For more than seventy years the neighborhood in the Agronomy district has not changed much. The familiar sight of ladies washing the sidewalk and cats playing on top of the cars parked on the street are a common daily occurrence. Then there is that house where Chula Clausi lived surrounded by piles of musical scores on the table, on shelves, on chairs. Close to 500 of his own published works. Where visitors grew accustomed at being received by a man dressed like he was going to a concert.
On February 17, 2010 something changed. Don Gabriel, the 98 year old neighbor, known by many as the bandoneon player, composer and arranger Chula Clausi, died of respiratory complications. With his departure, he took with him a fascinating and mysterious centennial history that includes a major swath of the evolution of the tango. His life trajectory includes a active role in the fostering of the Guardia Vieja all the way to a late rediscovery of his talent way into the 21st century. A mixture of religious man and modest person, he preferred to say that his trajectory and the general recognition he obtained in the last few years were “a gift of God”.
Actually it was a hot and humid summer night that God chose to work His mysterious ways via rock and roll band Los Piojos (The fleas). Already into his nineties in 2003 Clausi surprised the standing room only 70,000 plus crowd at River Plate Stadium when he slowly walked with an old time elegance across the stage, totally dressed in white as a guest of Los Piojos. He got an thunderous ovation as he pulsed the always austere and confessional sound of his bandoneón.
Something similar happened a couple of years later at the Teatro Colon. He walked slowly on stage, delivered an intimate interpretation and received the unanimous applause of the audience. Of course, that was the Cafe de los Maestros CD Release Party night. His presence among other glories of the tango stood out not only for his longevity conjugated with vitality but also by his subtle style and his rich history. And with the launching of Gustavo Santaolalla and Gustavo Mozzi’s project, the journalistic curiosity and the attention of a public not necessarily tanguero were focused on him.
It’s not unusual for Argentines to venerate dead people with fanatical passion while being blase about those still alive, but Clausi was already playing at Teatro Astral at age 15 with the Francisco Pracánico orchestra along side Miguel Calo. In 1928 he was part of the Roberto Firpo orchestra, recorded and played with Pedro Maffia during five years, was one of the main members of the orchestra of Julio De Caro in 1936, knew Carlos Gardel, composed with Celedonio Flores, Enrique Cadícamo, Francisco De Caro and Jose Maria Contursi.
Strictly speaking, he had known them all. He was part of the representative ensembles of the Guardia Vieja led by Juan Maglio “Pacho” and Roberto Firpo. But its main influence was Pedro Maffia, the father of a whole stylistic school of bandoneón playing. For Clausi, the golden decades of the tango had been the 20’s and 30. Later he missed the definitive consecration: during the 40’s and part of the 50’s he lived and worked in several countries of Latin America, mainly in Chile. Peculiarly – and also, unfortunately, he returned to the country when the tango began to wane.
Gabriel Clausi always played the same since the beginning, trying to do what he felt. His artistry didn’t reside in the virtuosity, it was in his expression. “Chula” never touched with his fingers nor with his brain. He played with his heart.
He has now graduated of immortal, and his name has become synonym of legend.