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History of the Andean music. Chile
    Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 07 (Sep.-Oct.2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Andean music in Chile


Andean music in Chile

As it happens in the rest of South America, Chilean musical folklore is the result of creative contributions from various cultures, with the Hispanic rhythms and styles introduced during the conquest and colony lying above a rich layer of indigenous sounds. As time went by, new elements, mostly from Europe, were brought in. But, unlike in neighbouring countries like Peru and Bolivia, there is little or no influence of African styles on the Chilean music scene for the number of slaves imported into this country was comparatively small.

Generally speaking, the use of the term “Andean” would strictly refer to the music played in the northernmost regions of the country (the so-called “Chilean Big/Far North”), all of which are regarded as being part of the cultural area known as “southern Andes” for they once belonged to Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyu. However, given the range’s undeniable presence in Chilean geography (and culture), the remainder of the country’s musical repertoire could also be considered “Andean” in a much broader sense, including the music of the central and southern parts of Chile (the former derived from music of Hispanic origins and the later containing quite a number of borrowings from the Mapuche).


Andean music in Chile

In Prehispanic times, the so-called Chilean “Big/Far North” (regions of Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, and Antofagasta) was inhabited by Aymara and Atacama or Lickan Antay peoples, while the “Small/Near North” (regions of Atacama and Coquimbo) was home to the Diaguita people. To the south spread the different groups that made up the Mapuche people (the Pikunche, the Mapuche themselves and the Huilliche). Over time, the Huilliche settled in the Chiloe Island (known there as Cuncos) developed particular characteristics which distinguished them from inland groups. Further south, channels, archipelagos and Andean fjords (including the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego) hosted the Chono, the Qawashqar or Alacaluf, the Yagán or Yámana and the Selk’nam or Ona.


Book. “Música en la piedra: Música prehispánica y sus ecos en Chile actual” (Music on stone: Prehispanic music and its echoes in present-day Chile”), in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Book. “La música en el arte precolombino” (Music in Pre-Columbian art), in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Prehispanic history of Chile, in Wikipedia.
Indigenous peoples in Chile, in Wikipedia.
Aymara people, in Wikipedia.
Atacama people, in Wikipedia.
Diaguita, in Wikipedia.
Mapuche, in Wikipedia.
Chono people, in Wikipedia.
Alacaluf people, in Wikipedia.
Yaghan people, in Wikipedia.
Selknam people, in Wikipedia.
Book. “Sonidos de América” (Sounds of America), by José Pérez del Arce and Claudio Mercado. In Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].


Andean music in Chile

In the northernmost part of Chile, one of the features of traditional music is the Aymara influence it has drawn on, for this culture is the one dominating the communities of this region as well as the border areas with southern Peru and the Bolivian altiplano. It is here, in the Chilean Big/Far North where ancient customs and modern mestizo elements come together and every single rhythm from those of Prehispanic origin (sikuriadas, tarkeadas, huaynos) to the ones brought in by the Spaniards (cuecas, trotes, cachimbos) is played either by indigenous tropas of traditional aerophones or by mixed groups featuring modern musical instruments. Among the former are the ensembles of lakas, lakitas, phusas or sikus (panpipes), lichiguayos and tarkas, with the single accompaniment of membranophones such as cajas, snare drums and bombos; while the latter also include chordophones such as charangos, guitars, harps and bandolas, wind instruments like quenas (notched flutes) and pinkillos, accordions, and the ubiquitous “brass bands” (tubas, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and clarinets).

Two of the most important celebrations in this region are the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana (Tarapacá) and the Festival of the Virgin of Las Peñas (Arica and Parinacota), both of which feature the presence of “bailes” (brotherhoods or religious fraternities of dancers and musicians). Highlighted among these are the “bailes chinos”, the “chunchos”, the “antawaras”, the “indios” or “pieles rojas”, the “gitanos”, the “callahuallas”, the “kullacas” and, borrowed from Bolivia, the “sambos”, the “morenadas” and the “diabladas”. In all the villages that lie in the northernmost portion of the country, old traditions such as the sikuriadas or “sicuras” and the performance of lichiguayos music are framed on their Saint’s Patron Feast Day.


Article. “Norte Grande de Chile” (Chilean Big North), in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Article. “Geografía cultural de Chile - Norte grande” (Natural Geography of Chile – Big North), in MemoriaChilena.cl [es].
Article. “La música en el norte de Chile” (Music in the north of Chile), in Revista Musical Chilena [es].
Dances from the northern part of Chile, in EducarChile.cl [es].
Fiesta de La Tirana (Annual festival held in the locality of La Tirana), in Wikipedia [es].
Cachimbo (dance), in Wikipedia [es].


