Ricardo García Blaya

The tango singer: His evolution along time - The refrain singer

ince 1924 and based on an idea of Francisco Canaro's, when trying to add new effects to his orchestra, the «cantor estribillista» (refrain singer) appeared, necessary forerunner of the «orchestra singer» in the 40s. It is a trascendental event, point of departure for the second part of this history.

Roberto Díaz was the vocalist chosen by Canaro to sing first, and later record, the tango Así es el mundo, whose author was his brother Mario, so opening the inclusion of song in orchestral tango.

The estribillista is restricted to a very small and humble part of the lyrics, and consequently on many records his name was not even included on the labels.

Not only the estribillista was cast to a second level, but also the lyricists, who many times were not mentioned in the sheet-music or, when included, their names appeared with fonts of a much smaller size than those of the composer's.

Anyway, the inclusion of the major singers of the time as refrain singers, such as Antonio Rodríguez Lesende and Agustín Irusta, was establishing their position, and in the 30s no orchestra was thought of as, at least, having two vocalists.

The refrain singer was, above all, a hero facing the worst conditions, he had to impose the human voice, for a very short time during the composition, upon the sound of an orchestra which did not stop the drive when he sang and, against the customers' noise in the cafeterias, naturally noisy and lacking in mikes, he had to turn to small speakers or megaphones to defend himself.

Also Canaro was who encouraged the vocal duos by adding a second singer to his orchestra.

In 1927 the Agustín Irusta-Roberto Fugazot duo won the fourth Disco Nacional contest, with the tango “Noche de reyes” and, in the same year, they recorded “Queja indiana”, which got the fourth place at that contest.

Osvaldo Fresedo adhered to the novelty contributed by his colleague by including the estribillistas Juan Carlos Thorry and Ernesto Famá.

Félix Gutiérrez joined the Julio De Caro sextet, Carlos Dante was the first estribillista of the first Juan D'Arienzo line-up, and Santiago Devin was hired for Carlos Di Sarli´s sextet.

Charlo, is spite of being already famous as soloist, performed and recorded as estribillista in various orchestras at the same time: Canaro, Lomuto and Carabelli. In many cases, when he sang with Canaro, the same number was recorded as refrain singer, and some time later as soloist accompanied by the maestro's orchestra.

The legendary Juan Maglio Pacho, one of the major tango players in the 10s and 20s, introduced the vocalist Carlos Viván, who later sang with the Típica Brunswick and with Pedro Maffia, among many others.

The boom of the estribillistas forced the record companies to hire them as singers of the label, or in the language of that time «cantores de la casa» (singers of the house). This situation bound them to sing in all the orchestras which worked for the recording label.

Teófilo Ibáñez, who started with Firpo, in 1928, on being hired by Brunswick, recorded simultaneously with Osvaldo Fresedo, Ricardo Brignolo and the Típica Brunswick, to mention a few of them.

The case of Luis Díaz is more than eloquent, because he recorded with almost all the orchestras of the period.

Between 1929 and 1935 through the ranks of the Orquesta Típica Víctor passed: Ernesto Famá, Jaime Moreno, Alberto Gómez, Augusto Vila, Carlos Lafuente, Teófilo Ibañez, Vicente Crisera, Samuel Aguayo, Francisco Fiorentino, Dorita Davis, Príncipe Azul, Charlo, Fernando Díaz, Héctor Palacios, Luis Díaz, etc.

In December 1931 Roberto Ray joined Fresedo´s orchestra, and proved himself an emblematic figure of that setting.

The pioneer of the estribillistas, Roberto Díaz, after his stint with Canaro, was in the orchestras of Cayetano Puglisi, Carlos Marcucci, Luis Petrucelli and Orquesta Típica Victor, in the latter, together with the singers Juan and Pedro Lauga.

The great bandoneonist Pedro Maffia had in his units the collaboration of the singers Roberto Maida, Francisco Fiorentino, Rafael Cisca and Pedro Lauga.

And even the great Agustín Magaldi was refrain singer on several occasions in the orchestras of Osvaldo Fresedo, Donato-Zerrillo and Ricardo Brignolo.

Little by little the image of the estribillista was growing, not only in the artistic level but also in the economic level, and here Francisco Canaro's influence was felt because besides being musical director he was an important theater impresario, whose special field were musical comedies.

Singer and orchestra began to share members and marquee. The refrain singer was growing in his performances by adding a new part of the lyrics and, sometimes, the complete lyric.

An example of this was the play La muchachada del centro, premiered in 1932, written by Canaro himself and Ivo Pelay, where the estribillista Ernesto Famá had an unusual success.

Other renowned estribillistas were: Carlos Varela, Antonio Buglione, Juan Carlos Delson, Luis Scalon, Nicolás Gianastasio, Luis Mandarino, Jorge Omar, etc.