Bloomsbury Popular Music - Argentina
Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World
Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World

John Shepherd

John Shepherd is Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (Academic) and Chancellor’s Professor of Music and Sociology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He was from 2007-2012 Carleton’s Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs. Dr. Shepherd has been a member of EPMOW’s editorial board since 1990. In 2000, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his role “as a leading architect of a post-War critical musicology.” Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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, David Horn

David Horn was a founding editor of the journal Popular Music and a founding member of IASPM (The International Association for the Study of Popular Music). He was Director of the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool from 1988 until his retirement in 2002. Together with the blues scholar Paul Oliver he first proposed the idea of EPMOW in the 1980s, and has worked on the project since that time. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Dave Laing

Dave Laing is the author of several books on popular music and a former editor of Music Week. Former Research Fellow at the University of Westminster where he conducted research on the music industry. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Continuum, 2016


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DOI: 10.5040/9781501329159-20006
Page Range: 182–197

Population: 38,740,807 (2003)

Argentina, the second-largest country in South America, shares with Chile and Uruguay the triangle-shaped southern tip of the continent. Along its 4,500 km (2,796 miles) from the Bolivian border in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south, Argentina’s climates and natural environments evidence a great diversity. The northwest, linked by history as well as geography to the Andean regions of Bolivia and Peru, is traversed by several mountain ranges separated by high plateaus and valleys. Except for the easternmost valleys (with tropical vegetation) the region is semi-dry or dry. Tradition has continued to be strong in this part of the country: Indian cultures (from the Inca empire) as well as the Spanish-colonial heritage are present in everyday life. Consequently, conservative patterns abound in social structure and in cultural products, somewhat altered but not erased by the arrival of Middle Eastern immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century. The plains of the Río de la Plata (River Plate) basin in the northeast (called litoral or Mesopotamia) form a continuum with Paraguay and south-central Brazil; savannas and tropical forests cover much of this territory, irrigated by the great Parana and Uruguay rivers. The Guarani Indians, the largest pre-Columbian group, have bequeathed much of their culture (mediated by their experience in the Jesuit missions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) to contemporary society.

Since the nineteenth century, the central and east-central pampas (treeless plains), with their temperate climate, have become the heart of the country, supporting three-quarters of the population and an even greater proportion of the country’s wealth and production facilities. The Spanish conquerors all but wiped out the indigenous population, but their descendants, the criollos, were overwhelmed in the decades between about 1880 and 1914 by the huge wave of immigration from northern and southern Italy, Central Europe, modern Spain and the Middle East. At the mouth of the Río de la Plata, Buenos Aires (with a population of 12,020,000 in 1998) is the hub of the communications network, the seat of political and economic power, and the only cultural market of national importance.

West-central Argentina (the Cuyo region) is an oasis culture, its vineyards and orchards relying on the waters flowing down from the Andes to the desert below. Strongly linked to Chile by its history and geography, it is a largely middle-class society with a core of Italian settlers. The entire southern area, Patagonia (steppes in the east with a few fertile river valleys, Swiss-like mountains in the west), is under-populated, with a few enclaves of Indian land (Mapuches) within enormous expanses devoted to sheep ranching. Welsh and Chilean immigrants abound.

The dearth of precious metals and the absence of highly-developed Indian cultures (with the attendant scarcity of labor) made the Argentinian territory an unimportant part of the Spanish colonial empire. From the eighteenth century on, however, British and Portuguese smuggling (against the Spanish commercial monopoly) increased the importance of Buenos Aires and led to the formation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. The city became the leader of the independence movement (1810-16) and finally triumphed in the fierce conflicts with the regions in the interior that kept the whole territory in turmoil for more than half a century. Another 50 years of almost uninterrupted progress followed this, so that by the early decades of the twentieth century Argentina was a rich beef- and grain-exporting country; more than half its population consisted of European immigrants, and it had a high rate of literacy and a modern communications network. Apart from small settlements in peripheral areas, the Indian population had been either eliminated or merged into the mainstream. The once-numerous black slave population (domestic help in the city, rural labor on Jesuit haciendas) had disappeared – perhaps, in addition to crossbreeding, owing to their deployment as ‘cannon fodder’ in war. This ‘portion of Europe in Latin America,’ as it was often described, has been slowly eroded by internal disturbances and changing international market conditions, in spite of sporadic attempts at industrialization. The once-strong middle class, nurtured in French culture, has been forced to accept the existence of the masses of cabecitas negras (‘little black heads’) that flocked to the cities from relatively undeveloped regions in Argentina and neighboring countries during the period of the populist Peronist regime (1946-55) and after. Subsequently, the right-wing military regimes of 196671 and especially 1976-83 distinguished themselves by the wholesale repression of political dissidents and ‘dangerous’ artists and intellectuals.

The Folk Music Traditions

The dividing line between folk and popular music in Argentina has never been clear or rigid. Although the roots of folk music (a concept that in Argentina excludes the music of late twentieth-century Indian communities) date back to colonial times, it seems that most of the major surviving genres first emerged in the nineteenth century, along with others now defunct. Carlos Vega proposed a widely influential classification, based on his fieldwork, into cancioneros (literally, ‘song collections’), musical traditions with an ‘organic unity’ characterized by stylistic homogeneity (Vega 1944). Although his findings are based on theories and perspectives now discredited (diffusionism, evolutionism, and the descent of cultural products from the educated urban classes to the lower strata), and although his emphasis on scales and rhythms as the almost exclusive criteria for categorization is surely dated, no one has proposed a viable alternative to his groupings. He defines two such groupings as deriving from Indian tone systems: the Tritonic (pre-Inca) and the Pentatonic (Inca). For the remaining cancioneros, alongside a couple of lesser categories, he sets up two major divisions: the western (radiating from Lima and Santiago de Chile) and the eastern (issuing from Rio de Janeiro). Vega splits each of these into two historical stages, with the years around independence acting as a dividing line: Temario colonial and Criollo occidental in the west and Binario colonial and Criollo oriental in the east. The division – somewhat arbitrary, as Vega himself recognizes – takes into account the influx of the third promocion europea. This refers to the salon dances that arrived in the course of the nineteenth century from the ‘Old Continent,’ interacting with the then-existing repertoire, in the sense both of introducing new elements into the traditional genres and of themselves being integrated into the tradition, sometimes after extensive changes. In the west, where zamba, zamacueca, cueca, gato and vidala have survived as both folk and popular music, the two-period model seems little more than a consequence of Vega’s evolutionary thinking; in the east, waltzes, mazurkas, habaneras, polkas and chotis, as well as the Spanish theatrical traditions of zarzuela and sainete, came across the ocean to influence or co-produce genres such as milonga, ranchera, tango and chamamé. The importance of the role of the once-numerous black population in the eastern repertoire has been the subject of debate. At different times, all of these songs and dances have been cultivated in rural and urban areas, by illiterate peasants and a more or less cultured bourgeoisie; in both cases, oral transmission was the standard up to 1900, since the availability of the few printed editions of criollo music was restricted to the Buenos Aires bourgeoisie. No serious study has been made of the circumstances in which the different genres were performed in the nineteenth century, but there are fragmentary data that seem to indicate Catholic feasts (especially those of patron saints) as the foremost rural venue and bourgeois homes as the preferred urban location. In addition, on the pampas the pulpena (all-purpose general store, meeting place and ‘pub’) served the same purpose: here, occasional dances were held and the payadores improvised songs to guitar accompaniment. In Buenos Aires, theaters and circuses brought the rural dances and costumes to urban audiences.

