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Tango legend Leopoldo Federico dies at 87

Tango legend Leopoldo Federico, one of Argentina’s leading bandoneonists, who performed onstage in Astor Piazzolla’s, Horacio Salgán’s and Mariano Mores’ orchestras, died yesterday at age 87. Federico, who rose to fame thanks to his collaboration with Uruguayan tango singer Julio Sosa, left an indelible mark on the musical identity of Buenos Aires.

Popular bandoneonist left an indelible mark on the musical identity of Buenos Aires

Popular bandoneonist Leopoldo Federico, one of Argentine tango’s leading musicians who performed onstage in Astor Piazzolla’s, Horacio Salgán’s and Mariano Mores’ orchestras, died yesterday at age 87. Federico’s remains were taken to the Juan Domingo Perón Hall of the City Legislature, the Argentine Association of Music Performers said in a statement yesterday.

The iconic tango musician and composer was born in the neighbourhood of Balvanera on January 12, 1927. His first steps as an apprentice-musician were guided by Nicolás Ingratta, and then Paquito Requena and Félix Lipesker. Federico made his professional debut in the early 1940s with the Di Adamo-Flores orchestra in the Tabarís and other BA cabarets. Speaking about his precocious beginnings, Federico said in an interview: “I was a big boy. The first few months, when I would go out at four in the morning, my dad would wait for me at the street corner where we’d take the tram to Once. And then he had to get up at eight to go to work. I had to persuade him to let me go on my own because the musicians were starting to mock me.”

A traditional-minded musician, Federico performed alongside new tango prophet Astor Piazzolla, with whom he would often clash. He also played with the crème of local tangueros, from Alfredo Gobbi to Osmar Maderna, Horacio Salgán, Carlos Di Sarli, Mariano Mores, Lucio Demare, Florindo Sassone and Alberto Marino.

In 1952 he joined efforts with Atilio Stampone to create a new orchestra with which he performed at the Tibidabo cabaret and Radio Belgrano. He also established an orchestra with pianist Osvaldo Berlinghieri.

In the 1950s he played for a short time in the ensemble Pa' que Bailen los Muchachos, but he rose to fame during his collaboration with the Uruguayan tango singer Julio Sosa, which extended until Sosa’s death in 1964. No less than 60 records survived from Federico’s years with Sosa, including huge hits such as La cumparsita, El firulete, Cambalache, Mano a mano, En esta tarde gris and Qué me van a hablar de amor.

Sosa’s death took a toll on Federico and their group, which is why he later created the San Telmo Quartet alongside Roberto Grela, Ernesto Báez and Román Arias. The newly-formed ensemble made numerous appearances on television and on several radio stations.

In 1970 Federico performed as soloist at the premiere of Juan José Ramos’ suite Siete variaciones para bandoneón y orquesta sinfónica (Seven Variations for Bandoneon and Symphonic Orchestra) at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata.

Federico also formed a trio in 1972, alongside pianist Osvaldo Berlinghieri and double bass player Fernando Cabarcos — who died five years later and was replaced by Rafael Del Bagno.

In 2007, Federico’s Orquesta Típica — one of the last remaining orchestras of the great tango ensembles — included Antonio Príncipe, Héctor Lettera and Horacio Romo (bandoneons), Damián Bolotin, Pablo Agri, Briguita Danko and Mauricio Svidovsky (violins), Diego Sánchez (cello), Horacio Cabarcos (double bass), Nicolás Ledesma (piano) and Carlos Gari (voice).

Federico was the president of the Argentine Association of Music Performers and he became the first tanguero to record a CD — in Japan, in 1987. He wrote a series of popular tangos, including Milonguero de hoy, Sentimental y canyengue, Cabulero, Tango al Cielo, Siempre Buenos Aires, Minguito Tinguitella, A Ernesto Sábato and the milonga Calentísima, among other compositions.

Federico also wrote music for film — Rosa de lejos and Buenos Aires tango — and starred in a few documentaries, such as Por la vuelta (2002), Si sos brujo: una historia de tango (2005), Café de los Maestros (2008), Mercedes Sosa, cantora; Un viaje íntimo (2009) and Pichuco (2014).

Federico was awarded a Latin Grammy in 2009 and a Gardel Life-Achievement Award. He was also named Distinguished Citizen of Buenos Aires in 2002.

“I’ve always had the luck to see my dreams come true: playing alongside Horacio Salgán was a gift from fate, Astor Piazzolla was a one-of-a-kind experience, I remember myself with Julio Sosa and just wish I could start all over again to do exactly the same,” Federico said in an interview.

Herald with online media

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