Music of Argentina - Traditional Argentinian Music

To many, the music of Argentina is tango, but music tastes of this diverse country were built on numerous styles. Outside Buenos Aires, the cradle of the traditional tango music, another musical style reigns and manages to captivate minds of people - Argentine folklore.

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Argentine folk music and dance developed much before the arrival of tango, mixing the styles of song and dance of indigenous people, colonial settlers from Europe (mostly Spain), and African slaves who all started settling into the newly formed country during the 17th century.

The arrival of tango put the Argentina on the cultural map of the world, and since the early 1900s, this dance became one of the most popular Latin dances worldwide. Developed by the underclass of Argentina and Uruguay, and under influences of numerous European, African and indigenous styles (such as milonga), tango quickly became one of the foundation stones of modern Argentine culture and music.

As one of the largest South American countries, culture of this land is rich with countless types of music

Argentine Folk Music

Argentine folk music is today known under several names, most notablyfolklore music, folkloric music, or folklórica. It exists not as a single musical entity, but as a mix of numerous styles and forms that differ one from another by the influences of the region, climates and local traditions of the parts of Argentine where they were developed. The exact origins of the any of those individual regional styles are now lost to time, but modern versions of those styles can be traced to individual influential artists and composers who have contributed to the modern development of those styles.

Traditional folklore instruments are guitar, violin, and drums. Some music styles also use bandoneón (best known for its use in tango music), and indigenous Andean instruments such as wooden flute “quena” and small banjo “charango”. Clothing is focused on traditional Argentinian outfits, with women wearing long and full skirts that allow movement, while men wear wide gaucho pants that get narrow at the ankles (bombachas), wide brim hats, boots, and scarves. Some dances require dancers to hold scarves in hand.

History of Argentine Folklorica

Early history

During the majority of the history of Argentine folklorica, this musical style existed only as a part of the non-written tradition of Argentine heritage. It only received the name “folklorica” during the middle of 19th century, coming from the English word folklore. While in rest of the world “folklore” describes a wider expressive body of culture that was shared by particular nation or group of people, in Argentina this word is only used to describe “folklorica”, diverse folk music and dances of this large country.

For centuries, folk music and dances of Argentina were not recorded in written form. This changed during the early 20th century with the exploits of Andrés Chazaretta (today known in Argentina as the “patriarch of folklore”) who developed a group “Conjunto de Arte Nativo” (“The Collection of Native Art”) which was focused on preservation, recording and showcasing of the Argentine folklórica across entire country. Their first highly successful tour happened in 1906, kickstarting larger movement of preserving Argentine musical and dance heritage, and creation of many other musical groups which were focused on developing new traditional music of Argentina.

Argentine folk music has managed to endure ages and still remain popular today

20th century

The modern history of Argentina featured numerouspolitical changes, which influenced or restricted cultural development, created rises and falls in preservation and popularization of heritage and cultural values of this country. This enabled folklorica (together with tango and other traditions of Argentina) to become strongly linked with regional and national identity during the 1950s and 1960s when Argentine folklore underwent through a significant revival that is today often referred as “boom del folclore”.

During that time, many new bands, authors, singers, and composers started producing brand new songs in the traditional styles of regional Argentine folklore. Their efforts were boosted by the new recording and playback technologies, political regime that was focused on the promotion of traditional Argentine identity, as well as the more urbanized population that was hungry to consume new music via radio, television, and cinema.

The years of “Boom del folclore” eventually crystallized into the “Movimiento del Nuevo Cancionero” (The New Singer Movement) that lasted between the 1960s and 70s, featuring the rise of many popular Argentine folk singers and musicians such as Armando Tejado Gomez, Toto Francia, Oscar Matus and Mercedes Sosa. They all managed to mix the elements of traditional Argentine folk music, tango, and rock into new forms of popular music.

1970s-1980s Dirty War and Folk Music

Change in government regime between 1976-1983 led to the return of the system that repressed any form of free artistic, cultural and political expression that subverted the image of the government. This led to the banning of the numerous folk songs because of their non-approved subversive lyrics, government-backed disappearances of artists, intellectuals, political opponents, and exile of many notable folk musicians such as Carlos Carabal, Los Tucu Tucu, Cantores del Alba, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Los Hermanos Ábalos, Manseros Santiagueños and others.

