Art & Architecture
Over the years, Argentina has produced some fine artists, notably Antonio Berni, Benito Quinquela Martín and Marta Minujín, each with their own style and ability to break the mold in the art world. The buildings of Buenos Aires reflect many styles that were in vogue at various times throughout the city’s life. You’ll find old and new juxtaposed in sometimes jarring and often enchanting ways.
Eduardo Sívori (1847–1918) was one of Argentina's first notable artists and celebrated realist painters. He depicted pampas landscapes, painted portraits and helped found one of Argentina's first artist guilds. Other early artists included Cándido López (1840–1902) – a soldier who learned to paint with his left hand after losing his right arm in war – and Ernesto de la Cárcova, who depicted social issues such as poverty.
Lino Enea Spilimbergo (1896–1964) was a diverse painter and engraver whose subjects ranged from classical to post-impressionism to stark and surreal human figures. His contemporary, Antonio Berni (1905–81), would sometimes visit shantytowns and collect materials to use in his works. Various versions of his theme Juanito Laguna bañándose (Juanito Laguna Bathing) – a protest against social and economic inequality – have commanded wallet-busting prices at auctions. You can see both artists' work in the restored ceiling murals of the Galerías Pacífico shopping center.
Other famous Argentine artists of this era are Juan Carlos Castagnino, a realist and figurative painter; Jorge de la Vega, who dabbled not only in various styles of visual art but also became a popular singer and songwriter; and Emilio Pettoruti, who affronted Buenos Aires with his 1924 cubist exhibition. Roberto Aizenberg was one of Argentina's top surrealists.
One of the more interesting contemporary artists is Roberto Jacoby (b 1944), who has been active in diverse fields since the 1960s, from organizing socially flavored multimedia shows to setting up audiovisual installations. His most famous work, Darkroom, is a video performance piece with infrared technology meant for a single spectator.
Guillermo Kuitca (b 1961) is known for his imaginative techniques that include the use of digital technology to alter photographs, maps and other images and integrate them into larger-themed works. His work is on display at major international collections and he's had solo and group shows at key art expos around the world.
Other internationally recognized artists who experiment with various media are Buenos Aires–born, New York–based Liliana Porter, who imaginatively plays with video, paintings, 3D prints, photos and an eclectic collection of knickknacks; Graciela Sacco, whose politically and socially engaging installations often use public space as their setting; and the photographer Arturo Aguiar, known for playing with light and shadow in his mysterious works. Also watch out for highly eclectic Argentine pop artist Marta Minujín.
Buenos Aires has also seen a rise in urban art interventions, a movement of diverse activist artists whose work calls attention to social and urban issues in the city’s public spaces. The most prominent figure is Marino Santa María, whose award-winning Proyecto Calle Lanín is a series of colorful murals along the narrow Calle Lanín in the southern neighborhood of Barracas.
The late Benito Quinquela Martín, who put the working-class barrio of La Boca on the artistic map, painted brightly colored oils of life in the factories and on the waterfront. Xul Solar, a multitalented phenomenon who was a good friend of Jorge Luis Borges, painted busy, Klee-inspired dreamscapes. The former homes of both Quinquela and Solar are now museums showcasing their work.
Buenos Aires' turbulent history, its passion and its creativity have driven the growth of an internationally acclaimed street-art scene.
In the years following the 2001 economic crisis a generation of artists took to the streets to reclaim public spaces. At first graffiti and stencils delivered scathing criticisms of the government, then gradually a new style began to emerge, bringing humor, color and creative experimentation. Stencil artists, graffiti writers, activists and art collectives began to work together, giving the city walls a new role: channeling artistic expression. Out of a dark period of political and social upheaval, a vibrant new art movement was born.
Graffiti in Buenos Aires incorporates a dizzying array of techniques and styles and is found everywhere from sidewalks and shutters to garbage cans and towering walls. Huge-scale murals reflect both the talents of local artists and the tolerance their work enjoys. It’s not unusual to find artists creating enormous, detailed pieces in broad daylight, and they travel from across the world to experience the freedom of painting BA's streets. Look out for works by Martin Ron, including his surrealist work The Parrots’ Tale in Villa Urquiza and Pedro Lujan and his Dog in the southern neighborhood of Barracas.
To check out works from some of the scene’s leading artists head to Post Street Bar, a Palermo bar covered in stencils. There's a gallery at the back that specializes in street art.
To learn more and see some of the city’s most impressive art, why not take a graffiti tour? Graffitimundo and Buenos Aires Street Art are two organizations that work closely with leading local artists. Reserve a spot on one of their tours and venture off the beaten track to discover spectacular murals and the hidden history of this remarkable scene.
Little trace remains of the modest one-story adobe houses that sprang up along the mouth of the Riachuelo following the second founding of Buenos Aires in 1580. Many of them were occupied by traffickers of contraband, as the Spanish crown forbade any direct export or import of goods from the settlement. For an idea of how BA’s first settlements used to be, visit El Zanjón de Granados in San Telmo.
Buenos Aires’ Cabildo is a fair example of colonial architecture, although its once plaza-spanning colonnades were severely clipped by the construction of Av de Mayo and the diagonals feeding into it. Most of the other survivors from the colonial era are churches. In Plaza de Mayo, the Catedral Metropolitana was begun in 1752 but not finished until 1852, by which time it had acquired its rather secular-looking neoclassicist facade.
