(9 August 1924 - 20 August 2008)
Full name: Oscar Samuel Rodríguez de Mendoza
is identification with the music and the poetry of Buenos Aires is so extensive that it turns out impossible to abridge it in the space customarily assigned to these portrayals. However, Oscar Ferrari's expressive clarity and unassumingness make easier to bring his figure and thought to the reach of audiences eager to know details in the careers of those who had achieved a profound prestige in the universe of tango.
He was born in 743 Deán Funes Street where the neighborhood of Balvanera touches the neighborhood of San Cristóbal. Those were the times when the screeching sound of streetcars muted the cries of little babies and when at night the tangos coming from María "La Vasca"'s place still seemed to be heard. His father, Roberto Salvador, and his mother, María Antonia Quimino, both Argentines, were dancers that performed in the "revista porteña"(musicals in Buenos Aires). Since an early age, Oscar frequented and slept in the dressing rooms of different theaters of the genre and then, between one and other space, he was growing up with tango lullabies. In 1930 his parents moved to Montevideo, where two years later don Roberto Salvador unexpectedly died at age 28.
In 1936 Ferrari returned to Buenos Aires with his mother and settled in another neighborhood of ancient tango ancestry, Barracas. During his childhood and youth he walked along stone-paved streets, flanked with low houses and surrounded by factories and storehouses with wool and hide. In his house located on 645 San Antonio Street he began to dream of being a singer while he worked at a shop to help with the family budget.
His encounter with tango took place while he was still a kid and it lasted long because he kept in touch with his neighborhood and the city where he was born. Since early age he identified himself with his people and made his own the necessities of those workers that were as well his neighbors. These experiences forged his sympathy towards the social movements that supported the workers' struggle.
His voice, of clear delicate tenor pitch, naturally developed and his ear immediately caught the cadence and melody of the city song. Ferrari says that since he was a kid he regarded Gardel as a part of his life and he thought that in order to sing tango tunes voice and feeling were enough tools. Only in 1945, when he was already performing with Alfredo Gobbi, the composer and singer Hugo Gutiérrez persuaded him to study the technique of singing. So he became his first and only teacher.
He started as professional at a time when there were a great number
of figures of high quality. After a brief tenure with the Atilio Felice's
orchestra he joined the "Típica Gómez" in
1943 and appeared at a contest held at the Luna Park stadium. Soon
later he was hired by Juan Caló and made his debut with his
orchestra at La Colmeña night club. In 1945 he joined the Alfredo
Gobbi Orchestra. When he was drafted for military service he served
for the Navy; however he found the way to perform with the group "Los
Cantores de América" that included the guitarist Adolfo
Berón and Alberto Suárez Villanueva on piano.
Only in 1949 Oscar Ferrari became known by wide audiences and succeeded in recording. Francisco Fiorentino introduced him to maestro José Basso who made him join his orchestra sharing the role of vocalist firstly with "Fiore" and later with Jorge Durán.
Between 1956 and 1960 he was with Armando Pontier, alongside Julio Sosa. Later, according to Oscar himself, "when the splendor of the orchestras was over we had no option but to become soloists". As such he appeared in different cities of the interior of the country. It was precisely on those tours that drove him far from Buenos Aires when Ferrari gave way to his inclination for writing and poetry. "Historias de Cabaret" (a book with a prologue by Julián Centeya), "Versos de amor y barricada" and "A mis colegas", are literary toys in which Oscar puts all his feeling and narrates true stories that he experienced or heard of told by their protagonists. In "A mis colegas" he wrote the portrayals of several colleagues with a human and fraternal vision that deserves to be highlighted.
In 1970 he joined again the Armando Pontier Orchestra and in 1973, the one led by Leo Lipesker. Later he returned to his career as soloist. He successfully toured Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and in 1995 he joined the Beba Pugliese's orchestra. With the latter he had the opportunity to appear in Paris. As of 1997 he reappeared as soloist and is singing instructor in the Escuela Argentina de Tango. During his career he was awarded the "Orden del Porteño", the "Discepolín de Oro", the "Homero Manzi de Oro" and in December 2002 he was awarded the "Diploma a la Gloria del Tango" by the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo.
Up to here, we have a story that does not end with a mere mention of chronological landmarks. Oscar Ferrari has facets that make him a special being that breathes humility and frankness and a remarkable respect for the persons with whom he had lived or whom he had met on his way.
When one talks to Ferrari, it would be nonsense not to speak about his big hit, the tango "Venganza". When Oscar joined the José Basso Orchestra to substitute for Ricardo Ruiz, the leader told him that he had to begin by singing the tango tunes that his predecessor used to perform. Among those "Perdón viejita" and "Venganza" were. As "Perdón viejita" was closely associated with Ruiz, who had achieved a boom with it, he chose as "opera prima" the tango "Venganza" that his predecessor sang in a "Fresedian" style. Ferrari's rendering conveys a different feature that he explains as follows: "I that, instead, come from Barracas, with a little more of mud, a bit more of the outskirts of town, I play it with a different interpretation. Not better, but of course different. When I stressed "morí como un perro" (die like a dog), people liked the phrase and the tango became a hit; so much so that in 1950 four-million records were sold". Oscar Ferrari recorded the tango "Venganza" eight times. He did it once with Basso, twice with Pontier and later with Beba Pugliese. As soloist he recorded it for different record companies and in the late 2002, accompanied by a group of young musicians. Despite the success he achieved with that tango Ferrari thinks that "it is not the best thing I recorded. The one which most musical difficulties posed on me was "La maleva". It has a different musical level" and added "But thanks to "Venganza" I'm still here". As well his rendition of Humberto Correa's "Mi vieja viola" stands out.
Oscar Ferrari was faithful to Buenos Aires and as such he was much concerned with everything connected with tango diffusion, especially the aspects inherent to its traditional essence. Because of that, before the end of our chat, this simple, sensitive man in love with the poetry that he learnt by singing and listening to tangos, as if he were thinking aloud, told us: «I suggest to all who "dig" tango that they ought to have respect for the music, for the lyrics and that -before recording- they have to dive into the meaning of the lyrics; especially for a very simple honest reason: we are using the talent of the writers and musicians and the least we can do is to respect what they wrote. We don't have to change the music to fit our convenience. Today I listen to recordings in which the music has nothing to do with what the composer wrote. No, boys, no. When distorting the music, tango loses harmony, loses beauty, because the one who wrote it burnt his eyebrows to find the chords and to achieve the right harmony. The least we can do is to respect him, to sing according to the music the author wrote and not to accommodate the lyrics to make it easier for us. No, no, let us respect him, because we are using that talent without paying anything and living on him».
Then, despite I did not want to do it because I was eager to go on hearing him, I said goodbye to Oscar Ferrari at the door of the building where he lived in Buenos Aires downtown.