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Classic group Andean music
Land of winds > Perfomers > Classic group | Issue 02. Sep.-Oct.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Los Kjarkas
Los Kjarkas

It was in 1965 that the brothers Castel, Gonzalo and Wilson Hermosa, together with Edgar Villarroel, left their home village of Capinota (Cochabamba, Bolivia) and wandered from one village to another playing and singing at festivals to make a living. At that time, the traditional music of Bolivia did not enjoy too much prestige, therefore, their repertoire mainly included Argentinian zambas, which were the pieces most frequently requested by the audience.
In 1971, during the celebrations of St John’s day, the four musicians made the decision to name the group “Los Kjarkas” (from Quechua term kharka, “nervousness, fear”) and never imagined that in such a humble and intimate ceremony they were forming one of the greatest Andean music ensembles in the world. From that moment, they also went on the stages of traditional peñas (venues for informal musical gatherings) while touring the country, and enlarged their repertoire with popular Creole rhythms such as cuecas, huaynos and bailecitos. When three of the co-founders cut their links with the group, the only remaining member of the original line-up, Gonzalo Hermosa, re-founded the band gathering together such musicians as Eddy Carpio or Alcides Mejía. With this new line-up, Los Kjarkas firstly appeared in La Paz in 1975 were on tour in different Latin American countries.
In 1976 recorded their first album, “Bolivia”. Immediately afterwards, Ulises Hermosa and Gastón Guardia joined the group and brought with them a prolific career as a composer and an incomparable “first voice”, respectively. In 1977 they launched their second and third albums, “Sueño milenario de los Andes” and “Kutimuy”. At that time they also offered their first concerts in Europe, the US and Japan.
In 1980 appeared “Condor Mallku” featuring romantic tracks such as “Pequeño amor” and “Por un sueño de amor” that marked the starting point for the group’s moving away from traditional folk. This leaning towards romantic song would become consolidated in their next work, “Desde el alma de mi pueblo” (1981). In this album, besides typically Andean tracks, Los Kjarkas made incursions into the chuntunqui as the rhythm for their love and despair songs. The emblematic “Canto a la mujer de mi pueblo” (see) also appeared that year, including tracks that would become great hits such as “Wa ya yay”, “Siempre he de adorarte” and “Llorando se fue”.
Their distinctive style was characterized by the use of such particular instruments as the ronrroco (a very large charango they did much to popularize) or the toyos "pipeados" (huge panpipes with special mouth pieces), and the combination of romantic lyrics with traditional groups of flutes (the so-called “tropas”) or native rhythms. This way, sounds that had been rejected by the youth and the middle and high classes of Bolivia during the previous years began to be gradually accepted by all of them.
In 1982 Los Kjarkas recorded a live concert in Europe and a year later they presented “Sol de los Andes”. Out of the album’s 10 tracks, half are romantic chuntunquis: “Niña mía”, “Muchacha de alas blancas”, “En la soledad”... and among the remaining half there are songs of great beauty like the huayno that gives name to this recording.
“Pueblos perdidos” was launched in 1984 and during the following year they recorded a new live album in Japan, where the band achieved remarkable success.
With “El amor y la libertad”, released in 1987, Los Kjarkas’ career takes a turn and the group stopped favouring the chuntunqui as the ultimate romantic style and included others like the tonada (“Dejarás”, “Tiempo al tiempo”) and the first examples of saya (“Recuerdos”). The group picked up the thread of traditional music in “Chuguiago marka” (1988), with songs praising the land like the moving one that gives name to the album (dedicated to the city of La Paz), the huayno “Latinoamérica” and the tonada “Réquiem para un pueblo”. However, the band will never abandon the romantic style that quickly raised them to fame (and their recordings to top-selling albums).
It was at that time when their saya “Llorando se fue” was plagiarized by the Brazilian band Kaoma, who turned it into a hit changing its rhythm and renaming it “Lambada”. In the end, the law admitted the original authors were right.
The album “Génesis aymara” came out in 1989 including classic chuntunquis and tonadas and incorporating such rhythms as the ancient k’antu and the Creole cueca. The tinku “Imillitay” would become a hit and would be subsequently recovered by many other musical ensembles.
The same year they released “Sin palabras”, their only instrumental recording. Although tonadas and chuntunquis remain as favourite styles, the album also contains sayas and one of their very few Ecuadorian sanjuanitos, “Yawar Masis”, plus the famous huayno “Ch’uwa yaku”.
At the turn of the decade Los Kjarkas recorded “Los Andes descubrió su rostro milenario”, essentially another romantic album including well-known huaynos such as “Señora, su hija” and “Jilguero Flores”. Next year, perhaps influenced by the overwhelming success of the Bolivian band K’ala Marka, they launched “Tecno Kjarkas”, an unfortunate outcome of combining their distinctive sound and electronic rhythms.
In 1992 Ulises Hermosa, a significant and determining part of the band’s particular style, died and shortly after, Los Kjarkas released “El árbol de mi destino”, which presented his last compositions. Still featuring a good number of chuntunquis and tonadas, this album reintroduces sayas like “Mi zamba, mi negra”. The “sensuality” of the latter would replace the previous romanticism little by little, though never completely.
In 1993 they launched “Hermanos” paying homage to the late Ulises Hermosa, and a year later “A los 500 años” came out including the astonishing saya “El ritmo negro”, the huayno-sikuri “Ukhamampi munataxa” plus new songs praising the land such as “A los 500 años” and “Niños de América”.
Their next album, “Quiquin pacha” (1995), is a compilation of famous songs: “Ave de cristal”, “Tiempo al tiempo”, “Por un mundo nuevo”, “En la soledad” and “Jilguero Flores”. In 1996 the group produced the two-volume work “Sentimiento andino” and a year later, “Kjarkas” and “Por siempre” were released. The latter including a couple of well-known sayas, “Saya morena” and “Saya sensual”, in addition to other rhythms such as the morenada, the taquirari and the cueca.
A year later, the band produced a special two-part work dedicated to the different expressions of Carnival in Bolivia. Released at that time, “El líder de los humildes” included famous tracks like the tobas “El último amanecer”, the saya “Wayoea” and the tinku “Mi sueño mejor”, and romantic songs begin to diversify into such rhythms as the taquirari, the k’antu and the huayno.
Subsequently, another live album (“El concierto del siglo”, 1999) and a compilation of kaluyos and pasacalles (2000) came out. During the year 2001 the band produced many works: three volumes commemorating their 30 years on stage (“Sólo se vive una vez Vol. I and II” and “Desde Cochabamba – 30 años”) plus the album “Lección de vida” and a Christmas carols collection (“Navidad en los Andes”). Afterwards they recorded the series “Que no muera la tradición” (2002). In 2003 launched a new compilation of cuecas and bailecitos and another live concert “Más allá” in 2004.
Throughout their history, Los Kjarkas have changed their line-up several times due to the generational change. At present, and since the beginning of the new millennium, the current band members include Gonzalo Hermosa González, Elmer Hermosa, Gastón Guardia (three members of the original line-up, one of them also co-founder), Gonzalo Hermosa Camacho Jr., Lin Angulo and Japanese Makoto Shishido. Despite the passage of time and the use of many different musical borrowings along their career, the group sounds as good as ever: harmonious, carefully arranged and pure. Their last recordings have been the 2006 album commemorating the band’s 35-year anniversary and its respective DVD launched the following year.

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