is an Andean instrument of pre-millenerian
origin. Thanks to its musical flexibility (being so adaptable and tunable in so great a variety of ways), it holds a
position of substantial prominence. It can be made of wood or bamboo, though its ancestors
were also made of clay, stone and bone, especially the wing bones of the condor.
The quena is a vertical flute, tubular in shape, open at both ends, with a U-shaped
mouthpiece that is placed at the tip of the lower lip when blowing air to produce sound.
It has six finger-holes in front and one in the back. Quenas are available in a variety
of sizes, according to purpose and to local customs. Not surprisingly, different groups of
Andean natives use their own tuning for this instrument, which may vary in shape, size and
even in name, from place to place. The modern standard professional quena is tuned to
Quenas vary in size. The
is a larger quena.
Not to be mistaken for the European panflute, the siku (in Quechua and Aymara) or
zampoña (in Spanish), is a cane panpipe native to the highlands surrounding
lake Titicaca, between Perú and Bolivia.
The siku has two separate rows of pipes open at one end and closed at the other,
with each row containing every other note of the musical scale. Usually, there is a row
of six pipes, called the ira, and one of seven, known as the arca.
The pipes are held in place by two or more straps, also made of cane, running across the
width of the instrument, and by threads or cloth braided between the pipes and attached
to the straps. Present-day sikus are made from highland bamboo and from
chuqui, a cane found in the outskirts of many Peruvian forests. In Bolivia,
a cane called zongo is also used. In ancient times, sikus were also made of clay or
Depending on size, sikus are known by different names, which may vary from place to
place. Intermediate in size, the most popular siku is the
(about 11.5 inches long). The
or chili, is an octave higher and about 5.5 inches in length. The
(about 23 inches) is twice the size of the malta and an octave lower. Further down the tonal scale, we find the
toyo (about 46.5 inches), twice the size of the sanka and an octave lower still.
A sikuri is a siku player (un tañedor de siku in everyday Spanish).
Traditionally, sikuris are
ensembles (known to have reached some 100 persons in number) of siku players who collectively
interpret a melody while dancing to it, almost always accompanied by one or more bombos
to keep time. The execution is carried out in the form of musical dialogues, each performed
by a pair of which each member plays one of the two rows of the same siku.
From times immemorial, Andean man has used the siku to
express his character, feelings, sentiments and emotions. His happiness, grief, pride and
feats as a warrior have found their deepest expression thus. Since long before the Inkas,
the siku has been an instrument both ritual and magical through which the many Andean
cultures have expressed their deepest spiritual tradition.
The pre-Inka Nazca culture developed its musical language and spiritual expression through
the antara. Although present-day antaras are made of bamboo,
in times past they were made of several types of clay-like muds, fired to achieve hardness, with some instruments
taking on a terra-cotta appearance.
The antara is made from a single row of cylindrical pipes arranged by size to give the
instrument an essentially triangular shape. In the National Museum of Anthropological
Archaeology in Lima, there are dozens of Nazca antaras retrieved from burial and other
archaeological sites dating to the Nazca period. The number of pipes in each of these
instruments varies from three to fourteen.
Antaras found in Inka burial sites are mainly pentatonic and are made of cane fastened
by multicolored threads of cotton or wool. These instruments vary substantially from their
Nazca counterparts, not only in the method of construction, but also in their musical
In truth, the original Nazca antara is a musical enigma: Thanks to it diatonic and chromatic
scales, it offers major musical possibilities than those of the Inka instruments that
The rondador, the national musical instrument of Ecuador, is similar in construction to the
cane antara and siku. This instrument has a single row of pipes arranged pentatonically,
interlaced from major to minor: Each note is followed by its lower third, making it possible to
play a melody in parallel thirds. To this end, the player must blow air in two adjacent
pipes simultaneously. Many musicians are accustomed to playing the rondador and the bombo
at the same time, while the ensemble of musicians, usually five or more in number, dances to
This instrument is the most typical and representative of the Andean people of Ecuador and
parts of Northen Perú. San Juanito is the most well known rhythm associated
with this instrument.
Today, the rondador is available in a variety of tunings. For its construction, the
thinnest bamboo canes are selected to produce instruments with a soft sound. At the time
of the Inkas, feathers from the wing of the condor were also used to give such instruments
a magical aura and a ritualistic character.
