Ricardo García Blaya

hen I was five years old I lived at a two-story house in a neighborhood with little houses with grapevines and wisteria flowers, where geraniums reigned in hundred of flowerpots. Kids in the fifties used to go early to bed, after dinner. I had a radio on the night table and usually fell asleep while listening to Radio El Mundo that aired El Glostora Tango Club which featured the Alfredo De Angelis Orchestra and to Radio Belgrano where the Héctor Varela Orchestra played. The choice of radio station was made by the household maid, who made us go to bed and used to stay for a while listening with my brother Carlos and I. She was bewitched by the Varela's vocalists. So I learnt the lyrics of the tangos in vogue: “Fumando espero”, “Fueron tres años”, “Historia de un amor”, “No me hablen de ella”, etc.

This memory came, inevitable, when I decided to write the profile of the bandoneon player and leader Héctor Varela, because it was my first encounter with tango, the beginning of my great love towards this wonderful music.

Luis Adolfo Sierra tells us in his book Historia de la orquesta típica: «Héctor Varela, lead bandoneon and arranger of the Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra, for ten years, identified himself with the trends of a genuine traditional origin, and his orchestra boasted, as major attraction, the precision of a difficult technical performance, in the middle of a very personal hasty rhythmic beat». And Jorge Palacio (Faruk) added: «And that is, exactly, what Varela strove for during his tango career: to play with his orchestra for dancers».

He was born in Avellaneda where he spent all his childhood and youth. He graduated as accountant but he never worked as such. He had his first studies of bandoneon with the teachers of his neighborhood, he later attended the conservatory led by maestro Eladio Blanco with whom, time later, he would play at the bandoneon section of Juan D'Arienzo.

In 1929, he joined the Salvador Grupillo's orchestra, when he was only 16 years old. Later he joined the orchestra that Alberto Gambino put together to play in the well-remembered radio program Chispazos de Tradición. Thereafter he joined the group of accompaniment for the female singer Tita Merello on radio appearances and in her personal performances.

Later he joined the Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra for the recordings made for the Electra label.

In 1935, he was requested by Enrique Santos Discépolo to join his aggregation that played on Radio Municipal. Later, he was member of the lineup that backed Libertad Lamarque on Radio Belgrano.

In 1939, he put together his first orchestra, it appeared on radio, but it did not succeed in recording. He had a style similar to D'Arienzo's, a style chosen by young dancers, but soon after he was summoned by El Rey del Compás (The King of Beat) and he disbanded it.

By 1940, he was already a recognized bandoneon player that shared the ranks of the group with great tango musicians: the violinist Cayetano Puglisi, the fellow player Carlos Lazzari and the pianist Fulvio Salamanca. He was the lead bandoneon and arranger for D'Arienzo during the ten years he stayed in his orchestra.

Faruk goes on saying: «Those were years rich in hits on Radio El Mundo, at dancehalls in clubs, in unforgettable recordings, at the cabaret Chantecler, with the Príncipe Cubano, in the Uruguayan summer seasons when the people crowded the spaces of the Hotel Casino Carrasco (in Montevideo) to enjoy the interpretations of the great maestro.»

During that period, Varela composed several pieces: “Mirame en la cara”, “Lilián”, “Si supiera que la extraño”, “Salí de perdedor”, “Chichipía”, “Don Alfonso”, “Te espero en Rodríguez Peña”, “Tres horas” and “Bien pulenta”, among others. D'Arienzo recorded a total of twenty of his compositions.

He split with the orchestra in 1950, at the time of greatest success, to put together again his own group. Palacio comments that: «Audiences and critics were expecting then the birth of a new formation in the old style of D'Arienzo; but Varela surprised almost everyone when he presented an absolutely personal tight outfit of rhythm and sound.»

Varela started with an overwhelming success. He was aired in the central radio hours and was hired to play at the Chantecler cabaret. His first orchestra was lined up, among others, by the Uruguayan César Zagnoli (piano), Antonio Marchese and Alberto San Miguel (bandoneons), Hugo Baralis and Mario Abramovich (violinists). The vocalists were Armando Laborde and Rodolfo Lesica and the announcer was Jorge Fontana.

His first recordings were for the Pampa label in 1950. They were the tangos: “Tal para cual”, with Armando Laborde; “El flete”, “Un bailongo”, with Laborde and Lesica; “El rápido”, “Farolito viejo”, with Laborde; and “La trilla.

When Armando Laborde split with the orchestra, he left his vacancy to Argentino Ledesma and the period of biggest sales of its records with its duo of singers began.

«By that time, Héctor Varela and his orchestra were hired to appear in shows in Rio de Janeiro and other cities of Brazil. From there he brought some compositions that he adapted to the tango beat: “Mi corazón es un violín”, “Historia de un amor”, “Risque”. He also premiered a tango that he named “Noches de Brasil” (Brazilian Nights) as a homage to that journey.» (Jorge Palacio)

He worked as well at the mythical Marabú, at the dancehalls in nearly all the clubs, and at the famous radio program Glostora Tango Club. This was, no doubt, his greatest time of success and popularity.

The decline of tango in the '60s found him playing on television at the program Grandes Valores del Tango conducted by Juan Carlos Thorry, at first, and Silvio Soldán, later.

Héctor Varela was a musician criticized by the innovative players but loved by the fans of dancing and popular tango. I think that his best artistic stage was in the early 50s, later, like his teacher D'Arienzo, his orchestra declined into a commercial vein, due to the impressive boom of his records sales.