Héctor Ángel Benedetti

o Gardel used to tell him, «No one like you, Negro, for these things...». And if he said that... They say that every time El Zorzal arrived in Montevideo he looked after the guys of the “milieu” and the first thing he asked was if there was something new by Néstor Feria.

In Bolívar, a hamlet on a ravine of the Santa Lucía River, in the department of Canelones, on March 5, 1894 Néstor Feria Acosta was born —the one who years later would be known as Néstor Feria, The Singing Gaucho. His parents were Mr. Isabelino Feria and Mrs. María Acosta, both Uruguayan.

On many occasions it was said that he was born in Fray Marcos, department of Florida, but at the same time he would say he was from Canelones. This is because Bolívar and Fray Marcos were by the end of the nineteenth century (and they still are today) two small towns that are only five kilometers far from each other, separated by the Santa Lucía River, natural border between Canelones and Florida. Fray Marcos has regarded Néstor Feria as son of its soil, which is not exact from the administrative point of view, but it is valid if we take into account that in Fray Marcos and on its streets he spent his early years, and that in its environment of typical rural town he would find inspiration for the most important part of his later oeuvre.

After a quarrel of his parents, always alluded to with circumlocutions and indefinite allusions, his mother left from Fray Marcos taking with her their son who was still a very young child. She settled down in Montevideo, in the neighborhood of La Unión. There Feria found his early friends, in the circle of the Goat’s School which he attended to learn reading and writing. The gray sharp-pointed beard of the school director originated the nickname, so peculiar, of that school located on Juanicó and Lindoro Forteza. In the meantime, the nearby neighborhood of Maroñas, with its old Ituzaingó’s Circus, cast a spell on him to the point of becoming, according to his sayings, the main attraction for him. Then he got a job that would mark him for the rest of his life: he became a laborer in studs and hostler of racehorses.

Now comes a dark spot in his biography, that he will summarize with a short and unusual naturalness: his escapade to Montevideo. He fled for some reason that will remain ignored. He went South; he arrived in Buenos Aires for the first time in 1911. He was then seventeen.

In perfect symmetry with his oriental destiny, Feria got a job in Palermo with Martín de los Santos, Jr.; one of the most renowned trainers of that time. His mother, in the meantime, was eagerly trying to find him; finally doña María found his kid after tracking him down from hostler to hostler. After her pardon, this Argentine adventure came to an end and soon Feria returned to Montevideo.

Back again on the streets of La Unión and Maroñas, Feria returned to the turf environment and he even was in the horse business on his own. But there is a time which represents a turning point in his life. It was in 1913, the year when his mother died and he, who was nineteen, thought that since then his aspirations had to take another road.

By then, Feria only sang in circles of friends like an amateur without great expectations. Soon that only and intuitive audience in studs’ backyards suggested him devote himself seriously to singing. This suggestion was stressed thanks to the great admiration that Feria had for José Alonso y Trelles, (El Viejo Pancho), whom he had known in Tala —a locality of Canelones, near Bolívar—, where the poet was based since 1887. Another important appearance in his life, of strong relevance, was Carlos Gardel’s. In 1911 Feria had heard him for the first time in Buenos Aires, at Pancho Orezoli’s place. In 1915 he rediscovered him in Montevideo as the Gardel-Razzano duo. The two singers would become friends with many interests in common.

Regarded as a heroe of the neighborhood La Unión, even though he also was similarly considered in Maroñas, Feria had to confront Juan Medina, singer and occasionally payador (a singer that improvises his lines). Later he sang with José Mayuri, or Maggiuri, widely known by his nickname Pepo; an almost legendary character in the history of the oriental popular music that —according to what the listeners of the old Montevideo, and especially the ones of the neighborhoods Goes and Jacinto Vera used to say— surpassed any professional singer.

Later he formed, in 1916, a duo with another guitarist and singer: Arturo Vecino. They made their debut at the café Sburlati, on 18 de Julio Ave. and Médanos, and they entertained at every resort and barroom they found available, to switch later to more important venues.

Encouraged by successive successes, Feria crossed the Brazilian border and appeared for a long time in towns of Rio Grande do Sul. In this state, with a culture similar to the one of the Pampa Húmeda (humid pampa), Feria heard and learned milonga patterns which were fundamental for his oeuvre as author and interpreter, absorbing all the pure influence that the gaúchos and the cantadores were able to show him.

He came back to Montevideo in 1920. It was then when he persuaded Ítalo Goyeche to put together a national duo, and after some minor presentations they made a big launching for the carnival of 1921. They accompanied themselves on guitars, helped by the guitar strummer Ñato (Flat-Nose) Rey. In Buenos Aires, Feria and Goyeche were backed by two great instrumentalists: Enrique Maciel and José María Aguilar. Immediately they were hired by Pascual Carcavallo to appear at the Teatro Nacional, where Carlos Gardel himself went to hear them several times.

Between the late December 1921 and the early January 1922 the duo cut its first six songs for the Victor company. Until 1923 both recorded ten tracks. They premiered the well-known zamba “Por el camino (Zamba del boyero)”, which also meant for them the first prize at the Contest of Regional Songs.

