Tango is the country's most prominent and most exported musical form, but by no means its only means of musical expression. The traditional music which binds almost the whole
country is
, whose stirring rhythms and passionate singing
can be found in varying forms throughout the northern half of the country. Superb music is produced in the north, in the Andean region of Salta and Jujuy. And home-grown Rock Nacional is the country's main strand of pop music, successfully fending off North American and European competition throughout the 1980s and 1990s to form a distinctive sound.


If your trip to Argentina includes any time in Buenos Aires, you'll undoubtedly see some tango - probably danced on the streets of Florida or San Telmo, though its much more
than a tourist attraction. Testimony to the enduring success of the music among Argentines
are the radio stations which only play tango, and the
(dance clubs) filled with young people learning the old steps.

Although also sung and played, the tango was born as a dance just before the turn of the 20th century. The exact moment of birth was not recorded by any contemporary observer and continues to be a matter of debate, though the roots can be traced. The name 'Tango' predates the dance and was given to the carnivals (and dances) of the local inhabitants of the Río de la Plata in the early 19th century, elements of this tradition being taken over by settlers as the local population declined. However, the name 'Tango Americano' was also given to the Habanera (a Cuban descendent of the English Country Dance) which became all the rage in Spain and bounced back into the Río de la Plata in the middle of the 19th century, not only as a fashionable dance together with the polka, mazurka, waltz and cuadrille but also as a song form in the very popular '
', or Spanish operettas. However, the Habanera led not a double, but a triple life, by also infiltrating the lowest levels of society directly from Cuba via sailors who arrived in the ports of Montevideo and Buenos Aires. Here it encountered the Milonga, originally a gaucho song style, but by 1880 a dance, especially popular with the so-called '
' and '
', who frequented the port area and its brothels, whence the Argentine Tango emerged around the turn of the century to dazzle the populace with its brilliant, personalized footwork, which could not be accomplished without the partners staying glued together.

As a dance tango became the exceedingly popular and, as the infant recording industry
grew in leaps and bounds, it also became popular as a song and an instrumental genre, with the original violins and flutes being eclipsed by the
button accordion, then being imported from Germany. In 1911 the new dance took Paris by storm, thanks to the performance of the dance in a Paris salon by Argentine writer Ricardo Güiraldes, one of a group of aristocrats who enjoyed frequenting the dives where tango was popular. As soon as it was the fashion in Paris, it returned triumphant to Buenos Aires, achieving both respectability and notoriety, and becoming a global phenomenon after the First World War. Actor Rudolph Valentino helped the image of the dance, when his 1926 movie
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
included a tango scene.

But it was Carlos Gardel (1887-1935), Argentina's most loved tango legend, whose mellifluous voice brought popularity to the music of tango, and whose poor background made him a hero for the working classes too. Tango has always been an expression of the poor and of social and political developments in the country. Incredibly, Gardel recorded over 900 songs and was a huge success in many movies.
The Tango on Broadway
was his big success in 1934. Today you will still see his image on everything from posters to ice cream shops, and people still dance to his voice. After Gardel's tragic death in 1935, tango slumped a little, frowned upon by the military regime who considered it subversive. Its resurgence in the 1940s was assisted by Perón's decree that 50% of all music played on the radio must be Argentine. Great stars of this era include the brilliant
player Aníbal Troilo, whose passionate and tender playing made him much loved among a wide audience. In the 1950s, tango again declined, replaced in popularity by Rock'n'Roll. It had become increasingly the preserve of middle class and intellectual circles, with the emphasis on nostalgia in its themes. But its next innovator and star was Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), who had played in Troilo's orchestra, and who went on to fuse tango with jazz and create a tango for listening to, as well as dancing. Threatened by the military
government in the 1970s Piazzollla escaped to Paris, but his success was already international,
and his experimental arrangements opened up the possibilities for other fusions. However,
in the past thirty years it has made a resurgence and is once again popular with young people in the Argentine bars and cafés and it has become a popular dance throughout the rest of the world. A new genre of tango music has arisen which mixes traditional themes with electronica, and groups like The Gotan Project are now world renowned. All over Buenos Aires, and all over the province, you can find dance classes where the classic moves are taught, followed by a dance or
where couples, young and old, breathe life into the old steps. Part of its attraction, perhaps, is that in the world of tango, men are allowed to be macho and seductive, while their women are required to be sensitive to the subtlety of their next move. Unlike salsa, for example, tango is a dance of repressed passion. Try a class, at least once, while you're in Argentina, to get a feel for the dance from the inside. And then, if you can afford it, see the expert dancers' dextrous footwork at a show such as
El Viejo Almácen.