Much of the western repertoire is characterized by singing in parallel thirds, often doubled by or alternating with one violin, held in the baroque manner. Vocal production is predominantly ‘clean,’ with an open, sometimes nasal, sound, favoring high ranges and little ornamentation (typical of the northern regions is the kenko, akin to yodeling). The accompaniment consists of strummed guitar and/or harp (which also contribute instrumental preludes and interludes), with percussion by bombo or, less often, caja (both are cylindrical, two-headed drums: the first is taller and is struck both in the membrane and on the rim; the second is flat, and is usually provided with a snare). Also current in the north are the charango (a small plucked chordophone, made of the shell of an armadillo), the bandoneon (a type of concertina) and various flutes and pan pipes common in cultures with a Quechua heritage. Bourgeois settings favored the introduction of the piano as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. The strongest musical trait of this western repertoire is its reliance on triple meter with numerous hemiolae; it often evidences characteristic harmonies and melodic patterns derived from what Vega has called the ‘bimodal scale,’ with roots in the Spanish version of the modal system. Within the western repertoire, a distinction may be made between the north (with more Indian elements), Cuyo (closely allied to Chile) and the central area (Santiago del Estero and Cordoba).

The eastern genres tend to favor single melodies, sung with a more muted sound, and with a liberal use of glissando and varied ornamental devices. Besides the guitar and harp, sometimes supplemented by a string bass, much use is made of accordion-type instruments (verdulera and bandoneon). There is a distinction between the music of the litoral and that of the pampas. The former is close to Paraguayan models, and favors dances in couples; the latter highlights solo singing of long poems.

1880-1920: The Roots of Nativismo and the Tango

The coexistence and mutual influencing of different indigenous songs and dances within urban environments, which was probably customary throughout the earlier periods, became problematic in the decades around 1900. The growing affluence of the Buenos Aires bourgeoisie and the heavy influx of immigrants from Europe conspired against the maintenance of ties between a rich, modern, cosmopolitan city and the poorer rural and traditional hinterlands. Buenos Aires looked to Europe and to the latest styles and fashions. Nevertheless, a reaction against the dominating trend set in, leading to the emergence of what has come to be known as nativismo, tradicionalismo, música autóctona, proyeccion folklorica, musica de raiz folklorica or – most commonly in popular media – simply folclore. This is music (usually unconnected with dancing) produced in the cities by professionals, ranging from illiterate immigrants from the hinterlands to conservatory- or university-trained composers, poets and performers. The repertoire maintains ties of widely varying nature and extent with traditional music; perhaps its least modified aspects are the rhythmic patterns supposedly typical of each genre and its overall formal structure (such as the A-A-B/A-A-B music and a-b-C/d-e-C text of a zamba, including the textual and musical repetition of the last two lines in each stanza).

Following the publication of José Hernández’s poem Martín Fierro in two volumes (1872 and 1879), the idealization of the gaucho, the vagrant cowboy of the pampas, led to the appearance, on urban stages and in traveling circuses, of singers (soloists or duos) dressed up in fancy gaucho-like attire performing milongas, estilos, rancheras and other genres from the southern pampas to the accompaniment of one or more guitars. The Podestá circus went one step further. It was the first to replace the European themes of the pantomimes traditionally used to round out a show with Juan Moreira, an adaptation of a successful gaucho novel. The initial 1884 version, which included one sung number, was replaced in 1886 by a fully scripted drama, with nine musical numbers in criollo style, sung and danced on stage and accompanied by the circus band. Other circuses followed suit, and contributed both to the renewed vigor of criollo music in the country and to its appreciation by the lower urban strata. The Buenos Aires theaters were soon invaded by a host of zarzuelas and sainetes criollos, most of which included songs and dances in traditional molds. Most of the pieces were not traditional, but were composed by urban residents according to their understanding of the new cultural image being forged. This was a synthetic and rather one-dimensional gaucho, who personified the romantic-nationalist reaction against modernization and immigration. In the wake of this fashion, many centros criollos were founded – clubs or associations where the lower bourgeoisie learned, between one maté and the next, to sing and dance traditional music. The consumers served by a new music publishing industry probably came from this segment of the population. This industry produced collections of traditional tunes (Ventura Lynch, 1883 and Antonio Podestá, 1896) as well as loose-sheet editions of new songs in traditional molds. To the dozen or so respectable publishing firms active in Buenos Aires (F. Núñez, Casa Breyer) should be added, at the beginning of the twentieth century, an even greater number of establishments that were simply printing shops (Ortelli Hnos.). Songwriters commissioned work from these shops and retained the copyright.

The nationalist fervor within the educated classes did not include appreciation of the tango, the new dance that was emerging in the brothels on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where the city merges with the pampas. Little is known about the specifically musical aspects of this genre in the last years of the nineteenth century; available information concerns mostly its ‘unsavory’ environment, practitioners and choreography. Controversy about the parent genres (Andalusian tango, habanera, candombe, dances of African slaves and others) has been rife, with little clarification ensuing.

From about 1900 the new dance initiated its conquest of the city: first in the courtyards of the conventillos (tenement houses where immigrants lived in crowded conditions) and cafetines (low-class pubs); then in the popular dance halls, especially during carnival season; and next in the cabarets and theaters. But it was only in the decade following 1910, after a few adventurous musicians had started an international tango craze in Paris, that the Argentinian upper classes deigned to accept it, after decades of horrified denunciation, as the representative music of the capital city. The period 1900-20 is usually referred to as the guardia vieja (‘old guard’). Tangos from this era are usually in three 16-measure sections, each consisting of four symmetrical phrases above an ever-present rhythmic pattern: dotted eighth note, sixteenth note, two eighth notes (in 2/4 time). Melodies are based either on repeated syncopated rhythmic units or on broken chords, in typically instrumental idioms. Harp, violin, flute, guitar, piano and bandoneon were the most usual instruments, brought together in different trio combinations. The role of singing in these initial stages of the tango is not well documented, but a number of lyrics for originally instrumental tangos have been preserved. In many cases, these draw upon the vocabulary and world of the compadrito or cafishio (pimp) and his percantas (prostitutes). No neat distinction between tango and gaucho music was drawn: many melodic and rhythmic gestures were shared, the subjects or titles of many tangos made reference to rural traditions, the attire of singers was often the same, and many singers or ensembles (notably the famous Gardel-Razzano duo) mixed the two repertoires in their recitals.

