Ricardo García Blaya

discovered her some time back, in the late 90s, when checking over a thousand LP discs —recently bought from the widow of a record collector—, in the middle of the mess, a record cut for Triunfo’s Records, a label of North American origin, with her photo on the back cover appeared. I was unable to restrain my curiosity, so I decided to play it back. Then a pleasant surprise was what happened: I heard the voice of a girl that was singing very well a ten-number repertoire that included a pair of gems, “El espejo de mi vida”, waltz by the outstanding Peruvian composer Felipe Pinglo and the classic “De mi barrio”.

More than twenty years after this record release made in the late 80s I came to know about her but this time live. It took place in November 2009 due to the premiere of the movie El Último Aplauso by the young director Germán Kral, an Argentine who studied cinema in Munich and that decided to settle in Germany. She was there together with other artists of the motion picture’s cast. I had been invited as representative of the Academia Nacional del Tango and was accompanied by other peers. On that occasion I had no chance of talking to her.

The movie is about the Bar El Chino, a tango venue in the neighborhood of Pompeya. The script displays with profound emotion the despair which its closure caused in all the artists that every evening for many years sang tangos at that legendary local. The striking thing in this case is that the protagonists themselves of those magic evenings are the ones who tell the story.

The venue was owned by a picturesque character, Jorge Eduardo García, aka El Chino, who was only interested in his son and singing tangos with his friends. Cristina describes him as a pure, naïve and crystalline guy, in sum, a good person.

Among the ones who appear in the movie bringing their art and their testimonies, besides Cristina, are Inés Arce (La Calandria), Julio César Fernán, Horacio Acosta, Abel Frías and, as special guest artists, the Orquesta Típica Imperial.

Cristina was born in the city of La Plata, province of Buenos Aires, but when she was a little child her family moved to San Juan where she was brought up. Her debut as singer was at age six by performing folk and children songs on the radios of her adoptive province. At age seven she sang on Radio Mitre accompanied by a guitar group fronted by an uncle of hers. The audiences were amazed by the talent of that little girl that, soon later, was chosen as protégée by the actor and folk reciter Fernando Ochoa. From the latter, according to her own words, she learned how to sing and recite but, above all, to love and respect the profession.

Her songbook included folk music. With it she toured throughout the country and appeared in many festivals, among them the one in Cosquín in the province of Córdoba in the 70s.

In Buenos Aires she had the chance of sharing the bill with great figures of popular music, among them: Roberto Goyeneche, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Héctor Mauré, Hugo Marcel, Los Cantores de Quilla Huasi, Carlos Paiva, Margarita Palacios, Hugo Díaz, Los Hermanos Ábalos, Roberto Florio and Rodolfo Lesica.

In 1979, she ran her own local which she used to regard as a kind of store and named it El Brasero (Fire Pit). It was located on Cobo and Centenera. Charlo used to go to the venue to have some drinks and listen to tango tunes. The pianist Norberto Digorado –a southerner who worked at the cabaret Bagatelle of Comodoro Rivadavia-, a close friend of Cristina’s, lent a piano so that the creator of “Ave de paso” was able to play. Charlo composed a piece dedicated to that venue: “La esquina más tanguera”. El Brasero used to be widely frequented by people but was a commercial failure.

She made tours of Chile —where she made recordings— and, in 1982, Fate led her to the United States where she stayed and lived in New York. She lived fourteen years in that city and appeared for several seasons at different night clubs and theaters singing Latin American music and, from time to time, some other tango, winning the applause of the local audiences and, specially, the Spanish-speaking public.

From the United States she traveled to Peru to participate in a crusade organized by the Lions’ Club to bring medicines and entertainment to the victims of cholera.

In New York she sang folk and Latin American music but on one occasion she dared to sing a tango accompanying herself on guitar and, since then, she has been including, little by little, our urban music in her songbook. There were many difficulties because by that time it was hard to find bandoneon players and musicians with tango feeling for her accompaniment in the United States.

Coming back to the film El Último Aplauso, in one of the scenes —possibly the one with greatest dramatic mood— she admits aspects of her personal and show business life and we perceive, while the footage is running, that she is the female soul of the Bar El Chino when, at the beginning of the show she ad libs a welcome with a bit of poetry and a lot of feeling. But the most important thing is hearing her sing; in fact, her voice is no more the one we heard in that American record but she keeps that style that was a trademark in the great female singers that were innovators in tango, with a very porteño phrasing but also a quite feminine interpretation and an outstanding intonation.

In an intimate way, she tells us about her mother and her daughter Ana María with a melancholic flavor that touches us. She decided to return from North America because she missed Argentina. She wished to recover the odors and tastes of her homeland, her identity. She says it verbatim: «I came back to the Chino’s to meet again with one’s flavors and scents». At the end of her story she confesses that she lives alone, that her daughter is married and that her mother is dead.

She was friend of Floreal Ruiz’s and Argentino Ledesma’s. The latter when he visited New York lived in her house; she was also a friend of Alberto Podestá’s with whom she worked in «The Big Apple».

In her songbook the following stand out: “Llamarada pasional”, “Será una noche”, “Absurdo”, “Ilusión azul” and “Tormenta”, among others.

I had a personal conversation with her, seated at a table of the 36 Billares in August 2013 and I discovered a good-looking, elegant, pleasant lady that shows herself just the way she is, completely spontaneous like those who are fully aware of life or, quoting my friend Ricardo Ostuni, «like those who were born with the first pain in their souls». Welcome Cristina to Todo Tango!