Many examples of post-independence architecture (built after 1810) can be found in the barrios of San Telmo and Montserrat. San Telmo also holds a wide variety of vernacular architecture such as casas chorizos (sausage houses) – so called for their long, narrow shape (some have a 2m frontage on the street). The perfect example is Casa Mínima (at San Lorenzo 380).
In the latter half of the 19th century, as Argentina’s agricultural exports soared, a lot of money accumulated in Buenos Aires. Wealth was demonstrated with the construction of elaborate mansions, public buildings and wide Parisian-style boulevards. In the first few decades of the boom, buildings were constructed mostly in Italianate style, but toward the end of the 19th century a French influence began to exert itself. Mansard roofs and other elements gave a Parisian look to parts of the city, and by the beginning of the 20th century art nouveau was all the rage.
Among the highlights of the building boom’s first five decades is the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, created in 1882 by joining a new wing to the existing post office. Others include the showpiece Teatro Colón, the magnificent Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes and the imposing Palacio del Congreso.
The 1920s saw the arrival of the skyscraper, in the form of the 100m-high, 22-story Palacio Barolo. This building was the tallest in Argentina (and one of the tallest in South America) from its opening in 1923 until the completion of the 30-story art-deco Edificio Kavanagh in 1936. The Kavanagh, when finished, was the largest concrete building in the world and remains an impressive piece of architecture.
Buenos Aires continued to grow during Juan Perón’s spell in power (1946 to 1955), during which time utilitarian housing and office blocks were built. Bucking the trend were such oddball buildings as the Banco de Londres on Reconquista, designed in 1959 by Clorindo Testa. The bank was finished by 1966, but Testa’s brutalist Biblioteca Nacional – which must’ve looked pretty groovy to him on the drawing board in 1962 – was dated by the time it opened (following many delays) in 1992.
A heartening trend of ‘architectural recycling’ took off in Buenos Aires in the latter 20th century and continues today, helping to preserve the city’s glorious old structures. Grand old buildings have been remodeled (and sometimes augmented) to become luxury hotels, museums and cultural centers; notable examples include the Centro Cultural Kirchner, which used to be the city's main post office, and the Usina del Arte, a concert hall that used to be an old electricity factory. Old markets have also been restored to their original glory to live again as popular shopping malls, such as the Mercado de Abasto and Galerías Pacífico.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen an increasingly modern skyline develop in Buenos Aires. Soaring structures of glass and steel tower above earlier efforts, many innovative and quite striking, such as the Edificio República in Buenos Aires' downtown. It was designed by César Pelli, who also did Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers.
The renovation of Puerto Madero turned dilapidated brick warehouses into offices, upscale restaurants and exclusive lofts. Contrasting with these charming low, long buildings is one of the city’s tallest structures, the 170m-high Torres El Faro, standing at the eastern section of Puerto Madero. It’s a pair of joined towers that now house fancy apartments. Other architectural gems here include Calatrava’s Puente de la Mujer and the glass-domed Museo Fortabat by Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Viñoli.
Street art – which is not illegal in Buenos Aires – has become more and more prominent in neighborhoods such as Barracas, San Telmo, La Boca, Colegiales and Palermo. Colorful murals, political stencils and graffiti-inspired creations cover public and private walls, sometimes commissioned by the city and property owners.
Rogelio Yrurtia (1879–1950) was one of Argentina's best-known sculptors. Many of Yrurtia’s pieces are displayed at his own museum in the BA neighborhood of Belgrano, or you can see his masterpiece Canto al Trabajo on the Plazoleta Olazábal in San Telmo.
Best Artsy Museums
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
- Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
- Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo
- Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat
- Fundación Proa
Literature & Cinema
Argentina has a strong literary heritage, with many writers using the country's darkest moments as inspiration for their complex and sometimes disturbing fiction. Leading the pack are writers Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Ernesto Sábato. Buenos Aires is also home to Argentina's vibrant, thriving film industry. The country has won two Oscars for best foreign-language film (in 1985 and 2010) – the only Latin American country to have won the award – and continues to produce excellent directors and movies.
One of Argentina's most influential pieces of classic literature is the epic poem by José Hernández, Martín Fierro (1872). Not only did this story about a gaucho outlaw lay the foundations of the Argentine gauchesco literary tradition but also it inspired the name of the short-lived but important literary magazine of the 1920s that published avant-garde works based on the ‘art for art’s sake’ principle.
Julio Cortázar (1914–84) is an author well known to readers outside Argentina. He was born in Belgium to Argentine parents, moved to Buenos Aires at age four and died in self-imposed exile in Paris at the age of 70. His stories frequently plunge their characters out of everyday life into surrealistic situations. One such story was adapted into the film Blow-Up by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. Cortázar’s novel Hopscotch takes place simultaneously in Buenos Aires and Paris and requires the reader to first read the book straight through, then read it a second time, ‘hopscotching’ through the chapters in a prescribed but nonlinear pattern for a completely different take on the story.
Another member of Borges’ literary generation is Ernesto Sábato (1911–2011), whose complex and uncompromising novels have been extremely influential on later Argentine literature. The Tunnel (1948) is Sábato’s engrossing existentialist novella of a porteño painter so obsessed with his art that it distorts his relationship with everything and everyone else.
Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914–99) and Borges were close friends and occasional collaborators. Bioy’s sci-fi novella The Invention of Morel (1940) gave Alain Resnais the plot for his classic film Last Year at Marienbad and also introduced the idea of the holodeck decades before Star Trek existed.
The contemporary, post-boom generation of Argentine writers is more reality-based, often reflecting the influence of popular culture and directly confronting the political angles of 1970s authoritarian Argentina. One of the most famous post-boom Argentine writers is Manuel Puig (1932–90), whose first love was cinema. Much of his writing consists solely of dialogue, used to marvellous effect. Puig's novel The Buenos Aires Affair (1973) is a page-turner delving into the relationship between murderer and victim (and artist and critic), presented as a deconstructed crime thriller. His most famous work is Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976), a captivating story of a relationship that develops between two men inside an Argentine prison; it was made into the 1985 Oscar-winning film starring William Hurt. Being openly gay and critical of Perón did not help his job prospects in Argentina, and Puig spent many years in exile.
Another prolific writer was Tomás Eloy Martínez (1934–2010). His The Perón Novel (1988), a fictionalized biography of the controversial populist leader, and its sequel, Santa Evita (1996), which traces the worldwide travels of Evita’s embalmed corpse, were both huge hits.
Ricardo Piglia (b 1941) is one of Argentina’s most well-known contemporary writers. He pens hard-boiled fiction and is best known for his socially minded crime novels with a noir touch, such as The Absent City (1992), Money to Burn (1997) and Nocturnal Target (2010).
Osvaldo Soriano (1943–97), perhaps Argentina’s most popular contemporary novelist, wrote Funny Dirty Little War (1986) and Winter Quarters (1989). Juan José Saer (1937–2005) penned short stories and complex crime novels, while Rodrigo Fresán (b 1963), the youngster of the post-boom generation, wrote the international bestseller Argentine History (1991).
The first novel of Federico Andahazi (b 1963), The Anatomist, caused a stir when it was published in 1997. Its theme revolves around the ‘discovery’ of the clitoris by a 16th-century Venetian who is subsequently accused of heresy. Andahazi based his well-written book on historical fact, and manages to have some fun while still broaching serious subjects. His prize-wining El Conquistador (2006) is a historical novel about an Aztec youth who ‘discovers’ Europe before Columbus reaches America, while his latest book, Pecar como Dios manda (To Sin Like You Mean It; 2008), hypothesizes that to understand the essence of a society you have to understand the web of sexual relations on which it's built.
Two of the younger generation of Argentine writers are Washington Cucurto and Gabriela Bejerman. Cucurto runs Eloísa Cartonera (www.eloisacartonera.com.ar), a small publishing house that releases books by young authors made of recycled cardboard collected by the city’s cartoneros. Bejerman, a multimedia artist who launched a music career as Gaby Bex, released an album in 2007 that incorporates some of her poetry with electro music. Other names to watch out for are Andrés Neuman, Oliverio Coelho and Pedro Mairal.
Feature: Jorge Luis Borges
Many of the greatest lights of Argentine literature called Buenos Aires home, and the one that burned brightest was without doubt Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), one of the foremost writers of the 20th century. A prolific author and an insatiable reader, Borges possessed an intellect that seized on difficult questions and squeezed answers out of them. Though super-erudite in his writing, he was also such a jokester that it’s a challenge to tell when he’s being serious and when he’s pulling your leg (though often it’s a case of both at once). From early on one of his favorite forms was the scholarly analysis of nonexistent texts, and more than once he found himself in trouble for perpetrating literary hoaxes and forgeries. A few of these are contained in his Universal History of Iniquity (1935), a book that some point to as the origin of magic realism in Latin American literature.
Borges’ dry, ironic wit is paired (in his later work) with a succinct, precise style that is a delight to read. His paradoxical Ficciones (1944) – part parable, part fantasy – blurs the line between myth and truth, underscoring the concept that reality is only a matter of perception and the number of possible realities is infinite. Other themes that fascinated Borges were the nature of memory and dreams, labyrinths, and the relationship between the reader, the writer and the written piece. Collected Fictions (1999) is a complete set of his stories.
Though he received numerous honors in his lifetime – including the Cervantes Prize, the Legion of Honor and an OBE – Borges was never conferred the Nobel. He joked of this in typical fashion: ‘Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition. Since I was born they have not been granting it to me.’
Pilgrims can head to his last residence in BA: a private apartment building near the corner of Florida and Santa Fe in Retiro. Look for a plaque on the wall.
Feature: Victoria Ocampo
In 1931 Victoria Ocampo (1890–1979) – a writer, publisher and intellectual – founded Sur, a renowned cultural magazine that introduced Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus and TS Eliot to Argentine readers. Sur also featured writers including Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Ernesto Sábato and Julio Cortázar.
Ocampo was an inexhaustible traveler and a pioneering feminist, and was loathed by some for her lack of convention. A ferocious opponent of Peronism, chiefly because of Perón’s interference with intellectual freedom, Ocampo was arrested at her summer chalet, Villa Victoria, at the age of 63. She entertained her fellow inmates by reading aloud and acting out scenes from novels and cinema.