Angel Villoldo (composer of the emblematic ‘El Choclo’) stands as the most popular, representative figure of this period; other well-known composers-performers were Eduardo Arolas, Arturo Bernstein, Alfredo Bevilacqua, Juan ‘Pacho’ Maglio, Rosendo Mendizábal, Ernesto Ponzio and Domingo Santa Cruz. In the first decade of the twentieth century, tango became one of the main staples of the printing industry. ‘La Morocha’ by Enrique Saborido, printed by Luis Rivarola in 1906, is said to have sold more than 100,000 copies. From 1907 on, local and international recording companies (Columbia, Pathé, Atlanta, Gath & Chaves) found a profitable market in tango.

Besides tango and música nativa, Argentinians heard and danced a great deal of Spanish and Spanish-inspired music during this period, especially in the theaters, where zarzuelas and sainetes were performed by local and touring companies. The cuple was the preferred genre.

1920-40: Consolidation of the Tango

In the 1920s, the spread of the tango in Buenos Aires reached its first peak, and the guardia nueva began. To the cafés, restaurants and cabarets that were already established as tango centers were added the theaters (many dramatic pieces included musical numbers), the radio, the recording industry and the cinemas (where many orquestas típicas, as the tango bands were called, earned their livelihood as accompanists of silent movies). A crisis ensued in the 1930s with the arrival of sound in the cinema, leaving many tango musicians out of a job in the midst of the Depression and Argentina’s década infame (a military regime notorious for its corruption and unpopularity). The record industry, by then well established, provided some relief, especially since the Victor label had its own orquesta típica. But in this medium, as well as in radio, tango musicians had to face strong competition from popular music exported from the United States.

During this time, the tango emerged as a viable musical tradition representative of Buenos Aires and exportable to other regions. In provincial cities, and later in other Latin American countries, records were sold, orchestras were formed, and new compositions in the genre were created. Francisco Canaro’s band’s ‘conquest’ of Paris in 1925 spearheaded a wave of Argentinian musicians who toured Europe (especially France, Italy and Spain) with their orquestas típicas. Tango gained a certain independence from its role as dance music and became also music for listening, over the radio, through recordings and in live performances, sometimes given during the intermissions of theatrical shows. Annual competitions were held by the Nacional Odeón record company to select pieces for the profitable recordings market. Those elements that were too closely connected with the brothel and the underworld were eliminated, sublimated or otherwise transformed.

Perhaps the most important event in the transition to the guardia nueva was the emergence of tango-cancion (tango song, as distinct from merely sung tango). Although the first crop of this new genre still reflected the instrumental idioms of the guardia vieja, the tunes gradually began to acquire a more vocal line, with a narrower range and more conjunct motion. The lyrics gained a new moral respectability that made them more suitable for middle- and working-class audiences; although many of them still referred to whores and pimps, the focus moved to the life stories of the characters, emphasizing social injustice (the unhappy situation of the prostitute past her prime) or, more commonly, the sentimental grudges of an abandoned male. This last topos became an emblem of the world of tango: loneliness and longing for a past irretrievably lost, hiding behind a macho posture – no weeping, no complaining, but sorrow beyond control. Women’s fickleness knows only one exception: the protagonist’s mother, the imaginary and nostalgic refuge from all of life’s misfortunes. From the basic literary conventions established by Contursi’s ‘Mi noche triste’ or Linning’s ‘Milonguita’ several variations developed. Alfredo LePera’s lyrics for Carlos Gardel’s tangos sought to communicate with an international audience and therefore dispensed altogether with the Buenos Aires slang terms that most other songwriters retained. Enrique Santos Discépolo expressed in tangos such as ‘Cambalache’ or ‘Yira, yira’ the cynicism and lack of faith in ideals of the década infame. Homero Manzi, writing in the 1930s and 1940s, incorporated the influence of Rubén Darío and Federico García Lorca in his highly poetic lyrics for tangos and milongas, often transmuting personal nostalgia into collective memory – the longing for city landscapes destroyed by modern ways. The standard ensemble comprised two bandoneons, two violins, piano and string bass. One or two singers participated initially in some of the pieces.

From the latter part of the second decade of the twentieth century, tango musicians may be divided into traditionalists and modernists. In both instrumental and vocal pieces, the traditionalists (Francisco Canaro, Roberto Ftrpo, Francisco Lomuto) kept many of the elements characteristic of the guardia vieja; the modernists explored several variants in their search for a more subtle and complex musical style. Carlos Gardel, the quintessential tango singer, was beyond such classification on account of his status as a mythical hero for many Argentinians in the twenty-first century. He developed a flexible manner of delivery, with a strong rubato superimposed upon a lyrical legato that owed much to contemporary opera traditions. In the hands of composers-arrangers-performers such as Enrique Delfino, Juan Carlos Cobián, Osvaldo Fresedo, Elvino Vardaro and Julio de Caro the same kind of phrasing was applied to instrumental performance, and the resources of classical harmony and counterpoint were employed to develop new idioms. At the same time that a cantabile line was asserting its primacy in sung tangos, a new kind of instrumental work was emerging, independent of the metric constraints of popular poetry, and based more on motivic work than on periodic melody.

All this meant that the old a la parrilla (‘on the grill’) system of improvised arrangements had to be replaced by written scores, although many of the musicians could not read music. The growing virtuosity of the instrumentalists was showcased in the semi-improvised solos provided for in the arrangements.

After the temporary collapse of the nationalist mood during World War I, nativismo received fresh impulse from Santiago del Estero, perhaps the province that has most tenaciously clung to its criollo tradition. Two Santiagueno musicians with classical training – Andrés Chazarreta and Manuel Gómez Carrillo – came to Buenos Aires to present their shows, which were based on their own collection of folk music from their province and surrounding areas. Chazarreta and his troupe had previously toured extensively in other Argentinian cities. Chazarreta’s success and Gómez Carrillo’s commitment were reinforced by the arrival of Julio Argentino Jerez (also from Santiago) and Manuel Acosta Villafane (from neighboring Catamarca), both composers and performers. Thus to the ‘synthetic’ gaucho music known in earlier decades was added the living heritage of the northwest, which would henceforth predominate. Groups from Cuyo and from Mesopotamia also made their mark during this period, although the latter remained confined to lower classes on the outskirts of the city. From the limited circuit of centros criollos, the newcomers slowly began to gain a wider audience through recitals in theaters, radio performances and recordings. By the end of the period, both radio and recordings reached the vast majority of the urban population.

Orquestas tipicas in dance halls did not originally confine themselves to the tango repertoire and allied genres (milonga, ranchera, vals criollo). Sometimes, with the exchange of an instrument or two, they provided the variety the public demanded by performing fox trots, shimmies, one-steps and other jazz-derived pieces, as well as pasodobles or tarantellas, which were later to form the basis of the caractenstico repertoire.

By 1930, however, some specialization had begun to emerge, and toward the end of the decade quality dances usually included, besides the orquesta típica, a ‘jazz band.’ These bands played local and foreign compositions in the styles of US genres that the record industry had made popular. The most famous of these bands seems to have been the Santa Paula Serenaders (1933-48), with a sound not unlike that of Paul Whiteman’s band. Also influential were the bands of Eleuterio Yribarren and Adolfo Carabelli.

