Leonardo Roldán

The short life of the Cátulo Castillo Orchestra

t is widely known that Cátulo Castillo started in tango as composer by writing the music of a large number of tango pieces. Let us mention a few: “Caminito del taller” (its words are also his), “Acuarelita del arrabal”, “Aquella cantina de la ribera”, “El aguacero (Canción de la Pampa)”, “El circo se va”, “El pregón”, “Invocación al tango”, “Música de calesita”, "Organito de la tarde", “Papel picado”, all of them with lyrics by his father José González Castillo, “Silbando” (co-written with Sebastián Piana and lyrics by his father), “Bichitos de luz”, with Enrique Cadícamo and some others more.

Thereafter, his notable development as lyricist placed him among the five or, maybe, six most outstanding wordsmiths in the history of tango. But also, as a juvenile fancy, like boxing, he as well had his own orchestra.

Let us image ourselves in 1927 on Boedo Street: There the Castillos live and a new singer goes from one neighboring movie theater to another trying to become known, he is Roberto Maida. In one of his appearances at the Cine Nilo, between San Juan and Cochabamba, they met and their friendship lasted until Cátulo’s death.

Maida was invited to the birthday party of Catulo’s father and he went with his guitarists. Cátulo also accompanied him on piano. As a Spanish impresario, Manuel Gorina, was there they (the new singer but with an orchestra) were invited to appear in Spain. Of course they agreed but it was not easy. Summoning experienced musicians like Pedro Maffia, Carlos Marcucci, Minotto Di Cicco was unsuccessful because they had no warranties.

On some occasions Maida used to sing backed up by a group comprised by Miguel Caló and Domingo Cuestas (bandoneons), Armando Baliotti (piano), Estanislao Savarese and Raúl Kaplún (violins) and Luis Addesso (double bass). Only Caló and Savarese agreed to join the travelers. Then Cátulo remembered he knew three musicians: the Malerba brothers. Alfredo Malerba on piano, Carlos Malerba on violin and Ricardo Malerba on bandoneon and they added another more: a player from Mendoza named Pablo Enrique Flores.

Almost without rehearsals the boys departed in search of fame and money. On their voyage they met an Argentine that was also traveling to Spain. His name was Carlos Leonetti. He was short and had a moustache. They included him in the group even though he had no idea of music playing or what a bandoneon was. Maida remembered that the actor Enrique de Rosas had one and borrowed it. The borrowing arrived. The fake musician was a smash hit for a short time. In the orchestra, the few times for showcasing the bandoneons were in charge of Caló and Flores. However Bigote, as he was called, waited for the time he had to flamboyantly stretch out his instrument to get the hurrahs from the audience and the laughter from his partners.

They decided to put aside part of the money that corresponded to each player to give it to the new member but they were amazed because he rejected it claiming that he had to be paid the same amount as the others. It was the end of his appearances.

They arrived in Barcelona on November 12, 1928 and stayed at the Isabelita guesthouse: They began to appear at the Cine Principal Place until the contract expired. Later a successful tour of several cities followed which had its peak in Madrid, at the Cine Teatro Fortuny, the cabaret Maipú Pigalle, the Teatro Royalty, among others.

On January 16, 1929 they recorded for the Odeon company. The first four tracks were: “Esta noche me emborracho”, “Qué vachaché”, both with Roberto Maida and two instrumentals: “Invitación al tango” and “Lorenzo”. Some days later, two instrumentals more: “Voy pa’ viejo” and “Chiqué”. On January 22: “Che papusa oí”. The following day: “Caminito del taller”, “Por el camino”, “Caminito” and “Malevaje” —all with Maida on vocals— and “Retintín”, an instrumental. Other recordings: “Victoria”, “Cachadora”, “Mama yo quiero un novio”, “Viejo ciego” and “Pa’ qué volvés”, all with Maida. In total 17 numbers, plus an acetate disc with “Suerte loca” which was sung by Maida with Cátulo on piano and the Uruguayan guitarist Bahillo Unzuado.

The tour ended in 1930. Carlos Malerba suddenly was ill and died there. Caló and Flores had returned before and were replaced by Alberto Cima and Américo Cuadri. Cátulo and Maida were the last ones to return after paying all their debts. Far-sighted, Cátulo had been sending money to his father to avoid problems when they had to come back. They received the money order and everything was all right. They arrived back in town with a well-deserved fame, adventures to remember and money spent on an intense life.