Andean Music: The History and Diversity of a Rich Musical Tradition

Andean music is a group of musical styles and genres that originated in the Andes region of South America, spanning from Venezuela to Argentina. Andean music reflects the cultural diversity and historical complexity of the region, as it incorporates elements from indigenous, European, African, and Asian influences. Andean music is also characterized by the use of a variety of instruments, some of which are unique to the Andes, and others that have been adapted from other sources. In this article, we will explore the origin and history of some of the most emblematic instruments and styles of Andean music, such as the charango, the quena, the bombo legüero, the caja de chaya, and the pezuñas de percusión.

The Charango: A Small Lute with a Big Sound

The charango is a small stringed instrument of the lute family, usually made of wood or armadillo shell. It has ten strings in five courses, and is tuned in either pentatonic or diatonic scales. The charango is widely used in Andean music, especially in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina. The charango is often played as a solo instrument, or as part of an ensemble with other instruments, such as the quena, the zampoña, the guitar, or the harp.

The origin of the charango is not clear, but it is generally believed that it evolved from the Spanish vihuela, a guitar-like instrument that was introduced by the colonizers in the 16th century. Some scholars suggest that the charango was a native adaptation of the vihuela, using local materials and techniques. Others argue that the charango was a direct descendant of the vihuela, and that it was brought by the mestizos, the people of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry. The first historical references to the charango date from the 18th century, when it was already a popular instrument among the native and mestizo populations of the Andes. The charango was also associated with the miners, the peasants, and the rebels, who used it as a symbol of resistance and identity.

Traditional Charango. Roberto Pugliese Blog

The Quena: A Flute with a Soul

The quena is a vertical flute, usually made of cane, wood, or bone. It has six finger holes and one thumb hole, and is open on both ends or half-closed on the bottom. The quena produces a textured and dark timbre, and can play a range of notes and melodies. The quena is one of the oldest and most traditional instruments of Andean music, and is often used in ceremonial and ritual contexts, as well as in folkloric and popular genres.

The quena has a pre-Columbian origin, and was already used by the ancient cultures of the Andes, such as the Nazca, the Moche, the Tiwanaku, and the Inca. The quena was a sacred instrument, and was played to honor and communicate with the deities of the Andean cosmovision, such as the Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Inti (Sun), and the Illapa (Thunder). The quena was also linked to the agricultural cycle, and was played to celebrate the seasons, the harvest, and the fertility of the land. After the Spanish conquest, the quena was marginalized and persecuted, as it was considered a pagan and subversive instrument. However, the quena survived and continued to be played by the indigenous and mestizo communities, who preserved and enriched its musical repertoire and techniques.

Quena - Roberto Pugliese Blog
Andean wood quena on a cloth background embroidered

The Bombo Legüero: A Drum that Echoes in the Distance

The bombo legüero is a large drum, usually made of hollowed wood and covered with goat or sheep skin. It has two membranes, one on each side, that are tightened by leather straps or metal rings. The bombo legüero is played with one or two wooden sticks, sometimes wrapped with leather. The bombo legüero produces a deep and resonant sound, that can be heard from far away. The bombo legüero is a common instrument in Andean music, especially in Argentina and Chile, where it is used to accompany dances, songs, and marches.

The bombo legüero has a mixed origin, as it combines elements from the indigenous and the European musical traditions. The bombo legüero is derived from the European military drums, that were brought by the Spanish soldiers and missionaries in the 16th century. The indigenous people adopted and adapted the drums, using local materials and techniques, and giving them a different function and meaning. The bombo legüero became a symbol of the rural and popular culture of the Andes, and was used to express the feelings and aspirations of the people. The bombo legüero was also involved in the wars of independence and the social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, as it was used to inspire and mobilize the masses.

Chacarera Roberto Pugliese

The Caja de Chaya: A Tambourine with a History

The caja de chaya is a small tambourine, usually made of wood and metal. It has a circular frame, covered with animal skin, and has small metal discs or jingles attached to it. The caja de chaya is played by shaking or striking it with the hand or a stick. The caja de chaya produces a bright and crisp sound, that adds rhythm and color to the music. The caja de chaya is a typical instrument of Andean music, particularly in the northwestern region of Argentina, where it is used to accompany the chaya, a traditional festival of music, dance, and water.

The caja de chaya has a colonial origin, as it is a variation of the Spanish tambourine, that was introduced by the missionaries and settlers in the 17th century. The caja de chaya was adopted and modified by the native and mestizo populations, who incorporated it into their musical and cultural practices. The caja de chaya was associated with the chaya, a celebration that dates back to the pre-Columbian times, and that honors the Pachamama and the Pujllay, the god of joy and abundance. The caja de chaya was also used to accompany other musical genres, such as the zamba, the gato, and the chacarera, that reflect the diversity and richness of the Andean musical tradition.

Caja. Roberto Pugliese Blog

The Pezuñas de Percusión: A Rattle with a Twist

The pezuñas de percusión are a percussion instrument, usually made of animal hooves. They consist of several pairs of hooves, sewn together and attached to a strip of cloth or leather. The pezuñas de percusión are played by clapping or shaking them, creating a rattling sound. The pezuñas de percusión are a unique instrument of Andean music, mainly used in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, where they are used to accompany the sikuriada, a musical style that features the siku, a panpipe of the Andes.

The pezuñas de percusión have an indigenous origin, as they are based on the ancient practice of using animal bones and shells as musical instruments. The pezuñas de percusión were developed by the Aymara and Quechua people, who used the hooves of llamas, alpacas, goats, or sheep, as a way of recycling and honoring the animals that provided them with food, clothing, and transportation. The pezuñas de percusión were also a symbol of the connection between the human and the animal world, and the respect and gratitude for the gifts of nature. The pezuñas de percusión were used to enhance the sound and the energy of the sikuriada, a musical expression that celebrates the community, the identity, and the spirituality of the Andean people.

Pezuñas Percussion. Roberto Pugliese Blog

The sicus: is a traditional Andean panpipe

The sicus is a traditional Andean panpipe that originated from the Aymaras of Peru and Bolivia. It consists of two rows of cane tubes of different lengths, called ira and arca, that produce different notes when blown. The sicus is used in folk music of the highlands, such as Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Ecuador. The sicus dates back to pre-Inca times, and its oldest evidence is found in the pottery of the Mochica culture of the north coast of Peru

Sikus. Roberto Pugliese Blog

A rain stick

A rain stick is a musical instrument that produces a sound like falling rain. It is a long hollow tube that contains small objects such as pebbles, seeds, or beans that move inside when the tube is tilted. The tube also has spikes or nails that are inserted from the outside to the inside, creating a spiral pattern that slows down the movement of the objects and creates a rhythmic sound. Rain sticks are believed to have originated in Chile, where they were made by the Diaguita people from dried cacti. They were used in ceremonies to invoke rain and fertility. Rain sticks are also found in other parts of the world, such as Africa and North America, where they are made from varied materials such as bamboo, reeds, or wood. Rain sticks are considered percussion instruments and are often used in folk music, world music, and sound therapy

Andean Music: A Living and Diverse Musical Tradition

Andean music is a living and diverse musical tradition, that reflects the history and the culture of the Andean region. Andean music is the result of the interaction and the fusion of different musical influences, from the indigenous, the European, the African, and the Asian. Andean music is also the expression of the feelings and the values of the Andean people, who have used music as a way of communicating, celebrating, resisting, and creating. Andean music is a musical treasure, that deserves to be recognized, appreciated, and enjoyed by all.