Northern Argentina's local folk music is called peña, and involves guitars and charangas (the mini guitar historically made out an armadillo's shell), deep drums made from hollowed out tree trunks and a combo of sheep and goat skin, and sometimes bamboo flutes. Notoriously the capital of peña, Salta in general has become rather touristy and the peñas reflect that. Nowadays many are more than borderline tacky, featuring over-the-top photo slide shows, bad flute covers of western pop music, and strangely clad dancers.
La Casona del Molino remains, however, true to its roots, and starts bumping at one or two in the morning when the peña workers get off from their evening jobs at more touristy peñas and head to la Casona for informal jams with friends. This colonial house has six tall-ceilinged rooms and as the night progresses each room fills with different combinations of friends and bands each bringing their own instruments to the table. Late into the night the different salons compete with one another in variety and style of music and of course in volume.
While the guitars and the drums are hypnotic and heartfelt, the true beauty in peña is vocal harmony. Four or five gents will join in on a tune with a striking operatic cadence and a sincerity cuts through the bone.
One player asks if I miss my homeland of New Jersey. I shrug, and admit I've gotten used to being away from home. "Not like us," he insists. "We love Salta. Maybe we'll go away for a day or two, but we always come back." After spending two nights at the peña deep into the night hours, I begin to understand why.