The history of Argentinian culture cannot be told appropriately without a big focus on their traditional and popular music, which is not only centered around tango but also a wide variety of other music, dance styles, and traditional instruments that have been born and evolved in this diverse South American country. After the arrival of the Spanish and other European settlers to the coastal regions of Argentina in the 17th century, musical tastes immediately started being influenced by the strong presence of indigenous music styles and African beats brought over by the displaced slaves who settled in Central and North America. During the following three centuries, Argentina became known as one of the most significant melting pots of culture in the Americas, fusing European and indigenous influences into a potent mix of attractive and highly popular music styles.
The traditional music of Argentina is called folklore (also known as Folklorico or música folklórica), which can be found in dozens of unique forms depending on the country's region and the century of observation. Some of the most famous examples of traditional folk music genres that have originated or have been extensively evolved in Argentina are carnavalito, cumbia, candombe, polka, media cana, rasquido doble, and of course tango which has managed to capture the worldwide attention in the second half of 20th century, making it today one of the most popular Latin dances. Originally formed out of the fusion of old milonga, polka, Cuban habanera, Spanish contradanse, Italian folk, and flamenco, Bandoneon-led tango quickly become the most dominant dance of South America. It is important to note that Folklorico is today specifically referring to all traditional folk genres of Argentina except for tango!
While the popularity of Argentine folk dance steadily increased throughout the 19th century, several folk genres went through an incredible boom of popularity after the 1950s and 1950s, when tango and newly born "rock nacional," it's Rock variant, became the number one genres of music that energized the entire musical scene of Southern America and quickly after the world.
Today, the Argentine nation has managed to retain its rich music transition by embracing genres such as Rock, Electronic, Electronic Rap (Trap), Pop, Cartueto, Soul, Reggae, and the traditional Cumbia, Tango, and many others.
The folk music of Argentina evolved during the 20th century in several different forms depending on the part of Argentina, with strong indigenous and European influences. The most popular movement came from the northwest region of the country where three musical bands (Los Fronterizos and Los Chalchaleros from the province of Salta, and the Ábalos brothers) managed to immediately capture the attention of the Argentine nation and have inspired legions of followers and a complete revival of the traditional music styles across Argentina and the surrounding regions.
"It is not often that you see life and fiction take each other by the hand and dance." – Lawrence Thornton
Argentine folk music went through significant changes during the 1960s and 1970s with the arrival of the Nueva Canción style that infused the traditional music with the rockier sound and politicized lyrics that reflected the changing cultural environment that was influenced by the string of military dictatorships in the region. This period birthed numerous folk stars, whose work still echoes today in modern composers and bands' exploits.
Today, after a century of constant evolution and merging with rich sounds of South America, Argentina music can be heard at every street from inside musical establishments called peña, all focusing on some part of rich Argentine music history from regions such as Patagonia, jungles of the north-east, northwest's hits that revived modern folk, Andean plains, Andean music that was influenced by Salta, Bolivia, northern Chile, and Jujuy, and Corrientes that was the original home of the many European settlers who enjoyed the unique chamamé style (a mix of Spanish music, polka, and waltz).
The largest festival of Argentinian music that pays homage to almost all traditional Argentine folk styles is Cosquín National Folklore Festival that was established in 1961. It is held each January in the city of Cosquín (Córdoba Province) over nine days.
Here are some of the most popular traditional historic and newly evolved dances thar are practiced today in Argentina – Chacarera, Zamba, Chamame, El gato, Yaraví, Palotiro, Bailecito, El escondid, Pericón, Carnavalito, Malamba, Cuecas, Chaya, Payada, Chamarrita, Milonga, Hanabera, Flamenco, and others.
While history books say that the present form of tango was developed in mid-19th century Argentina and Uruguay, there are many other reports of very similar music and dance styles being performed in Cuba and Spain, such as flamenco tango and various derivatives of minuet-style European dance. However, the most significant impact of these early versions of tango happened in Argentina, where rhythms of Milonga, Slavic polka, Spanish contredanse, Cuban hanabera, Andalusian flamenco, and Italian folk music, all fueled the creation of a style that is today called traditional tango.