The ocarina is yet another Andean wind instrument of
pre-millenerian origin. Its sound is melancholic, wailful and might even be described as painful. Since times lost to human
memory, ocarinas have been made of a number of materials: a variety of fired clay-like muds,
stone, wood and large seeds. In addition to being used for musical tuning, ocarinas were
made to imitate animal sounds, especially bird voices.
The ocarina is a globular flute, with or without a mouthpiece (to channel air inflow), such
that sound is extremely easy to produce. In the Andean world, this instrument can be found
in many varieties and with a multitude of decorations. Some have eight finger-holes in the
upper part (four for the fingers of each hand) and two in the lower part (one for each
The European ocarina (known as the sweet potato) was developed in the nineteenth
century in Italy and Austria. It became quite popular in many countries, including the
United States. Its invention is attributed to Giuseppe Donati, around 1860.
Probably, one of the ocarina ancestors is the pututu (quipa in Ecuador), a
traditional instrument among Peruvian Natives, particularly those near Cusco (Cuzco). The
pututu is a large seashell, about eight inches in length, with a hole of around four tenths
of an inch drilled at the pointed end. The pututero (pututu player) places his lips
there and by blowing air, with some strength, produces a highly vibrating and penetrating
The pututu, also made of fired clay-like mud, is used to convene cabildos (town
meetings), to announce reminders of important days, and to signal situations of
The palo de lluvia (rainstick), or palo de agua (waterstick), is a musical and
ceremonial instrument used in many communities from ancestral times to the present. Its name
is descriptive of the sound of falling rain the instrument produces. Rainsticks are made only
from dead cacti, found predominantly in the desert zones of Northern Chile.
The thorns of the cactus branch are pressed into the hollow shaft to form a spiral pattern.
Filled with desert pebbles, the rainstick produces its characteristic sound when it is tilted
to allow the pebbles to run through its interior.
The origin of the rainstick is a mystery. According to legend, its sound has the spiritual
power to serenade the rain gods. Indeed, some maintain that the Diaguita People of the Elqui
Valley in Northen Chile use the rainstick to this day in ceremonies to invoke the rain
spirits. In modern society, the rainstick, in addition to being widely used as a musical
instrument, is also used by persons of all ages as a toy or as a tool for relaxation.
The wankara is a large, round drum with goat skin stretched across both ends.
It has a deep, bass sound. It most commonly played in sikureadas, a musical
performance where a large group plays sikus and drums.
The bombo is made from a hollowed tree trunk, with animal skin stretched across
both ends. Bombos are made in many sizes.
The tinya is like a small bombo, about 4 to 6 inches in height and 12 to 20 inches in
diameter (there is no standard size), made of tree bark and goat skin tied with goatskin
straps or rope. It is played with small drumsticks, the business end of which can be padded.
The caja, made from a hollowed tree trunk, with animal skin stretched across
both ends, is much smaller than a small bombo. Across one of its sides is stretched a string
to which there are attached small slivers of wood. The purpose is to create a sound
similar to that of a snare drum.
The chajchas (chullus in Bolivia) is a vowen ribbon to which there are tied several
goat or pig hooves.
When shaken, the sound produced suggests that of wind and falling rain.
The charango is the only stringed instrument native of the Andes. Fashioned
after the Spanish guitar, the charango appeared in the 18th century between Bolivia and
Perú. Made of armadillo shell or wood, this instrument has ten strings. It is rather
small in size so that shepherds may carry it easily while herding their llamas.
Kirkincho is the name of the armadillo in Quechua and Aymara. In reference to musical
instruments, a kirkincho is a charango made of armadillo shell.
The hualaycho (called walaycho in Bolivia) is a small charango with metal strings.
Most of the time, it is played kalampeado: by strumming, not picking, the strings.
The instruments is also known as chilleador (that which produces
a sharp and disagreeable sound) for its strident and "disturbing" sound. The hualaycho is
also called the charango diablo (the devil charango) when it is tuned in diablo
Although not native to the Andes, the introduction of the guitar, violin, harp and
tiple brought about the creation of new styles and rythms to Andean music.
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uses the charango in Jewish "new-age" music.