1940-70: The ‘Golden Age’ of Tango and the ‘Boom’ of Folclore

Both as a dance and as music for listening, the tango enjoyed a period of uncontested dominance in urban centers between 1940 and 1955. The legacy of the four-square, rhythmically rigid dance-hall tango was passed on from Francisco Canaro to Juan D’Arienzo (dubbed el rey del compds - king of the beat) and his many imitators and followers (for example, Alfredo de Angelis and Héctor Varela). Osvaldo Pugliese, Aníbal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, José Basso, Horacio Salgán, Leopoldo Federico and Osmar Maderna were among the most important composers, performers and conductors of orquestas típicas who carried on the modernist trends of De Caro and Fresedo. Besides the growing sophistication of the musical language, efforts were made to widen the instrumental basis of the orchestra, including full complements of strings, plus selected woodwinds, brass and percussion. Each orchestra had an assortment of singers, some of whom attained a great deal of popularity (Libertad Lamarque, Alberto Marino, Edmundo Rivero, Alberto Castillo and Roberto Goyeneche).

This was possible because the numerous members of the middle class filled the dance halls and used part of their purchasing power to buy típica records. The flourishing film industry also provided support, as did the music hall and the extensive radio networks, some of which, like Radio El Mundo, maintained their own tango orchestras.

After Peron’s fall in 1955, popular support for the tango was eroded, and it was never to regain its status as the staple in Argentina’s musical diet. Most orchestras had to disband. Smaller ensembles such as the Sexteto Real continued the tradition of complex virtuoso arrangements, which culminated in the activity of Astor Piazzolla. This bandoneon player, who had received a classical training from Nadia Boulanger in Paris, achieved a veritable revolution in tango composition: based on some stock rhythmic units derived from the repertoire, he developed for his fast sections a contrapuntal neobaroque style full of syncopations and rhythmic energy. These he alternated with slow passages in which a lyrical melody was sustained by chromatic harmonies over a descending bass. For most traditionalists, this was no longer tango, but younger generations of cultured listeners regarded Piazzolla as the prophet of a much-needed rejuvenation. Piazzolla experimented with larger forms (most successfully the suite) and with the concert tradition (concertos for bandoneón and orchestra).

The dominance of the tango after 1940 did not preclude a slow but steady increase in the activity of composers and performers of proyeccion folklorica. An influential figure was Atahualpa Yupanqui, who had repeatedly crisscrossed Argentina in the previous decades, led as much by his errant spirit as by his desire to ‘learn from the people’ and by the changing economic and political circumstances. His leftist leanings kept him in trouble with most governments in the period under consideration, and after many comings and goings he finally opted for lasting exile in France (1966). His large output and consistent high quality as composer and poet, his unwavering devotion to progressive causes, his success in finding poetic expression for these in his work, and his quiet and dignified style of performance have made him the most respected and influential figure of Argentinian folclore. In the late 1940s and the 1950s a number of soloists and ensembles from the provinces began to perform in Buenos Aires, mostly in the penas folkloricas, as the old centros criollos were now dubbed. Antonio Tormo, Margarita Palacios, Hilario Cuadros, Julio Argentino Jerez, Eduardo Falú, the Ábalos Brothers and the Abrodos Brothers brought the music of Cuyo and the northwest both to the higher social strata of Buenos Aires and to the mass of internal migrants who had flocked to the capital following the industrialization policies of the Peronist government.

The actual ‘boom’ started in 1959 with the first hit, the zamba ‘Angélica.’ The standard-bearers were a new type of group from Salta, in the extreme north: three, or more often four, voices with guitar and bombo, singing a few of the folk genres (with a predominance of zamba) in mildly innovative, simple arrangements. Los Fronterizos were the most popular group, followed closely by Los Chalchaleros (active since 1948), Los Cantores del Alba, Los de Salta, and similar groups from other provinces, such as Los Tucu Tucu from Tucumán and Los Cantores de Quilla Huasi, with members from different regions.

Record sales for folclore suddenly approached the levels for international pop imports; radio and television programs devoted to música nativa sprang up like mushrooms. Most significant was the institution of the festival folclórico. Starting with the town of Cosquín (Córdoba) in 1961, local authorities, public institutions and school boards saw an opportunity to capitalize on the new popularity of this music by sponsoring open-air week-long massive festivals in order to raise funds and promote the tourist trade. The example of Cosquín (a former colony for tuberculosis patients) was followed by literally hundreds of cities and small towns (Jesús María in Córdoba and Baradero in Buenos Aires were among the most successful), to such an extent that summers became for popular performers an unbroken series of tours and performances, often involving more than one festival each night. During the summer of 1969-70, 76 such festivals were held. Most of them lasted between seven and 10 days. Control over programming and budget was soon assumed in most cases by people linked to the recording industry and mass media (most obviously, Julio Márbiz in Cosquín). The spread of música nativa was further served by the appearance in most cities of peñas folklóricas. In many cases these were no more than cafés that provided a guitar and a bombo for their customers to sing the latest zamba (but the customers would often include local, nationally known singers); less often the locale would provide a show with paid or amateur musicians. Dozens of peñas would emerge during the larger festivals in nearby locales, where aspiring musicians could be heard, and occasionally ‘discovered’ and called on to perform on the main stage. Cosquín and other towns and organizations developed a countrywide system of regional auditions and prizes, with the ultimate reward being a contract for the festival.

Riding the crest of the wave generated by the cooperation between the ensembles from Salta and record companies (first and foremost the Philips label), many soloists and groups appeared on the scene: the singers Eduardo Falú and Horacio Guarany, the pianist Ariel Ramírez (whose Misa criolla was soon performed all over the world) and the charango player Jaime Torres were among the first beneficiaries. Later on, Daniel Toro, Jorge Cafrune, César Isella and Mercedes Sosa (the soloist with the most sustained and widespread popularity at home and abroad) joined the ranks of the most popular singers. Tránsito Cocomarola and Ramona Galarza, among others, contributed with litoraleno repertoire, including the recently created chamamé.

A few years after the advent of the Salteno boom, a new crop of ensembles appeared that favored a cappella arrangements with vocal effects imitating instruments, a closer adherence to traditional rhythms, and a wider harmonic and textural palette. Los Huanca Hua and their successors, the Grupo Vocal Argentino, Los Trovadores, Las Voces Blancas (the first group to include female voices) and Cuarteto Zupay were followed by countless ensembles, many of them formed from the ranks of university choirs, where the staple repertoire was folclore arrangements. The Dúo Salteño won acclaim for its highly dissonant arrangements, unusual voice colors and sophisticated repertoire, much of it the work of Salta’s foremost poet, Manuel J. Castilla, and an innovative pianist-composer, Gustavo ‘Cuchi’ Leguizamon. This style, however, never won as much popularity as the original Salteno model.

