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    Land of winds > Instruments > Instruments | Issue 07 (Sep.-Oct.2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Andean aerophones (01): ensembles of notched flutes


By the term “traditional notched flutes” (Spanish “quenas tradicionales”) we refer to all Andean aerophones similar to the commercial quena which are mostly, though not exclusively, used in indigenous and/or rural contexts.

Out of the great number of instruments of this type across the Andean range, at least four of them are played in tropas (ensembles), large bands comprising between one a several tens of players/dancers. They play different sizes of the same type of flute, accompanied by percussion instruments such as bombos (drums), cajas and redoblantes (snare drums).

Among the “quenas” usually played in tropas we find pusipías, quena quenas, choquelas and lichiguayos. All of them belong to the Aymara culture and can be heard in northern Chile and the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru (the Collao plateau), especially around the Lake Titicaca.


The pusipías, pusipias, pusi p’iyas, phusipias, pusi ppias, pusip’ias or pushipias (from Aymara pusi, “four” and p’iya “hole”) have, as indicated by their name, four finger holes on the front. They are mostly played in the department of La Paz (Bolivia), in towns such as Santiago de Huata, Colquencha, Achacachi, Pucarani and Tambocusi, but can also be found in other departments of Bolivia (Oruro, Cochabamba) and in some parts of the Puno department (southern Peru). Pusipías ensembles usually consist of two different sizes of flute: the tayka pusipía, 80 cm long, and the qallu, malta or ma(ha)la pusipía, 60 cm long — the larger sounding a fourth or fifth lower than the smaller.

Ernesto Cavour mentions a third size of flute, the jiska pusipía, measuring about 40 cm long and sounding an octave higher than the tayka. The deep and ancient sound of these aerophones is accompanied by a drum wank’ara provided with a “bordona”: a string tightened across the head, with several cactus thorns threaded on it to make a vibrating sound like that of the snare drum.

The pusipías provide the musical frame for a dance known as mocolulo, muqululu, mukululu or mokolulu, where, as in many other tropas of Andean aerophones, the flute players are also the dancers. Their attire is very unique: long skirts (cinturas or sabanillas), a couple of small bags (chuspas) slung across their shoulders, multicolour hats (ch’ullus) adorned with pearls (wallqa), and distinctive feather crowns representing the flowers of the various tubers grown by Aymara people (potato, oca, izaño, etc.). Besides the flute players (all of them men), there are also women (who dance and possibly sing) and a number of characters in disguise representing mythical animals (such as the fox and the kusillo or monkey), their ancestors (achachi and awila) and the chief of the community (mallku).

Some authors use the term “mokolulus” to refer to both the flutes (and the music played on them) and the dance.

Mokolulu, in Pueblo indio [es].

Picture 01. Pusipías of three different sizes.

Video 01. Mocolulu in Festival Compi Tauca 2008.
Video 02. Mocolulu of Tajani Kanco.
Video 03. Mocolulu.
Video 04. Mocolulu in Festival Compi Tauca 2008.
Video 05. Pusi P’iya (Mokolulu of Aroma) in Festival of Santiago de Llallagua 2009.

Lichiguayo, lichihuayo, lichiwayu

The quena quenas (quena-quenas, quenaquenas), kena kenas, khena khenas or qina qinas, are flutes made of tokhoro cane with six finger holes on the front and a thumb hole on the back. Their tropas usually consist of a single size flute known as tayka quena quena, 50 cm long and 3 cm in diameter, though, up to a few decades ago, they also included a smaller one known as malta or mala quena quena. They are accompanied by a drum wank’ara provided with a “bordona” and can be heard in Bolivia and southern Peru, in the region near Lake Titicaca, on occasion of various festivals such as San Pedro, the Virgen del Carmen, San Juan, Fiesta del Rosario and Fiesta de la Cruz.

These instruments provide the music for a dance of the same name, which would allegedly represent the hunt of the llama. The musicians (who also dance) adorn themselves with beautiful examples of feather-art from the highlands of Bolivia and Peru: llayt’us, llaitus or llaythus (arched pieces on the hat covered with multicolour feathers) and chakanas (feather adornments on the shoulders). In addition, they wear the khawa or qhawa, a characteristic breastplate made of feline skin. Women are dancers as well (sometimes they sing) and their attire consists of phuyus or phullus (sort of feather wing-like cloths hanging from their shoulders), polleras (skirts) and brightly multicoloured aguayos (small blankets). As in many other dances in the region of the Altiplano, there are also characters disguised as animals (i.e. the kusillo) and mythical beings.

Kena-kena, in Pueblo indio [es].
The Qina Qina, in Pachakamani [es].
Article. “Mil quena quenas para el Willkakuti en Jesús de Machaca”, in Raíces milenarias [es].

Picture 02. Quena quena dancers and players in Juli, Puno.
Picture 03. Drawing of quena quena players.
Picture 04. Quena quena players.
Picture 05. Quena quena dancer’s phuyus.
Picture 06. Quena quena dancers’ qhawas.

Song 01. Quena quenas, by Mallku de los Andes.

Video 06. Kena kena in Festival Compi Tauca 2008.
Video 07. Kena kena, by Awatiñas.

Finally, the choquela, chokela, chuqila o chok’ela is a flute with six finger holes on the front. There are two sizes: choquela guía (60 cm long) and choquela malta (40 cm) sounding in parallel fifths. Like the previous ones, these flutes are usually accompanied by a drum wank’ara provided with a “bordona”. They are played in the Peruvian-Bolivian Altiplano, especially in the departments of La Paz and Puno, near Lake Titicaca, on occasion of the celebrations of San Pedro, the Virgen de la Candelaria or the Virgen del Rosario.

Their music wraps up an Aymara dance regarded as one of the oldest forms of dance of this ethnic group. It is believed to represent the potato (chuqi) sowing time and the hunt of the vicuña (using the chaqu technique: pursuing and surrounding the animal to catch and domesticate it). According to researchers, the dance portrays the triumph of domestication over wilderness carried out by Andean societies. Male musicians and dancers wear hats crested with pariwana feathers (Andean flamingo), and a piece of vicuña leather falling down their backs; while women (dancers and singers) are dressed in her best festival polleras (skirts) and also carry a piece of vicuña leather on their shoulders. Other characters taking part in the dance disguised themselves as the fox, the kusillo and the condor.

Choquela or choquila, in Let’s go Bolivia [es].
Different interpretations of the chuqila dance, in El Cholo Ayala [es].
Choquela, in Rebocultura [es].
Description of the Chokela dance in Puno (Perú), in Revista Aswan Qhari [es].
Choquela, in Festividad de la Virgen de la Candelaria [es].

Picture 07. Choquelas.

Video 08. Choquelas of Taypi Chinaya.
Video 09. Chok’ela of Tajani Kanco.

Picture A | Picture B y C: Edgardo Civallero

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