Juan Carlos Marambio Catán

Real name: Marambio Catán, Juan Carlos
Nicknames: Carlos Nuñez
Singer, lyricist, composer and actor
(30 July 1895 - 15 February 1973)
Place of birth:
Bahía Blanca (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Héctor Ángel Benedetti

ust a glance on Marambio Catán’s life is enough to verify that, besides some memorable compositions and a vague memory as singer, everything concerning him corresponds to a very precise prototype: that of an artist trapped within time. Juan Fulginiti are Fernando Nunziata are other examples, among the many existing ones, of such kind of characters; the difference between the latter and the rest (the always remembered, those that were beyond their own time) was on various occasions a mere question of luck in advertising.

Juan Carlos Marambio Catán —such is his full name, frequently reduced to his second family name and sometimes replaced by some sobriquet— was born in Bahía Blanca. From there on we can turn to his own book as source of information (El tango que yo viví: 60 años de tango; Buenos Aires, 1972; Editorial Freeland), but a chronological repetition wound be redundant and even parasitic. We’d better focus on the story of his career. Then it’s not difficult to make a comparison with the other singers of his generation, including Gardel and Corsini. Like these two, Marambio Catán was a national singer polished by experience and the itinerant nature of the profession.

In Paraguay he made his debut in show business alongside the above mentioned Nunziata. To this almost secret venture another not less forgotten followed, already in Argentina, singing with Saúl Salinas for some months. It was by 1915; Marambio Catán was known as Carlos Núñez, hence that this outfit was formerly advertised as Salinas-Núñez. Later they changed it for Salinas-Catán, maybe under the suggestion of the itinerant singer Gabino Ezeiza. That same year the two singers who had been strongly influenced by the Mexican duos broadcast by Columbia Records (Rosales-Robinson, for example) split; Marambio Catán went on as soloist for a time.

He moved to Mendoza and became a schoolteacher; he reappeared later in San Juan, along with Carlos Montbrun Ocampo, who yet had not formed his famous group De las Alegres Fiestas Gauchas. The latter persuaded him to form the duo Marambrun which failed to succeed. In the mid- 20s we can find him with another man from Cuyo (an area that includes the provinces of Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis), Alfredo Pelaia, with whom he had a fruitful relationship (they recorded several discs from 1924 to 1928). Many years later, with two thirds of his career accomplished, he formed a duo with another musician of the region: Hilario Cuadros, the leader of Los Trovadores de Cuyo.

These activities clearly speak of his choices which would lead him to swap between tango and folk music with similar proficiency. He was an authentic spreader of our native songs of the regions of Cuyo and the pampas. Most singers at that time followed this model; they sang city music as well as country music.

Parallel to his career as singer, and many times in a happy combination, Marambio Catán polished himself as theater actor in the great theater companies of the period. With them he toured a great portion of Latin America, generally in scenes of musicals. As it happened a decade before on that tour with Salinas, he split with them before it was expected and Marambio Catán continued alone, along the Pacific coast from Peru to Colombia, and from there he started his way back home.

Time later he traveled to Europe and Egypt together with some tango orchestras (Julio De Caro, Eduardo Bianco, Juan Cruz Mateo) and continued later as soloist.

Of all Marambio Catán’s activities it is impossible to omit his contribution as author. Because of that he is remembered today, in a dictum that is not unfair, but it is indeed not thoroughly thought over when all his fame in this sense is based in the memory of three or four pieces. “Acquaforte” with music by Horacio Pettorossi, his most widely known creation which was a hit in the songbooks of Gardel and Magaldi was born in Europe. Let us add the lyrics of several tangos which became famous in their instrumental versions, such as “El monito”, “Buen amigo” or “El choclo”. And the remainder corresponds to songs that did not have the airing they probably deserved. He as well wrote tangos, waltzes and other compositions that belong to him either in music as in words.

His recording career was not as brief as his virtual oblivion as interpreter may indicate. But the lack of reissues made him an artist almost unavailable beyond certain circuits. This plus a probable lack of updating (“aggiornamento”) prevented him from being projected towards more contemporary levels, so he remained limited within a past epoch.

On May 26, 1924 he cut his first recordings for the Victor company, accompanied by the Augusto Berto Orchestra (the tangos “Perjura” and “Tengo celos”, disc Nº 77.387); soon thereafter he recorded his sides as soloist -backed by orchestra or by guitar group- as well as member of the Pelaia-Catán duo. Later he would put together a duo with Andrés Chazarreta to perform northern songs. They recorded four pieces almost unknown in March 1931 for the same label.

Around this latter date he recorded for Columbia, but the piece was unreleased and today is known thanks to the release of a sample record (information given by Fabio Cernuda). In 1932 he recorded in Spain as member of the Trío Buenos Aires with Juan Cruz Mateo and Carlos Vega. All this, besides his work in the Buenos Aires radio stations, leads us to think that he was an artist permanently busy.

After his last tour throughout provinces and countries of Latin America (with the bandoneonist Carlos Marcucci and the dancer “Vasco” Casimiro Aín) and his appearance as actor and singer at a Samuel Eichelbaum's theater play he decided to withdraw. And he did it humbly, like he had carried out his career. It was in 1943; the date may seem premature, but it's not surprising if we take into account that by that time the figure of the national singer had declined.

Marambio Catán had some accidental privileges in the history of Argentine music: as author of one of the lyrics of “El choclo (Marambio Catán)” his name was always present on the sheet-music copies, even though very few tried to sing it. He was the one who premiered the first tango written by Discépolo titled “Bizcochito” which was very seldom performed since that rendition in 1924. He was the protagonist of a strange argument among those who tried to find out if it was him or somebody else who played the part of certain advertising by Geniol. Notwithstanding these details we have an artist who deserves to be researched, who encompasses the descriptive poet in “Acquaforte” and the experienced and qualified singer, according to chronicles and recordings.

He passed away in Mendoza. He succeeded in seeing his name in the front cover of his autobiography, with prologue by Raúl González Tuñón; but however he failed to see his career revisited what still deserves to be done.