The main split inside the movement, however, was not, as with the tango, between traditionalists and modernists, but had to do with political ideology. Yupanqui’s legacy of commitment to leftist, indigenist or populist causes was taken up by many (including the nuevo cancionero led by the Mendoza poet Armando Tejada Gomez), while the right wing, exemplified by the solo singer Roberto Rimoldi Fraga, exalted the values of ‘fatherland, family and tradition,’ the militant conservatives’ slogan. The right wing was favored by the several military regimes of the period, while the others often suffered censure, blacklisting and persecution. Lyrics offensive to rightists and the military included many with a strong resemblance to contemporary ‘protest songs’ in the United States and Europe; others described the living conditions of local ‘ethnic’ groups or trades, or directly called listeners to revolutionary action. Yupanqui’s lyric treatment of the philosophical outlook of the Argentinian peasantry belongs in a class of its own. Most folclore lyrics, however, continued with the traditional depiction of sites, landscapes, scenes and events, or with the even more traditional subject of love and courtship (sometimes adapted to modern urban circumstances).

No comprehensive explanation of the timing of the folclore ‘boom’ has been offered. It is certain that the media played a significant role. They at once eagerly took advantage of the sudden popularity of this music, particularly among an emerging youth market. Festivals and the media, however, were only the tip of the iceberg: the guitar became a household fixture, and most barbecues (a weekly routine in most homes) ended with some folclore singing. Moreover, the chronological coincidence of the Argentinian phenomenon with the popularity of ‘folk music’ in North America, and the wave of similar movements that spread over much of Latin America in the wake of the Argentinian ‘boom’ – sparked in many cases by the international presence of Argentinian artists – point to the need to seek explanations that go beyond national boundaries.

1940-70: Other Genres

In the late 1930s and 1940s, a new type of orchestra began to alternate with the orquesta típica in dance halls. Based on one or two accordions, and typically including at least a saxophone, clarinet, piano, bass and a singer, the orquesta caractenstica played pasodobles, fox trots, rancheras, tarantellas and polkas, providing a variety of dance rhythms that appealed to the sense of tradition of many European immigrants. It is not clear where the practice was born, but its popularity remained high in the towns and villages of the pampa gringa (in Argentina, ‘gringo’ refers mostly to Italians), where Italian, Central European and Spanish settlers gathered, well after its heyday in Buenos Aires (1940s and early 1950s) had passed. Feliciano Brunelli, Nicola Paone and Heraldo Bosio were important leaders of this kind of music, which was well suited to the purpose of accompanying dancing by means of simple arrangements, foursquare phrasing and plain rhythmic combinations.

The economic and logistic difficulty of maintaining large orchestras in a tight touring schedule led to the emergence of cuarteto combos. Starting with the Cuarteto Leo in 1943, the combination of accordion, piano, bass and violin (plus a male singer) became the standard for ensembles making the rounds in southern Cordoba and Santa Fé and northern Buenos Aires. The typical cuarteto piece was in moderately quick tempo with a rigidly marked binary rhythm; the four-square symmetrical melodies were usually played staccato on the accordion and legato on the violin. In the setting of love lyrics, many songs often became saucy and offcolor. From the beginning radio stations were effective in the dissemination of this music; recordings appeared later on. The original semirural clientele was soon expanded to include a large following in the city of Córdoba, starting with those in the industrial suburbs and gradually progressing to include the lower middle classes.

The 1940s and 1950s also saw the peak of popularity for bolero (also known as música romántica or canción melódica). Without creating styles significantly different from the Cuban or Mexican originals, many singers such as Mario Clavell, Roberto Yanés and María Marta Serra Lima cultivated the genre with great success. Música tropical (including rumba, mambo, merengue, cha-cha and cumbia) has also been common fare for Argentinian dances as well as for Argentinian media and the recording industry. In particular, cumbia, introduced in the early 1960s by Los Wawancó, managed to infiltrate the important suburban Buenos Aires dance-hall circuit, with far-reaching consequences.

The considerable influx of North American popular and, later, rock music from the 1940s on resulted not only in the local consumption of standard international fare, but also in the emergence of local imitators. In the 1950s and 1960s, Los Cinco Latinos (initially an imitation of the Platters) became popular idols. In the early 1960s, Ricardo Mejía, artistic director of RCA-Victor, put together the Club del Clan, a heterogeneous assemblage of singers of pop, rock and música tropical that managed to gain the favor of the emergent teenage culture through extensive media promotion. Palito Ortega (dubbed el Rey [the King], and the singer-songwriter with the strongest and longest-lived popularity), Violeta Rivas, Johnny Tedesco, Chico Novarro and Tanguito (who later became a cult figure), together with non-Clan performers such as Billy Caffaro, Luis Aguilé, Los TNT and Carlos Argentino, constituted what journalists dubbed nueva ola (new wave). They composed and sang pieces with Spanish texts, in genres ranging from twist to tango, from newfangled pachanga to traditional ballad. Many rock groups (most of them of the garage variety) sprang up in the 1960s, especially after the advent of the Beatles; most of them sang current international hits in English.

In the 1940s, several figures associated with the tango continued their ventures into jazz and jazz-derived genres. But the emergence of a generation of musicians wholly devoted to jazz took place in the late 1940s and 1950s: Oscar Alemán, Leandro ‘Gato’ Barbieri, Rubén López Furst, Enrique ‘Mono’ Villegas, Jorge and Oscar López Ruiz, and Lalo Schiffrin played for small audiences of devoted followers in clubs and cafés. Both modern and traditional varieties of jazz had their particular venues: to the Be-bop Club founded in 1945 was soon added the Hot Club in 1948.

1970-2000: Rock Nacional and Fusión

The three decades from 1970 to 2000 witnessed, more than the domination of any single genre, the breaking down of barriers between different traditions. Eclecticism, which had earlier been apparent in the mixed repertoires of some musicians, became a central part of the creative process, both in composition and in arrangement and performance. This phenomenon is referred to as fusión: the blending of styles from different genres. Although audiences have followed to some extent this blending process, the channels of distribution have continued to preserve some of the older segmentation. Rock nacional, the Argentinian variety of international rock, is itself largely a product of fusión, but some musicians went further and embarked on a program to combine folclore, tango, música tropical, rock, Latin American traditions and other kinds of music. Mercedes Sosa has invited figures of popular Brazilian music such as Milton Nascimento and rock musicians like Charly García or Fito Páez to perform with her on recordings and tours. León Gieco, coming from the world of rock, has performed with Antonio Tarragó Ros, Peteco Carabajal and Mercedes Sosa. He has traveled throughout Argentina, joining forces with traditional performers, local bands and choirs to record in situ his three-disc De Ushuaia a La Quiaca. Lito Vitale, a keyboard player, has perhaps been the most noted and consistent representative of fusión. Performing by himself, and in various duos, trios, quartets and quintets, he suffuses pieces in folclore genres with the idioms and practices of jazz and rock. Dino Saluzzi, a bandoneón player coming from the world of tango, is also appreciated for his integration of that genre with folclore and jazz.

The pioneers of rock nacional began their careers between 1965 and 1970. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones became rallying figures for many Argentinian young people around the middle of the decade. In Buenos Aires literary magazines such as Eco contemporáneo (edited by Miguel Grimberg and Antonio ‘Giorgio’ dal Masetto) provided a bridge between musicians and intellectuals with their championing of beat literature. An assertion of personal freedom, a lust for discovering the world and a belief in ever-evolving creativity and inventiveness were some of the tenets that they upheld.