Picture 01. “Diablo” (devil) at the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Picture 02. “Diablada” mask, at the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Picture 03. “Diablada” mask, at the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Picture 04. Dancers at the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Picture 05. Sikuri band of Isluga.
Picture 06. Sikuri of Isluga.


Video 01. Festival of San Andrés de Pachama (Arica and Parinacota region).
Video 02. Sambos of Our Lady of Carmen, with “brass band”, at the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Video 03. Festival of Moquella (Tarapacá region).
Video 04. Sikuris in Cariquima (Tarapacá region).
Video 05. Tropa of lakitas at a popular festival.
Video 06. Tropa of lakitas at the Festival of the Virgin of the Candelaria in Limaxiña (Tarapacá region).
Video 07. “Lakitas Imperiales” in a religious celebration.


One of the oldest cultures in the Chilean Big/Far North is the Atacama or Lickan Antay, an important ancient society which was dismantled within a few decades of the arrival of the Spanish. Their language disappeared almost entirely from this region and much of their culture and musical expressions were reduced to a few traits that remain present in a number of rites and ceremonies, which have miraculously come down to us from the past. Among them are the cauzúlor and the talátur, agricultural ceremonies meant to “clear water ditches”, which are celebrated in Caspana and Peine respectively. During these celebrations a number of traditional instruments are played such as the putú or pututu (cow horn), the Atacama clarín (trumpet made of cane) and the chorimori or chorromón (a shaking idiophone, consisting of bells sewed on to a leather strap). Besides the instruments already mentioned, other ones such as the bombo, the caja, the guitar and the accordion can be heard in context at festivities.


Article. “Pueblos originarios de Chile – Atacameño” (Indigenous peoples of Chile – Atacama people), in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Article. “Música atacameña” (Atacama music), in Profesoreenlinea.cl [es].
Article. “El folclor de Chile y sus tres grandes raíces – Atacameña” (Chilean folklore music and its three main roots – Atacama” in MemoriaChilena.cl [es].
Article. “Cultura atacameña” (Atacama culture), in Udec.cl [es].
Text of ceremonial song talatur, in Agua.org.mx [es].


Video 08. Talátur music.
Video 09 (low quality). Atacama traditional song.


The Diaguita people were settled in the Chilean Small/Near North by the time the Spanish conquered the region and laid waste to the area. At present, the region is the cradle of a unique cultural expression which, gradually, has advanced its presence to the north: the so-called “bailes chinos”. They are brotherhoods or religious fraternities of dancers who, to the sound of the bombos (drums) and while dancing, breath into huge “flutes” (the “flautas de chinos”). These aerophones are actually wood whistles that have a vibrant, deep sound and are played at the villages’ Saint’s Patron Feast, especially at the Festival of Andacollo, which takes place annually on the first Sunday of October.


Book. “Diaguitas, pueblos del norte” (Diaguita, peoples of the north). In Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Book. “Con mi humilde devoción. Bailes chinos de Chile central” (With my humble devotion. Chinos dances in Central Chile). In Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].
Article. “Fiesta religiosa de Andacollo” (Andacollo religious festival) [es].


Picture 07. Bailes chinos (Chinos dances) 01.
Picture 08. Bailes chinos (Chinos dances) 02.
Picture 09. Bailes chinos (Chinos dances) 03.
Picture 10. Bailes chinos (Chinos dances) 04.


Video 10. Baile chino (Chinos dances).
Video 11. Chinos dances at the Festival of Andacollo.
Video 12. Chinos dances at Caleta Horcón.


Nowadays, the musical expressions of northern Chile (which have come down to us either from Chilean indigenous peoples or through the Tawantinsuyu or Inca Empire, which ruled the northern half of the country at the end of the 15th century) exhibit some musical traits borrowed from neighbouring regions like Bolivia. As a result, this country’s traditional huaynos, cacharpayas and diabladas are usually featured at the festivals held in northern Chile as well.


Video 13 (low quality). Diablada at the Festival of La Tirana 2011.
Video 14. Diablada at the Festival of La Tirana 2006, with “brass band”.


