The estribillista is the singer of the orchesta típica of the 1920’s and 1930’s. It must be distinguished from the cantor de orquesta (orchestra singer) of the golden age and solo tango singers.
The purpose of the estribillista is to perfom the estribillo (refrain) in such a way that the orchestra and the music remains at the center of attention. In the early 1920,s, singing was reserved to soloists such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini. These singers used to perform with guitars or small band which would accommodate their voice and were not concerned with delivering a steady beat for dancing. Orquestas típicas were performing instrumental pieces only.
Francisco Canaro was the first director to incorporate a singer to his orchestra. In invited Roberto Diaz to perform the estribillo with his orquestra. In his memoirs he says he felt like something was missing before that and soon he experimented with duos as well.
The challenges to integrate a singer to an orchestra were many at that time as there were no microphones to amplifying the voice of the singer which had to be powerful enough to accompany powerful instruments in noisy public spaces, cafes and nightclubs. Cone were used with were not estetically . Also it did not occurre to any director to slow down their pace or do major efforts to accomodate the poetry and voice of the singer until Anibal Troilo began working with Francisco FIorentino and appeared the orchestra singer in 1937. Besides the contribution of the estribillista was rarely credited. Singers were not considered full members of the orchestra and names often did not appear or recordings.
However the estribillista became popular and by the end of the 1920’s, well known soloists such as Charlo began performing with orchestras. Juan Carlos Thorry and Ernesto Famá worked with Osvaldo Fresedo, Félix Gutiérrez with Julio de Caro, Dante with D;arienzo, Teófilo Ibáñez with Firpo and Santiago Devin with Carlos Di Sarli.
The presence, status and recognition of the estribillistas continued to improve as electric technologies allowed for better performances. In the 30;s all orchestra were working with singers, some of which were associated with a particular one like Roberto Ray to Fresedo and others like Luis Diaz and Francisco Fiorentino worked with many.
But woulnt be fully integrated in the orchestra and music with full poetry until the end of the 1937 with Troilo and Fiorentino inventing the Cator de orquesta.
García Blaya, Ricardo. El cantor del Tango: su evoluci’on en el tiempo – El estribillista. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/69/El-Cantor-del-Tango:-Su-evolucion-en-el-tiempo-El-estribillista/