Emilio Ramil

Real name: Ramil Varela, Emilio José Narciso
Nicknames: El Gardel Cubano
(29 October 1925 - 19 February 2014)
Place of birth:
La Habana Cuba
Ricardo García Blaya

he case of this Caribbean singer devoted to our tango music is quite curious and interesting. It is curious because he comes to tango when the first signs of its final decline were evidenced back in the late forties and early fifties; and it is interesting by the way he made that choice for a music genre so different to the music beats of his fatherland.

Tango had firstly arrived at the island introduced by Spanish singers such as Juan Pulido and José Moriche and, later, by the many-sided José Bohr —born in Germany and Argentine by choice—, but, mainly, due to the recordings made by Carlos Gardel and the appearances by the Trío Argentino.

These three guys were Agustín Irusta, Roberto Fugazot and Lucio Demare who, nearly two decades later —after their breaking up— consolidated their prestige when they were summoned in 1948 to appear again in Cuba signing a well-paid contract.

From the 30s to the 50s a large number of Argentines appeared. They were all successful, among them were Hugo Del Carril, Alberto Gómez and Libertad Lamarque.

Furthermore, the movies and the radio were very important in spreading tango. Argentine movies were premiered monthly and radio stations aired that music around the clock.

A noticeable thing is that Cuba had neither lyricists nor composers of tango pieces. This made that the singers of that time at the beginning emulated the Argentine vocalists with their Caribbean overtones. Later, naturally, they were acquiring their own profile stressing their characteristic personalities and nuances.

These tango embassies in Cuba influenced the musical taste of Emilio, a descendant of Catalonians by his paternal branch and from Galicians by his maternal roots. He was born in El Cerro, La Habana, and was a fan of Carlos Gardel whose songs he used to sing when he was a child.

His case was quite different from the ones of his Cuban peers and, Ramil himself admits that his figure, his voice range and his phrasing made people be amazed in such a way that they mistook him for the Zorzal Criollo himself.

His professional debut was in 1949. The Trío Landa, Llerena and Tabranés invited him to sing at the Radio Cine of La Habana and, on that occasion he sang famous tangos of the Gardel’s songbook and shared the bill with the Dolly Sisters who played mambo.

Time later, when he was a professional, he was backed up by the orchestra led by Bebo Valdés and his agent was Ignacio Gómez Muro who got a contract for him with the Compañía Arredondo to make a tour throughout the island. By that time he cut his first record for the Puchito label.

The guitarist Roberto de Moya introduced him to the guitarists Agustín Cornejo and Carlos Spaventa (who had accompanied Gardel) and, together, they recorded “El rosal” and “La cieguita”.

His popularity grew and he appeared at the Ali Bar, Sierra Bar and Mi bohío. Three of the most outstanding night clubs in La Habana. He appeared at the theaters Negrete, Reina, Fausto and many others more. He sang tango numbers at the Tropicana, in the play Serenata Gaucha by the choreographer Rodney (Roderico Neyra). At the Show del Mediodía he sang “Caminito soleado” along with the Conjunto Casino which allowed him to sign for CMQ Televisión.

Ramil thinks that television helped him to be well known and successful with the audience, as he himself recalls: «I think that much of the tango revival I made in Cuba was mainly due to that wonderful invention called television. Because by appearing so often on CMQ-TV, which with its branches reached the whole island, my figure and voice were widely popular».

To such an extent he was recognized that the drivers of the public buses did not let him pay his ticket and used to tell him: «How can we dare to collect from the Cuban Gardel?»

In 1953 he was hired to sing for the first time abroad: New York, in the United States. On his comeback to Cuba, he reached his peak around 1955. That year he would leave for good.

That year, in one of his last performances in the CMQ-TV studios, the lyricist Horacio Sanguinetti was present. The latter, after listening to him, suggesting him going to Argentina and, precisely, to Radio Belgrano. «There you’ll find your consecration». And so he did. He sent recorded material to Buenos Aires and he was hired to appear for several weeks. He appeared to great acclaim on radio, television and several clubs which allowed him to extend his contract for a year. There he had chance to meet and sing with Agustín Magaldi Jr.

Before departing from Cuba he made a short tour of Miami and New York. He did not travel immediately to Argentina because there were news about a coup d’etat that had overthrown president Juan Perón. Regrettfully, in the United States he did not reach the acclaim he expected and, when he knew the revolution was ended, he then decided to travel to Buenos Aires.

After his appearances on Radio Belgrano in a program sponsored by Jabón Manuelita (a very popular soap), he was on television and at a well-remembered performance at the Parque Genovés of the neighborhood of Pompeya. During his stay he visited Gardel’s graveyard and left a bunch of flowers. He was accompanied by Guillermo Barbieri’s widow and the wife of the jockey Irineo Leguisamo who were the ones in charge of the keys of the vault.

When his contract with Radio Belgrano was over he was hired by Radio Splendid that wanted to compete with the former radio station which was then spotlighting the vocalist Horacio Deval. He also appeared in the province of Mendoza and when he returned he crossed to Uruguay hired by Radio Carve of Montevideo on which he had a one-year tenure.

On his comeback he appeared again in Argentina and sang in Rosario (Santa Fe) and soon he was summoned from the province of Córdoba to sing on Radio LV2 in March 1957.

Soon thereafter he went to Chile, hired by Radio Minería, where he stayed for many years and was a boom. There he came to know the actress Gloria Montes whom he married. The brand-new couple appeared in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and, again, in Chile. He finally settled in New Jersey (United States) where he is based now.

Lastly, there is a definition of himself: «You do not have to emulate or imitate the sound of Gardel’s voice... but you have to comprehend his musical spirit, his musical way of saying... and express it through the sound of any voice or any range, because he created a harmonic, melodic vocal style which is quite human in his singing... Impossible to be imitated... it can only be processed assimilating it in his unique way, his spiritual way of saying. And that is all the nearest you can get to consolidate the repertoire of the maestro. To convey with your voice the singular melifluous-human-spiritual harmonic sound and try to bring life to a story that is sung... because that is what tango is».

Some information in this article was taken from a note signed by C.G.O., with no publication data.