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History of the Bolivian Andean music
Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 02. Sep.-Oct.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

History of Bolivian Andean music
Music of Bolivia: a brief summary

Traditional music of Bolivia is several centuries old. Andean commercial music of Bolivia, however, dates back to recent times and –for better or for worse- is one of the most important channels of diffusion for folklore both inside the country and abroad.
In the mid-60’s, traditional music of Bolivia had succeeded in getting on in the media and urban spheres, but only through its most mestizo and Creole rhythms (cuecas, taquiraris, kaluyos...). Its native elements were rejected, even scorned by the audiences at that time. In an attempt to spread those musical expressions, early exponents of Andean music as Los Jairas (see) were born. This quartet, formed in La Paz in 1966, along with musicians of considerable stature as Alfredo Domínguez, took Andean sounds through Latin America and Europe. Their repertoire and melodies set off the beginning of what was called “neo-folklore”, a stylized form of playing native music of the Bolivian Andes. At that time, the band Ruphay (with Hery Cortez, later on founder of Ukamau) not only took Andean music back to its native roots, but also performed it with its traditional costumes and, in 1969, recorded its first album with the emblematic record label Discolandia. In addition, Ruphay was the first Bolivian band playing at the famous Olympia theatre in Paris.
Those years saw the initial stages of a career as a great figure of Bolivian music for a good number of groups and solo performers. Such was the case of Los Kjarkas, who started off very humbly by playing Argentinian zambas in small villages and hamlets, and also of Maestro William Ernesto Centellas, who offered his first charango performances at that time.
Several famous ensembles were formed during the next decade, in the wake of these pioneer Andean musicians, accompanied by the Latin American Nueva Canción in Argentina and Chile and joining their effort to that of many other musicians who exchanged ideas, concerns and experiences in places like the Peña Nayra in La Paz. Savia Andina kicked off in 1975 with today renowned Gerardo and Rafael Arias, Eddy Navia or Alfredo Coca in the original line-up. Their steps were followed by others with equal success, such as De la Zerda brothers, founders of Fortaleza in 1978, and Los Kjarkas, whose first performance in La Paz dates back to1975. Soloists did not fall a long way behind: in 1997, Enriqueta Ulloa, from Tarija, was considered the best female voice in the country, traditional Quechua singing regained a central place thanks to Luzmila Carpio and Luis Rico started his career as singer-songwriter.

William E. Centellas’ webpage [es]
Savia Andina’s webpage [es]
Grupo Fortaleza’s webpage [es]
Los Kjarkas’ webpage [es]
Enriqueta Ulloa, in Wikipedia [es]
Luzmila Carpio’s webpage [es]
Luis Rico’s webpage [es]


Most traditional music was revitalized in the 80’s by such groups as Mallku de los Andes, Khanata (whose member Gonzalo Vargas would be co-founder of Inkuyo in the 90’s), Grupo Andino de Oruro, Los Masis, Llajtaymanta and Rumiñahui. Rumillajta and Jach’a Mallku made the most of toyos (huge panpipes) powerful sound and the fastest rhythms to develop their own style, while Música de Maestros chose to spread the Creole singing. Female vocalists such as Zulma Yugar, Emma Junaro and Ana Cristina Céspedes also added their voices to these years’ traditional folk scene.

Grupo Andino de Oruro’s webpage [es]
Los Masis’ webpage [es]
Llajtaymanta, in Blogger [es]
Rumillajta, in Wikipedia
Jach’a Mallku, in Wikipedia [es]
Zulma Yugar, in Wikipedia
Emma Junaro’s webpage [es]


This scene would be revolutionized by Los Kjarkas when they favoured chuntunqui rhythm as the cornerstone of their compositions and invented the Bolivian-Andean romantic song. Their unbeatable recipe for success led them to adapt such rhythms as k’antus, kaluyos and cuecas to this new style, and many groups adhered to this current during the following decade. Formed after a workshop organized by Los Kjarkas, the band Proyección Kjarkas, headed by Yuri Ortuño, came as a revelation and brought the romantic song to a new level. The group shortened their name to Proyección from their third release onwards. At the same time, and widening the romantic spectrum, they were created Grupo Semilla, headed by charango player Alejandro Cámara, and bands like Tupay, Aldana, Bonanza and Amaru among others. On the other hand, there were groups which managed to get inside traditional native and mestizo rhythms and contributed to strengthen the recovery and spread of this tradition. Awatiñas paid tribute to Aymara dances, while Norte Potosí did the same with the Quechua music of Potosí and Markasata spread different sikuri styles. In addition, groups like Arawi, Grupo Coca, Orlando Pozo and the Pujllay band, Maya Andina and Taypi K’ala stepped on the stage and took advantage of lively and suitable for dancing rhythms such as tinkus and tonadas to attract the public.

Proyección’s webpage [es]
Grupo Semilla’s webpage [es]
Awatiñas’ webpage [es]


During the mid 90’s the romantic chuntunqui lost popularity in favour of contemporary electronic themes (Andean-techno) popularized by K’ala Marka and a great variety of romantic compositions flooding Bolivian artistic scene. Los Kjarkas reinvented themselves and “recovered” the Afro-Bolivian saya, portraying it as a “sensual” rhythm. It was at this time when the revival of Afro-Bolivian music began to gain momentum: sayas, caporales and morenadas were given a prominent position at any popular festival in Bolivia. As it was only to be expected, most musical groups included (and still do) such rhythms in their repertoires and some of them have even recorded entire albums of this music. Generally speaking, it can be said that Bolivian artists have constantly worked in the recovery of their musical heritage (i.e. Alaxpacha deepening listeners’ musical knowledge of styles from La Paz), though on many occasions their approach to traditional folk material may have lost part of its charm and character (Yara, Ande Sur, Los K’achas, Sacambaya, Umajalanta).

K’ala Marka’s webpage [es]
Yara’s webpage [es]
Sacambaya’s webpage [es]


At the turn of the century, new Andean female bands consisting only of women (Grupo Femenino Bolivia, Qolqe Thikas, Grupo Femenino Surimana) appeared, while other groups rediscovered the forgotten rhythms of Potosi and Oruro. Apart from anything else, a number of musical borrowings from different parts of the country away from the Andean region (eastern Bolivia, Tarija) and the incorporation of jazz, rock, cumbia and tropical rhythms elements can also be cited as having played a part in Andean music.
In the margin of this huge river, which receives its musical waters from numerous tributaries, sometimes diving into it but more often having nothing to do with its currents, traditional music keeps on moving along the way that its own ancient water does, allowing commercial groups to drink it and borrowing some drops from them to change with the times.
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