the afternoon it was the time for the De Angelis Orchestra with the singer Floreal Ruiz.
Later, I don't know what happened, things were going thinner and the orchestra scarcely remained at a second line.
With my repertoire I had several satisfactions. With "Remembranza" by Mario Melfi with lyrics by Mario Battistella, at some clubs I had to give three encores and was carried victoriously on people's shoulders. I was the first one to sing and record that tango song backed by an orchestra. Even though Héctor Palacios had done it before, it was with guitars. Also the milonga "Ropa blanca" by Alfredo Malerba and Homero Manzi had much popular acclaim. That piece was a hit recorded by Troilo with Alberto Marino. The same happened with Cadícamo's tango "Tres amigos", both orchestras recorded it but the initial success again belonged to Malerba.
But soon Malerba's popularity began to decrease, while "El Gordo" (Troilo) was growing impressively. Today people remember those renditions but we are placed on a second position.
I premiered "Gitana rusa" because Sánchez Gorio offered it to Malerba when the latter did not have an orchestra yet. On an evening while I was singing that tune at the Club Municipal, an insect of those that buzz around the lights entered my mouth. Today I laugh at the incident but it was then dramatic for me arriving at the end of the song.
After my tenure with this orchestra, I tried some duos with the singer José Torres, the one who sang with Alberto Mancione. We appeared on Radio Belgrano and at La Armonía of Corrientes Street. Time later I teamed up with Carlos Heredia as a duo for the same radio station. With him I sang for a long time at the stage of La Querencia.
A year after I split with Malerba I put together a humble quartet for my accompaniment with a friend of mine, Elías Kaplan on piano, on violins, sometimes Spina and other times, Atilio Cresta and on bandoneon, Roberto Marino. We toured several towns throughout the interior of the country and as well we appeared on Radio Mitre on a program that Julio Jorge Nelson conducted and was called "El éxito de cada orquesta".
Time later I joined the Ricardo Pedevilla Orchestra in which I later became soloist. He played in a style similar to Carlos Di Sarli's beat. He had his successful time, he was a good friend and partner, but he was much fond of sleeping.
Now I remember that between Varela and Malerba I used to sing on Radio Belgrano as a soloist, accompanied by guitars. There I came to know Charlo, who was, for me, the best singer after Gardel.
And so things went until one day the son of a neighbor, holding a guitar, came to ask me if I could help him to play a little zamba, some time later he brought a little friend of his, afterwards another neighbor sent his son, so I stayed home as a teacher up to now, teaching the few things I know. For those who would like to find me, my address is: calle 97 N° 1934, San Martín, Provincia de Buenos Aires, yours very truly.»
Orlando Medina was born on 30 March 1918 and died 11 August 2004, his real name was Orlando Luis Giustino.