As ethnic Hungarian, his original Eastern order name was Debály Ferenc József. His Christian names were later in Uruguay translated into the Spanish version, but his surname is known to be spelled as Debali, de Bali, Debáli, Debály and Debally.
He played the oboe. In 1820, he went abroad to pursue his musical career in the Kingdom of Sardinia. There, in Alessandria, he married Magdalena Bagnasco, from Genoa. They had several children, some of which were born in Uruguay. After a short stay at São Paulo, Brazil, which he fled due to a yellow fever epidemic, he arrived in Uruguay in 1838. Here he was the director of the orchestra at the Sala de Comedias in Montevideo from 1841-48.
In 1845 he composed what would be adopted three years later as the Uruguayan national anthem, to a text by Francisco Acuña de Figueroa. It was played for the first time in public on July 19, 1845. Fernando Quijano, his assistant, who had submitted the composition to the government's selecting contest, was credited with the authorship because of Debali's failure to grasp the content, in the Spanish language, of the governmental decree that adopted his composition as the country's anthem.
^This place is given by Magyar múlt Dél-Amerikában, 1519-1900 by László Szabó (Európa, 1982), quoting from Debali's emigration document. This seems to be a Hungarian name of a place that lies now in Romania and is known by a Romanian name. The Hungarian original gives "Oláhország" as the administrative region in which this place is located. Oláhország is nowadays often used in Hungarian synonymously with "Havasalföld", meaning Wallachia. Havasalföld means "Snowy Mountains" (Muntenia), and Oláhország means "Land near the Olt river" (Oltenia), the two regions which make up Wallachia. It has been suggested to identify "Kinséen" as either Chinteni, which has a similar pronunciation, but lies in Transylvania, the region which lies north of Oltenia; or Câineni, Vâlcea County, which actually lies in Oltenia; but no source confirming either of these places has been found yet. Many other sources state "Kinnen" or "Kineen" as birthplace which seems to be an approximate Hungarian phonetic transcription of the Romanian name of Câineni.