Ocampo never went to university, but her voracious appetite for knowledge and her love of literature led her to become Argentina’s leading lady of letters. She hosted intellectuals from around the globe at Villa Victoria, in Mar del Plata, creating a formidable literary and artistic salon. (The villa is now a cultural center.)
Today you can also visit Victoria Ocampo's restored mansion in San Isidro, Villa Ocampo, for a reminder of a bygone era.
If Victoria is remembered as a lively essayist and a great patroness of writers, her younger sister, Silvina, was the literary talent, writing both short stories and poetry. Silvina won several literary prizes for her work, and in 1940 she married Casares, the famous Argentine writer and friend of Jorge Luis Borges.
Buenos Aires is at the center of the Argentine film industry and New Argentine Cinema. While this movement can’t be called a school of cinema, as it includes a hodgepodge of themes and techniques, it's certainly a new wave of film-making that has been attracting international attention.
The film that’s considered to have spearheaded the New Argentine Cinema is Rapado by Martín Rejtman, a minimalist 1992 feature that for the first time pushed the boundaries in a country where films were generally heavy with bad dialogue. In the late 1990s the government withdrew subsidies pledged to film schools and the movie industry. Despite this, two films ignited ‘the new wave’ – the low-budget Pizza, birra, faso (Pizza, Beer, Cigarettes; 1998) by Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro, and Pablo Trapero’s Mundo grúa (Crane World; 1999), a black-and-white portrait of Argentina’s working-class struggles.
Trapero went on to become one of Argentina’s foremost filmmakers, whose credits include El bonaerense (2000), the ensemble road movie Familia rodante (Rolling Family; 2004), Nacido y criado (Born and Bred; 2006) – a stark story about a Patagonian man’s fall from grace – and the 2010 noir film Carancho, a love story whose protagonist is a sleazy opportunist who frequents emergency rooms and accident scenes to find new clients for his legal firm. Trapero's 2012 film Elefante blanco (White Elephant) was screened at Cannes; his most recent film is El clan (The Clan; 2015).
One of the brightest stars of the New Argentine Cinema is Daniel Burman, who deals with the theme of identity in the character of a young Jew in modern-day Buenos Aires. His films include Esperando al mesíah (Waiting for the Messiah; 2000), El abrazo partido (Lost Embrace; 2004) and Derecho de familia (Family Law; 2006). Burman’s other claim to fame is his co-production of Walter Salles’ Che Guevara–inspired The Motorcycle Diaries.
Another director to have made a mark on Argentine cinema is the late Fabián Bielinsky. He left behind a small but powerful body of work that includes his award-winning feature Nueve reinas (Nine Queens; 2000), which inspired a 2004 Hollywood remake, Criminal. His last film, the 2005 neo-noir flick El Aura, screened at Sundance and was the official Argentine entry for the 2006 Oscars.
Lucrecia Martel has left an indelible trace on Argentina’s contemporary cinema. Her 2001 debut, La ciénaga (The Swamp), and the 2004 follow-up, La niña santa (The Holy Girl), both set in Martel’s native Salta province, deal with themes of social decay, the Argentine bourgeois and sexuality in the face of Catholic guilt. Another acclaimed director, Carlos Sorín, takes us to the deep south of Argentina in two of his neorealist flicks, the 2002 Historias mínimas (Minimal Stories) and the 2004 Bombón el perro (Bombón the Dog).
Juan José Campanella’s El hijo de la novia (Son of the Bride) received an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 2001. His 2004 film Luna de avellaneda (Moon of Avellaneda) is a masterful story about a social club and those who try to save it. And in 2010 Campanella won the Oscar for best foreign-language film with his El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes).
An up-and-coming director is Lucía Puenzo (daughter of Luis Puenzo). Her XXY (2007) won multiple awards at Cannes that year; it follows the travails of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite. In 2013 Puenzo directed Wakolda (The German Doctor), a true story about the family who unknowingly lived with Josef Mengele during his exile in South America. Finally, Damián Szifron's black comedy Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales; 2014) was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
Argentines are pretty well read – their literacy rate is over 97% – and Buenos Aires is home to some fabulous bookstores, including El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Recoleta. Look for bargain titles at the shops on Av Corrientes near Av 9 de Julio, or at the stalls at Parque Rivadavia in the Caballito neighborhood.
Argentina’s biggest film event is the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film, held in April. Fims are shown at cinemas around the city.
Metegol (Foosball; 2013) is a 3D film directed by Juan José Campanella; it cost US$22 million, making it the most expensive Argentine movie ever produced.
Music & Dance
A variety of music genres are well represented in Buenos Aires, especially when it comes to the city’s most famous export, the tango. But BA's music scene is also about hybrids of overlapping sounds and styles. Traditional kinds of folklore, tango and cumbia are melded with digital technology to create global tunes that are gaining recognition in living rooms and music festivals all around the world.
The folk music of Argentina spans a variety of styles, including chacarera, chamamé and zamba. The late Atahualpa Yupanqui was a giant of Argentine folk music, which takes much of its inspiration from the northwestern Andean region and countries to the north, especially Bolivia and Peru. Probably the best-known Argentine folk artist outside of South America, however, is Mercedes Sosa (1935–2009) of Tucumán.
Contemporary musicians to watch out for are Chango Spasiuk, an accordion player who popularized chamamé music abroad; Mariana Baraj, a singer and percussionist who experiments with Latin America’s traditional folk music as well as elements of jazz, classical music and improvisation; and Soledad Pastorutti, whose first two albums have been Sony’s top sellers in Argentina – ever!
