Irene Amuchástegui

Arbelo, the guitarist whom the tango singers preferred

e has a house in Avellaneda, a dining room that operates under the severe heading of Academia de Interpretación (Academy of interpretation). Maestro Héctor Arbelo has a well-deserved nickname: El León (The Lion), with which his friend, the legendary singer Julio Sosa baptized him. He still has thick white hair, a bulbous nose and a sort of lazy roar in his hoarse laughter.

It is surprising that this man with good memory and talkative, who is a singer and, above all, a guitarist, has spent more than six decades in his profession silently.

He told us that when he was 13 he was member of the choir that sang “Silencio” when the remains of Carlos Gardel were brought to Buenos Aires. And he added: «Then, I was among the best students of the PAADI (Primera Academia Argentina de Interpretación), run by Luis Rubistein. Some of my fellow choir members were Aída Luz and the one who later would be named Héctor Mauré. D’you know who was the doorman of that building?: Fidel Pintos!»

Time thereafter, focused on his guitar, Arbelo accompanied, from the time he was staff player on Radio El Pueblo, a large range of tango artists hard to be mentioned completely, but that he brushed up in an austere edition of his memories. And his personal old photos include an endless collage which starts at the hallway and reaches the limits of the courtyard, covering walls and tables. The listing and the gallery are overwhelming. They include most of them.

«I was who suggested Julio Sosa to split with the orchestra and become a soloist. “You want to send me to work at the harbor”, he used to tell me. But I put together a guitar group for him and we made our debut in the program Yo te canto Buenos Aires. When he was famous he came to sing for raising funds for the Villa Angélica promotion society which intended to build a new sidewalk, just because a guy, from this neighborhood who went to fetch him, mentioned my name, in spite of the fact I had not allowed him to do it».

«And Goyeneche? Do you want me to tell you something?: Goyeneche used to run away from Troilo and came with me. I’ll explain it to you. I always belonged to Avellaneda, from the time I was born I never moved more than seven blocks from here, so I’ve become much loved here. For a time I was requested in all the area: it was the time of charity fairs and all the clubs used to call me. They used to call me, and I called the Polaco and, as there was a good pay, he performed at two different venues on the same evening, after his show with Troilo he came here. I can’t remember how many times I played here with Roberto Goyeneche and in Pompeya with Alberto Morán.

«You had to see what Morán meant at the Unidos de Pompeya. He was an idol. Women were driven crazy by him. What a style he had!»

Ángel Vargas, Roberto Rufino, Tito Reyes, and his favorite singer Floreal Ruiz parade in Arbelo’s memory. He said about Rubén Juárez: «He got his first 5 bucks with me in Venado Tuerto. Time later I talked about him at the Caño 14 and they didn’t believe me. Atilio Stampone, who was the owner, told me: “You say that he sings and plays the bandoneon, do you? If he sings he doesn’t play, and if he plays he doesn’t sing”. Rubén always remembers me, he said that even in the TV show: Having lunch with Mirtha Legrand».

He says about Eladia Blázquez: «I accompanied her when she was a little girl and then we could foresee what that woman would turn into: the greatest player by ear of Buenos Aires». And he added as curious facts: «Very few know it, but I recorded with Jorge Porcel and with Marilina Ross».

And now you accompany amateur singers, your own students, do you? «I might have more students, but I pick up those, maybe older ones, who somehow have their way, if what they do it’s worthwhile».

You’re celebrating your 60th anniversary with tango. «Well, in fact, it’s sixty-four. But I celebrated sixty to round it down».

Published in Clarín, on August 21, 1997.