Cacho Tirao

Real name: Tirao, Oscar Emilio
Guitarist and composer
(5 April 1941 - 30 May 2007)
Place of birth:
Berazategui (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Ricardo García Blaya

remember when he appeared on television, back in the mid- 60s, with his face of good fellow, his shy smile and his neat appearance. He had that infinite modesty that the great ones own. It was a pleasure to close one’s eyes and listen to his brilliant and perfect fingering when he began to play pieces by Schubert or Handel or when his hands knitted the baroque arpeggios of a Bach concerto or the melody of a zamba of the Argentine northern area.

At the beginning, the fact that he played tangos surprised me. I had pigeonholed him as a classical music player or an interpreter of the all-time standards or of pieces of our folk music; I regarded him as an eclectic player.

Accustomed to Roberto Grela and the old time guitarists, when he played tangos I listened to him reluctantly, I liked his timing, his sound, but he seemed to me rather cold. Later, I began to accept him gradually. I realized he had chosen tango and that, little by little, he was finding his way. His phrasing became more lilting, the licks and the expressive strenghth started to be showcased, even though they were always shown in a delicate subtle way that matched his style.

He was undoubtedly a virtuoso and the connoiseurs regard him as one of the most important guitarists of all times.

He was born in Berazategui, province of Buenos Aires, and learned to play guitar at a very young age, guided by his Dad. When he was only six he played on Radio Stentor. One year later we won a contest on Radio Mitre, at age twelve he played his first concert and when he was sixteen he joined the cast of the Teatro Argentino of the La Plata city, as soloist in the orchestra. Furthermore, besides playing guitar, this child prodigy studied saxophone and clarinet.

He was member of the Astor Piazzolla’s quintet for over three years (1968–1971). With him he made his best approach to modern tango, becoming one of its renowned interpreters. Let us remember his highly regarded appearance in the first rendition committed to disc of the little opera María de Buenos Aires, by Piazzolla and the poet Horacio Ferrer (August 1968), for the Elenco label.

In the early 70s he emceed his own TV program, Recitales Espectaculares, which was a smash hit and brought him such popularity that with the repertoire included in the TV show he recorded a disc. This album was a boom in sales and sold over a million copies and Cacho won his first Gold Disc (1978). He was much sought after by the recording studios. His work in the studios resulted in almost 40 long-playing records.

Among them we can mention: Mi guitarra, tú y yo, his first record for CBS Columbia (1971), Pura música, Esto es Cacho Tirao, Encuentro, Homenaje a Gardel, En concierto, Mis mejores 30 interpretaciones, Los esenciales, Cacho Tirao interpreta La Nueva Trova, Imágenes, to end with his last release entitled, Renacer (2006), one year before his death.

Generally when we talk about him he point out that he played with great musicians: Rodolfo Mederos, Osvaldo Tarantino, Dino Saluzzi, Daniel Binelli; that he accompanied great international stars: Josephine Baker —The Ebony Venus—, George Maharis —the one of Route 66—, Raphael; that he was member of the Argentine embassy that appeared in Madrid with: Los Chalchaleros, Aníbal Troilo, Néstor Fabián, Los Hermanos Ábalos (1971); that he was on an uncountable number of tours throughout the world, among them, one with Los Cinco Latinos, and that he played concerts as soloist or with important orchestras on his tours of Europe and America.

I prefer to highlight another side of his career: his original way of conceiving shows. A play of his, “La ciudad para todos”, was thought on poems by Víctor Pronzet that combined tangos and Latin American music and spotlighted the singer Raúl Lavié (1975). In other shows he included numbers that he played with exotic instruments: a fifteen-string lute and a twelve-string guitar, and other instruments not usual for him to play: charango and banjo.

In 1976, he was hired to play at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris where Paco de Lucía was also appearing and, on his comeback to Argentina, he played with the Conjunto de Arcos de Antonio Agri (string ensamble) compositions of Spanish classical musicians and appeared again on television, on Channel 13.

His oeuvre as composer is varied and interesting. Let us begin with: his concerto for guitar and orchestra “Conciertango Buenos Aires” that he premiered in Belgium in 1985. This concerto came from an idea by Joaquín Rodrigo —whom he met in Arles, France—, in 1974, when the Spanish composer suggested him to write a work with the mood of his famous “Concierto de Aranjuez”. As a sign of his friendship he dedicated “Pequeña canción a Joaquín” to the renowned composer.

Also: “La milonga de Don Taco”, in memory of his father; “La milonga del niño deseado”, dedicated to his grandson; “La anunciación por ti”, cradle song for his son; “Le petit tango”, “El negro Felipe”, “Tercer tiempo” and “Teresa, mi renacer”, homage paid to his wife. The last three above numbers belong to his last recording: Renacer.

Finally, we cannot say a portrayal of Cacho Tirao is complete if we do not mention, at least shortly, two painful pasagges of his life.

In February 1986, his daughter Alejandra, while playing with his brother Gabriel —fourteen years old—, with a gun she thought was a toy gun shot him dead. The tragedy left marks: firstly, a stubborn asthma that lasted up to his final day and later, a hemiplegia.

In 2000 when he was playing a concert in Adrogué —23 km south of Buenos Aires City— he fainted due to a stroke that paralysed his left side. He recovered only five years later.

From both misfortunes he was able to pull himself together thanks to his religious faith and his incredible will power. After his son’s death he embraced the evangelist religion. His own words acknowledge this: «I have two choices left: to find the true faith or getting angry. It makes no sense being against the Lord’s truth which is the only one worthwhile to accept. By that time I picked up saxophone again and that helped to widen my air capacity to face an asthma that appeared when I was rather old. In a month-and-a-half time I wrote 24 charts for the sextet. It’s something, doesn’t it?». (Clarín newspaper, November 11, 2005, interview by Marina Zucchi)

During the time of his recovery he was unable to work and his financial situation was very bad. So much so that a friend, the English guitarist David Caswell, came to our country to produce a record —which included Argentine guitarists— to help Cacho with the money collected by its sale. Obviously, the CD was entitled: Los amigos de Cacho (Cacho’s friends).

One autumn in Buenos Aires he passed away after a heart attack when he was in an ambulance that was taking him to the Hospital Argerich. He was 66.

This is our humble homage to Cacho Tirao, a genuine artist, an honest man who was capable to give up everything except music.