Argentine music has experienced the hybrid phenomenom of blending electronic music with more traditional sounds. Onda Vaga's smooth harmonies add a jazzy feel to traditional folklórica.
Other big names in folklórica are Eduardo Falú, Victor Heredia, Los Chalchaleros and León Gieco. To hear folklórica in Buenos Aires, head to the Feria de Mataderos.
Rock & Pop
Argentine rock started in the late 1960s with a trio of groups – Almendra (great melodies and poetic lyrics), Manal (urban blues) and Los Gatos (pop) – leading the pack. Evolution was slow, however; the 1966 and 1976 military regimes didn’t take a shine to the liberalism and freedom that rock represented. Emerging in the 1980s, musicians like Charly Garciá (formerly a member of the pioneering group Sui Generis) and Fito Páez (a socially conscious pop-hippie) are now icons of rock nacional. The late poet-songwriter Alberto Luis Spinetta of Almendra fame also had an early influence on the Argentine rock movement, and another mythical figure is Andrés Calamaro, frontman of the popular 1970s band Los Abuelos de la Nada.
More recent Argentine groups that have played rock nacional include Soda Stereo; cult-like Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota (its legendary leader Indio Solari now has a solo career); versatile Los Piojos (mixing rock, blues, ska and the Uruguayan music styles murga and candombe); and Los Ratones Paranóicos, who in 1995 opened for the Rolling Stones’ spectacularly successful five-night stand in Buenos Aires.
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have popularized ska and reggae, along with groups such as Los Auténticos Decadentes, Los Pericos and Los Cafres. Almafuerte, descended from the earlier Hermética, is Buenos Aires’ leading heavy-metal band. The bands Dos Minutos and Expulsados seek to emulate punk-rock legends the Ramones, who are popular in Argentina. Other classic bands include hippyish Los Divididos (descendants of the famous group Sumo), Mendozan trio Los Enanitos Verdes and the wildly unconventional Babasónicos.
Today some of Argentina’s most popular bands include Bersuit Vergarabat (utilizing multigenre tunes with political, offensive and wave-making lyrics), La Portuaria, who collaborated with David Byrne (rock fusion influenced by jazz and R&B), and Valentin y Los Volcanes (indie-pop with great guitar music). And don’t miss the multicultural, alternative and eclectic Kevin Johansen.
Jazz & Blues
The high degree of crossover between Buenos Aires’ blues and rock scenes is illustrated by the path of the late guitar wizard Pappo (1950–2005). An elder statesman, Pappo was in the groundbreaking rock group Los Abuelos de la Nada and became involved with the seminal blues-rock band Pappo’s Blues, as well as Los Gatos and others. He played hard-driving, full-tilt rockin’ blues and was especially great when covering such American masters as Howlin’ Wolf, BB King and Muddy Waters.
Guitarist-singer Miguel ‘Botafogo’ Vilanova is an alumnus of Pappo’s Blues and an imposing figure in his own right. Also worth checking out is La Mississippi, a seven-member group that has been performing rock-blues since the late 1980s. Memphis La Blusera was around BA’s blues scene for a long time until it broke up in 2008; it once worked with North American legend Taj Mahal.
Lalo Schifrin is an Argentine pianist, composer and conductor with a jazz background; he's most famous for writing the Mission: Impossible theme. He's also won four Grammy awards and has been nominated for six Oscars. In the late 1950s, Schifrin performed with Gato Barbieri, another notable composer and jazz saxophonist. Carlos Alberto Franzetti is a big-band composer who wrote The Mambo Kings (1992) and won a Latin Grammy in 2001 for his Tango Fatal album.
Guitarist Luis Salinas is known for his mellow and melodic tunes that run along George Benson lines but are a bit less poppy; be sure to check out his jazz takes on such traditional Argentine forms as the chacarera, chamamé and tango. Dino Saluzzi, a bandoneón player originally from Salta who began recording in the '70s, was one of the first Argentine musicians to mix folklore, tango and jazz. Dino’s son José is a renowned guitarist in his own right.
Another musician and son of an Argentine jazz legend is Javier Malosetti, whose group Electrohope blends jazz, blues, rock and swing with Latin rhythms and funk. Drummer Sebastián Peyceré, who favors a funk-tinged fusion, has played with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, BB King and Stanley Jordan. Finally, BA’s own version of the Sultans of Swing is the Caoba Jazz Band, who for years have been playing 1920s and ‘30s New Orleans–style jazz for the love of it.
Latin & Electronica
Electrónica exploded in Argentina in the 1990s and has taken on various forms in popular music. Heavyweights in DJ-based club and dance music include Aldo Haydar (progressive house), Bad Boy Orange (drum n bass), Diego Ro-K (the 'Maradona' of Argentine DJs) and Gustavo Lamas (blending ambient pop and electro house). Hernán Cattáneo has played with Paul Oakenfold and at Burning Man.
Buenos Aires’ young clubbers have embraced the música tropical trend that’s swept Latin America in recent years. Many a BA booty is shaken to the lively, Afro-Latin sounds of salsa, merengue and especially cumbia. Originating in Colombia, cumbia combines an infectious dance rhythm with lively melodies, often carried by brass. An offshoot is cumbia experimental or cumbia villera, a fusion of cumbia and gangsta posturing with a punk edge and reggae overtones.
