Juan de Dios Filiberto

Real name: Filiberti, Oscar Juan de Dios
Nicknames: Oscar de Ramenti
Guitarist, pianist, composer and leader
(8 March 1885 - 11 November 1964)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Néstor Pinsón

n the history of music there are many persons who lacking education, almost illiterate, and with nothing to make it foreseeable, build a deep work that you cannot do without, which later becomes a music classic.

In tango there are various examples, but in Filiberto´s case is outstanding for different reasons. His ways were coarse, elementary was his behavior and he was extremely rebellious, and until he was 24 he lacked musical instruction.

He defined himself by saying: «The only great factor for music is to have inborn sentimentality».

He was a creator of creole music and within that genre he included tango. Many of his tunes, even though they have the tango notation on the sheet music, on hearing them they seemed a stylized fusion with folk airs.

He used to say about this: «My music is many things together, but above all is sentiment. Of course, in art feeling is not enough, you have to know how to express it. The intellectual art devised in cold, through rigid techniques and made-up formulae, is not my business. For me, technique is a means and not an end in itself. Techniques are learnt but the sacred fire has to come from within.»

He goes on saying: «...Each work has to be evaluated within the context in which the author conceived it and not to take it out from it to place it in levels which do not match. Those who do not do likewise, are not making a bona fide criticism. But I do not care about criticisms made by people who are bitter and believe in nothing.»

A shocking answer for those who criticized him that, no doubt, must have been many. You have to place yourself at his time and understand the surprise, and in some cases, the disgust that he might have arisen among the traditionalist tango fans. Something similar happened to, but today nobody questions him and he was accepted. We might as well bring the example of Piazzolla, with whom the traditionalists were especially severe and they have no doubt in qualify him as a betrayer of tango.

A creator of internationally successful tangos, his music was called canción porteña (port song) and it was called after the neighborhood where he was born, brought up and lived throughout his life.

The neighborhood of La Boca (located on the south area of the city of Buenos Aires), still today is a typical and peculiar quarter, which is often visited by group of tourists. But nearing the end of the last century, cornered against the river, it was an outskirts area populated by Italians, especially from Genoa and creoles, gauchos and country people. The outskirts of town was a line that separated town from country and both were confused in its tastes and habits. The same music was preferred on one or other side and traditional rhythms, such as tonadas, estilos, huellas, triunfos, vidalas were blended in Filiberto's creative spirit, giving origin to a fusion with tango, which he listened and fed on since its very creation.

Someone said that he was the creator of the canción porteña, achieved according to the rules of art and without the emphasis of the outskirts style that is often found in other authors' tangos. His music was a new genre, purely of Buenos Aires, which added the suburb to the countryside.

He attended school until he was nine, his bad behavior was an obstacle to continue and he had to start working. He was apprentice of several trades and office boy at a shop. When he was around thirteen or fourteen he was feared and respected among the boys of his age, he was the pesado (bully, quarrelsome), later he worked as stevedore in the dock and became an anarchist.

With a group of comrades he created a musical outfit called Orfeón Los del Futuro. By then a friend gave him a ticket to see the performance of Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda, at the Teatro Coliseo. The day after he said that the tenor and the music walked different ways, that there was no harmony between them. Because of this comment a friend of his told him that he knew nothing about music. And it was true. Those words hurt his self-confidence, because even though he did not know anything about music, he had it in his soul, by nature and by musical ear. «At that time I made up my mind about my future», he said.

He got a job as machine assistant at the Colón Theater and there he heard and got acquainted with Beethoven through the Ninth Symphony. «He was my music god».

Since then, being twenty-four years old, he entered the conservatory to study violin, theory and solfegge. Later he studied harmony and was given a scholarship to be admitted in the conservatory directed by the maestro Alberto Williams, where he was given lessons on counterpoint, piano and guitar.

For health reasons and after José Ingenieros' advice, his physician and friend, he moved to the city of Guaymallén in the province of Mendoza (located a thousand kilometers far from Buenos Aires in the west side of the Argentine Republic, at the bottom of the Andes range and well-known for its wines).

The name of that city was the title of his first composition, “Guaymallén”, written as homage to a group of friends. It is a tango, but he himself explained to clear it out: «The indian has nothing to do with tango, but I wanted that my first music piece bore an autochthonous name. With that I tried to emphasize the nativist character of the new Argentine musician that had just sprang out».

Only in 1932, he had his own orchestra and he called it Orquesta Porteña, adding to the regular tango instruments, clarinet, flute and harmonium. This orchestra is part of the cast of our first commercial movie with soundtrack, ¡Tango! (1933), where Filiberto appeared conducting it with his so peculiar postures and movements.

He recorded twenty-five numbers for the Odeon label, between 1932 and 1936. And between 1941 and 1959, twenty more numbers for the Victor company, almost all of them were instrumentals. His vocalists were Patrocinio Díaz and later Jorge Alonso was added.

In October 1938, the City Hall of the city of Buenos Aires created the Orquesta Popular Municipal de Arte Folklórico (Municipal Popular Orchestra of Folk Art), and Filiberto was offered its direction. This ensemble had more than twenty musicians and lasted until 1948. That year a presidential decree substituted it for the Orquesta de Música Popular, with forty musicians, continuing Filiberto with the responsibility of conducting it. After the military dictatorship which overthrew president Perón´s government, in 1956, again its name is changed as Orquesta de Música Argentina y de Cámara (Orchestra of Argentine and Chamber Music).

Ten years after his death and in his honor, the Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina «Juan de Dios Filiberto» was born, which was conducted, among others, by the maestros José Rosa, Osvaldo Requena, Osvaldo Piro and Atilio Stampone.

Another interesting feature of his life was his permanent struggle in defense of intellectual rights, propelling and defending the Copyright Law and later contributing to the creation of the Argentine Society of Authors and Music Composers (Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores de Música) (SADAIC), of which he was a founding member.

He was a genial composer, his numbers became popular all over the world and are a paradigm of Argentine music. After “La cumparsita” and some Gardel's tunes, his tangos are the most famous. These are some examples: “Caminito” (1926), “Quejas de bandoneón”, “El pañuelito” (1920) and “Malevaje” (1928).

Carlos Gardel recorded sixteen numbers of his: “Amigazo”, “Amor [d]” (shimmy), “Caminito”, “Clavel del aire”, “Compañero”, “Cuando llora la milonga”, “El besito”, “El pañuelito”, “El ramito”, “La cartita”, “Langosta”, “La tacuarita” (zamba), “La Vuelta de Rocha”, “Malevaje”, “Mentías” and “Yo te bendigo”.