Beyond Buenos Aires, the dominant musical traditions can be broadly described as
. This takes various forms over the north of the country, with the finest examples in Salta, but all the northern provinces have a very rich and attractive heritage of folk dances, mainly for couples, with arms held out and fingers
clicked or handkerchiefs waved, with the '
Paso Valseado
' as the basic step. The slow and stately Zamba is descended from the Zamacueca, and therefore a cousin of the Chilean Cueca and Peruvian Marinera, where the handkerchief is used to greatest effect. Equally popular throughout most of the country are the faster Gato, Chacarera and Escondido. These are the dances of the gaucho and their rhythm evokes that of a cantering horse with wonderfully stirring syncopation. Guitar and the
drum provide the accompaniment. Particularly spectacular is the Malambo, where the gaucho shows off his dextrous footwork, creating a complex rhythm
using the heels of his boots, alternating with percussion created by whirling the hard balls of the
into the ground, with the spurs of his boots adding a steely note to the rhythm.

Different regions of the country have their own specialities. The music of Cuyo in the west is sentimental and very similar to that of neighbouring Chile, with its Cuecas for dance and Tonadas for song. The northwest on the other hand is Andean, with its musical culture closer to that of Bolivia, particularly on the
, where the indigenous groups play haunting wind instruments, the
and sound mournful notes on the great long
evocative of huge mountain landscapes. Here the dances are Bailecitos and Carnavalitos, depending on the time of year. Exquisitely beautiful and mournful songs - the extraordinary
high pitched
- are sung to the banging of a simple drum. And everyone, from children to grandmothers, can quote you a
: two lines of rhymed verse expressing love or a witty joke. Tomás Lipan's music is worth seeking out, especially his
Cautivo de Amor.
Andean bands use the
, pan pipes and miniature guitar, the
, to create ethereal and festive music which reflects the seasons of the rural calendar. In the northeast provinces of Corrientes and Misiones, the music shares cultural similarities with Paraguay. The
are danced and the local
is sung, to the accordion or the harp, in sentimental style. Santiago del Estero has exerted the strongest influence on Argentine folk music as a result of the work of Andres Chazarreta: it is the heartland of the Chacarera and the lyrics are often part Spanish and part Quichua, a local dialect of the Andean Quechua language. Listen, too, to Los Caravajal, and Los Hermanos Abalos. Down in the province of Buenos Aires you are more likely to hear the gauchos singing their Milongas, Estilos and Cifras and challenging each other to a Payada or rhymed duel - protest songs and wonderfully romantic and witty stories to guitar accompaniment. Seek out Atahualpa Yupangui's
El Payador Persguido
. Argentina experienced a great
revival in the 1950s and 1960s and some of the most celebrated groups are still drawing enthusiastic audiences today. These groups include Los Chalchaleros and Los Fronterizos, the perennial virtuoso singer and guitarist, Eduardo Falú and, more recently, León Gieco from Santa Fe. Most famous of all, though, is the superb Mercedes Sosa, whose rich voice articulated much of the sorrow and joy of the last 30 years in a brilliant series of albums, which also include the most popular
songs. Start with
The Best of Mercedes Sosa.
Also listen to Ariel Ramírez, a famous singer and pianist whose moving
Misa Criolla
is among his best known work. The
of Córdoba, popular since the 1940s with the characteristic dance in a huge circle, can best be sampled in the much loved records of Carlos 'La Mona' Jiminez.

Rock Nacional

The great stars of Rock Nacional are still much loved and listened to. The movement started in the 1960s with successful bands Los Gatos, and Almendra, whose songwriter Luis Alberto Spinetta later became a successful solo artist. But the Rock Nacional found its real strength in expressing unspeakable protests during the military dictatorship from
1976-1983. Charly García, who was a member of the enormously successful band Sui
Generis, captured popular feeling with his song
No Te Dejes Desanimar
(Don't be Discouraged),
which roused mass opposition amongst young people against the atrocities
of the
. Inevitably, the military regime cottoned on to this form of subversive behaviour and stopped rock concerts, so that many bands had given up performing by the end of the 1970s. However, the rock movement survived, and the cynical lyrics of Fito Páez in
Tiempos Dificiles
and Charly García in
remain as testimonies to that time, and guaranteed them subsequent success. Once democracy had returned, music became more lightweight with likeable output from Los Abuelos de la Nada and Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota, Soda Stereo and also the work of Fito Páez who has continued to record and whose album
El Amor Después del Amor
was a success across
Latin America. Los Fabulosis Cadillacs and Andrés Calamaro also made some great records,
and Charly García continues, undiminished in popularity.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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