Afner Gatti

Real name: Gatti, Afner Mauricio
Nicknames: Ñato
Lyricist, guitarist and composer
(13 November 1911 - 5 July 1989)
Place of birth:
San Miguel del Monte (Buenos Aires) Argentina
David Pinsón Ovejero

an of the province of Buenos Aires, he was born in San Miguel del Monte, he lived in Ranchos, in Cañuelas and died in General Belgrano.

I see Ñato, short and with a robust body, seated on a chair in the middle of the arena, surrounded by several rows of expectant people, in one of the towns of the province of Buenos Aires where the circus of the five Casali Brothers stayed for some days back in the thirties in the last century. In one of his so many sonnets, he nearly describes himself, but we ignore if it’s fiction or it’s true that he wore a ring like the one described:

Le alcanzan la guitarra, es pujante
el claro y simple bordonear nochero,
y en el dedo anular del guitarrero
viborean las luces de un brillante.

Tiene dos rumbos, tono y dominante,
Y en cuanto suelta el verso forastero,
Le da el chambergo calor de alero.
Para las coplas del amor distante.

Bronco tremar de cuarta, quinta y sexta
Hacen amargo el vino de fiesta
Cuando el trovero estira su querella...

Más, al puntear de nuevo, se han prendido
En el dedo anular del dolorido.
Un arco azul de luna y una estrella.

The first thing to attract my attention was his name, Afner. I had never heard it. Finally, by asking I found coincidences that make me guess it’s possibly of Hebrew origin and may be written with h and two f’s. It should be pronounced Jafner.

He was born in Monte, the city of the small lake. But before he was one year old his parents moved to Ranchos, a town that became city in 1972, 118 Km far from the Federal Capital. Its population was 7333 inhabitants, according to the census in 2001. Since it was just a little town something must have had to attract music and tango, especially, as Francisco Canaro wrote in his book of memoirs, that he made his debut there in 1906, with a trio with Martín Arrevillaga on mandolin and Rodolfo Duclós on guitar.

Years later at that locality the orchestra led by Roberto Firpo and Pedro Maffia played at some store or on a rustic stage. Meanwhile, in a place nearby, Carlos Gardel and José Razzano with the guitarist José Ricardo were appearing.

Afner began to study guitar with a female teacher of the area. Her name was María Luisa Villanueva de Ramírez. He immediately fell for the instrument.

In the early 30s he teamed up with a friend of the town and they started a tour. They appeared wherever they had the chance until they reached Buenos Aires with certain fame achieved because they were qualified players. His partner was Agustín Ferré, guitar player but also drummer. «On one occasion they visited the renowned guitarist Alberto Diana Lavalle. They played as guitar duo or also Afner was accompanied by his friend on drums. They made a good impression and Mr. Lavalle offered them the chance to appear on a radio station in Buenos Aires: Gatti as soloist and Ferré as drummer of a jazz band. But none of them accepted because they regarded themselves as completely unreliable at the time of sticking to a contract.» (from the book Ranchos, sus Hijos y sus Amigos. Relatos anecdóticos, by Carlos Pablo Bona, journalist and close friend of Gatti’s).

Thereafter came his tenure with the Hermanos Casali’s circus and he went on from town to town. He split with the circus together with one of the brothers, Canuto Casali. In October 1944 he married a good female singer of his town, Isidora Agustina Porcel de Peralta, Chona. They lived in that location for some time and later they were based for nearly three decades in the city of Cañuelas. Thereafter they spent their last twenty years in a little house in General Belgrano on 696 Posadas Street. When he retired he devoted himself to teaching young people. With his wife he toured throughout the country and some regions of Chile. They used to sing folk music as a duo. He owned a small voice that was like a whisper. When he played guitar his repertoire included classical pieces and some flamenco airs.

He was completely self-taught, he only attended up to third grade of grammar school. He never gave up reading. Someone said that he used to read «even the edge of a book or a paper.» «He is with his guitar from the time he gets up». He had a great facility to build rhymes and not to get lost in his improvisations. He published simple little books which were sold for a few cents. He released around twenty. The first was entitled: Versos en papel de astrasa (Poems in rough paper).

He learnt about counterpoint and harmony and he strove for perfection in each new place he visited. He looked for a local music teacher and so he practiced and polished himself.

He had many peculiarities, one of them was singing in Pampean verses the plot of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. When he finished his performance the audience was informed what they had heard and he got an even bigger applause. When he was asked why he liked to do it he answered: «So that people would know it and learn it».

An agnostic fellow for the longest part of his life, finally he became a religious man. He also looked for a priest in each town he was to talk to him and get information of the place he was visiting, besides finding and achieving a new acquaintance. Even though he used to read very much his intention was not having a private library: «Make the books roll otherwise they will be like dead people».

In his tours he became friends with Eduardo Falú and with the parents of those who later turned into Los Indios Tacunau. He was never comfortable in Buenos Aires but he had time to be founding member of SADAIC. He was acquainted with the renowned maestro Abel Fleury whom he accompanied in several radio programs. And he was also friend of his colleague José Canet.

He filed 54 numbers in the record of SADAIC, but few of them were committed to record. An impenitent bohemian, very little he needed to live and he did not like going around showing his pieces so that someone would record them. But some were recorded and others, even though his name is not mentioned, also belong to him. They are his and when people reproached him for that he replied that at least he ought to earn enough to have a coffee with milk. His admirers and friends sustain that the waltz “Me besó y se fue” is his.

His recorded numbers were: the tango “Serpentinas de esperanza” (with music by Canet) by Miguel Caló with Carlos Dante (1935); Ángel D'Agostino with Ángel Vargas (1945) and Fernando Díaz with guitars (1935). “La pialada”, with Domingo Plateroti, by Los Indios Tacunau. “Ranchera de los perros”, with Silvio Di Pascal, by Rafael Rossi in 1973.

Neighbors and relatives also affirm that another tango of his, “Madrigal”, was in the Gardel’s songbook but was not committed to record. And the director of the newspaper Aquí Ranchos not only affirmed he had a copy of the sheet music with the photography of the singer but also an acetate recording. But except for the one who said it nobody was able to confirm this.

Besides the above mentioned the following collaborated with him: José Luis Anastasio (true name of the singer Carlos Mayel, vocalist in the Osvaldo Fresedo Orchestra) in “Leyenda sureña”; Marcos Casali, “Canuto”, in “La caravana pasa”; Enrique Barcia in “La de los novios” and his friend Ricardo Ibarraolaza, author of the “Himno a General Belgrano”, with which he won —among a thousand contestants— the Premio Nacional PAMI with the tango “Domingo al sol”.

Someone told me in a low voice: «This is confidential but can be published. He died of sadness like the larks because when he got ill he was deprived of his guitar. It was sold in order to get money to build his tomb. His wife survived him for ten years». In 2009 his tomb will be declared Historical Cultural Monument of General Belgrano.

Another of his great friends, Domingo Bordegaray, said: «Ñato with his guitar played Tárrega’s “Capricho árabe”, cavorted in Alais’s “Un Momento” and had wept in “Una Lágrima” interpreted by Sagreras».

My acknowledgement to María Susana Gatti, Afner’s niece, daughter of his brother Efraín; to María Esther Rubiera, Chona’s niece; to Alejandro Iuna, journalist of the El Sur newspaper of General Belgrano; to Ana Belén Martín, one of the responsible ones in the department of tourism of the Municipality of General Paz (Ranchos) and, thanks to Mr. Amarante who represents all the neighbors of Ranchos and General Belgrano who, lovingly, contributed data and documents for this homage.