Although known almost exclusively as the birthplace of the tango, Argentina is home to a diverse array of music and dance styles from its various geographic regions. Largely a mixture of European and indigenous influences (referred to as mestizo), many of Argentina's musical genres can be divided into two primary categories: folklore and popular music. In addition, the European influences are not limited to Spanish origin, as Argentina became a melting pot of numerous European migrants, including settlers from Poland, Austria and Germany. While African influences are not as extensive in this part of South America, Argentina's borders with Uruguay and Brazil are notably rich in Creole traditions where African-derived drumming and dance forms abound.
Among Argentina's most popular forms are the zamba, a slow dance in 3/4 time played primarily on guitar and bombo legüero (the Indigenous Argentine bass drum). Once considered Argentina's national dance, the zamba originated in Perú in the Creole genre known as the zamacueca, which was adopted in Chile as the cueca and became Chile's official national dance in the late 1970s. Another style called the chacarera is a widely popular form dating back to the 19th century, emerging in the northwestern region of Argentina. Like many South American rhythms, the chacarera is counted in 6/8 meter, and is also a popular dance. Another notable genre is the chamamé, originating in the northeastern region of Corrientes around the late 19th century. With a myriad of European influences, its multiple styles include the polca (polka) and the vals (waltz), and are played mainly on guitar and the accordion-derived bandoneón.
Perhaps the most complex and fascinating musical and dance tradition to emerge in Argentina, specifically in Buenos Aires, is the tango. Its origins date back to the late 1700s with ancestors including the Afro-Argentine milonga, the Uruguayan candombe and the Cuban habanera. It evolved as a male slave dance performed in the brothels when it formally emerged around 1877. At first ridiculed or parodied, it made its way up the social ladder, finally receiving acceptance not in Argentina but in Paris in the 1920s. As the dance genre began to gain recognition in Buenos Aires, a song form also developed paving the way for the tango song, which saw its golden age through interpreters such as Carlos Gardel.
An important link in Argentine society and politics, the tango was interpreted by several different instrumental ensembles over the coming decades of the early 20th centuryfrom a single guitarist/singer to full-blown orchestras. But the most significant musical grouping to play the form was the sexteto, which consisted of two bandoneones (an accordion relative closer to a concertina), two violins, piano and double bass or cello. In the mid-1950s, composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla developed an avant-garde variety of tango that merged the style with European contemporary and classical forms as well as American jazz.
Recently, contemporary groups have begun mixing the tango with drums, from Uruguayan candombe drums to the Peruvian cajón and even synthesized and sampled drum beats. Several musicians have explored the renewed potential of the tango in the newest craze: tango nuevo.
Another significant musical tradition in Argentina is that of nueva canción, a genre attributed to several countries in Latin America, and inspired by Cuba's nueva trova movement. By the 1970s, national artists such as Atahualpa Yupanqui and Mercedes Sosa spearheaded Argentina's new song movement (referred to as nuevo cancionero in Argentina) with cries for peace and justice among oppressed peoples in Latin America, and joined other artists in an international expression of solidarity. The musical backdrop of this movement encompassed the richness of national forms such as the zamba, the milonga and the chacarera as well as neighboring forms including the Cuban canción and the Peruvian marinera.
Perhaps the most significant musical vehicle for the nueva canción movement was the rich tradition of Andean music. Together with its Chilean neighbor, Argentina would introduce international audiences to this ancient musical genre through the modern expression of Latin America's new-song movement. Rebeca Mauleon