One of BA’s most interesting music spectacles is La Bomba de Tiempo, a collective of drummers that features some of Argentina’s leading percussionists. Its explosive performances are conducted by Santiago Vázquez, who communicates with the musicians through a language of mysterious signs – the result is an incredible improvisational union that simulates electronic dance music and sounds different every time. During the summer it plays open-air at Ciudad Cultural Konex every Monday evening; it's also featured at various happenings and parties in BA’s clubs.
Small musical ensembles that accompanied early tango dances were influenced by polka, habanera, Spanish and Italian melodies, plus African candombe drums. The bandoneón, a type of small accordion, was brought into these sessions and has since become tango’s signature instrument. The tango song was permeated with nostalgia for a disappearing way of life; it summarized the new urban experience for the immigrants. Themes ranged from profound feelings about changing neighborhoods to the figure of the mother, male friendship and betrayal by women. The lyrics, sometimes raunchy and sometimes sad, were sung in the street argot known as lunfardo.
No other musician has influenced tango like Carlos Gardel, the legendary singer who epitomized the soul of the genre. He achieved stardom during tango’s golden age, then became a cultural icon when his life was cut short by a plane crash at the height of his popularity. Over the years, other figures including Osvaldo Pugliese, Susana Rinaldi and Eladia Blázquez have also given life to the tango song. It was Ástor Piazzolla, however, who completely revolutionized the music with his nuevo tango, which introduced jazz and classical-music currents into traditional songs – and ruffled some feathers along the way.
Today, a clutch of new arrivals is keeping tango music alive and well, and in the spotlight. The most popular is the 12-musician cooperative Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro (www.fernandezfierro.com), with its charismatic singer Walter Chino Laborde and several fantastic albums boasting new arrangements of traditional tangos. An award-winning documentary was made about them by Argentine-born, Brooklyn-based director Nicolas Entel.
Two other young orchestras to watch out for are Orquesta Típica Imperial, which sometimes plays at milongas around town (check its Facebook page), and El Afronte, which plays at Maldita Milonga in San Telmo.
Stars of Tango
In June 1935 a Cuban woman committed suicide in Havana; meanwhile, in New York and Puerto Rico two other women tried to poison themselves. It was all over the same man – tango singer Carlos Gardel, who had just died in a plane crash in Colombia.
Gardel was born in France, and when he was three his destitute single mother brought him to Buenos Aires. In his youth he entertained neighbors with his rapturous singing, then went on to establish a successful performing career.
Gardel played an enormous role in creating the tango canción (song) and almost single-handedly took the style out of Buenos Aires’ tenements and brought it to Paris and New York. His crooning voice, suaveness and overall charisma made him an immediate success in Latin American countries – a rising star during tango’s golden years of the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, Gardel’s later film career was tragically cut short by that fatal plane crash.
His devoted followers cannot pass a day without listening to him; as the saying goes, 'Gardel sings better every day.'
Gardel may have brought tango to the world, but it was El Gran Ástor (the Great Ástor), as Argentines like to call Ástor Piazzolla (1921–92), who pushed its limits. The great Argentine composer and bandoneón (small accordian) virtuoso, who played in the leading Aníbal Troilo orchestra in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was the greatest innovator of tango. He revolutionized traditional tango by infusing it with elements of jazz and classical music such as counterpoints, fugues and various harmonies.
This new style, known as nuevo tango, became an international hit in Europe (Piazzolla lived on and off in Italy and France) and North America (he spent his early years and a couple of later stints in New York). In his native land, however, it encountered considerable resistance; a saying even stated ‘in Argentina everything may change – except the tango’. It took years for Piazzolla’s controversial new style to be accepted, and he even received death threats for his break with tradition.
Piazzolla was an incredibly prolific composer; it’s estimated that his output includes some 1000 pieces. These include soundtracks for about 40 films; an opera that he wrote with poet Horacio Ferrer, María de Buenos Aires; and compositions based on texts and poems by Jorge Luis Borges.
Piazzolla’s legacy lives on. Some of the greatest contemporary musicians, such as Yo-Yo Ma, have recorded albums dedicated to El Gran Ástor (such as the 1999 Soul of the Tango – The Music of Ástor Piazzolla). The new wave of electronic tango often samples his music and the 2003 album Astor Piazzolla Remixed features his songs remixed with dance beats and added vocals, all done by an international cast of DJs and producers.
Like the rest of the music scene in Buenos Aires, a newer tango has evolved that’s a hybrid of sounds and styles – making tango cool again with a younger audience. Musicians have been sampling and remixing classic tango songs, adding dance beats, breaks, scratches and synth lines, and committing other delightful heresies. This edgy genre has been called by many names: fusion tango, electrotango, tango electronica or neo-tango.
Paris-based Gotan Project (a Franco-Suizo-Argentine trio) was the first to popularize this style, with its debut album La Revancha del Tango, which throws into the mix samples from speeches by Che Guevara and Eva Perón and remixes by the likes of Austrian beatmeister Peter Kruder. Its follow-up albums don’t break the mold like the first but are still great if you like the Gotan sound.
