Legendary, mythical, saintly: by all accounts, Rodrigo “El Potro” was an Argentine musical phenomenon.
Born in Cordoba, Rodrigo Alejandro Bueno achieved that rare level of Madonna-esque stardom whereby he is most commonly referred to by his first name alone. The star is also affectionately called by his nickname, ‘El Potro’, or ‘The Colt’. Considered one of the most influential cuarteto artists in the genre’s history, Rodrigo was instrumental in spreading the style beyond Cordoba to other parts of Argentina.
Cuarteto first appeared in 1943, and like other forms of Argentine music – including tango –was heavily influenced by the music styles of different immigrant groups. The music has an active and strongly articulated ‘tunga-tunga’ rhythm, and is often classified as having a tropical flavour. Cuarteto lyrics focus on themes of love – and the misfortunes of it – quotidian life, humour and dancing.
Similar to tango, cuarteto originated as music of the working class. For nearly half a century after it appeared, the style retained this reputation, and did not spread far beyond the city of Córdoba and surrounding areas. It was not until the 1990s that the genre attained national appeal and crossed social divides.
Rodrigo’s family was of modest means, but they were well connected in the music world. The singer was therefore surrounded by the cuarteto classics from birth. Carlos “La Mona” Jimenez – who is also considered one of the top cuarteto artists of all time – was good friends with Rodrigo’s mother and became a significant influence on the singer.
Surrounded by music in his home, Rodrigo got his first taste of performing at a young age: at only two years old, a pint-sized El Potro first took to the stage, appearing on television in the “Fiesta del Cuarteto”. By 11, he had joined the band Cheberé, and shortly thereafter signed his first salaried contract with Manto Negro. Against his parents’ wishes, El Potro left school when he was in seventh grade to focus on his music.
At 17, Rodrigo launched his solo career with the album “La foto de tu cuerpo.” It was with his second CD, “Aprendiendo a vivir”, however, that he gained national appeal and made his Buenos Aires debut.
Patricia Pacheco, Rodrigo’s former girlfriend and the mother of his son, remembered in a 2000 interview with Canal Trece that Rodrigo sought to “bring cuarteto to every corner of the country,” in order to “give a little bit of happiness,” particularly in difficult times.
El Potro did not gain his fame through music alone. Fans and commentators consistently recall his “charisma,” an appeal that perhaps helped him to broaden his fan base beyond that of traditional cuarteto stars.
Rodrigo was also infamous for his unique style. The star’s hairstyles were particularly notable, including everything from long, curly and unruly to short and dyed in various crazy colours, including blue and red. His well-known look also included a myriad of signature faces and poses.
By 2000, Rodrigo’s popularity was at an all time high. In that year alone, he set a record by filling Luna Park to capacity thirteen times.
Then, on the 24th June, tragedy struck. At 27 years old, Rodrigo was killed in a car crash on the way home from a gig at the Escándalo club in City Bell.
The singer’s death was mourned across the country. Over 100,000 fans attended his 18-hour wake.
This past Sunday marked the 12-year anniversary of the death of Rodrigo, killed on the same day that tango giant Carlos Gardel died in a plane crash in 1935.
Although more than a decade has passed since his death, El Potro continues to have a powerful presence in Argentina.
A look at one of El Potro’s many Facebook fan pages, for example, demonstrates this continued popularity; in a photo album “the Legend Continues”, Facebook users upload pictures of their tattoos mimicking Rodrigo’s colt design.
El Potro will soon have a 2.4metre tall statue of his own in the Gigante de Alberdi stadium, home to the Belgrano de Córdoba football team. The star was a notorious fan of his home city’s team. To help cover the estimated project cost of $290,000, the sculptor commissioned with designing the statue – artist Carlos Benavídez of Córdoba – made one hundred busts of Rodrigo to be sold to the public at $250 a piece.
To many fans, the star is remembered in a way that is nearly sanctified. In a interview with Canal Trece shortly after his death, his mother recalled “that which he had, he shared; and he suffered for the pain of others.”
This May, the television show ‘Gracias por Venir’ hosted a special remembering the musician, attended by his friends, family and other well-known musicians.
Over ten years after his death, El Potro clearly retains a place of importance in Argentine popular culture.
Dates active: 1987 — 2000
In their own words: “I do not think that I am a good singer, but I tell stories. I make people participate in my songs. I don’t talk about banalities. I want to leave a message, to transmit the testimony of those whose stories I know. I am a very attentive person. I talk about taboo subjects and those subjects that no one wants to talk about.”
Most famous song: ‘Soy Cordobés’ and ‘Lo Mejor del Amor’
Best lyrics: Love overcomes every social difference/in the calendar, every day passes by/despite the doubts and what they may say, love can be more (from ‘Ocho Cuarenta’)
Famous for: Bringing cuarteto music to new Argentine audiences.
Best to listen to: When you feel like dancing!