Gaucho Rappers: The Payadores of Argentina

Malambo man by His Noodly Appendage, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]One day while channel surfing, I happened to flip past some cultural programming where I heard the announcer mention the word "payada." Not one to neglect my education in all things Argentine, I turned to Daniel for a definition. 

He explained that a payada is essentially a contest between two gauchos – an improvised battle of wits featuring poetry and song. These cowboy minstrels, he noted, are known as payadores. The payadores duel musically back and forth, attempting to one-up each other, and things finally come to an end when one of the payadores fails to immediately respond to his rival. 

I considered Daniel's explanation for a moment and then broke into a grin as I declared, "So, basically they're gaucho rappers."

Though the payada may be the "perfect cultural analogue to rap music, which began similarly as a sort of street competition, requiring quick thinking and clever rhyming," [1] the payadores of yore tended to be a bit more philosophical in their musings and they refrained from using foul language. They weren't, however, shy about drawing knives if the payada concluded on a sour note. [2]

In the past, apart from providing entertainment, the payadores served an important role in terms of spreading news. As the payadores traveled from town to town, they collected stories, gossip and news along the way, which they recounted to the paisanos (rural residents) who were rather isolated from the rest of the world. 

Toward the mid to late 19th century, payadores like Gabino Ezeiza – a master of improvisation and one of the most celebrated payadores – influenced Southern Cone writers as they began to explore a new genre known as gauchesque literature. These stories, inspired by the lives and deeds of gauchos, were often penned in a style that mimicked that of the payada. The epic poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández, written in the gauchesque style, is considered an essential piece of Argentine literature.

The payada is an art form that's still practiced today at cultural events, jineteadas (Argentine rodeos), and the like, though I'm fairly certain the knife fighting element has been largely eliminated. All joking aside, the payada constitutes an important part of Argentina's cultural heritage, and it's gratifying to see that the tradition continues.

For the record, I wasn't the first person to note the similarities between the payada and rap. The following segment from a TV show called "Argentinos Por Su Nombre" features two young payadores who square off against a posse of rappers, with rather humorous results. The video is definitely worth a look if you speak Spanish, but even if you don't understand a lick of castellano, you'll at least get a feel for the rhythm and sound of the payada. If you'd rather see payadores minus the rappers, take a look at this video instead.

[Photo credit: His Noodly Appendage]

[1] Tango-L
[2] Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry

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