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Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Andean music in Argentina
Andean music in Argentina

Argentina shares with Chile more than half of the entire length of the Andean range (nearly 4400 km out of 7240 km). However, despite its prominent presence in some provinces, only the music of the north-western region of Argentina (NOA) is regarded as being properly “Andean”, that is to say, within the “Andean culture area” heavily influenced by the Tawantinsuyu. Central and Southern or Patagonian regions are not usually considered as the scenario of “Andean” cultural expressions, though the Aconcagua, the summit of South America (the highest peak in the Andes and the world outside of central Asia) rises above the wine growing regions, province of Mendoza, central Argentina.
Musical expressions in the Argentinean Andes originated in the pre-colonial past, in the hands of pre-Hispanic cultures. In the NOA, the province of Jujuy was occupied by the Omaguaca, Tilcara and Ocloya peoples, while the rest of the region to the south was home to the rich tapestry of Diaguita peoples. During the XV century, all of them were highly influenced by the Inca civilization prior to the Spanish colonization. At present, the native Kolla people (also written “colla” or “coya”) share many ethnic traits with those peoples and are the mestizo heirs to the legacy of their cultures. Among the most interesting items found in archaeological remains in this area are pieces of oval bronze bells (Santa María culture), several bone flutes similar to the “quena”, rattles and single-row clay panpipes. It is believed that some of those pre-Incan peoples’ musical expressions would have survived until today and would be part of the repertoire known as “tritonic music”, including the baguala and the vidala. On the other hand, on top of this oldest layer it would have been deposited the music of the Incas, which would have been fused and melted into different European musical currents giving rise to the rest of styles and rhythms that make up the Andean repertoire of Argentina.

Video 01. Traditional vidala.
Video 02. Modern examples of both the vidala and the baguala. “Los puesteros”.

Moving southwards, the extinct Huarpe people hardly left any evidence behind of their music. For their part, the native Mapuche people, settled along both fronts of the Patagonian range, still play ancient instruments and have several musical expressions of their own, though they are not very well-known outside their communities and have, therefore, had little influence on today’s Argentinean folklore. Another extinct people, the Tehuelche, has handed out one its rhythms to present-day audiences: the tahiel, which has come to our hands through a mestized process. Native peoples of Tierra del Fuego disappeared without other trace than a few recordings with their community songs.

Video 03. Mapuche music and dance.
Video 04. Example of “modernised” tahiel. “Amutuy”. Hermanos Berbel.
Video 05. Example of “modernised” tahiel. “Amutuy”. Rubén Patagonia.
Sound documents. Songs by the last Selk’nam (native people of Tierra del Fuego). Ethnographic recordings, in Memoria chilena.

Traditional music of Argentina in general (and Andean in particular) has been discriminated by the country’s dominant classes since independence was declared. It was regarded as “barbarous”, opposed to the “civilized” music arrived from Europe. However, later in the XIX century, folkloric rhythms experienced a revival thanks to artists such as Andrés Chazarreta, and in the 1920s gained much more attention being featured in concerts and many radio stations across Argetina. Chazarreta, who did much to promote folklore, was to be followed by Buenaventura Luna and his group La Tropilla de Huachi Pampa, who, in turn, paved the way for the then-called “native music”. Such music found its place in the radio show “El fogón de los arrieros”. Launched in the 1940s, it became a driving force that catapulted ensembles, composers and soloists from all over the country to fame.

Video 06. “Vallecito”. La tropilla de Huachi Pampa.

During that decade bands such as Los Hermanos Ábalos gained acclaim and their version of the famous huayno “Carnavalito quebradeño” was used in the film “La Guerra Gaucha”. It was the time of Master Carlos Vega, founder of the National Institute of Musicology that wears his name. The 1950s saw a major boom in popularity for Argentinean folklore and a spread of interest in Andean music and other regional styles. At that time, Atahualpa Yupanqui (born as Héctor Roberto Chavero Aramburu) who had travelled extensively through the northwest of Argentina and left for Europe in 1949, returned to his homeland, grew in popularity and crossed the country. Recognition of his ethnographic work became widespread shortly after and a few years later, Nueva Canción artists and bands (Latin America’s New Song movement) recorded several of his compositions (e.g Inti-Illimani popularized Atahualpa’s “Huajra”).

Video 07. “Carnavalito quebradeño”. Domine guitars trio.
Video 08. Atahualpa Yupanqui's “Huajra”.

In the late 1950s Los Chalchaleros, Los Fronterizos and Los Cantores de Quilla Huasi became known and spread many Andean songs, including in their repertoires rhythms such as the carnavalito, the bailecito, the chaya and the zamba. Los Cantores del Alba and Los Tucu Tucu came afterwards and continued the tradition, alongside many others.

