Julio Puppo

The debut in Montevideo

war-cry, born at the cheap cafés of the suburbs and that quickly spread to other activities with the characteristics of a popular proverb, points out a stage in the history of our folk song. It was this: «Sing, Medina, sing!» and it originated this way: Juan Medina, payador (itinerant singer and improviser) at a time when they were very good, was a graphic worker that, as soon as he stopped the last letters in the workshop of “El Día”, at dawn, he went out with his guitar hanging from his arm to sing his despair of sick boy in the cheap locals of “El Bajo” (low area). Challenging payadas to show and risk the singer's honor and pride had brought him a great popular acclaim. But his consumption, quite advanced, already strangled his throat and he could hardly hum a line. It was then that his loyal fans encouraged him with the expression that became popular: «Sing, Medina, sing!», without thinking that with that sentence they were labeling the culmination of a cycle. Because while on one hand people were attentive to that, on the other hand the coming of a new stage was near: the period of the singer or interpreter that would replace the payador, or improviser, in the people's choice.

The thing began this way:
«-“Tambo” is going wrong» —Roman Visconti, manager of the Teatro Royal, had said to his colleague Manuel Barca— «”tambo” needs numbers of attraction: go to see if you can get them in Buenos Aires».

And Manuel Barca, that for some reason had deserved the sobriquet “King of the impresarios”, sailed that very night. It was in the winter of 1915. There he contacted people of the milieu. Robrero, the popular dancer of the Compañía Vittone, led him to the Teatro Nacional, where a folk duo whose name didn't say anything yet was making its first appearances: Gardel-Razzano. The guitar accompanist was "El negro" Ricardo. The thing had already begun and nobody would stop it now. They made an appointment after the show in a nearby coffee. The first to appear was Razzano, then already in charge of the administration. He heard the offer but was unable to believe it.

«-Won't they laugh at us?»— he asked in bewilderment.
He feared the Uruguayan public that he considers very demanding.
«-For that reason, the triumph will be greater» — answered Barca, enthusiastically.

Then Gardel arrived: he was a fat, round chap. His brown backstitched overcoat, hardly reached his knee; that was the fashion; a soft hat, with its brim falling on one of his eyes; white and black lined scarf. Everything in him irradiated pleasantness. Informed of the proposition he, like his partner, could not believe it at first. He listened attentively but his fear for failure was great. He admitted it resolutely, seriously: «-At least we'll have money to return to Buenos Aires, won't we?»

That was a historical sentence: he was wondering if they would get money for the round trip ticket that at that time it cost three pesos, with dinner and breakfast included. There were people that made the trip for nothing else but eating. However these boys were disturbed for the uncertainty. It was that a very hard experience weighed on them. And Barca that had been educated also in the rigorous school of the streets, soon understood it.

«-How much do you want to get?» -he asked them.

The men looked at each other, meditated for an instant, and after that Razzano said:«-Frankly, tell me: are fifty pesos a day too much to ask?» Those were Argentine pesos.
«-You don't know what you are worth!» —Barca answered sincerely moved. And the deal was made.

They didn't know what they were worth and they would have delayed it long or maybe they would have never come to know it had it not been for Manuel Barca. He deserves then to be recognized. They were then two modest singers that made their first “serious” presentations at a theater before the Buenos Aires audience.

Their career had begun in very humble venues: suburban cheap cafés and country barrooms where a stage was made with the tables of the local and they were paid with what was raised by a raffle, organized by themselves, of a bottle of brandy or of vermouth. Consequently, the welcome that awaited them in Montevideo filled them with astonishment, with panic.

The city was wholly papered with their portrait, wearing neckerchief and hat, when the ship moored. With the guitars hanging from their arms, they were driven to have breakfast at the Café Bon Marché, on Florida and Soriano, in the heavy rain of that cold July morning. When he saw the welcome given by the walls full with posters, Gardel was, once again, overwhelmed. It was like a beautiful dream.
«-Che Barca: they may think that I am a Caruso!» -he protested friendly. «-I assure you that you are!» -Barca encouraged him.

And that same night they made a private show. Manuel Barca's sagacity had not forgotten any detail. Vicente Salaberry, a journalist interested in popular things, had already published in "La Razón" a long interview. The expectations were growing, and that evening, in the room of the Royal they would perform for the press and authorities. The ones present were: the Political Chief, Mr. Sampognaro, the First Official of the Headquarters, Antonio Sanguinetti; the theater critics Cyro Scoseria, "Bebón" Blixen, Eduardo Dualde, Ulises Favaro, Ángel Méndez, Julián Nogueira and the gentlemen Enrique and Roberto Aubriot, doctor Penco and E. Antuña. It began at 6:30 and finished at 8:30.

The day of the premiere there was no space for a pin at the Teatro Royal. With a chronometrical precision, Barca told me even the smallest details of this day, unforgettable for him. The duo began with "La pastora" (The shepherdess) and Razzano continued with one of his cifras; Gardel returned with "El pangaré". The audience was delirious with enthusiasm; they were really witnessing something exceptional. And already then for the first time is heard the shout that would be classic and that would come to mark the beginning of a new stage: «Sing one more time, Carlitos!» The public had made him their friend and they addressed him familiarly and acclaimed him like an idol.

It's past one o'clock in the morning and the seats of the theater have not yet been vacated. In his dressing room Carlos Gardel was crying when Barca entered to congratulate him. «-Brother Barca» -he hardly mumbled, drowned by the emotion- «everything... all this is because of you!»

So was Gardel's debut in Montevideo which was very important because it meant his first great decisive step toward consecration. He would not stop any more. So the echo of that war-cry born in the cheap locals of the outskirts faded away before the one that would point out the decline of the payador and the singer's arrival: «Carlitos, sing one more!»

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