The best of the genre’s albums so far is likely Bajofondo Tango Club, by the Grammy-winning collective Bajofondo. It’s spearheaded by Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla, who won two best-original-score Oscars for Brokeback Mountain and Babel; he also scored the films Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and has produced albums by such prominent artists as Café Tacuba and Kronos Quartet. Praised as more Argentine than Gotan Project (whose trio is composed of only one Argentine), its first album has subtle performances by a variety of bandoneónistas within a hypnotic framework of lounge, house and trip-hop. Its third album, Mar Dulce, is a catchy creation that throws more folk and rock into the mix and has a strong international cast of singers, such as Spanish hip-hop star Mala Rodríguez and the Canadian-Portuguese Nelly Furtado.
Another neo-tango collective to make an international name for itself is Tanghetto, with two Latin Grammy nominations. This six-member group mixes elements of rock, jazz, flamenco and candombe (a drum-based musical style of Uruguay).
Tango Hall of Fame
- Carlos di Sarli (1903–60) – Pianist, composer and orchestra leader.
- Juan D’Arienzo (1900–76) – Violinist and orchestra leader.
- Carlos Gardel (1890–1935) – Singer and actor.
- Ástor Piazzolla (1921–92) – Bandoneón (accordionlike instrument) player and composer.
- Roberto Goyeneche (1926–94) – Singer.
- Aníbal Troilo (1914–75) – Bandoneón player, composer and orchestra leader.
- Osvaldo Pugliese (1905–95) – Pianist, composer and orchestra leader.
- Enrique Santos Discépolo (1901–51) – Composer and poet.
- Homero Manzi (1907–51) – Lyricist and poet.
- Horacio Salgán (1916–2016) – Pianist, composer and orchestra leader.
- Julio Sosa (1926–64) – Singer.
- Eladia Blázquez (1931–2005) – Singer, pianist and composer.
- Susana Rinaldi (b 1935) – Singer.
- Adriana Varela (b 1952) – Singer.
Charly García’s version of the Argentine national anthem does what Jimi Hendrix did for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,' but it earned García a court appearance for ‘lacking respect for national symbols.'
Murga is a form of athletic musical theater composed of actors and percussionists. Primarily performed in Uruguay, murga in Argentina is more heavily focused on dancing than singing. You’re most likely see this exciting musical art form at Carnaval celebrations.
Born in Córdoba in the early 1940s, cuarteto is Argentina’s original pop music. Despised by the middle and upper classes for its arresting rhythm and offbeat musical pattern (called the ‘tunga-tunga’), as well as its working-class lyrics, it's definitely music from the margins. Although definitively cordobés (from Córdoba), it’s played in working-class bars, dance halls and stadiums throughout the country.
In 2007 electronic musicians from Zizek Records, a homegrown BA label, created 'digital cumbia' by fusing various forms of cumbia and Argentine traditional music with reggaeton, dance-hall, hip-hop and electronic beats.
Thanks to its European heritage, Buenos Aires has a serious cafe culture. Porteños will spend hours dawdling over a single café cortado (coffee with milk) and a couple of medialunas (croissants), discussing the economy, politics and the latest soccer results. Indeed, everything from marriage proposals to revolutions have started at the local corner cafe.
Some of BA’s cafes have been around for over 100 years, and many retain much of their original furniture, architectural details and rich atmosphere. They’ve always been the haunts of Argentina’s politicians, activists, intellectuals, artists and literary greats, including Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
Most cafes have adapted to modern times by serving alcohol as well as coffee, and many offer a surprisingly wide range of food and snacks; you can often order a steak as easily as a cortado. A few even double as bookstores or host live music, poetry readings and other cultural events. Serious coffee drinkers might be disappointed by the quality of the brew at BA's most historic cafes (go there for the atmosphere, not the quality java). Luckily there are new coffee shops opening all the time serving flat whites to please even the most discerning; try LAB, Lattente or Coffee Town.
Cafes have long hours and are usually open from early morning to late at night, making them easy places to visit. And visit you should; sipping coffee and hanging out at an atmospheric cafe, perhaps on some lazy afternoon, is part of the Buenos Aires experience. At the very least, they’re great for a late tea or a welcome break from all that walking you’ll be doing.
Walk around Buenos Aires enough and you can’t help noticing the colorful painted swirls of fileteado (also known as filete) decorating some public signs and buildings. Thought to have been inspired by intricate Italian metal designs, this beautiful stylistic artwork originally appeared on early-20th-century horse carts.
History of Fileteado
As time progressed, fileteado migrated to trucks and buses, softening these hulking vehicles with gaudy colors and symbols such as flowers, vines, birds, dragons and – of course – the Argentine flag. Today, fileteado on plaques serves to communicate proverbs and poetry.
Interestingly, this art form was once in danger of extinction. During the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983 fileteado was banned from public-transportation systems. Fileteadores (fileteado artists) had to think of other creative places for their works. They started decorating signs, posters, newsstands and buildings, eventually evolving their labors from simple decorative touches into independent works of art. Fileteado has since become an integral part of Buenos Aires’ artistic culture.
You can buy plaques at ferias (street fairs), especially in San Telmo, where Carlos Gardel is a popular subject. At the Mercado de las Pulgas you'll find fileteadores selling hand-painted signs, some of them from their workshops. To see buildings covered in fileteado, keep your eyes peeled in San Telmo, La Boca and Abasto (especially near Museo Casa Carlos Gardel). You can also visit the Bar de Filete (at Defensa 217), a restaurant with an informal filete museum next door.
