Rafael Rossi

Real name: Rossa, Rafael
Bandoneon player, composer and leader.
(28 December 1896 - 24 December 1982)
Place of birth:
Mercedes (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Gaspar Astarita

rlando Del Greco, in his book Carlos Cardel y los autores de sus canciones, and Horacio Ferrer, in El libro del tango, give as birth date 30 December 1896. However, Rafael Rossi, on a long interview made by the magazine El tango 100 años de historia (Editorial Perfil), gives as his birth date 28 December 1896. Del Greco, as well in the cited book, states that his true surname was Rossa.

A figure of long and fruitful career within tango was Rafael Rossi, bandoneonist, leader and composer, who achieved a far-reaching popularity and prestige in our country through his abundant and qualified output as composer, and also as a consequence of his busy labor on radio, on records and, above all, on tours throughout the vast territory of the province of Buenos Aires.

He was born in Mercedes (a city placed 80 km far from Buenos Aires) on December 28, 1896 and, as he himself said, since early age he was passionately devoted for two things: bandoneon and adventure. In 1912 he went to Buenos Aires with another guy from Mercedes, and they firstly worked as house painters. But Rossi, who had heard Juan Maglio (Pacho) in Mercedes, on Saturdays he used to hear him play at the café Garibotto (Pueyrredón and San Luis streets), making his inclination for bandoneon grow deeper.

He started his studies at the Conservatory run by don José De Caro, Julio´s father, which he gave up when in 1914 the war burst out, to return to Mercedes, now with a basic knowledge of the instrument and having learnt a bunch of music pieces. Playing those first tangos and studying on his own, he fairly completed his musical training.

In late 1914, with that training, his spirit of adventure and with the guitarist Pedro Lafourcade as sideman, he embarked on his first tour. They commenced in Junín and, town after town, they were visiting a great portion of the province of Buenos Aires, Arenales, Arribeños, Ascensión, Sol de Mayo, until, out of leaving bills unpaid at hotels and practically playing for cents, they arrived at Vedia.

There they settled and began to improve financially. In 1915 they reached the city of Rufino (an important city in the province of Santa Fe), where he contacted a good bandoneonist of the time, Ángel Danesi. He advised them to play in Huinca Renancó (a city in the province of Córdoba) and there they finally consolidated. They earned seventy pesos a month, with house, food, maté and kerosene. Lafourcade split and he put together a trio, with Roque del Cagneo and Timoteo Palacios.

From Huinca Renancó he went to Del Campillo, where he lined up another trio, to play in Rio Cuarto, Firmat, Elortondo, again Rufino (localities in the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe), until he went back to Mercedes, to comply with the military service.

Later he found another guitarist from Mercedes and he made off again towards the towns of the province of Buenos Aires. When he crossed to Santa Fe, from Rufino he sent for the violinist Udelino Toranzo. Then in a trio setting, they played again in Junín, where they met with Pacho, to whom Rossi had sent one of his early tangos, precisely titled Pacho. That meeting and that composition meant for Rossi the invitation to join the outfit of the legendary bandoneonist. So he disbanded his trio and went on tour with Pacho. When the tour ended, Rafael Rossi definitively settled in the Capital, in 1919 becoming associated with another important tango musician, the pianist and composer José Martinez.

After several presentations he assembled his first important quartet. It was formed by, besides the leader on bandoneon, the violinists Fernando Franco and Emilio De Caro and the pianist Francisco De Caro. After the dismembering of this outfit, he joined with Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo the big orchestra for the carnival balls in 1920. From that year until 1935 he was with Canaro, taking part in other small outfits he put together for performances in the provinces, in which the pianist Eduardo Pereyra (El Chón) and the violinist Alberto Castellanos were featured.

In 1920, through Pacho, he met Gardel, to whom he was delivering a series of works he had composed, which El Morocho immediately recorded: “Por el llano”, “Ave cantora”, “Perdonada”, “La milonga”, “Fiesta criolla”, “Senda florida” —all of them tangos— and the waltz “Rosas de abril”, these seven with lyrics by Eugenio Cárdenas; “Ebrio”, “Corazoncito”, “Primero yo”, lyrics by José Rial; the remarkable “Como abrazado a un rencor”, with lyrics by the journalist Antonio Podestá; “Sos de Chiclana”, with Julio Navarrine, “Recordándote”, the zamba “Cañaveral”, the estilo “Como las margaritas” and the ranchera “La pastelera”.

Also with José Rial he composed Rafael Rossi “Buena pilcha”, “Ponete paquete”, “De corazón a corazón” and “Lo que pide el corazón”.

With Enrique Cadicamo he composed another quite beautiful tango “Cuando tallan los recuerdos”. With Udelino Toranzo he made known a long lasting tango, strictly instrumental “Jueves”.

His first tango, from 1916, was “Don Leandro”, which was followed by the abovementioned “Pacho”, “A Horacio”, “La cañada”, “Estás triste”, “Renacimiento”, “Cañaveral”, continuing a long list of works which would result risky to enumerate, because new numbers written by the lavish composer are always being discovered.

He recorded, nearly always folk numbers, in Odeon (as Firpo had signed a contract of exclusivity to record tangos with orchestra for the Max Glücksmann company, Rossi was pigeonholed to cut folk pieces).

Later, with his famous “Conjunto chacarero”, he recorded a little of all our national music, including several tangos. Herminia Velich and the Casadei brothers were almost on all occasions his vocalists.

A player of simple style, it was in composition where his name achieved the necessary reputation to add his name to the definitive tango directory. His dedication as musician ran even with his spirit of adventure.

He went on performing and touring until his late times. He died in Buenos Aires on December 24, 1982.

Originally published in Tango y Lunfardo, Nº 110, Chivilcoy, 16 November 1995.