Bloomsbury Popular Music - Milonga (Argentina)
Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World
Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World

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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, 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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, Heidi Feldman

Heidi Feldman is Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Southampton, UK. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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, Mona-Lynn Courteau

Mona-Lynn Courteau is an academic editor based in Auckland, New Zealand. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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, Pamela Narbona Jerez

Pamela Narbona Jerez is a musicologist and a singer based in San Diego. She is currently an independent researcher in music and a freelance translator and editor. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Hettie Malcomson

Hettie Malcomson is Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Southampton, UK. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2014


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Milonga (Argentina)

DOI: 10.5040/9781501329210-0004370
Page Range: 482–484

In Argentina, milonga is a traditional vocal genre of criollo origin, normally performed by a solo voice with a guitar accompaniment. The genre is present mainly in the provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa and Entre Ríos, and in the south of the provinces of Mendoza and San Luís. However, the influence of milonga extends from the Patagonia region to urban sectors thanks to the work of nationalist composers. The term may have originated in Africa (see main entry on Milonga) but the origins of milonga as a song genre appear to go back to the mid-nineteenth century. Ventura Lynch documented this type of song in 1883 (1925 [1883], 37–40), transcribing a few examples that he collected in rural areas. He defined these songs as ‘zandungueras,’ namely for their graceful and animated character. He also distinguished between the rural milongas, which were sung, and those that were danced in the suburbs of the city of Buenos Aires. At the start of the twentieth century, the milonga was revived and disseminated by the traditionalist movement in Buenos Aires, becoming the song par excellence of the River Plate payadores who, until then, had used the cifra (a traditional melody with accompaniment based on improvised verses).

The milonga normally starts with a guitar prelude usually plucking the strings, reproducing the rhythmic formula characteristic of the genre: dotted eighth-sixteenth-eighth-eighth, over tonic and dominant chords. This serves as a base for the accompaniment once the voice is introduced. It contains the musical features proper to the songbook that Carlos Vega (1944, 230–45) denominated as ‘colonial binary’: major or minor key, sometimes bimodal (i.e., with the superimposition of F major and the melodic minor). It is in duple meter with occasional polyrhythms between the accompaniment, which is in triple meter, and the vocal line, which is usually in duple meter. Milongas are syllabic, with each sung verse separated by an interlude that repeats the theme of the prelude. Often the melody line starts on a pickup, and it also tends to start on a higher register with a gradual descent to lower registers as the song progresses.

The texts, based on octosyllabic lines, are organized in verses of four, six and eight lines and, above all, in décimas. The range of subject matter explored in these poems is wide, including patriotic, narrative, comic or burlesque, romantic and historical themes. In addition, the milonga is used to improvise on a theme proposed by the audience, and also for counterpoint payadas, literary-musical duels between two singers on a poetic theme either previously agreed upon between them, suggested by the audience, or that emerges freely in the course of the duel. In a payada, one of the singers is defeated when he is unable to respond correctly to the other contender.

In the province of La Pampa, the milonga has been registered as performed by two voices and two guitars, the singers alternating after two verses or each stanza. This milonga has also been given different names and functions according to the strumming techniques used to perform it: corralera, campera, surera or para payar. It can also be interpreted by a solo guitar in a purely instrumental mode.

Many of the art music composers affiliated to the nationalist movement of the first half of the twentieth century were inspired by the milonga to create works for piano, voice and piano, choir or orchestra. Notable among them are ‘Aires de la pampa,’ ten milongas for piano, opus 63 (1913) and opus 64 (1916) and ‘Las milongas de la orquesta,’ opus 107 (1935) by Alberto Williams; ‘Ritmos argentinos’ for piano (1933) by Cayetano Troiani; ‘Milonga’ for mixed choir by Juan Bautista Massa; and ‘Frescas sombras de sauces’ (Cool Shades of the Elm Tree) for voice and piano by Carlos López Buchardo.

Creators and interpreters of popular music have also made the milonga one of their preferred genres for their compositions. Among the most relevant are Atahualpa Yupanqui with works such as ‘El payador perseguido’ (The Hunted Payador), a tale in the form of a milonga; ‘Milonga del solitario’ (The Loner’s Milonga) and ‘Milonga del peón de campo’ (Milonga of the Country Peon); Eduardo Falú’s ‘Variaciones de milonga,’ ‘Contrapunteando’ and ‘Preludiando’; Carlos Di Fulvio’s ‘Milonga ¿cómo le va?’ ( ‘How Are You?’ Milonga), ‘De nadie y de todos’ (Nobody’s and Everybody’s) and ‘Abuelo gaucho’ (Gaucho Grandfather); Hugo Giménez Agüero’s ‘Sangre de peón’ (Peon’s Blood), ‘Por el sur de Piedra Buena’ (South of Piedra Buena), ‘Glaciar,’ ‘Solo soy un peón’ (I Am Just a Peon) and ‘Metáfora’ (Metaphor), Hilda Herrera’s ‘Al calor de mi tierra’ (In the Heat of My Land); Atilio Reynoso’s ‘Cuando llama la querencia’ (When Home Beckons) and ‘La matera de San Francisco’ (The Mate Shack of San Francisco).