And to create this lovely artwork yourself, check out the classes given by Alfredo Genovese (www.fileteado.com.ar) or Lucero Maturano (www.fileteadoslucerom.com.ar).
From her humble origins in the pampas to her rise to power beside President Juan Perón, María Eva Duarte de Perón is one of Argentina's most revered political figures. Known affectionately as Evita, she is Argentina’s beloved First Lady.
Argentina's First Lady
At the age of 15 Eva Duarte left her hometown of Junín for Buenos Aires, looking for work as an actor and eventually landing a job in radio. Her big chance came in 1944, when she attended a benefit at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park. Here Duarte met Colonel Juan Perón, who fell in love with her; they were married in 1945.
Shortly after Perón won the presidency in 1946, Evita went to work in the office of the Department of Labor and Welfare. During Perón’s two terms, Evita empowered her husband both through her charisma and by reaching out to the nation’s poor, who came to love her dearly. She created the Fundación Eva Perón, which built housing for the poor, created programs for children, extended subsidies and distributed clothing and food to needy families. She fervently campaigned for the aged, urging her husband to add elderly rights to the constitution and successfully pushing through a law granting pensions to elderly people in need. She successfully advocated for a law extending suffrage to women.
Perón won his second term in 1952, but that same year Evita – aged just 33 and at the height of her popularity – died of cancer. It was a blow to Argentina and to her husband’s presidency.
Although Evita is remembered for extending social justice to those she called the country’s descamisados (shirtless ones), her rule with Perón was hardly free from controversy. Together they ruled the country with an iron fist, jailing opposition leaders and closing opposition newspapers. When Time magazine referred to her as an ‘illegitimate child’, she banned the publication, and when she traveled to Europe in 1947 she was refused entrance to Buckingham Palace. However, there is no denying the extent to which she empowered women at all levels of Argentine society and helped the country’s poor.
When Evita said, 'I will come again, and I will be millions’ in a speech shortly before her death, she probably had no idea of her words’ prophetic truth. Today she enjoys near-saint status and her image adorns the AR$100 bill (she is the first woman to appear on Argentine currency).
Buenos Aires' Cartoneros
You'll see them mostly at night, hunched over at the curb, picking through the garbage and pushing loaded-down carts. These are some of Buenos Aires' poorest citizens, the cartoneros (cardboard collectors).
Cleaning up the City
It's estimated that around 20,000 cartoneros rummage through Buenos Aires' trash heaps; some are even accredited by the city and wear uniforms. They sort through the city's 5000 daily tonnes of waste, collecting cardboard, paper, metal, plastic, glass – anything they can sell by the kilo to the depositos (recycling companies). They stake out their territory, perhaps about 15 city blocks, and are occasionally forced to pay police bribes.
While most cartoneros work independently, some work for neighborhood cooperatives that pay them a regular wage and organize vaccinations. Some cooperatives even provide child care for parents who go off on their nightly rounds. In the poorest families, however, even the young children have to work, and some cartoneros are in their 50s and 60s.
After Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, was named successor to Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013, he took the name Francis I. Not only was he the first pontiff to bear that moniker (adopted to honor St Francis of Assisi), he was also the first to hail from the Americas and the first to belong to the Jesuit order, which incidentally was expelled from most of South America for 47 years (1767–1814).
The Road to Rome
It’s a fair bet that he’s also the first pope to have grown up drinking mate, tangoing at milongas and ardently supporting the San Lorenzo fútbol club.
Bergoglio was a humble man who had eschewed the archbishop's palace in Olivos, remaining in his modest apartment and getting around Buenos Aires by bus and the Subte rather than with a car and driver. As Francis I he has continued these habits, emulating his namesake and personal hero, the saint from Assisi who once renounced all worldly possessions including his clothing. This humility, coupled with the very personable humanity Pope Francis displays, has made him an extremely popular pontiff.
Over the past few years, however, some of Pope Francis' declarations have been controversial. He has criticized capitalism, practically supported evolution and highlighted the need to protect the natural environment. He's also noted the importance of women's roles in the church, and while he opposes same-sex marriage, he does believe that gay people should be treated with love and respect. Many Catholics speak of feeling understood by him, and his popularity extends beyond the faithful.
Walking the Dog
Buenos Aires supports a legion of paseaperros (professional dog walkers), who can be seen with up to a dozen canines on leashes. They'll stroll through Palermo's parks, Recoleta and even downtown with a variety of dogs ranging from scruffy mongrels to expensive purebreds, each of their tails happily a-waggin'.
Part of the Streetscape
Paseaperros are employed by busy apartment dwellers who either can't or prefer not to take the time to exercise their animals, and are willing to pay for this unique walking service.
Every day thousands of canines deposit tonnes (almost literally) of excrement in the streets and parks of the capital. You'll be aware of this fact soon after stepping onto the streets of Buenos Aires. Cleaning up after one's pooch is already a city requirement, but enforcement is nil, so be very careful where you tread – you'll see dog piles on almost every sidewalk.
Still, the capital's leashed packs are a remarkably orderly and always entertaining sight, and make great snapshots to bring back home.