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History of the Bolivian Andean music
Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 03. Jan.-Feb.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

History of Ecuadorian Andean music
Music of Ecuador: a brief summary

The presence of musical instruments in Ecuador dates back to the archaeological period known as “Pre-ceramic” (prior to the introduction of ceramic artefacts). From this period, remains of a conch trumpet were found next to the famous “Amantes de Sumpa” (“Sumpa Lovers”, Las Vegas culture, 8000-5000 BC). During the “Formative” period (which begins with the first appearance of pottery), anthropomorphic and zoomorphic clay whistles were made by such ancient cultures as Valdivia (3500-1800 BC). And there is evidence that the Cerro Narrío culture (2000 BC.-600 AD) used the Strombus gigas conches for horns. There are also remains of bone flutes with five finger holes which would have been handed down from the early days of the Machalilla culture (1500-800 BC), and a wide range of instruments including vessel whistles, rattles, trumpets, zoomorphic whistles, vertical flutes similar to the present-day quenas, ocarinas and clay drums were left by the Chorrera culture (900-300 BC).
During the “Regional developments period”, the Bahía culture (500 BC-650 AD) made clay maracas, lithophones, and whistle figurines. Ocarinas and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic whistles have been found to belong to the La Tolita culture (600 BC-400 AD), while in the Santa Elena peninsula, basalt lithophones, conch trumpets, bone vertical flutes, rattles, small panpipes and ocarinas were constructed by the Guangala culture (100 BC-800 AD). However, the most interesting archaeological remains are probably those from the Jama-Coaque (350 BC-1532 AD) people, who not only made instruments such as bone flutes, stone rondadores, one finger hole ocarinas or clay and pumpkin maracas, but also clay figures representing richly dressed musicians playing panpipes, flutes, drums, and rattles.
In the so-called “Integration period” (around 1000 AD), the Caranqui, Cayambe, Otavalo, Nigua, Yumbo, Quito and Cañari peoples used bone whistles, metal rattles, vertical flutes and panpipes as it has been proven by the remains found at the burial site located in the village of Sigsig (The Gold Treasury of Sigsig, Cañari culture). On their part, the Cuasmal people had traverse flutes, conches with finger holes, ocarinas and trumpets, while the Chilibulo (500-600 AD) created human and llama bone flutes and copper rattles.

Valdivia Culture, in Wikipedia.
Cultura Machalilla, in Wikipedia [es].
Cultura Chorrera, in Wikipedia [es].
Cultura Tumaco-La Tolita, in Wikipedia [es].
Cultura Guangala, in Wikipedia [es].


When the current Ecuadorian territory was brought under Incan rule (included in the province of Chinchaysuyu, one of four provinces into which the larger region known as Tawantinsuyu was divided), a lot of musicians as well as numerous other inhabitants of this region were forcibly moved to the current Peruvian territory, while Incan communities (mainly belonging to the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups) were resettled to formerly Cañari, Quito, Wanakunta, and their neighbours territories. On this way, the outcome of forced migration, made it easier for sounds and rhythms to spread and mix together across a vast area of northern South America. At that time, different musical styles characteristic of the Tawantinsuyu such as the arawi (intimate and poetic songs), the wawaki or wawki (sung dialogues), the qhashwa (joyful songs), the taki, the wayñu or the haylli, coexisted with those typical of the region like old varieties of the modern danzante and the yumbo.
During the Spanish conquest (begun in 1534) native people lost touch with their cultural roots and musical traditions as European baroque musical styles were introduced, lyrics started to be written in Spanish and several instruments coming from the old continent (the vihuela, the harp, the violin and the lute) won a favourable place in America and became popular through the mestizo repertoire. However, despite the pressure to change and having even been banned, native music remained alive in the communities where it was born. The slow and ongoing process of fusion of cultures gave birth to mestizo music (with a strong native component) and later on to creole music (American adaptations of European music hardly influenced by native sounds)
From the mestizo current emerged different adaptations of pre-Hispanic rhythms, which were the origin of the present-day danzante, the yaraví (derived from the arawi), the jaway (derived from the haylli) and the yumbo. The join of Andean airs and Hispanic dances like the fandango and the zamacueca, resulted in the popular albazo and the capishca (typical Ecuadorian style from Cuenca and its surroundings, originally a Cañari settlement). The carnaval, the pasacalle, the tonada and the cachullapi (also known as rondeña or chilena) are also the result of merging different styles. And as time went by, the style of music called sanjuanito (or sanjuan, originally from Cotacachi, Imbabura province) would become to be considered the national dance of Ecuador.
The mestizo music would assume particular forms among the peasants of the coast, and turn into the repertoire that today is known as “montubio” (e.g. the amorfino). In addition, some groups of African slaves would preserve their identity, which would become part of the Afro-Ecuadorian heritage that is still alive in the province of Esmeraldas and the Chota Valley.
There are instruments specific to this region such as the bombo, the canunu, the guaza, the maracas and the marimba, which came into prominence through rhythms as famous as the bomba. It will not come as a surprise to the reader that Afro-Ecuadorian tradition and Andean music would end up interacting with each other, therefore enriching both.