After the duo split and until the late twenties, Feria continued his performances in different places of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In the Uruguayan capital he sang at the café Vaccaro, and there he came to know Américo Chiriff, with whom he formed another duo. After his experience alongside Chiriff, Feria sang along with Cayetano Cambiaso, an amateur with excellent capabilities, and for some months he also teamed up a duo with Teófilo Ibáñez.

He made his debut on the Buenos Aires broadcasting on Radio Stentor. He left that radio station in May 1936 on his own decision because he thought he was not given the place he deserved. But Feria had then an unexpected lucky strike: the evening he quit while walking along Corrientes Street he met by chance the actor and reciter Fernando Ochoa. The singer had decided to leave Buenos Aires and return to the public of the interior of the country who had always welcomed him, but Ochoa right away took him to the Radio Belgrano studios and that very day he was hired.

Feria, at last recognized, soon joined the radio programs sponsored by the Jabón Federal (Federal Soap). He began in June 1936 in a special program with the playwright Armando Discépolo, the poet Claudio Martínez Payva and the singer Agustín Irusta.

After 1936 a series of hits would place Feria in the first level of folk music. Soon he discovered that being among the radio stars meant an invitation to enter the cinema world. That year he was summoned for a role as singing gaucho in the movie Juan Moreira, first sound version made of the Eduardo Gutiérrez's book, directed by Nelo Cosimi.

His recitals in different theaters of the country, either alone or as member of a cast in some theater show, grew in number two or three times. The following episode took place in 1936 and it is almost unknown despite the importance of the song involved: Sebastián Piana and Homero Manzi had in mind Feria to premiere their “Milonga triste” but in the last minute they chose Alberto Gómez.

That year Feria premiered his most famous composition: the milonga “En blanco y negro”, with lyrics by Silva Valdés. Thanks to it he succeeded in recording again, this time as a soloist: on March 17, 1937 he cut for the Odeon label this milonga and the song “Quisiera escrebirte”, written by José Ramón Luna and the Irusta-Fugazot-Demare trio.

As author Feria wrote some memorable pages, but not all them were waxed by him. To the above mentioned “En blanco y negro”, we have to add “Las carretas”, “Páginas íntimas”, “La bata de percal”, “A todos”, “De mí no esperes” and many more.

On January 26, 1938 he came back to the Odeon studios to cut other two numbers, which were the last in his discography: the song “Chúmbale los perros”, by Martínez Payva and Fleury, and the above mentioned waltz “De mí no esperes”, by Feria himself.

During 1938 he was in the shooting of the movie Los caranchos de la Florida, directed by Alberto de Zavalía, based on the novel of the same name written by Benito Lynch.

The following year, Enrique Santos Discépolo —in one of his rare incursions in folk music— offered a precious zamba that Feria included immediately in his repertory: “Noche de abril”. Subsequently, Lito Bayardo and Juan Larenza composed especially for Feria the today very well-known zamba “Mama vieja”, that the singer premiered in 1943. And it was as well about this time that the singer included among his hits the milonga “Los ejes de mi carreta”, written by Atahualpa Yupanqui and Romildo Risso.

Around 1945 the symptoms of an illness that would spoil his performances appeared and which soon would be the cause of his death. The diagnosis, soon later, was awful: lung cancer.

But he kept on traveling between the two capitals of the River Plate. In Montevideo he sang at the café Ateneo, accompanied by the Trío Oriental de Guitarras lined up by Roberto Pizzo, Julio Fontela and Froilán Aguilar.

Alone as always because he never married, Feria came back to Buenos Aires where he lived in a room at a hotel in the neighborhood of El Once, on 55 Pueyrredón Avenue; just in front of Plaza Miserere. At the same time his illness was worsening. He spent some time in a farm owned by his friend Elías Antúnez hoping that that change of air would help him.

Out of those vicissitudes his friend Fernando Ochoa rescued him once again. The latter had been hired for the main role in the movie Juan Moreira that Estudios San Miguel was to produce. The direction had been assigned to the veteran Luis José Moglia Barth. Conscious of Feria's worth and regretting the scarce stints the singer had at that time, Ochoa persuaded the investors and was able to include him in the plot.

After the shooting of the film, and as he was idle, in the early 1948 Feria embarked on his last visit to Uruguay. While he was in Montevideo, Feria underwent a severe impairment of his health and his illness worsened by far. Thanks to the negotiations carried out by SADAIC. he was sent to a hospital in the province of Córdoba, but after another relapse an urgent transfer to Buenos Aires was ordered.

On Sunday, September 26, 1948, at four a.m. Néstor Feria died. It happened at the Sanatorio Oeste of the neighborhood of Caballito. He was fifty-four years old. At eleven a.m. on Monday 27 he was buried in the pantheon of SADAIC., at the Cementerio del Oeste. Charlo spoke on behalf of the authors and composers, and Lito Bayardo on behalf of the said entity.

In 1988 his remains were taken to Fray Marcos for his definitive peaceful rest. So Néstor Feria returned to his hometown.