Salvador Arancio

any times we have heard the name of Raúl Hormaza when he is mentioned as a tango author. But it was very little what we knew about him. One day I decided to look for him and this is the result.

I found a man that, at an age older than eighty, had no interest in talking and rescuing his oeuvre as author and artist. I really faced a reluctance to comment his work, maybe due to an excess of modesty that surprised us. Fortunately his daughter-in-law Paula and his son Raúl gladly helped us to insist and so we arrived at this half-authorized portrait.

As from basic questions and on an agreement of talking about his memories, Raúl Hormaza told us that he always wrote. Since a very young age he wrote poems at school and also lyrics for the carnival murgas of his neighborhood and later for the comparsas. Possibly because he was born in Uruguay, even though he came here at age four, he was infused of that thing so characteristic of the Uruguayans about Carnival. As if a special magnet was there, he settled, was raised and lived until his death in San Cristóbal, a Buenos Aires neighborhood that in the history of tango contributed many names. To walk along its streets is still fascinating. The mood of that environment surely developed in the young Hormaza an activity that always was connected with tango and its milieu.

He was as well interested in other artistic activities. He was a tap dancer, a notable reciter and master of ceremonies. Of course, not only he made a living with popular art but also he worked at a shop.

At times, possibly as a result of the passing of years, he did not remember the dates or some names with precision. Nearly sixty years later, is a lot, and accuracy is not so important. He thinks that he started his career as lyricist in 1940. Connected with tango people, he used to announce orchestras and singers. Then it’s not difficult to know how his work as author began, due to his acquaintances and his connections with people in the milieu who knew his capabilities as author.

During our conversation many names sprang up at random. He worked as postman and once he had to deliver a telegram to Carlos Gardel’s address on Jean Jaurés Street. But then he never imagined that its addressee would be one day the greatest national myth.

Another name. It belonged to a girl that since an early age danced at all times. She was raised in the same house. This author remembers that there he came to know her parents when they were engaged and went to dance to the Hogar Gallego. The girl studied and became one of our best dancers, her name was Norma Fontenla. She tragically died together with other dancers when a plane had an accident in the River Plate.

As for the nightlife in Buenos Aires of that time, he points out the performance of Eduardo Arolas at a cabaret on Corrientes Street when it was narrow. He comments that he was good looking, elegant and played the bandoneon with gloves that he cut so that his fingertips would «trigger» the bandoneon keys. His costume was completed with waistcoat and hat.

He made a commentary about the relationship of the bandoneonist with his French partner in Paris, Alice, and he associated it with the link between Troilo and Zita. Pichuco got acquainted with the latter while working at the Marabú. She —according to Hormaza— admired him and loved him. El Gordo at that time was a little depressed and Zita, according to him, was his great support.

He told us about a time when the Corrientes Avenue was populated by a great number of people, with tearooms, cafés and barrooms where tango was an unarguable presence. And at those places he developed his career, without omitting cabarets and cheap venues in La Boca.

In his lyrics, in most of the best known, daily experiences are told in a direct language by someone with a well developed sense for observation. We think that the most successful of them, “Cien guitarras”, is the best. In it the poet dreams and creates a long poem comprised of nine stanzas of ten octosyllabic lines. Only four of them were used to make the famous milonga, that originally was titled: “Para la barra del tango”.

By the mid-40s, Hormaza recited several times in the evening at the Marzotto barroom, to great public acclaim. Arturo Gallucci, when he heard the above mentioned poem, foresaw that it would become a great hit. He composed a music to add it, and they changed and adapted some words of the original verses and the final result was successful. So “Cien guitarras” was born.

The excellent rendition by Alfredo De Angelis with Julio Martel and Carlos Dante on vocals was widely broadcast throughout the country and abroad. Another very good rendering is the one made by Florindo Sassone with the vocalist Jorge Casal.

Something similar, although with less acclaim, happened with the milonga “El divorcio” composed by his friend Luis Adesso. He made use of lunfardo, which he mastered, in many of his tangos. “El Nene del Abasto”, with music by Eladio Blanco, demonstrates his profound knowledge of the jargon used in prisons which is common in milieus frequented by nightlife people. He could have learnt that only in the streets and in his experiences in tenement houses and cabarets.

In an effort to remember some of his numbers, he told us about many milongas still not recorded and he guesses that his pieces recorded are around fifty.

He told us that he traveled to Spain to find out his family ties. He went to the town called Hormaza, hence his family name, and also found the singer Carlos Acuña at a cabaret in Madrid and, on his request, he recited some poems.

Later talking about the singer Julio Sosa, he told us: «One of my tasks was to announce singers at different shows. I had the opportunity of hearing Julio Sosa in his beginnings here, at a café in Villa Crespo, and I liked him. By that time, Armando Pontier had asked me that if I found a singer that I liked I should bring him to the orchestra he co-led with Enrique Francini because Roberto Rufino was about to quit. I went to the boarding house where Sosa lived but he wasn't there. I left a message so that he would fetch me at the Picadilly tearoom where I worked. The latter, Montecarlo and Sans Soucí were tearooms with dance floors owned by the same person. So we met and I introduced him to Pontier. He auditioned him and he liked him much. So much so that he tried to make him debut that very evening. But as Sosa did not have the suitable clothes it was postponed. When that took place everything was a boom. He opened with “Tengo miedo”, the well-known tango written by Celedonio Flores

Besides the above mentioned milongas “Cien guitarras” and “El divorcio” and the tango “El Nene del Abasto”, in his oeuvre these stand out: “Hoy la espero a la salida”, with music by Roberto Chanel; “El hijo cruel”, “Cargamento” and “El pecoso”, with Arturo Gallucci; “Andate por Dios”, “Criticona”, “De abolengo”, “El purrete”, “Muchachita de París” and “Sarampión”, with Eladio Blanco; “Pleito malevo”, with Florindo Sassone; “Testamento de arrabal”, with Oscar Castagniaro; “Algún día volverás”, with Luciano Leocata; and “Por favor no vuelvas”, with Jorge Valdez.

Hormaza's career in tango ended by 1970, because, according to his story, he was somewhat ill and his mother as well had health problems. Because of that his work, that he carried out mainly at night, was not at all advisable.

He was a man that intensely lived in the night circles of Buenos Aires and researched in the truly authentic environments of dancing tango and the real settings where the characters he portrayed lived. Raúl Hormaza is one more in the list of poets that, through his lyrics, brought happiness and thrill to simple people.

Published in Cuadernos de difusión del tango, nº 40. The photographies of this article are a courtesy of Raúl Hormaza (Jr.) and Guadalupe Aballe.