Among the early groups and soloists were Los Gatos (with singer Litto Nebbia), Moris (Mauricio Birabent), Tanguito (José Alberto Iglesias), Almendra (led by Luis Alberto Spinetta), Manal (whose central figure was Javier Martínez), Los Abuelos de la Nada (headed by Miguel Abuelo), Arco Iris (with Gustavo Santaolalla), Vox Dei, Pedro y Pablo (Miguel Cantilo and Jorge Durietz), Piero, and Sui Generis (Nito Mestre and Charly García). Texts in Spanish gradually supplanted the English lyrics that had initially appeared alongside them; local compositions by a group or its members replaced versions of the hits of the Stones, the Animals or the Beatles. In these groups’ first LPs some songs became symbols for Argentina’s young generation: ‘La balsa’ (The Raft) (Litto Nebbia and Tanguito), ‘El oso’ (The Bear) (Moris), ‘Muchacha ojos de papel’ (Paper-Eyed Girl) (Spinetta). The lyrics revolved around two concepts, which might be characterized as ‘hopeful’ and ‘rebellious.’

In the former, texts in a lyrical and emotional tone alluded to an imaginary, idealized world, where everything would be better. Nature and love, as the means to escape cruel everyday reality, were constant themes. Through nature and love the longing for a lost peace could be satisfied. Almendra and Arco Iris were among the chief proponents of this trend, the motto of which was ‘Paz, amor y buenas ondas’ (Peace, Love and Good Vibes).

The rebellious facet of rock showed itself plainly, without prejudice or inhibition, often in childishly naive ways. Seeking immediate communication with the audience, it did not avoid platitudes and triviality. These ‘protest songs,’ however, also included more interesting poems such as those by Pedro y Pablo, Javier Martinez or Vox Dei. Their songs were among the first to be banned, charged with being ‘leftist’ or even ‘pornographic’ (later on the all-encompassing, damning word would be ‘subversive’). Sui Generis, with a mostly teenage following, embraced and exceeded both trends. Their lyrics usually made reference to the simplicity of daily life as viewed by young people, and to their surprise at finding their elders so repressed and confused in the society that they were expected to enter. The musical sound was strongly influenced by rock ’n’ roll and blues (Manal and Vox Dei), with some timid incursions into fusión with folclore (Arco Iris).

Jorge Álvarez, a publisher, created the first independent label for rock nacional, Mandioca. Several important festivals took place: Festival Nacional de Música Beat, Festival Pinap (organized by the magazine of the same name), and BA Rock I and II (1970 and 1971). The rock magazine Pelo (Hair), the longest-lived in the field, was also launched in this period.

In the period between 1971 and 1975, rock musicians were increasingly concerned with the visual aspects of performing and with the integration of their songs into larger narrative structures. Early in the 1970s, several of the pioneering groups disappeared (for example, Almendra, Los Gatos and Manal); others dispersed, emigrating to Europe or fleeing Buenos Aires in order to form alternative communes in the countryside. Many new groups emerged, as well as groups comprised of new combinations of the members of older ones, and several soloists. The record industry flourished, but had to face strong government censorship, partly provoked by increasingly aggressive lyrics. Sui Generis’s LP Vida (Life), featuring ‘Canción para mi muerte’ (Song for My Death) (1972), broke all previous sales records. Large, open-air concerts became common, with their share of episodes of violence and repression. Radio stations (many of them managed by the government) increased the airtime devoted to the genre. Public parks became meeting grounds for a marginal art centered on poetry. Rock artists and their audiences frequently met there, in a convivial atmosphere, to share experiences and debate political and artistic issues. Underground magazines such as Revista del Parque also provided a forum for this activity.

Festivals like BA Rock III (1972), rock-based movies such as Hasta que se ponga el sol (Until the Sun Sets), directed by Aníbal Uset and filmed during this festival, and experimental collaborations with classically trained musicians widened the bounds of rock nacional. Its geographical boundaries also expanded; the city of Rosario in particular became home to a strong musical movement, centered on the cooperative Ateneo Músicos Amigos de Rosario (AMAdeR) and including important figures such as Eduardo ‘Lalo’ de los Santos, Jorge Fandermole, Rubén Goldín, and the cult group Pablo el Enterrador.

A trend toward visual effects and dramatic staging could be observed during the first half of the 1970s. The distinguished dancer and choreographer Oscar Araiz worked with Arco Iris to create the ballet Agitor Lucens V, presented in Angers (1974) and Paris (1975). A larger project that included the National Symphony of Buenos Aires was aborted because the conductor was fired by the government. Many other projects involved staging, slides, the intervention of actors, props and costuming, exhibitions of paintings or photographs, and all sorts of visual effects created by lighting, mirrors, balloons or fireworks. Many of these shows are called ‘rock operas’ by the chroniclers (Jesus Christ Superstar premiered in Buenos Aires in 1974). La Biblia (The Bible) of Vox Dei became the most popular, but Arco Iris produced several of these operas with Latin American subjects and the marked presence of folk idioms (Sudamérica, Inti-Raymi, and an unfinished project on the Indian boy Ceferino Namuncurá, center of a popular cult).

Other groups that produced rock operas were Almendra, Billy Bond y la Pesada, and somewhat later MIA (Cantata Saturn [Saturn Cantata], Romanza para una mujer que cose [Romance for a Sewing Woman]) and Confidencias (Alicia en el país de las maravillas [Alice in Wonderland], La nena y el lobo [The Girl and the Wolf] and 1492 o un día de éstos [1492 or One of These Days]).

The demise of Sui Generis in the spectacular Adiós Sui Generis concert (5 September 1975), filmed under the supervision of the well-known director Leopoldo Torre Nilson, and the disbanding of Arco Iris may be taken to symbolize the close of this cycle.

The military coup of 1976 found the rock movement in Argentina booming. ‘Fusión’ was the rallying cry. Elements of folk music (and not only folclore), tango, Andean music, Uruguayan candombe, salsa and reggae were all subsumed under the banner of música progresiva. The influence of the Chilean group Los Jaivas and of the bandoneón players Astor Piazzolla and Rodolfo Mederos was important in this respect. After visits by Queen and the Police, the dichotomy between rock music and dance music also softened somewhat. Independent labels and publishers served a growing mass of young listeners and readers; the magazine El expreso imaginario created a space for an alternative journalism, with lively exchanges in its readers’ feedback. The new musicians were dubbed generación de los conservatorios, because they broke with the idea that studying music was tantamount to betraying the purity of rock. The new audience was more critical and discriminating and included many music students. Important new groups emerging around this time included Orion’s Beethoven, Aeroblus, Crucis, Lito and Liliana Vitale (who would later form MIA: Músicos Independientes Asociados), Seleste (with the guitarist David Lebon), Patricio Rey y los Redonditos de Ricota, Nito Mestre y Los Desconocidos de Siempre, and La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros (led by Charly García). Gustavo Santaolalla led Soluna. Bands that consolidated their position included Invisible (headed by Luis Alberto Spinetta), León Gieco, Polifemo, Reino de Munt (led by Raul Porchetto), Alma y Vida, Arco Iris, Litto Nebbia and his trio, the Vivencias duo, and Pastoral.