During those years, numerous Argentinian music artists tried to openly defy the will of the government and their censorship measures by performing the banned songs, which in some cases led to the reprisals by government forces. One of the most notable examples of this is the rumored assassination of the famous folk musician Jorge Cafrune who was killed in a hit-and-run accident shortly after he sang an unapproved song. Other performers who tried to do the same were often harassed by the government or police personnel, or even interrupted and arrested during live performances (such as folk singer Mercedes Sosa and his entire audience in Mar del Plata in 1979).

After the early 1980s, government pressure against subversive songs slackened, and many exiled folk musicians returned to Argentina which then underwent another age of promotion of traditional values. Folk music was reintroduced to people hungry for traditional values, and new generations of composers, musicians and singers promoted folklorica into one of the most popular musical styles of modern Argentina.


Regional differences of Argentine music

Here are folk music and dance styles that are popular in the regions of Argentina:

Center Northwest Folk Music

  • Santiago del Estero - Chacarera, gato and escondido
  • Salavina - Vidala
  • Córdoba - Cuyo music
  • Tulumba - Chachatera, zamba, jota cordobesa, bailecito cordobés and gato
  • Salta - Zamba and baguala

Littoral Folk Music

Guarani, schotis, galopa, chamame, chamarrita, rasguido doble, valseado, chacarera estirada and milonga.

Southern or Buenos Aires Folk Music

Milonga, huella, cifra y estilo and Tango

Cuyo Folk Music

Tonada, gato and cueca styles, closely connected with influences of Chile It is popular in provinces such as San Juan, Mendoza and San Luis, south of Córdoba, Catamarca, La Rioja and La Pampa

Patagonia Folk Music

In Patagonia (provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego), most notable musical styles are loncomeo, cordillerana, chorrillero and kaani.

Argentine Folk Dance

Traditional Argentine folk dances differ widely across its large territory. The most popular ones are without a doubt Chacarera, Chamamé, and Zamba.

Here are only some of numerous traditional folk dances of Argentina:

  • Chacarera
  • Zamba
  • Chamame
  • El gato
  • Yaraví
  • Palotiro
  • Bailecito
  • El escondid
  • Pericón
  • Carnavalito
  • Malamba
  • Cuecas
  • Chaya
  • Payada
  • Chamarrita

Tango Music

Tango arose in underprivileged parts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the 19th century as the reaction to the mix of the incredible variety of influences by newly arrived settlers from all around the Europe. A mix of the styles of traditional Argentine songs of Milonga, Cuban hanabera, Slavic polka, Spanish contradanse, Andalusian flamenco and Italian folk music led to the creation of traditional tango, which continued to evolve both in Argentina and outside of it when it managed to find worldwide popularity in after the early 1900s.

Tango is today regarded as one of their greatest national musical styles and dances, popularized by incredible variety of musicians and songwriters that not only promoted tango in early 1900s (such as very popular Carlos Gardel), but were also part of large bands during “The Golden Age of Tango" (1930 to mid-1950s), development of Tango Nuevo and more modern Neo Tango.

Other Genres

  • Rock and roll - Also known as Argentine Rock or Rock Nacional. This name is also often closely connected with pop music, and styles such as Ska, reggae, Funk and Blues
  • Pop - Artists and bands such as Bandana, Miranda!, Alejandro Lerner, Babasónicos, and many others.
  • Cumbia - Argentine music with Colombian roots, rose in popularity after the 1960s.
  • Cuarteto - A famous form of dance music that is closely connected with Merengue. It gained popularity in Argentina during the 1940s and went through a spike in popularity during the revival in 1980s.
  • Fanfarria Latina - Less popular Argentine music style developed from the influences of Balkan folk and Latin rhythm music, under the guidance of band La Fanfarria del Capitán.
  • Art and Jazz music
  • Classical music