Originally born in the brothels and drinking establishments of Buenos Aires and later Montevideo in the late 19th and early 20th century, this music style and very complex accompanying dance quickly gathered momentum and spread across the state. The fans of this original tango were called "Guardia Vieja" (the Old Guard). They preferred their tango to be performed with the traditional portable instruments such as flute, guitar, and violin trios, lightweight two-handed harmonica bandoneon, and in some cases, portable player-organ called organito.
Strongly influenced by the rhythms of African communities and indigenous music, modern tango started spreading beyond Buenos Aires and Montevideo as soon as the first recordings of the tango were made in Philadelphia (Angel Villoldo's tango recording of "El Choclo" in 1903) and Paris (Angel Villoldo and Orchestra in 1908).
Originally associated with the underclass and violent segments of Buenos Aires (such as gangsters), the tango dance needed some time to slowly emerge from the shadow, even fighting some organized attempts to limit its influence. However, by the end of World War I, several tango songs and poems that popularized its passionate origins started spreading all around the world.
After that, tango started quickly spreading first across South and Central America, and later on the rest of the world. Various international dances influenced the early tango, such as Milonga from Argentina, pampas and candombe from Uruguay, and several other music rhythms. By the time Argentina started organizing regular carnivals in the late 19th century, tango has developed at a faster pace, with first tango-focused bands and composers spreading the popularity of this music style. The first Argentine-recorded Tango was "La Canguela" from 1889, while the first tango recorded with the orchestra was "Don Juan."
In the 1920s and 1930s, tango becomes internationally known. It first found great fame in France, and quickly after, it became openly adopted in the United States as one of the most interesting new Latin dances. Its spreading was also strongly fueled by the filmography of superstar actor Carlos Gardel - an incredibly popular sex symbol of the early 20th century who promoted tango regularly in his films. To this day, Carlos Gardel is remembered as a person who played an essential part in tango history.
"It is not enough to have the most melodious voice to intone a tango. No. We must also feel it. You have to live its spirit." – Carlos Gardel
Between 1935 and the early 1950s, Tango in the United States was usually performed by larger bands with more than a dozen musicians. Some of the earliest notable performers from that age that was later named as Golden Age of tango music and dance were Mariano Mores, Juan d'Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos di Sarl, and others. By the early 1950s, tango managed to transcend its Latin origin and become openly adopted worldwide by dancers of all nationalities. The European version of tango became the most characteristic modern tango, shedding away some of the Argentine origins and adopting several European characteristics that made it more appealing to a worldwide audience.
By the 1970s, Argentine tango became strongly influenced by the rise of the popularity of Jazz and classical music, which brought the birth of the influential Tango nuevo style. Tango is still popular to this day in Argentina, with new bands being constantly formed and testing the infinite limits of this musical style.
One of the most important parts of the non-written tradition of Argentine heritage was Argentine Folklorica – a wide array of traditional music styles and dances that were practiced all across this diverse country. During the majority of its early history, Argentine music did not have an official name, and it became known as Floklorica only after several centuries of development and creation of hundreds of diverse styles. During the middle of the 19th century, it was named "floklorica" (coming from the English word folklore) to more easily distinguish old music styles from the newly developing music rhythms. It is important to note that in Argentina, floklorica is covering only traditional music and dances, and not the rest of the expressive body of culture of this country. And since tango was developed in later Argentine history, this influential music style is also regarded as not traditional folklorica.
The first organized effort to record and preserve traditional Argentine folk music arrived in the early 20th century with the formation of the organization "Conjunto de Arte Nativo" ("The Collection of Native Art") by the musician and historian Andrés Chazaretta. Today, he is remembered as the "patriarch of folklore" for his exploits of recording, preserving, and showcasing diverse Argentine folklorica across the entire country in organized tours. These tours become instrumental in raising public awareness about preserving the cultural history of the country and providing inspiration to new composers and musicians to preserve these old music styles and give them new life.
"Without the streets or dusks of Buenos Aires, a tango cannot be written." – Jorge Luis Borges
Just after the boom of tango, which emerged as the new creation of Argentine folk music that quickly captured the attention of the entire world, the traditional folklorica styles entered into the period of great political turmoil that was punctuated with the prolonged period of restricted cultural development. During the 20th century, Argentine folklorica went through several periods of rises and falls of its preservation and popularization. This, in turn, led to the awakening of strong regional and national links to the argentine music and cultural heritage, with many regions developing their own strong ties to specific music styles.