The political situation finally took its toll; by 1978 few of the major bands were playing together, and many of the musicians were exiled. Toward 1980, however, with the softening of the dictatorship, a recovery set in, in which rock nacional became a symbol of resistance against the regime. The new group Serú Girán (Charly García and David Lebón) led the way; Almendra, reunited, conducted a famous tour of the whole country. Slowly but surely, most of the exiles returned, to join new groups and soloists reflecting international trends in rock: Los Vio ladores (punk), Virus (new wave/ Latin rock), Zas (with Miguel Mateos singing in English), Riff (heavy metal; led by Pappo Napolitano), Celeste Carballo (blues) and Sumo (an eclectic band). Spinetta’s new group Jade also broke new ground.

The festival at La Falda (Córdoba), held annually since 1980, became a proving ground for aspiring new artists Juan Carlos Baglietto and Alejandro Lerner were ‘discovered’ on its stage), as well as a rallying point for the whole movement.

During the Malvinas War in 1982 the broadcasting of music with English lyrics was forbidden; more space became available for rock nacional, although most rock musicians did not support the war. The increased airtime continued into the early years of the new democratic government. Rock was used in the campaigns of the main political parties; rock-related movies were financed (Litto Nebbia, Lito Vitale, Charly García and Alejandro Lerner were among the beneficiaries); large open-air concerts proliferated. The continuing return of exiles contributed to the mood of exultation.

To a large extent, rock nacional became incorporated into a current of urban popular music that was identified with life (democracy), against the providers of death and deceit (the old regime). Jazz and folclore musicians such as Mercedes Sosa, Antonio Tarragó Ros, Cuarteto Zupay, Dino Saluzzi, Víctor Heredia and Chango Farías Gómez joined forces with León Gieco, Julia Zenko, Los Enanitos Verdes, Andrés Calamaro and Soda Stereo (Gustavo Cerati, Zeta and Charly Alberti). Other successful new groups and soloists were La Torre, Oveja Negra, Fito Páez, Celeste Carballo, Sandra Mihanovich and Marilina Ross (the last two bordering on pop). Proponents of ‘fun music’ who forsook rock nacional’s traditional involvement with ‘causes’ included Suéter, Los Abuelos de la Nada, Virus and Los Twist. The burgeoning popularity of these musics signaled the entry of big business into the field. Once the enthusiasm of newly won freedom had evaporated, the consolidation of an establishment managed by commercial interests followed; many musicians opted to develop more independent networks in order to maintain their artistic freedom. Leon Gieco, Charly García and Luis Alberto Spinetta were among those few who were able to walk the fine line between these two worlds.

The late 1980s witnessed a wave of expansion of Argentinian rock, with tours and record sales in the US Latin community, Spain, France and Germany. Genres like reggae, ska, soul and salsa were variously incorporated by groups such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Los Pericos and La Zimbabwe Reggae Band. Los Auténticos Decadentes carried the spirit of pure fun and eclecticism to new heights. Groups from this period that continued to have a large following at the turn of the last century included Divididos, Los Guarros and Los Ratones Paranoicos; Patricio Rey y los Redonditos de Ricota enjoyed a period of popularity. The 1990s saw a return to rock ’n’ roll and the advent of techno and European house music (the Sacados). Blues returned to the stage with groups such as Pappo’s Blues and Memphis la Blusera. Charly García’s rock version of the national anthem was the focus of heated controversy. Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas (Dante Spinetta, the son of Luis Alberto Spinetta, and Emmanuel Horvilleur) introduced rap into the mainstream of rock nacional.

In the late 1990s several of the leaders of the old guard of rock nacional (Luis Alberto Spinetta, Charly García, Fito Páez and Gustavo Cerati) still represented a rebel stance in the face of authority, a problematic relationship with drugs, and nonconformity in attire – the life style that made it more than merely a musical genre.

By the early 1970s, música nativa was entering a period of steady decline. The rightist governments of the decade certainly played a role in this, but internal factors and market conditions were undoubtedly the main reasons that the folclore movement entered a quasi-latent phase. Most radio and television programs were discontinued, and the number of new recordings fell abruptly. Few composers or performers of note appeared on the scene (two who did were the litoraleños Teresa Parodi and Antonio Tarragó Ros). The new generations mostly shifted their allegiance to international and national rock music. Cosquín continued its yearly festivals, but with greatly reduced visibility; most other festivals either closed or began including other types of music to attract large audiences.

In the 1990s a revival took place: the younger generations (notably teenagers) took up chacarera, one of the western Argentinian genres, as a symbol of identity. In discothéques they often danced to traditional or improvised choreography, alternating with rock and other pop music. Festivals saw a resurgence of their audiences and a resurgence in visibility; the media frequently drew attention to the phenomenon. The standard-bearer of the movement was the Santiagueño Peteco Carabajal, and many members of his family took part as soloists or ensemble members in the revival. Carabajal, a violinist and singer, composed and performed rather traditional chacareras with all the paraphernalia of a rock show – choruses by attractively dressed girls, light and video effects, pumped-up volume and smoke. Mention must also be made of Soledad Pastorutti, a teenager who enjoyed immense popularity from 1996 on with her rushed, semi-shouted, poncho-swinging performances of chacareras.

The tradition of small tango ensembles (notably sextets) continued in the decades after 1970, as a vehicle for both traditional and modernist musicians, catering to an increasingly highbrow public. Rodolfo Mederos, Dino Saluzzi and Nestor Marconi were three notable bandoneón players and conductors who excelled in this practice. Raúl Lavié has been an acclaimed singer, particularly of the more modern repertoire. The tango as a dance show has also become firmly established, especially after the international success of the Tango Argentino show in 1985; as a social dance, it has become confined to middle- to high-class academies and tango clubs, institutions maintained in most larger cities by devotees who gather weekly to listen to new and old performers in an atmosphere of nostalgia. A concurrent development has been the creation of state-sponsored orquestas típicas, performing mostly in concert rather than for dances, and frequently touring outside the country as ‘cultural ambassadors.’ Examples of such orquestas típicas are the Orquesta Juan de Dios Filiberto (sponsored by the national government) and the Orquesta de Música Ciudadana (sponsored by the government of the province of Córdoba).

In the early 1970s, the ideological strength of the left wing of Peronism helped to expand the territorial and social base of cuarteto music. Its status as ‘urban folk’ was extolled both by the press and by a good portion of the academic world. Government agencies, media and many intellectuals contributed to the appreciation of this previously despised form of entertainment. Cuartetos performed at universities, at the Cosquín festival, in middle-class dance halls; sales of their recordings increased enormously. The geographical ambit of cuarteto music enjoyed a continued expansion, so that by the 1990s it embraced the northwest of Argentina and Greater Buenos Aires. Here, the music was partially integrated with a parallel phenomenon, the music of the bailantas, originally centered on chamamé. It was also often heard in Bolivia and Paraguay.