Aretz, Isabel. 1952. El folklore musical argentino . Buenos Aires: Ricordi Americana.

Gieco, León, Santaolalla, Gustavo, and Goyena, Héctor Luís. 2004. De Ushuaia a La Quiaca . Buenos Aires: Retina.

Goyena, Héctor Luis. 2000. ‘Milonga’ (Argentina). Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana , Vol. 7, ed. Emilio Casares Rodicio et al. Madrid: Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, 582.

Lynch, Ventura. 1925 (1883). Cancionero bonaerense . (La provincia de Buenos Aires hasta la definición de la cuestión capital de la República) [Buenos Aires Song Book. (The Province of Buenos Aires up to the Definition of the Question of the Capital of the Republic)]. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Literatura Argentina. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. (Reissued as Cancionero bonaerense [Buenos Aires Songbook]. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Literatura Argentina, 1925.)

Pérgamo, M. L. de, et al. 2000. Música tradicional argentina. Aborigen-criolla . Buenos Aires. Magisterio del Río de la Plata.

Vega, Carlos. 1965. Las canciones folklóricas argentinas . Buenos Aires: Instituto Nacional de Musicología.

Vega, Carlos, 1998 (1944). Panorama de la música popular . Buenos Aires: Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega’.

Discographical References

Di Fulvio, Carlos. ‘De nadie y de todos.’ De nadie y de todos . M y M. TK 58014. 1995a: Argentina.

Di Fulvio, Carlos. ‘Milonga ¿cómo el va?’ De nadie y de todos . M y M. TK 58014. 1995b: Argentina.

Falú, Eduardo. ‘Preludiando.’ El sueño de mi guitarra . Epsa Music. 0194-02. 1997: Argentina.

Falú, Eduardo. ‘Variaciones de milonga.’ La historia del folklore . Universal. 2002: Argentina.

Giménez Agüero, Hugo. ‘Glaciar.’ Patagonia pura . Epsa Music 1852. 1999a: Argentina.

Giménez Agüero, Hugo. ‘Metáfora.’ Patagonia pura . Epsa Music 1852. 1999b: Argentina.

Giménez Agüero, Hugo. ‘Sangre de peón.’ Patagonia a pesar de todo . Epsa 17141. N.d.: Argentina.

Giménez Agüero, Hugo. ‘Por el sur de Piedra Buena,’ ‘Solo soy un peón.’ Al sur de la nostalgia . GLD. GK 38265. 2003: Argentina.

Herrera, Hilda. ‘Al calor de mi tierra.’ La diablera . Pretal. PRCD 124. 2005: Argentina.

Martínez, Carlos. ‘Contrapunteando.’ Carlos Martínez interpreta a Eduardo Fal ú. Vol. 2. Acqua Records 150. 2006: Argentina.

Reynoso, Atilio. ‘Cuando llama la querencia.’ Cuando llama la querencia . Melopea. CDMPV 1199. 2006: Argentina.

Surif, Valentín. ‘Aires de la pampa, diez milongas para piano.’ opus 64. Piano Music . Vol. 1. Naxos. 8 223735. 2000: USA.

Yupanqui, Atahualpa. El payador perseguido. Relato por milonga . EMI 798192-2. 1990: Argentina.

Yupanqui, Atahualpa. ‘Milonga del solitario.’ Guitarra, dímelo tú . GS. 12006. 2006: Argentina.

Yupanqui, Atahualpa. ‘Milonga del peón de campo.’ Testimonio . Milán. 5046 63535. N.d.: Argentina.


Alem, Oscar (piano). Quinteto de vientos Municipalidad de Olavaria. Vientos pampeanos . Pretel. PRCA 115. 2003: Argentina.

Ayrala, Roberto. Roberto Ayrala, el payador . COD 067.02. 2005: Argentina.

Curbelo, José, Maggi, Adrían, and others. Payadores y sureros. Disco 1 . Típica records. COD 245-02. 2007: Argentina.

Curbelo, José, Merlo, Alberto, and others. Payadores y sureros. Disco 2 . Típica records. COD 246-02. 2007: Argentina.

Documental folklórico de la Provincia de La Pampa . Textos Moreno Chá, Ercilia. Qualiton. QF 3015/16. 1975: Argentina.

Guichón, Gustavo, Maggi, Adrían, and others. Payadores y sureros. Disco 3 . Típica records. COD 247-02. 2007: Argentina.

Homenaje al payador rioplatense . Textos y edición musical: Moreno Chá, Ercilla. Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano. 2005: Argentina.

Las canciones folklóricas de la Argentina. Antologia . Jacovella, Bruno y equipo. Instituto Nacional de Musicología. 1983: Argentina.

Panorama sonoro de la música popular argentina . Recopilaciones de Carlos Vega. Instituto Nacional de Musicología. 1998: Argentina.

Paz, Suma. Parte de mi alma . Melopea CDMSE 5158. 2005: Argentina.