Video 09. “Luna tucumana”. Los Chalchaleros.
Video 10. “Carnavalito del duende”. Los Fronterizos.
Video 11. “Chaya de los pobres”. Los Cantores de Quilla Huasi.
Video 12. “Carnaval en Purmamarca”. Los Cantores del Alba.

In the 1960s Jorge Cafrune’s career took off. He was one of the most popular folklorist singers of his time in Argentina, as well as a researcher, collector and disseminator of the native culture. The military dictatorship saw a menace in his outspoken songs and died in 1978 after being run over by a van.
A guitarist, Eduardo Falú and a pianist, Ariel Ramirez reached the top of their careers at that time. The latter composed the famous “Misa Criolla” (Creole Mass) in 1964, a work for soloist narrators, choir and orchestra of religious and folklorist nature.
Los Huanca Hua changed and updated the way of making folk music, and dozens of Argentinean groups follow their footsteps. In those years National Folk Festivals such as the one celebrated in Cosquín (during nine “moons” or nights) or the one that takes place in Jesús María (Horse Training and Folklore Festival) were held for the first time and the Nueva Canción emerged, renewed traditional Latin American folk music and was soon associated with different movements due to socio-political lyrics. Choral folklore was also promoted with ensembles such as Los Trovadores or Los Andariegos. In addition great artists of the stature of Jaime Torres, Uña Ramos and El Chango Nieto came to the stage.

Video 13. “Cante, señor”. Jorge Cafrune.
Video 14. “La huarmillita”. Eduardo Falú.
Video 15. “Nacimiento del charango”. Ariel Ramírez (with Jaime Torres).
Video 16. “Gloria” from Ariel Ramírez's "Misa Criolla". Los Fronterizos.
Video 17. “Gloria” from Ariel Ramírez's "Misa Criolla". Los Calchakis.
Video 18. “De mi pago”. Los Huanca Hua
Video 19. “Pregones coloniales” and “Pregones del altiplano”. Los Trovadores.

During the 1970s Markama, Cuarteto Zupay, Grupo Vocal Argentino or Huerque Mapu, among many others, dominated the musical scene in Argentina. Leda Valladares (who started her career performing with María Elena Walsh) put a lot of effort in the recovery of the Andean song tradition, especially the vidalas, and Las Voces Blancas, el Dúo Salteño and many others went on revitalizing the rhythms of the northern region.

Video 20. “Fuego en Animaná”. Cuarteto Zupay.
Video 21. “Zamba de los yuyos”. Grupo Vocal Argentino.
Video 22. “Indiecito dormido”. Las Voces Blancas.
Video 23. “Doña Ubenza”. Dúo Salteño.

The military dictatorship silenced many voices. Censorship obliged creators to find a way to show without showing and musicians had to erase words such as “people”, “poor”, or “freedom” from their lyrics and rewrite them in Quechua language. At that time, Mercedes Sosa, Víctor Heredia or Chango Farías Gómez launched new albums. In the 1980s, the latter would be the founder of Músicos Populares Argentinos, a pioneering group in the domestic new folkloric scene.

Video 24. “Pollerita colorada”. Mercedes Sosa.
Video 25. “Ojos de cielo”. Víctor Heredia.
Video 26. “Digo la mazamorra”. Músicos Populares Argentinos.

Since the 1990s, there were an increasing interest in recovering and spreading the Andean music of the country’s northwest. Groups, soloists and composers such as Los Tekis, Gustavo Patiño or Ricardo Vilca and Fortunato Ramos respectively, as well as renowned artists of the stature of Jaime Torres strived to disseminate their heritage local, regional and internationally.

Video 27. “Vienes y te vas”. Los Tekis.
Video 28. “Amores de primavera”. Gustavo Patiño.
Video 29. Ricardo Vilca.
Video 30. Fortunato Ramos.
Video 31. “Tres bailecitos”. Jaime Torres

Nowadays, most Argentinean folkloric bands usually include part of the Andean cultural tradition in their musical repertoires. However, truly Andean music, as in the rest of South America, can be best appreciated by exploring the celebrations and festivals held in the villages located across the Andean range, since those occasions are special occasions to blow a quena, strum a charango and sing a baguala.

History of the folkloric music of Argentina, in Wikipedia [es].
Virtual Museum of musical instruments. “Carlos Vega” National Institute of Musicology [es].
Blog “El folklore argentino” [es].
Musical forms of Argentina, in Wikipedia [es].
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