Edmundo Rivero, that cavernous voice of tango that turned lunfardo into cultural heritage

Edmundo Rivero, that cavernous voice of tango that turned lunfardo into cultural heritage

Read more from Author Ben Oakley here: https://globelivemedia.com/author/ben-oakley/

Edmundo Rivero, “El Feo”, legend of tango (Wikipedia)

Lo apodaron The ugly one because his face was not in line with that of other singers with fresh skin and cinema smiles, of the eternal gallants who fell in love at the dances of the city. But Edmundo rivero more than ugly was a rara reviews of tango, a voice that broke with everything heard and a lunfardesque poetry that turned the speech of the underworld into cultural heritage. The musician, composer and guitarist was a punk, he did what came out of his guts and that cost him many rejections before reaching consecration.

35 years ago he died in Buenos Aires and left a legacy that changed Buenos Aires music forever, placing him in the pantheon of greats such as Gardel, Corsini, From the rail, Freedom Lamarque and Piazzolla, among others.

One of those artists who mark a before and after, who are teachers without having taught, simply because they have turned an originality to a work that would, in many cases, be taken over by their successors.

Leonel, the cultured child of the suburb

He began his career as Leonel, a name he inherited from an English great-grandfather who was spearheaded by the Ranqueles on the hostile frontier. Later, it would be Edmundo, legacy of the reading passion of his mother Anselma for The Count of Monte Cristo of Dumas.

He was born in June 1911 at the Puente Alsina train station, where his father was a railway chief, in an area inhabited by the last drovers. He lived for a short time in Moquehuá, near Chivilcoy, where his father had been transferred, but he suffers from an illness unrecognizable to the town’s doctors and, at six years of age, they all return to the city, to settle in Saavedra.

Together with Jorge Luis Borges and Ástor Piazzolla

Together with Jorge Luis Borges and Ástor Piazzolla

There music and poetry definitively enter his life, not only by his parents, but also accompanied by a whole cultural environment. Your uncle Justo Duarte, an accountant general of the Government House, fond of music and singing, organized meetings with poets and singers, while another maternal uncle, Angel Dura, encouraged him to read Strong soul, Lugones, Espronceda and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few. Singing is a congenital emotional manifestation. My training is due to my parents, my uncles and the payadores and improvisers that I listened to, ”he said in an interview.

Far from what you can think of for his style and themes, little Edmundo was not just a product of neighborhood and street dances. He was not self-taught; he studied guitar and singing at the Conservatory. And tango was not his first love, even Gardel.

“I used to listen to him (Gardel) on those old radios and I liked him a lot, but I was on something else. He still didn’t sing tangos but southern songs: milongas, styles, vidalitas and those things. On the other hand, I did learn a lot from opera, from lied. It happens that when one meets Schubert O Beethoven O Rossini O Wagner, to the great musicians, he can put that knowledge into tango ”, he explained.

There is another anecdote that paints him, in which he marks the crossroads between these two worlds that gave a uniqueness to his style: “One day the Iliad, of Homero; I read it at once, like an adventure novel, and I liked it so much that I decided to transfer some of its passages to the Creole sextinas. When I put on a pampeana milonga music and sang it to the bar in the corner sitting on the curb of the sidewalk, my Homer looked terribly like Jose Hernandez”.


He studies hard and meanwhile he plays still lifes, sings with payadores and begins the obligatory circuit of radios and hotels, he was still Leonel. “When I lengthened my pants, I was already an accomplished guitarist and began to make my forays into the incipient radios of that time,” he tells Front page in ’68.

In the early ’30s, he formed a duo with his sister Eva and another with his brother Aníbal. With her they broadcast popular music on Radio Cultura; With him they played Spanish music on guitar, at tea time at the Alvear Palace Hotel. He becomes a companion to others who would gain fame, such as Nelly Omar and Francisco Love. But he was still a second man, a good guitarist.

“The first salary I received on the radio was the product of a barter between the station and an advertising company: a fish! … although to choose between silverside and hake.”

But the guitar was not only the way to his first jobs, but also “a golden key” that allowed him to enter a world accessible to the few, the underworld, the dubious bars, where thieves, thugs and cafishos met, and that they brought the lexicon that would finish forging the legend: the lunfardo.

Legend has it that once, in a cinema in the La Mosca neighborhood, Avellaneda, they hired him to score the silent film Hangover. One day, bored of repeating the same thing, he dared to sing. He suffered his first major rejection, the audience hit the floor and was fired that afternoon.

Aníbal Troilo and Edmundo Rivero in the program "I sing to you Buenos Aires" which channel 11 was broadcasting in the early 1960s

Aníbal Troilo and Edmundo Rivero in the program “Yo te canto Buenos Aires” that channel 11 broadcast in the early 1960s 

The telephone “lift” that would change everything

Meeting women was not easy outside of normal settings and the parents were always there. So together with his friend Benjamin Achával they had articulated an unorthodox method, but it had paid off: they called a random number and if a young woman answered, he sang a romantic song to her.