During the 1976-82 military regime, the growth of cuarteto music was subterranean, since government-controlled media had again turned against it. After 1983 it was publicly rehabilitated, and this allowed for the emergence of a few corporations that financed and exploited the dance and record market in urban, suburban and rural markets, relying on intensive media coverage. Many singers and groups that were ‘manufactured’ by these economic groups enjoyed brief spurts of popularity, but the widespread appeal of genuine cuarteteros (meaning ‘cuarteto performer’ but also ‘cuarteto fan’) such as Carlos ‘La Mona’Jiménez or Carlitos Rolán has been sustained. National media began paying attention to the genre in the 1990s, but it enjoyed ample media coverage only in the interior; in Buenos Aires only a few FM stations carried it, since it was considered a low-class phenomenon localized in the outlying areas of the city.

The music of cuarteto has changed during this process. The 2/4 measure, rather quick beat and strict formal symmetry have remained basic. New additions have been Afro-Caribbean rhythms, instruments and performing practices (cumbia in lower-class environments, salsa for the middle classes). Electronic instruments have replaced keyboards and sometimes even accordions; drumsets and brass emulate either música tropical or rock-influenced pop. Vocalists utilize a variety of styles, but perhaps the most characteristic is that of ‘La Mona’ Jiménez: an open, vibrato-less sound with exaggerated contrasts, in true defiance of both classical and pop traditions. The texts are also selfconsciously popular, often emphasizing the working-class allegiances of the singers and groups, with no revolutionary overtones.

As was common for most countries in the last decades of the twentieth century, Argentina was the recipient of its share of various types of international popular music. Rock, the changing fashions of pop, several waves of Brazilian music and many varieties of Caribbean music all received wide circulation. Restricted to somewhat narrower circles were jazz, Cuban nueva trova, various Latin American folk-derived musics and European pop (with the exception of the enormously popular Italian stars in the 1960s and 1970s).

Several of these genres were appropriated by local artists, and those who achieved international success included Barbara y Dick, Cacho Castagna, Alberto Cortez, Donald, Leonardo Favio, Víctor Heredia, Jairo (Mario González), Valeria Lynch, Dúo Pimpinela, Sandro (Roberto Sánchez), Tormenta and Diego Torres.

The disparity between a strong level of cultural production and a low level of economic support, in conjunction with periods of political instability, has been responsible for the dispersion of a good portion of the Argentinian intelligentsia in the last few decades. Jazz has perhaps been the genre most affected by emigration: among those who have definitely settled outside Argentina are Leandro ‘Gato’ Barbieri (saxophone) and Lalo Schiffrin (noted for his film music).

No survey of Argentinian popular music would be complete without mention of Les Luthiers, an ensemble famous throughout the Spanish-speaking world for its shows and recordings of musical humor (1967-), or of María Elena Walsh, poetess, singer and composer, whose songs for children have become classics.

Music Education and Musicology

Popular music in Argentina has been traditionally taught in private academies of little reputation or -more often – learned informally. Only since the 1980s has there been a more institutional approach, although among the national universities only the one at Villa María (Córdoba) offers courses in popular music for composers, arrangers and performers. The Escuela Municipal de Música Popular at Avellaneda, founded by Manolo Juárez, enjoys perhaps the best reputation. Some private schools, such as La Colmena in Córdoba, have also turned out well-trained musicians. Most of the national universities with music schools (Córdoba, Litoral, La Plata, Mendoza, Tucumán), as well as the arts department of that of Buenos Aires, only slowly began to pay attention to popular music as a musicological object of study toward the end of the twentieth century, allowing or encouraging students to focus study projects on genres that they performed in their own surroundings. None of these institutions, however, provides courses in the musicological study of popular music.

The study of traditional folk and Indian music has received far more attention than that of folclore, which is usually discussed only in journals and fan magazines. Emilio Portorrico’s biographical dictionary (1997) is a useful starting point, but little work has been done beyond establishing basic facts. Rock nacional is the subject of many publications, mostly anecdotal, but only a few musicologists have undertaken its study, concentrating on its role in the creation and maintenance of social identities (García and Martínez 2001; Vila 1987, 1989, 1995). Cuarteto has received scholarly treatment in Jane Florine’s 1996 dissertation (published in 2001), focusing on the mechanisms of musical change. The extensive literature on tango began to include publications with a musicological approach only in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, there are a number of amateur tango specialists whose publications contain useful information – often, but not always, centered on anecdotes and lists of dates and names. Among these, several studies by Luis Adolfo Sierra and Horacio Salas may be cited, as well as the editions of the specialized Editorial Corregidor in Buenos Aires. The study accompanying the Antología del tango rioplatense, edited by the National Institute of Musicology (1980), inaugurated a more analytic approach. Ramon Pelinski’s recent contributions (1995) combine musical expertise with interpretive insight.


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Discographical References

. ‘Muchacha ojos de papel.’ Almendra I . RCA LZ-1160. 1969: Argentina.

Antología del tango rioplatense, Vol. I: Desde los comienzos hasta 1920 (3 CDs). Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega.’ 1980: Argentina.

Canaro, Francisco. ‘Milonguita.’ Tango Argentino . Golden Stars 5329. 2002: USA.

Gardel, Carlos. ‘Mi noche triste.’ Carlos Gardel: The King of Tango, Vol. 1 . Nimbus 7896. 1999: UK.

Gardel, Carlos. ‘Yira, yira.’ Carlos Gardel: The King of Tango, Vol. 1 . Nimbus 7896. 1999: UK.

Gieco, León. De Ushuaia a La Quiaca . Orfeon 16187. 2001: Argentina.

Lamarque, Libertad. ‘Cambalache.’ Homenaje a la Novia de America . RCA International 85870. 2001: USA.

Los, Fronterizos. ‘Angélica.’ Los Fronterizos en Estéreo . Philips P 842750 Y. 1961: Argentina.

Los, Gatos. ‘La balsa.’ Los Gatos . RCA Vik LZ-1136. 1967: Argentina.

Moris. ‘El oso.’ Los solistas de Mandioca . Microfon 59010. 1970: Argentina.

Ramírez, Ariel. Misa criolla . Milan 35603. 1964: France.

Sui, Generis. ‘Canción para mi muerte.’ Vida . Microfón SE-369. 1972: Argentina.

Victor, The. ‘El Choclo.’ Victor 17242. 1912: USA.


Aguante chacarera . Cepsa 17074. 1997: Argentina.

Before the Tango: Argentina’s Folk Tradition 1905-1936 . Harlequin HQ CD 114. 1998: UK.

Coronación del folklore . Philips 82009 PL. 1963: Argentina. Reissue: Coronación del folklore. Philips 510 505-2. 1991: Argentina.

Historia del rock national (8 CDs). Sony Music Entertainment 2-980917/20 and 2-980933/6. 1996: Argentina.


Adiós Sui Generis , dir. Bebe Kamin. 1976. Argentina. 75 mins. Documentary.

Hasta que se ponga el sol , dir. Anibal E. Uset. 1973. Argentina. 80 mins. Rock Movie.