Singer and composer
(26 November 1914 - 24 July 1972)
True Name: Alfredo Mazzocchi
Nickname: El Turco
e was an excellent singer, delicate, with a warm tenderness, a typical symbol of his period. However, he was not widely known save for tango people, collectors or, at the most, by those who lived at his time. For the connoisseurs, he was the best Pugliese's vocalist, neither the most popular nor the most renowned, but the one who best and with the highest finesse represented the maestro. His rendition of the Expósito brothers' tango piece "Farol" is a classic of the genre.
Son of Italians, he was the youngest of five siblings. He was born in the geographical center of the city of Buenos Aires, in the neighborhood of Caballito. His father was Neapolitan and from his home town he brought an accordion that he used to play daily. Surely for that reason, the three sons learnt to play guitar and to sing. Time later in their adolescence, they put together a trio with which they gigged in their neighborhood and its surroundings.
Subsequently, two of them appeared on the radio, but only as musicians. They played on LR8 Radio París, Radio Mitre and Splendid, accompanying for a long time, among others, the female singer Laurita Esquivel and Néstor del Campo, who later became a soccer commentator, with his true name: Ernesto Veltri.
Even though he had stints as player, Chanel never stopped singing. He appeared at contests where he was given important awards, but nobody regarded him as a vocalist.
When he moved from Caballito to the neighborhood of Villa Luro, on the west side of the city, he met the musician and pianist Armando Cupo of whom he became a close friend. Cupo was interested in his way of singing and introduced him to "El cieguito" Tarantino (father of the pianist Osvaldo Tarantino), who invited him to join his simple line-up that, by that time, played on the stage of the well-known café Nacional. Everything was all right, finally he debuted as singer.
On that same stage, in the mid- 1939, Osvaldo Pugliese appeared with his brand-new orchestra introducing the singers Amadeo Mandarino and Augusto Gauthier. For several years his orchestra played there and, in 1943, the two vocalists split with him. Mandarino left don Osvaldo to join Troilo, and Gauthier did the same but to join "Los Zorros grises" led by José García.
Due to this situation, the owner of the café suggested Pugliese to listen to the promising Mazzocchi, "El Turco", Tarantino's vocalist. Pugliese auditioned him and he was immediately welcome alongside Alberto Lago. The latter would only stay for a short time.
The singer adopted the artistic name Roberto Chanel on Julio Jorge Nelson's suggestion inspired in an advertisement at a jeweler's shop.
The first recording of the orchestra for the Odeon label was on July
15, 1943, the sides were: "El rodeo" (by Agustín
Bardi) and "Farol"
(by the Expósito brothers), the latter with Chanel as vocalist.
The singer himself tells us: «I always got along very well with Pugliese in spite of his political ideas. Several times, we were taken to the police station (Pugliese was member of the Communist party). Once when we were traveling to the Terremoto club of Barracas, Pugliese distributed bludgeons and told us: «Just in case there is trouble», luckily we did not have to use them.»
The researcher Nélida Rouchetto described him this way: «With his nasal sound, his canyengue and his common man's diction he kept alive the popular roots that gave rise to the city music. It was Chanel who identified himself like an orchestra instrument, in the manner of a viola, as can be verified since his first recording».
After he split with Pugliese, he was member of the Florindo Sassone Orchestra with whom he recorded 16 tracks for the RCA-Victor company. Some of the numbers were: "Corrientes angosta" (by Ángel Gatti), "Ríe payaso" (by Virgilio Carmona and Emilio Falero) and "Flor de fango" (by Augusto Gentile and Pascual Contursi).
Later he became a soloist backed, firstly, by the Ángel Domínguez Orchestra and subsequently, by Oscar Castagniaro's outfit.
As composer and lyricist, his greatest hit, with widest public recognition was "Oración rante" with lyrics by Aldo Queirolo. Also his are: "El soldado" and "Mambo" (both with lyricas by Reinaldo Yiso), "Hoy la espero a la salida" (lyrics by Raúl Hormaza), "Sinforosa" (milonga with his own lyrics), "Corrientes bajo cero" (lyrics by Aldo Queirolo) and "Escuchame Manón" (with music by Francisco Pracánico), among others.
The well-remembered weekly magazine "Primera Plana" in its number 406 of Nov.10,1970, without mentioning the interviewer, published an interview made to Chanel:
«People say that I'm almost blind and down and out. Please! I'm OK. Four years ago I was operated on my left eye, and now soon, comes my right one. Cataracts. You know, don't you? Many people have that trouble. Some knife cuts and goodbye!
«Roberto Chanel, 55, married, was trying to avoid, hiding with explanations, a question that he was foreseeing. Quite slowly he lit a cigarette, smoked it several times: «I don't live like the rich: I live well. I don't miss anything; I have a television set and even a brand-new guitar».
«He collects some money for his retirement as singer plus a few more pesos for his royalties as author. So when some funds were raised for him at the Huracán club on May 8, it proved very helpful. The comic actor José Marrone, representing the Sindicato de Artistas de Variedades, handed him a sum equivalent to nearly three months of his regular wage. It was a touching evening: Pugliese's hug and the meeting again with the tango tunes he made popular.
«Now he stands up and walks, but with some difficulty: a stroke of hypertension diminished his walking capacities. He picks up his new guitar, delays himself in finding a comfortable position and then comes the melody of "Andá que te cure Lola". He does not sing it, he hums it: his voice as well is weakened. «Little by little I'm getting better. Three times a week, I go to Piñero hospital for heat and massage treatment».»
A sad end for a great artist that would, at least, have deserved the transcendence given by popular recognition. He died young, at age 57, with the company of his guitar and his memories.