One afternoon, after the song, the girl told him: “I have a conservatory and it would be good if my brother listened to it. He is putting together an orchestra ”.

Era Hermelinda de Caro, sister of July, already a more than successful violinist and conductor. However, to his disappointment, the grouping was of Jose de Caro and there he spent two years receiving for a minimum, until Julio summoned him for the carnivals at the Pueyrredón cinema, in the Flores neighborhood. “Instead of raising a mine I raised an orchestra,” he said years later.

But money was still scarce. So he abandoned his dreams and became a clerk in the Administrative Service of the Arsenal de Guerra, although that life of schedules and rules disturbed him. A friend, Emilio Karstulovic, former car racer and radio owner The Voice of the Air and from the magazine Tuning, called him one afternoon and proposed a program. I agree. He had to try again.

Rivero sings for former president Raúl Alfonsín (Wikipedia)

Rivero sings for former president Raúl Alfonsín (Wikipedia) 

Not a day passed and he had already received an invitation from Horacio Salgán. Two revulsive Tango were. Salgan was an exquisite arranger, but he went against the rhythms accepted by the public. They looked for a place to play permanently, but they were all turned away, so they had to wander to different bars.

“Salgán’s music, his orchestrations, at that time were revolutionary and I had a bass voice, something unheard of in a time when all tango singers exhibited a tenor register.” “What that director does is not tango and to top it off he has a singer with a sick chest,” they were told.

The style of The ugly one it was not canonical. It had nothing to do with the successful archetype of the pintón or the compadrito of the golden age of tango. His low register, in a context dominated by baritones and tenors, was also accompanied by lyrics with that language unintelligible to many, when what was marking the market at that time was the romantic.

Edmundo Rivero sings “Sur”

All this produced that unfortunately there are no records of the work with Salgán. However, beyond the rejection, that singer with a cavernous voice was beginning to have his admirers.

’47 was the hinge year. Joins the orchestra of Anibal Troilo, and something paradigmatic happens. People stop dancing and start clapping and throwing things in the air. This situation bothers and bothers Pichuco; an orchestra was the heart of a dance, not a show in itself. There is a little war of egos in there, but success holds them together.

The partnership lasts three years and a couple dozen recordings remained, some in duet with Floreal Ruiz. Then, his voice became canonical in tangos like The last little organ, O I bless you, but above all with Sureby Manzi and Troilo.

Already in ’50 he had his own star and began to participate in the cinema: Heaven in the hands (1950), To the beat of your lie (1951), Leather ball (1963), The impure goddess (1964), Buenos Aires, summer 1912 (1966) and Argentinian II (1973).

Edmundo Rivero in “Leather Ball”

This is how the tours of the interior arrive, the big contracts and for ’59, he performs in Madrid for seven months. In the mid-1960s, he toured the countries of Latin America and the United States. It even reaches Japan, where it is a success.

“In Japan there is a society, the ‘Suivu Kai’, whose translation is roughly ‘The Wednesday meeting’. Its affiliates gather twenty million and are called ‘Los maniáticos del tango’, ‘Corrientes y Esmeralda’, ‘Los locos del compás’, ‘Buenos Aires’. Every week its members study Spanish for an hour, in order to understand the lyrics of our songs, they discuss porteño styles of interpretation and they make fervent apologies for our singers ”, he said on the way back from the trip. In honor of that experience he composed Arigató, Nipón, Arigató (Thank you, Japan, Thank you), with words in the local language.

In 1965 he sang the milongas of Jorge Luis Borges set to music by Astor Piazzolla. Despite his knowledge of the suburbs, he claimed to enter in those letters “another country, despite naming beings and places that he believed he had known for years,” he wrote in A warehouse light, his autobiography. In addition, he published The voices and Gardel and the song.

The old warehouse, corner of Independencia and Carlos Calvo, San Telmo

The old warehouse, corner of Independencia and Carlos Calvo, San Telmo 

In 1969 he inaugurated the emblematic El Viejo Almacén, in San Telmo, which became one of the main Buenos Aires tango centers and through which not only the great references of city music passed, but also visitors such as the former kings of Spain Juan Carlos and Sofia, Gina Lollobrigida, Rafaela Carrá O Joan Manuel Serrat. Today, this emblematic space barely resists the attacks of Covid-19.

In 1985 he received the Platinum Konex for Best Male Tango Singer. Among the audience was one of his biggest fans, the then president Raúl Alfonsín.

El Feo, the cavernous vox of tango, the punk suburb who gave a twist to this musical genre, suffered cardiomyopathy that December, after several weeks in hospital, he died 35 years ago.

Ben Oakley
Ben Oakley is the guy you can really trust when it comes to Mainstream News. Whether it is something happening at the Wall Street of New York City or inside the White House in Washington, D.C., no one can cover mainstream news like Ben. Get a daily dose of Trustworthy News by Ben Oakley, only at Globe Live Media.