Despite being internationally known for tango, in the Argentina beyond Buenos Aires you are likely to come across a whole different musical genre: folklore. Largely influenced by the indigenous and gaucho cultures, the folklore music scene underwent various challenges in the 20th century, paralleling historical events in the country. But in the last few years a revival has taken place, and a whole new generation of talented folklore artists are appearing on the country’s musical scene, many of whom are part of a wave of ‘new folklore’, which mixes the traditional style with something much more 21st century.
Mariana Baraj is a bright representative of this young Argentina’s folklore scene, and her success proven in her extensive compositions and the four albums she has released, mirroring international success in worldwide tours.
A singer, composer, and musician, Mariana was born in Buenos Aires in 1970 and has devoted her life to music since an early age. She has collaborated with many Latin American musical greats, and played a main role in Lorena García’s film ‘Esta cajita que toco tiene boca y sabe hablar’. She has also won several prizes, from the Clarín Prize for Best New Artist in Folklore in 2005, and the Gardel Prize for Best Female Folklore Artist in 2011.
Mariana found time to talk to The Indy in between recording her new album and preparing her 2013 tour.
Why did you decide to dedicate your professional life to music?
I come from a family of musicians: my father Bernardo is a saxophonist and my brother Marcelo is a drummer. I have always dedicated myself to music, but I decided to do it professionally 22 years ago.
My first career steps were made with my father in his band Baraj Bernardo Quintet, and I also was a part of pop-rock groups like Man Ray and Catupecu Machu.
How do you evaluate your progress and development as a singer and musician?
It is essential for me to be constantly searching and evolving in everything I do.
I need to interact with other musicians, which is why I contribute frequently to other musician’s projects. In this way I keep learning and putting myself in different musical situations. I’m still developing as a musician and working hard on my compositions and arts production.
You won the Gardel Prize in 2011. How do you feel about that recognition?
Winning the award Gardel 2011 after getting to the shortlist with Mercedes Sosa and Soledad Pastorutti was very important to me. I admire both of them and see them as examples.
But the biggest achievement for me is that ‘Churita’ [her latest CD] is an independent production with my first compositions, all self-managed. So being up for the award with that album is of great value to me.
How do you see the folklore scene in Argentina and globally? Could we say that there is a renaissance of the genre?
I think that folk music is constantly evolving. There is a lot of interest in it from new generations, who keep it moving forward in different ways and along different paths. Folk genre is renewing its songs step by step and we can see very interesting composers emerging.
Who do you particularly enjoy listening to?
I listen to different music all the time. But there are some women who are great references for me, who I always listen to, such as Mercedes Sosa, Violeta Parra, Luzmila Carpio, and Leda Valladares.
Over two years ago you started creating your own compositions. What is the difference between singing other people’s songs and your own?
The idea to start writing my own songs had to do with the need to find my own voice and deepen it. When you are a performer of someone’s idea, you will reach the point when it becomes your own idea, and present their point of view as if it was yours. But their idea might not relate to your own ideas. When you write your own songs, it is very different as it relates to you.
I find both forms attractive, as I see them both as a great challenge.
You’ve worked with people from various countries and cultures. How did these people influence you and your music?
The great opportunity that music has given to me is to interact with artists from diverse cultures such as Africa or the Orient. The Japanese culture in particular has influenced me a lot, and new elements have inevitably been incorporated into my music in one way or another.
I always liked the idea of merging styles and genres and incorporating folklore elements into other styles.
You work a lot with Martín Churba [fashion designer, creator of the Tramando label], and your cooperation seems very successful. Where did the idea to work together come from?
Everything started in 2005, when Martín presented his collection ‘Monte’ inspired by the monte of Santiago del Estero. He invited me to sing and play at his presentation in Buenos Aires and Tokyo, Japan. Later he participated in the art direction of my CDs ‘Azucena’, ‘Churita’ and ‘Margarita’. With his brand Tramando, Martín is responsible for my costumes for the shows. In 2008 I again performed in another of his collections. It is a great honour for me to work with him, because as an artist he inspires me greatly.
You mentioned during your last concert, that you use musical instruments made by the family of Mario Paz, from Santiago del Estero. Tell me about that experience.
There was a time in my musical search when I felt the need to play instruments that better reflected the sound I wanted when talking about my roots and the place where I was born. So I began to use a leguero drum and then went on adding other native instruments, such as the sacha drum and the caja chayera. I was already aware of Mario Paz’s vast experience and the quality of his instruments and I started using them in my shows, where they soon took a leading role.
They are very fine instruments, which respond to everything that’s going on in emerging musical experimentation. These instruments give me a great colour in the different projects I embark on with them.
What is next for you?
‘Cuerpo’, the CD in tribute to Mariano Ferreyra [a young activist who was killed two years ago during a protest], hast just been released, and I sing a duet with Vicentico on it.
I am also working on pre-production of a new album that will be released in 2013. This CD will contain my own compositions with more of a folk and pop tone. Some artists from Salta province were involved in the making of it, which is where I have been living for the past two years. Next year I will also go on tour to Europe, Japan, and Korea.