When I first got here, a lot salteños asked me if I liked “folklore.”
If you say you like “folk music” in Wisconsin I’m pretty sure this is how people would look at you:
But here, folklore is king. There are radio stations devoted just to folklore. Huge festivals, one coming up next weekend that is literally all day Saturday and Sunday. Many bars and restaurants that only play folklore/are dedicated to bands and dancers performing folklore. Dance studios specializing in folklore. School gym classes teaching folklore. So on and so forth.
Listen to this song while you read 🙂
There are a couple of different types of folklore rhythms/tunes in NW Argentina. There’s also a “nueva generación” or new generation of folklore — this isn’t just something that was produced in the 1950s and left behind, it’s still REALLY popular here. In fact, I think it can be argued that you cannot live in Salta without having an everyday encounter with folklore.
There are a LOT of different types of specific dances/rhythms. The following graphic shows those in ALL of Argentina:
I am only going to focus on three, la chacarera, el gato, and la zamba, because they’re the most popular and common here.
La chacarera‘s origin is more or less unknown, but most people say that it started in Santiago del Estero, a province about 5.5 hours southeast of Salta. It’s always done in partner (male-female) and the dance is very flirty – the guy is trying to get the girl, but the girl doesn’t want the guy. The dance is basically based on the idea of “avance y retroceso,” or going forward and then pulling back. It’s made up of four steps, and there are two major parts: the first is identical to the second, but you have to get back to the beginning position at the very end (the man walks the woman back to her place).
El gato has been danced in Perú, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay, but it gained most popularity in Argentina. It has very simple choreography, so it is well-known and danced everywhere in this part of Argentina. This dance is also based on courtship/flirting. It’s always danced in partners (male-female) but it’s very independent – they never touch. The gato is very lively. The gato uses casteñetas or just snapping, especially at the beginning.
La zamba is the most difficult of all three dances. It started in Chile or possibly Perú, and it’s basically choreography that has characteristics of a poem. It synthesizes all of the “falling in love process” that a man “aspires to complete as an essential function of his life” (Seriously, that’s the description of this dance. Yes, this part of Argentina is still pretty macho). It is a much slower dance than the gato and the chacarera.
In all three, “palmas” are very important – clapping to the beat. This is because at the beginning of the song, the dancers and musicians are trying to get more people up to dance, so they clap to invite people up!
The dress is absolutely key to folklore. In Salta, it looks something like this:
The woman has a dress with a big skirt, and the man wears a “gaucho” outfit. The boots are the most important – this is because during the dances, he begins to “zapatear” which basically involves a lot of really fast stomping and it looks like they are all going to break their ankles or toes.
It is probably one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
El Bombo (legüero): In the image above from La Vieja Estación, the bombo is the big drum on the left. This instrument is really the key to ANY folklore song (besides the guitar, of course). It has a deep song and controls the rhythm of the song – if the “bombisto” speeds up, so does everyone else.
El Charango: El charango is a little Andean stringed instrument that is very popular in Perú, Bolivia, and NW Argentina. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each.
La Guitarra: The guitar. Need I say more?
El Violín: Some folklore songs do use the violin, but this isn’t super common.
El Bandoneón: This instrument is mostly in tango, but exists in some characeras and some zambas. It’s kind of like an accordion, but not.
La Flauta: A number of different kinds of flutes exist in folklore. I don’t really know the specifics.
Where and When?
So where do these dances/rhythms come into play here? Everywhere. Like I mentioned above, you will hear them on the radio and there are also specific bars and restaurants dedicated to folklore in Salta. There’s La Vieja Estación, one of the two most famous “peñas” in Salta. Peña is a term dedicated to any establishment where there is live folklore music. This one is very formal, with a big show every night (lots of pictures above).
There’s also Balderrama, which is the oldest peña in Salta.
My personal favorite is up next. There following video is from La Casona del Molina, located in the western part of Salta. Its a huge old house that has tons of rooms with a large patio in the middle. At night, random people come and bring instruments with them, find a place to sit (spread out between all the rooms), and start to play and sing with their friends. It’s great because you can go from room to room, listening, clapping along, singing if you know the words, etc. They stay until 4 or 5 in the morning! I took this video a few weeks ago, when I went with some friends for Clémence’s goodbye party!
I am taking private Spanish lessons with an amazing teacher, Patricia Díaz. My friends Kate and Elijah both take (took, in Kate’s case because she’s no longer in Salta! So sad!) classes with her too, so one Saturday afternoon she organized for us to have folklore dance class with a dance instructor! I was a little bit skeptical but luckily my 10+ years in ballet, jazz, and especially tap helped and now I can say that I can dance “el gato” and “la chacarera.” We didn’t learn “la zamba” because it’s the hardest of all three dances, and we only had a 2-hour class. Thanks to Patricia for organizing this and for taking pictures and videos!
As for current artists that are really big in Salta? Here they are (with one or two songs that I really like):
- Los Tekis (Que Me Pisen or Pupilas Lejandas)
- Los Nocheros (Por Culpa del Diablo or El Humahuaqueño)
- Abel Pintos (Tiempo or Cactus)
- Gabriel Morales (Pájaro Libre)
- La Banda Coplera (Hay Que Cantar or La Matadora)
- Los Huayra (Si Te Vas)
- Humahuaca Trio (Originario)
There’s also classics like:
- Mercedes Sosa (Antiguos Dueños de las Flechas or Solo Le Pido a Dios)
- Los Chalchaleros (La Cerrillana)
- Los de Salta (Zamba del Regreso)
- Las Voces de Orán (El Que Toca Nunca Baila)
- Los Fronterizos (La Lopez Pereyra)
Tonolec is also worth mentioning, but they are from Formosa (NE Argentina) and sing a really cool mix of electronic music and traditional Toba songs (Toba is the big indigenous group near Formosa). Worth checking out if you like really unique music. I like their version of Antiguos Dueños de las Flechas and Canción de Cuna (Remix).
I hope you learned something new about folklore in NW Argentina!