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History of the Andean music
Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 01. Jul.-Aug.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

History of the Andean music
Introduction to “Andean music”

In the strict sense of the term, “Andean music” would define a heterogeneous group of sounds, rhythms, styles, instruments and performers which spans throughout the entire Andean range: from Central Colombia to southern Argentina and Chile, crossing Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
The term would include so many particular musical expressions as the music of the Mapuche people settled in the Patagonia, every single type of cueca (Chilean, Argentinian and Bolivian), the Argentinian vidala, chaya and zamba "carpera", the “baile de chinos” of Chilean Norte Chico, the misachicos and religious festivities of the Argentinian high plains, the sounds of the Bolivian Chipaya people from Oruro, the Peruvian folklore of Arequipa, the Ecuadorian music of Cuenca region or the music of the Pasto region in Colombia.
However, there are very few “Andean music” enthusiasts who know the elements mentioned above. The reason might be found in the substantial difference existing between the broad sense of “Andean music” as a historical and cultural phenomenon, and the narrow sense of the term as a marketing ploy utilized by record companies to make their products more commercially attractive or to advertise a sort of “haunting” New Age music beloved by laypeople and mass media alike.
The history of sound traditions of the Andes dates back to the old times, before Tawantinsuyu or “Incan Empire” further extended their limits from the region of Cusco (nowadays, Peru) to northern and southern latitudes such as Ecuador and Chile respectively. Many of the instruments performed these days to make traditional and popular Andean music have their origins in archaeological pieces attributed to the Nasca, Mochica/Moche or Chimu cultures (natural trumpets or horns, rattles, panpipes, notched flutes and whistles). These and many other regional cultures, with centuries of autonomous development, later borrowed instruments, rhythms, harmonies and scales from the Incas. In spite of these influences, a number of samples from pre-Incan stages can still be found in Andean America (such as the music of northern Argentina and southern Bolivia).
After these borrowings it would be the time for European conquers’ arrival, who would bring with them several string instruments, equal tempered heptatonic scales and different harmonies. The newcomers would not only adapt and innovate on existing wind and percussion instruments on the ground, but would also contribute new forms of composing stanzas and verses and would successfully attempt to impose a new language. Stemming from the combination of different Andean and European features, many festivities and rites would be celebrated for the first time and a host of customs and traditions, portrayed in lyrics and dances, would be changed.
As from that moment, the music of the Andes would continue mixing internal and external elements with those brought by the slaves shipped from Africa and the many economic migrants and political refugees from everywhere.
Popular trends in the music would build up their repertories adding all those influences from abroad while, at the same time, faithfully preserving their legacy and remembering their roots. On the other hand, urban artists of the region (commercial or not) would introduce new forms of performance derived from rock, pop, salsa, cumbia, jazz and reggae.
However, along with the obvious and brief definition of “Andean music” as the music belonging to the Andes and its people, there is also a trademark under the same name that has been commercially used for the last fifty years. It can be said that a “new” musical genre was created by adding certain elements of Andean tradition to other musical traditions for artistic, commercial and even ideological purposes. It can safely be said that the latter is what listeners more often associate with “Andean music” instead of strictly speaking the music of the Andes.

Historia de la música andina
It happened during the 1960s. While in Andean rural areas music followed its course and a few radios broadcasted what was called “native song”, “folk song” or “traditional music” (a music that not many would hear and which would even be dismissed by certain social classes), a host of Latin American groups and singers settled in Europe –mostly in Paris– achieved a lot of success performing some of those sounds for a western audience. Ensembles and solo performers such as Los Guaranís, Los Incas, Los Calchakis, Los Machucambos or Alfredo de Robertis collected a number of sounds from their homelands, composed a few others, adapted several more and built up their repertories to the accompaniment of the ubiquitous guitars, cuatros and charangos together with quenas (notched flutes), pinkillos and panpipes. The reason why most performers decided to play those particular instruments instead of others might be the relatively ease with which they would had been constructed, bought and used; the chance to tune them in equal tempered scales, much more listener-friendly to European ears than the original indigenous-mixed ones; and, above all, the evocative exoticism and magic suggested by their sounds (exoticism and magic that can be clearly recognized in the titles of many “pioneering” groups’ productions). Rhythms and harmonies would also be tailored to fit western audiences’ liking, even to the point of radically altering them.
Musicians and singers would often choose popular songs from Argentina, Bolivia and Peru (in addition to Ecuadorian and Chilean ones), which reflected the aesthetic sense of each artist and, more often than not, showed little or no respect at all for tradition. Not surprisingly in this context, it would not be difficult to find Argentinian chacareras being played with quenas and charangos, or “traditional” sikureadas with western scales, steps and harmony arrangements.
Whether this “return to the roots” was a passport to step to the European stages (whereon it received more attention than in South America), a sincere wish to trace back their musical origins to the Andes and put it at the same level as the commercial music broadcasted on the radio and the TV, or a strange combination of both, many groups in Latin America adhered to this trend and started collecting and spreading “native song”. In addition, those years saw the emergence of the “New Song” (another trademark), which launched folk sounds into mass media and successfully managed to marry them with lyrics on social complaint and political commitment. The Parra family was amongst the first in taking steps in this direction, and would be followed by Víctor Jara, Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, Aparcoa, Ortiga...
Toward the end of that decade, some of those groups (including Illapu and Kamac Pacha Inti) made the decision to go deep into the communities and areas where folklore remained “pure”, in an attempt to “stand there drinking in the original sounds”.
As a consequence, themes and leitmotivs so far pushed into the rural and peasant-like background, such as the tarkeadas, the mohoseñadas, the sikureadas and pinkilladas among many others, found their path toward reaching larger audiences. Some of them were performed and recorded following their original patterns therefore gradually getting away from European conventions. Good examples are Wara’ works, a splendid collection of recordings named after the Aymara numbers (“Maya”, “Paya”, “Kimsa”, “Pusi”...).
Since that moment, popular and commercial music will naturally interact with each other, therefore it will be more difficult to distinguish merely commercial products from authentically Andean sounds of that time. However, during the 1980s it becomes clear that tracing their musical roots to its Andean cradle gets more and more adherents amongst the existing groups. Through ensembles such as Awatiñas or Los Kjarkas the most pristine national and regional musical traditions will sound familiar to many more people. This trend would continue growing with remarkable examples such as Boliviamanta, Ñanda Mañachi or Trencito de los Andes, and would even be enriched by borrowing other styles and musical patterns. Nevertheless, at that time the so called “Andean music” would –for certain non-specialist audiences- inevitably be linked to the sounds of quenas, panpipes, guitars and charangos, as well as with rhythms such as huayno. Other musical expressions, unless they were performed to the accompaniment of the instruments mentioned above, would not be considered as “Andean” despite historically, geographically and culturally being part of the Andes
Fortunately, ongoing information spreading and a better understanding on the part of the listeners help sounds of the Andes universe to get free of old and wrong labels and to be known as what it is: and immense and colourful patchwork of different beats and booms, echoes and trills, strumming and plucking along the range.
That is how “Tierra de vientos” understands Andean music, and from such a perspective the magazine will get closer to its repertoire, its constituent elements and its main characters.
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