The central part of country is the realm of the cueca, Chile’s national dance since 1979, and also one of the most heard rhythms in southern Bolivia and western Argentina. It is performed with guitars, Chilean guitarrones, harps, bombos, tambourines and the “tormento”, an idiophone that gives the Chilean cueca its particular and unique taste. In addition, the region is home to tonadas, sajuarianas and refalosas, plus traditional repertoires known as “canto a lo poeta”: songs with subjects of both religious (“canto a lo divino”) and profane character (“canto a lo humano”).


Cueca, in Wikipedia.
Tonada (in Chile), in Wikipedia [es].
Refalosa (dance), in Wikipedia [es].


Picture 11. Cueca dance.
Picture 12. Cueca dancers.


Video 15 (low quality). Cueca (with harp and tambourine).
Video 16 (low quality). Cueca (with harp and tormento).


Andean music in Chile

Further south, the Araucania is home to the Mapuche people. Their music includes a number of wind instruments (trumpets like the trutruka and the ñolkin, whistles like the pifilka and the piloilo, the kull kull horn, the pinkullwe flute) as well as percussion (the kultrun shallow single-headed drum, the caquekultrun tabor, the kaskawilla rattles, the wada maracas) and stringed ones (the kinkulkawe musical bow and the trompe or Jew’s harp). Religious songs are prevalent in their traditional sounds, which are mostly heard at ritual ceremonies such as the Ngillatun or the Camaruco. On these occasions, prayer chants known as tayül (tahiel, taiel) are sung, showing praise and gratitude to divine spirits and ancestors for their blessings. However, within the Mapuche repertoire there are also other types of songs ranging from love tunes to historical accounts and those describing the countryside.


Thesis. “La música Mapuche” (Mapuche music), by Ramón Cayumil Calfiqueo [es].
Cultrún (musical instrument), in Wikipedia [es].
Cascahuilla (musical instrument), in Wikipedia [es].
Trutruca (musical instrument), in Wikipedia [es].
Trompe (musical instrument), in Wikipedia [es].
Guillatún (Mapuche ritual), in Wikipedia [es].
Taiel (Mapuche sacred song), in Wikipedia [es].
Downloadable Mapuche discography collection [Taringa.net].


Picture 12. Mapuche instruments.
Picture 13. Kultrún 01.
Picture 14. Kultrún 02.
Picture 15. Trutruka 01.
Picture 16. Trutruka 02.
Picture 17. Trutruka 03.
Picture 18. Pifilkas 01.
Picture 19. Pifilkas 02.
Picture 20. Kull kull 01.
Picture 21. Kull kull 02.
Picture 22. Trompe 01.
Picture 23. Trompe 02.


Video 17. Mapuche music, by Grupo Araucanto 01.
Video 18. Mapuche music, by Grupo Araucanto 02.
Video 19. Mapuche music and songs (ethnographic recording).


The folklore in the Chiloé Island is quite different from that of mainland. It feeds itself on Huilliche/Cunco styles as well as on the sounds brought in from Castile. At present, the most traditional rhythms are the pericona (derived from the pericón, which was introduced in colonial times), the nave, the trastasera, the chocolate, the sirilla, the Chiloé cueca, the refalosa and the cielito. The instruments usually used are the guitar, the Chiloé bombo (drum with brass shell), the violin, the accordion, the pandero (large tambourine) and the peculiar Chiloé rebec (a bowed string musical instrument).

Ethnographic records from the southernmost portion of Chile include songs by native peoples (Qawásqar, Yagán, Selk’nam) accompanied only with hand-clapping and stick-tapping. Within the 18th and 19th centuries the entire indigenous population of this land was exterminated; however, some mixed-blood descendants of Qawásqar dwellers have recently started to recover their most ancient traditions, besides the use of their native language and songs.


Chiloe Island music, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Music in the southern zone of Chile, in Udec.cl [es].
Kawésqar song, in Ser indígena [es].
Article. “La música alacalufe: aculturación y cambio estilístico” (Alacalufe music: acculturation and stylistic change), by María Ester Grebe. In University of Chile [es].


Picture 24. Chiloé Island rebec.
Picture 25. Chiloé Island dances.


Songs. “Amerindian Music of Chile”. Examples of Qawashqar music (tracks 107-109).


During the 1930s, a movement for bringing back and promoting Chilean folklore traditions began, led by the group Los Cuatro Huasos (1927-1956) and was continued by other groups like Los de Ramón, Los Huasos Quincheros and Los Perlas, and such renowned figures as Violeta Parra. At the same time, music professionals and scholars such as Raúl de Ramón, Luis Aguirre Pinto, Gabriela Pizarro and Margot Loyola (researcher, co-worker and colleague of Violeta Parra, and the teacher of such notable folkloric singers and researchers as Silvia Urbina) went on to collect local music, songs and customs, which were stored in document repositories of inestimable cultural, anthropological, and ethnographic value.


