Roberto Selles

Real name: Selles, Raúl Roberto
Writer, lyricista, composer and researcher
(27 May 1944 - 3 December 2015)
Place of birth:
Villa Ballester (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Claudia Sandina

e was born in Villa Ballester, province of Buenos Aires, the place where he lived until the end of his lifetime. He was son of Argentine parents and his grandparents were Spaniards of Andalusia.

«I was born as a tango man, I didn’t grow into it; tango was within me. At age 8 I used to write down tango titles and their authors in a little copybook. I did it out of intuition, I wanted to know to whom each tango belonged. With the passing of time I realized why…»

When he was young he worked as milkman with his father, who owned a farm. Later he worked as draftsman for commercials. After age 30 he was bored of this activity and went for a job to the Crónica journal where his friend, the poet Daniel Giribaldi, was the director of Croniquita at that time. He had already met José Gobello, who introduced him to the tango milieu and lunfardo, and encouraged him to quit everything and devote himself to journalism. Until that time he only wrote poetry.

Journalism allowed him to polish an impeccable prose. He was in the editorial office of the Esto magazine, wrote rhymed notes for the Crónica journal and a supplement for children in the Croniquita magazine which were published on Sundays. He spent that time as a period of glory, he enjoyed what he did, but after 27 years of uninterrupted work the newspaper was sold and, like many other journalists, he was jobless.

He was one of the founders of the ex Universidad del Tango, today CETBA (Centro Educativo del Tango de Buenos Aires) created in 1991 encouraged by the Secretaría de Educación de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires to form, spread and encourage the research of the cultural heritage of tango. Around 1992 he met with José Gobello, Héctor Negro and Oscar Del Priore in what was the Municipalidad de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (City Town Hall) to shape the project. He worked there for seventeen years teaching the subjects: Origins of tango and La Guardia Vieja (The Old Trend), until he retired.

He always said that knowing music (he was a guitarist) helped him much in his work as historian of tango and other music genres because it brought for him another vision. In his researches he followed a rigorous method. He did not pick up the easy and fast way, but the meticulous and constant study. So he followed the steps of the musicologist Carlos Vega and those of his friend, the historian Luis Adolfo Sierra, with whom he coincided in most of his assessments.

He was aware of the black influence in tango, when others only saw the Andalusian. He is author of ‘La historia del Tango - Primera época’ published by Corregidor, alongside other prestigious authors (he was somewhat repentant for that work because he used to say that when he wrote it he had not researched enough).

He was academician of the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo, an institution in which he shared friendship with outstanding figures of culture and tango like León Benarós, Luis Adolfo Sierra, Juan Carlos La Madrid, Ben Molar, Sebastián Piana. With the latter he had the honor of writing the tango “Bordoneos”: listening to Piana play the music, he asked: «Maestro, may I add lyrics to it?» «Beware that it’s difficult». «Well, let me try it…»

For Ernesto de la Cruz (composer of “El ciruja”) he wrote the lyrics of the tango “La calle de los dos”. He composed the music for poems written by Hugo Pedemonte: “La muerte fue una chorra” and for lyrics by Juan Carlos La Madrid, “Cenizas en el tiempo”. With today authors he also composed songs like “La primera mina”, with Estela Bonnet and “Lo nuestro”, with Alfredo Lescano.

He is author of a large number of publications: ‘Lunfamor’ (poems), ‘Historia de la milonga’, ‘El origen del tango’, ‘Ernesto Ponzio’ and ‘Biografía de Julián Centeya’ (the latter was co-written with the poet Matías Mauricio), among others.

In 1990 he was invited to the II Congreso Mundial Gardeliano held in Oaxtepec, Mexico, where he came to know great historians of Gardel of the world like Simon Collier –from England- and Hernán Restrepo Duque –historian of the music of Colombia-, besides other Argentines. In 2000 and 2002 he gave lectures in Stuttgart and Heidelberg for the Tango Biennial in Germany. He was academician of the Academia Nacional del Tango and educator at the Liceo superior of that academy.

José Gobello said about him: «Roberto Selles’s spirit is like those of the Renaissance people, not because he has a passion for Greek or Latin literature but because he cultivates in a bundle some of the disciplines that characterized Renaissance: he is a poet, musician, draftsman and also historian and researcher, not only of tango but also of other music genres and other subjects». (Introduction to the book ‘El origen del tango’).

He researched and wrote all the time. He left material unpublished: researches about the tango “El choclo” and the life of Ángel Vargas (the tango and the singer of his choice), ‘Tango y poesía’ (about national and foreign poets), ‘Las musas de la canción’ (women that inspired famous songs since the twelfth century).

Despite his modest and humble attitude, he possessed a well-stocked erudition. He always regarded the friendship he established with people as a treasure; he liked to be friends with everybody. I, that was lucky to make him several rewarding interviews, was also honored with his friendship.

Roberto Selles was a beloved and important contributor to Many of his articles enrich our portal.