Land of winds. Digital magazine on Andean music. Header picture
Andean instruments Andean music
Land of winds > Instruments > Instrument | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

erque erke corneta caña chapaca instrumentos andinos
The erque

The erque (also erke, corneta or caña) is a large transverse horn, widely distributed from northwest Argentina to central Bolivia, which resembles in a way other horns (no transverse) such as the Mapuche trutruka, the tira tira from Potosí, the pampa clarín from Cajamarca and the wakar’hanti or trompeta de izozos used by the Avá-Chiriwano people.
The erque is composed of one or more lengths of cane joined at the end to form a single tube between 3 and 6 m long. The internal nodes of the cane have to be removed whether by opening the cane longitudinally or by making square holes near the joints and removing them from outside. Once the tube is clean, in one case the holes are sealed with wax and in the other both halves are stuck together using reinforcing cane strips and tendon strings (sometimes narrow strips of tire instead). In ancient times, the tube was later wrapped with gut, which, once dried, sealed any leak. Inside the distal end an amplifier made of cattle horn, gourd or dried hide (usually the skin of a cow’s tail, shaped like a funnel using wet sand and heat) is introduced, and the instrument is blown through at the other end. Since the erque has no reed in its mouthpiece (usually a hole of the size of the constructor/player’s thumb phalanx) it has to be blown by using the technique for playing the trumpet. The erque is held aloft by both hands with the amplifier pointing upwards. As any other natural horn, the erque produces the notes available in the natural harmonic series, though only experienced performers can get more than four or five notes clearly differentiated from one another. Its sound resembles a husky roaring chest voice and in order to deliver such a powerful sound it is required not only great dexterity but also to be in good physical condition (especially when one blows it in the high plateau, where oxygen is scarce).
In Argentina, the erque or corneta can be heard in the north-western region of the country, including the Quebrada de Humahuaca, extensive areas of high plateau (where it is called “caña”) and some villages located in the Valles Calchaquíes, while in Bolivia it is usually found in the region of Tarija (where it is known as “caña chapaca”). Traditionally it is used for ritual purposes, accompanying religious processions (locally known as “misachicos”) and dances in honour of their patron saint or the Blessed virgin (e.g. dances by chunchos dancers during the San Roque Festival in Bolivia). At certain festivals twenty or thirty “cañeros” or “corneteros” (“erque players”) gather together offering a unique spectacle. According to tradition, playing the erque outside of its ritual context (between the Sunday of Pascua and All Saints’ Day) can be the source of such misfortunes as blighted crops or frosts and hail storms during the summer.
In recent times a number of innovations have been introduced in the erque’s construction materials. It is now composed of three lengths of plastic pipe to facilitate its transportation. In addition, there are also tin “cornetas” (with amplifiers made of tinplate and electric pipes) and erques made of hosepipes that can be coiled and hung on the shoulder.


Erke, in Wikipedia.

Video 01. Erque and caja.
Video 02. Erque’s traditional context.
Video 03. Chunchos dancers at the San Roque Festival, with caña chapaca.
Video 04. Cañas chapacas in Tarija.
Disclaimer of Land of windsEditorial staff of Land of winds