The haunting sounds of bamboo pipes have been part of the Andean landscape for over two thousand years. The deeply ingrained musical traditions of Peru and its neighbours were partly inherited from the various pre-columbian cultures including the Inca, Aymara, Moche, Chavin and Nazca. It was added to by the Spaniards and African slaves who arrived in South America about five centuries ago.
In Pre-Colombian South America, music was a sacred art, a powerful source of communication with the divine world, associated with religious or agricultural rituals and wars, usually accompanied by singing that was high-pitched and nasal.
The Incas only used the word ‘taqui’ to describe dance, music and singing . They did not differentiate among the three, because for them they were strictly interconnected. Their music was pentatonic, based on the combination of five notes (re, fa, sol, la, do) and melodies were of another world.
Though they had just two types of musical instrument, wind and percussion, the Inca were responsible for spreading their style of music and instruments around South America as far north as Colombia, and as far south as Chile.
When Europeans first heard this music, they were horrified, believing it to be diabolically inspired. They decided to destroy this pagan worship. Members of the clergy prohibited the playing of Andean flutes, although to facilitate the transition, music was transferred to the new Catholic rituals as well.
What saved pre-columbian music in South America from disappearing entirely were the Andes. The inaccessibility of the land meant that the music could survive untouched in remote pockets. In less remote countries, like Mexico, the conquerors were more successful in killing off the traditional music.
Having said this, Spaniards also brought their music, their language and their instruments, with their strong Moorish and Gypsy influences, to create a new and unique kind of Andean Folk music. The locals were introduced to exotic stringed instruments such as the lute, guitar, harp, violin, accordion, mandolin. They also discovered new percussion instruments such as the Cajon and Cajita and various wind instruments such as saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and tuba.
Most people today recognise the classic Andean music to the sounds of the kena (wood or bamboo flute) and siku (bamboo pipes), accompanied by a charango (10-stringed guitar made of an armadillo shell) and the bombo (large wooden drum). This is emblematic of what musicologists refer to as the ‘Pan-Andean’ movement.
In fact, the Pan-Andean movement dates back only to the 1960s, following the economic migration of rural indigenous people to large urban centres and subsequent mix of criollo and Andean traditions.
After the global success of Simon & Garfunkel’s hit ‘El Condor Pasa’ in 1970, and even Abba’s 1976 hit Fernando, large numbers of Andean musicians facing political and economic challenges at home, emigrated and found appreciative audiences all over the world!
Now play this video, close your eyes (or not) and see how you’ll be transported to the remote Andes…
Ready to explore for yourself?