Culture of Ecuador, en Wikipedia.
Sanjuanito, in Wikipedia [es].
Yaraví, in Wikipedia [es].
Albazo, in Wikipedia [es].
Bomba (Ecuador), in Wikipedia.


During the first decades of the 19th century, in the context of Spanish American wars of independence in Great Colombia (present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama), a creole rhythm was born: the pasillo. It would be very successful and greatly appreciated by the people of this region. Its popularity was such that has remained untouched ever since, and dozens of variants have arrived at today’s repertoire.

Pasillo, in Wikipedia.

At the beginning of the 20th century Ecuador put its music on the map and made it accessible to the world through its incipient phonography industry (1912) and radio broadcasting in 1925. In those years, composers as renowned as Luis Humberto Salgado turned typical rhythms as the sanjuanito into sonatas in classic style. But there were few other innovations and the pasillo was able to retain its popularity. This creole rhythm had one of its best exponents in the duet Ecuador (Enrique Ibañez and Nicasio Safadi), and in the 1940s it found new supporters in the voices of Carlota Jaramillo and Julio Jaramillo Laurido, “El Ruiseñor de América”.
In the 1950s, it was the turn for boleros, guarachas and cumbias, foreign rhythms which came to displace Ecuadorian folklore. However, the activity in this field continued developing with names such as Julián Tucumbi Tigasi and the group Los Tucumbi, who promoted Andean music since 1948, or Carlos Rubira Infante and César Baquero, who took the pasacalle to its height. Rudecindo Inga Vélez, for his part, did the same with the so-called “fox incaico”.
A couple of decades later, one of its most emblematic groups appeared on the Ecuadorian scene: Ñanda Mañachi, whose work focused on the recovery and dissemination of the most traditional Ecuadorian Andean sounds. At the same time it was formed another famous group known as Los Huayanay. And the main characters of the Latin American New Song in Ecuador such as Jatari and Pueblo Nuevo were to start their professional careers. While the former put special emphasis on the use of native instruments and on performing their traditional rhythms, the latter set themselves to write and compose socially committed songs. In those years the sanjuanito became internationally renowned thanks to famous Inti Illimani. This Chilean group not only popularized the Ecuadorian rhythm par excellence with songs like “Lamento del Indio” (originally “Los Arados”), “Amores hallarás”, “Sanjuanito” (originally “Mi chagrita caprichosa”), and “Longuita” (originaly “Llullaringui”), but also the albazos “Taita Salasaca” (originally, “El Salasaca”) and “Dolencias”. At the end of this decade, another Chilean band, Wankara, composed the sanjuanito titled “Yamor”, which became a sort of hymn and would be re-recorded on numerous occasions afterwards.
The group Charijayac was formed in 1979, and continued –from their own particular perspective- treading the path started by Ñanda Mañachi, as happened with many other big and small Ecuadorian bands in the following years.
Immigrants brought the music of Ecuador with them when they settled in different parts of the world. And it would come into prominence through unforgettable groups like Trencito de los Andes. This Italian ensemble introduced some of the most unfamiliar and richest Andean traditions of Ecuador to its European audiences through such fantastic albums as the one titled “Zig zag”.
Fortunately, and despite the wave of modern movements that surrounds them, those traditions are firmly rooted in local musical practices, which very much resemble the passion and delicacy of ancient performers blowing flutes and horns.
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