After the end of World War II, the 1950s-1960s Argentine lived through "boom del folclore", a political regime-fueled national period of the revival of cultural and musical heritage, which gave foklorica a new spotlight and chance to become part of new technologies such as recorded music, radio, television, and cinema. The years of such organized popularization led to an entirely new fork in the development of Argentinian music. This was Movimiento del Nuevo Cancionero" (The New Singer Movement), which gave birth to the brand new wave of Argentine folk musician and singers such as Toto Francia, Oscar Matus, Mercedes Sosa, and Armando Tejado Gomez, who successfully infused new forms of popular music into the traditional Argentine folk.
However, even after such revival, the turbulent political history of Argentina again managed to have a significant impact on the history of Argentine folk. A new restrictive government regime that was in power between 1976 and 1983 aimed to actively suppress any forms of free artistic, cultural, and political expression that sought to subvert the idealized image of the government. During those years, the government banned numerous folk songs due to their subversive and free-spirited lyrics, had a tight lock over radio, TV, and cinema broadcasts, it controlled the flow of information from neighboring countries, and even actively removed dissidents from public life. Most famously, the government-backed disappearances of anyone who they viewed as their opponent, which included not only political opponents, intellectuals, free-spirited artists, but also numerous musicians.
Argentine folk musicians shared the beliefs of many other artists who openly defied the will of the government, often being the target of harassment, both privately and in the open venues. Artists of any kind who dared to speak against the government publicly were, in some cases, arrested on the spot. In 1979, famous folk singer Mercedes Sosa and his entire audience in Mar del Plata were arrested on the spot and charged for subverting the government. Arrests were not the only tactic that the Argentine government used those years, with one extreme example, even leading to the musician's death. Mere hours after performing an unapproved song live, famous folk musician Jorge Cafrune was killed in a hit-and-run attack.
"The voice of the people is the will of God." – An Argentine proverb.
Such an oppressive environment inside the country eventually led to the often voluntary exile of many famous folk artists from the country, including Los Tucu Tucu, Cantores del Alba, Carlos Carabal, Los Hermanos Ábalos, Manseros Santiagueños, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and many others. After the situation in the country calmed down during the early 1980s, many of those folk artists returned to Argentina, where they doubled their efforts of promoting traditional Argentine values to the nation that was very willing to restore the memory of the traditional values. This period remained remembered as one of the most fertile age of Argentine foklorica, with countless composers, musicians, bands, and dancers promoting traditional Foklorica to the youth of modern Argentina.
The large country of Argentina has managed to become home to widely different folk styles that are influenced by various degrees of indigenous and European influences. Over the years, many music historians have noticed that Argentine folk musicians became influenced by their regional traditions and geography, leading to a vast selection of popular folk genres. Here are the most notable examples from the regions of Argentina.
Center Northwest region of Argentina is separated into several provinces that have all popularized their own rhythms:
North-west of Argentina is famous for its influence on European styles, Guarani culture, and folk rhythms of the neighboring countries. Brazilian-themed Guarani is popular not only in the Misiones region, but also in Formosa and Chaco, and Corrientes where people also deeply engage in chamamé style. Region of Entre Ríos is famous for its chamarrita that is infused with the influence of Uruguay. Finally, Santa Fe is famous for its melodic chamamé style.
Provinces of San Juan, Mendoza, and San Luis in Cuyo region are enjoying musical rhythms of tonada, gato, cueca genres, and waltz. Tonada is the most famous one, with bands being led by guitars and often with a duet of singers.
Characteristic folk music of the Patagonia region of Angertina is loncomeo, chorrillero, kaani, and cordillerana. These music genres are performed by bands of all sizes (from soloists to large bands), with the presence of traditional Indian percussion instrument of kultrún.
Provinces of Buines Aiers, La Pampa, south Santa Fe, and south Entre Ríos are very famous for folk styles of huella, cifra y estilo, and especially milonga. The music can be performed by bands of all sizes, and also, the art of improvised on-the-spot singing by the performers called payadores is also utilized across the entire region.
The region of Buenos Aires is home to the tango, which originated there and was enhanced with additional styles, musicians, and poets from neighboring areas. Tango received much attention, becoming the dominant folk music style that has spread far beyond this influential Argentinian region's borders.