Locals say the Peña is somewhere you go to forget your pains (penas), others say it comes from an indigenous Mapuche word peñalolén which means the union of brothers. To be honest neither are far from the truth: music, dancing, and plenty of drinking, a Peña is sure to unify hermanos and numb the senses at the same time.
Traditionally peñas are places where folk artists gather to drink, be merry and make music and this tradition has translated into one of Salta’s best nights out. Playing a huge variety of folk instruments, including the Charango guitar made of an armadillo’s back, and all dressed up in billowing trousers and knee high leather boots, you can’t miss out on a night tapping your feet and rapping the table along to the sound of lively folk music from hearty gauchos. Tradition is very much alive in Salta.
Salta’s Peña hotspot is most certainly on Balcarce Street. Here you will find a handful of restaurants and bars with good Peña shows in quite a touristy environment. Settle down at a table, order some stew or Saltanese empanadas and enjoy the show. The street itself is a bit of a party zone with banging boliches and neon lights flashing long into the night.
Further out of the town you can get a really authentic Peña experience at La Casona del Molino. Musicians bring their own instruments and cram the five or six rooms of this old mill house holding spontaneous folkloric jam sessions and competing with the room next door to be louder, more lively and even more cheerful. There is a lot clapping, singing from the top of lungs and jeering. An eclectic crowd and a mix of different folk styles emerge throughout the night, the best thing to do is find yourself a stool in one of the rooms and join in with the locals for a sangria or Fantvin (fanta and wine mixed) and a proper Peña! About a 5 minute taxi ride out of the centre, most taxi drivers know the address: Luis Burela 1.
Folk music and tradition in Mendoza
If you can’t make it up to Salta there are a few upcoming festivals in Mendoza where you can get a taste of Argentine folk and traditional music and dancing.
Festival de la Tonada: This is a huge folklore festival in Tunuyan (Valle de Uco) in February. Musicians and dancers make it an animated event highlighting the unique Tonada style of folkloric music which comes from the Cuyo region.
Festival Nacional del Chivo: This festival in Malargue may well be named ‘National Goat Festival’ but there is more than just gnawing down on some barbequed goat. Thousands gather at this festival to celebrate old traditions and folk music during the festival in January.
Rivadavia Canta Al Pais: At the end of January, this is a singing and music festival in Rivadavia with lots of traditional Argentine sounds.
By Amanda Barnes