Stepping into Salta’s folklore culture
Where to dance
To experience the region’s folk music at its best, visit Salta in mid-June when the city hosts La Guardia Bajo las Estrellas, a two-day celebration that commemorates the life and duty of General Martín Miguel de Guemes, a military leader who allied with Salta’s gauchos during Argentina’s War of Independence in 1810. During the celebration, around 3,000 gauchos pour into Salta city from the surrounding towns for an evening of dance and music around campfires at the base of San Bernardo Hill, a peak that overlooks the capital. The following day, the gauchos lead a multiple-hour parade through town – a must-see for travellers who want to witness the region’s proud gaucho culture on a grand scale. It is a breathtaking display of equestrian skill and local heritage as the gauchos prance around on horseback while suited in their best traditional clothing, such as bombachas (riding pants), black leather sombreros and boots to match.
Should you not arrive in June, there are also several locales that play folk music year-round.
La Casona del Molino
This is the most authentic peña experience in town, so expect simplicity. There is no stage or flashy costumes, locals play music while sitting among the other patrons at the tables and people dance when inspired. Sit back and enjoy a glass of malbec with a few empanadas (baked meat-filled pastries), or join the locals at what they do best. Fair warning, someone may invite you to dance, even if you do not know the steps.
Casa de Cultura
While most peñas feel like intimate restaurants or bars, this venue hosts a wide range of daily performances – from folkloric dance shows to symphony orchestra concerts – in a formal, theatre setting. As part of the local government’s cultural ministry and tourism board, the Casa de Cultura also organises performances in towns throughout Salta province. For this summer’s schedule visit Turismo.salta.gov.ar.
La Vieja Estación
A Salta city fixture since its opening in 2000, this late-night restaurant is an ideal place to sample regional dishes such as humitas (steamed corn mash filled with cheese) and enjoy a late-night show. Some locals, however, argue the performance is a tourist attraction since stage performers prompt members of a mostly foreign audience to dance on stage. In most other peñas, locals casually dance about the room.
La Peña de Balderrama
One of the most popular venues in town, La Peña Balderrama serves up hit folkloric sounds and tasty local desserts such as dulce de cayote con nuez (sweetened local melon served with nuts). It attracts renowned musical performers like Los Nocheros and Charly García, who get patrons on their feet to dance and sing.
Panadería del Chuña
Panadería del Chuña’s company slogan refers to folklore music as, “Our daily bread”. Highly recommended by locals, this peña is known as much for its performances as for its charitable deeds – the owners often contribute to local community organisations, such as CloudheadART, an arts education group. The venue showcases a variety of folkloric dance and music styles and offers tasty traditional meals, such as locro, a squash-based pork stew.