Los Cuatro Huasos, in Wikipedia [es].
Los Huasos Quincheros, in Wikipedia.
Margot Loyola, in Wikipedia.
Violeta Parra, in Wikipedia.
Silvia Urbina, in Wikipedia.


Andean music in Chile

The Chilean New Song movement (Nueva Canción Chilena in Spanish) emerged in the 1960s as a result of blending Chilean folk music with renewed traditional Hispano-American elements and explicit politically and socially committed lyrics. The movement was pioneered by Violeta Parra, Margot Loyola, Gabriela Pizarro and Héctor Pávez, and embraced by prominent musicians such as Ángel and Isabel Parra, Rolando Alarcón, Patricio Manns, Víctor Jara, Luis Advis and Osvaldo Torres, and acclaimed groups such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún.


Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean New Song), in Wikipedia [es].
Víctor Jara, in Wikipedia.
Luis Advis, in Wikipedia.
Osvaldo Torres, in Wikipedia [es].
Gabriela Pizarro, in Wikipedia [es].


Video 20. “Te recuerdo, Amanda”, by Víctor Jara.
Video 21. Luis Advis’ “Cantata Santa María de Iquique”, by Quilapayún.
Video 22. “El quirquincho”, by Osvaldo Torres.


Within this context, between the middle 1960s and the military coup of 1973, there appeared various groups with an interest in the music made in the north of the country (so-called “Andean” par excellence): Curacas, Kamac Pacha Inti, Kollahuara, Altiplano, Wankara and the Conjunto Folklórico de la Universidad del Norte. Groups like Ortiga, Congreso, Los Jaivas, Huara, Aparcoa, Quelentaro and Santiago del Nuevo Extremo lean towards a blend of folk music with such genres as jazz and rock, while others like Barroco Andino played classical music on Andean instruments. Finally, Cuncumén and Chamal are two of a handful of ensembles that are worth mentioning for their contribution to Chilean folklore (the latter started to collect and play Chiloé traditional music, which remained relatively unknown up till then).


Article. “Música y clandestinidad en dictadura” (Music and clandestinity under the dictatorship, by Laura Jordán. In Revista musical chilena [es].
Curacas, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Kamac Pacha Inti, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Kollahuara, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Altiplano, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Ortiga, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Congreso, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Quelentaro, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Barroco Andino, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Cuncumén, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].
Chamal, in MusicaPopular.cl [es].


Video 23. “De terciopelo negro”, by Curacas.
Video 24. “La flor de papa”, by Kamac Pacha Inti.
Video 25. “La cacharpaya (del olvido)”, by Kollahuara.
Video 26. “Puma pungo”, by Altiplano.
Video 27. “Romaria”, by Ortiga.
Video 28. “Hijo del sol luminoso”, by Congreso (live).
Video 29. “En el vientre de tu madre”, by Quelentaro.
Video 30. “Simplemente”, by Santiago del Nuevo Extremo.
Video 31. “Música maravillosa”, by Barroco Andino.
Video 32. “De mirarte y no mirarte”, by Cuncumén.
Video 33. “Tic tac”, by Chamal.


During the 1980s some groups continued to explore more traditional music patterns (Arak Pacha, Markamaru) while others opted for modern approaches to musical performance (Bordemar, Guamary, Punahue). Since then, bands like Intipacha (Copiapó) and Chuccuruma (Arica) have had much to do with the recovery and revival of Chilean music like.

Last we can not forget the great number of “anonymous” groups that, throughout the entire geography of Chile, continue to perpetuate the sounds, rhythms and dance steps that have been performed through the centuries by comparsas and bailes (groups of musicians and dancers travelling the streets), student bands, peñas (grass-roots community meeting places where popular folklore is showcased) and groups. All of them work day after day to ensure the ongoing transmission of this intangible heritage to future generations.


Banda Bordemar, in Wikipedia [es].
Punahue, in Wikipedia [es].
Arak Pacha, in Wikipedia [es].


Video 34. “Quemchi”, by Bordemar (live).
Video 35. “Tierra adentro”, by Guamary (live).
Video 36. “El despertar del salitre”, by Punahue (live).
Video 37. “Lluvia sobre Timanchaca”, by Arak Pacha (live).
Video 38. “América”, by Markamaru.


Picture A | Picture B | Picture C | Picture D | Picture E

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