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History of the Andean music
    Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 08 (Nov.-Dec.2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia


Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia

Over thirty languages are spoken in present-day Bolivia. All of them have co-official or recognised status within the current model of Plurinational State. The greatest linguistic diversity is found in the eastern plains and forests, while the mountains range and the altiplano are home to two of the most spoken languages in the Andes: Aymara, mostly used in the puna, and Quechua, widely spread in the mountains and the valleys.

In Bolivia, the Quechua-speaking communities share a common linguistic code, which includes two main variants: northern and southern Bolivian Quechua. The former is similar in structure and vocabulary to the Quechua variety known as Cusco Quechua and is spoken in the valleys of the provinces of Muñecas, Bautista Saavedra and Franz Tamayo within the department of La Paz. The latter comprises two variants: the so-called “authentic” Bolivian Quechua, used in the departments of Chuquisaca and Potosí, and the “qhochala” Quechua, strongly influenced by Spanish and spoken in the department of Cochabamba and some eastern districts of the department of Oruro.


Southern Quechua, in Wikipedia.
South Bolivian Quechua, in Wikipedia.
Map of native languages in Bolivia, in Ethnologue.


In the past, the Andean region of Bolivia was occupied by Aymara chiefdoms. Among them stand out Qhara Qhara (Caracara), Charka (Charca), Chicha, Chuwi (Chuy), Killaka-Asanaqi (Quillaca-Asanaque), Karanka (Caranga) and Sura (Sora). The region currently inhabited by the Quechua communities was originally the territory of the “Charka Confederation”, which comprised Charkas, Chuwis, Qhara Qharas and Chichas. The history of these “kingdoms” is still being written; researchers are working to uncover the plot by carefully tracing the sketchy documents written by European conquerors, who were the first to meet these native societies and left some evidence behind.

It is believed that the Charka Confederation was annexed to the Tawantinsuyu (the Inca Empire’s territory) by Tupaq Yupanki, the tenth Inqa, at the end of the 15th century. After the fall of the Inca Empire, the Aymara chiefs fought unfortunate against the Spanish between 1530 and 1540. It remains unclear whether Quechua language was adopted by these populations during the Inca rule or during the colonial period; what is certain is that today’s spoken language in most part of the Bolivian mountains range is the one used by the Incan, and that these people have many customs and traditions in common with their Aymara neighbours.


Pre-Hispanic history of Bolivia (section regarding “Los Señoríos Aymaras”), in Wikipedia [es].
Article. “La organización territorial y socio-cultural de los ayllus del Norte de Potosí” (“The territorial and socio-cultural organization of the ayllus of Northern Potosí”). In “Páginas sueltas” magazine, 1(7), 2009, pp. 6-8 [es].
Article. “Pensamiento político aymara” (literally, “Aymara political thought”), by Tristán Platt. In Casa del Corregidor digital library, Puno, Peru [es].
The Aymara kingdoms, in Ilcanet [es].
History of the Aymara people, in Aymara Uta [es].
Book. “Los ayllus de Tacobamba: procesos históricos, desarrollo y poder local” (literally, “The ayllus of Tacobamba: historical processes, development and local power”), by Héctor Ríos Montero. In GoogleBooks [es].


Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia

The southermost Quechua-speaking groups are the Chichas and the Calchas, located in the present-day provinces of Nor Chichas, Sud Chichas and Modesto Omiste (departament of Potosí). They would be the descendants of the ancient Chicha chiefdom.

To the north, in the provinces of Tomás Frías, J.M. Linares and Saavedra (departament of Potosí) we find the Visisas (Wiqsisa), the Yuras, the Moromoros (Muru Muru), the Collanas, the Potobambas, the Tacobambas, the Toropalcas, the Curis and the Tinquipayas (Tinkipaya), all of them alleged heirs of the Qhara Qhara chiefdom.

Further north, in the province of Chayanta (departament of Potosí) there are the Machas, the Pocoatas, the Jukumanis and the Laymes.

To the east of Chayanta, in the provinces of Oropeza, Yamparáez and Zudañez (departament of Chuquisaca) lays the territory of the Yamparas or Tarabuqueños, and the Jalq’as. Finally, at the northernmost point of the department of Potosí (provinces of Charcas, Rafael Bustillo and Alonso de Ibáñez) extends the Charka’s territory.


Article. “Saxra (Diablo) / Pachamama; música, tejido, calendario e identidad entre los Jalq’a” (literally, “Saxra (Devil) / Pachamama; music, textile, calendar and identity among the Jalq’a”), by Gabriel Martínez. In Estudios Atacameños, 21 (2001), pp. 133-151 [es].
Article. “Desde la perspectiva de la isla. Guerra y transformación en un archipiélago vertical andino: Macha (Norte de Potosí, Bolivia)” (literally, “From the island’s perspective. War and transformation in an Andean vertical archipielago: Macha (Northern Potosí, Bolivia)”), by Tristan Platt. In Chungará, 42(1), 2010, pp. 297-324 [es].


Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia

The musical repertoire of the Quechua communities includes some distinctive Pan flutes arranged in tropas (groups comprising varying sizes of the same flute), the “large pinkillos” (huge aerophones which can be played alone or in groups of 5 to 20 people) and different types of chordophones, such as the charango, the mediana and the guitarrilla.

Among the zampoñas (panpipes) there are the sikuras, the ayarachis, ayrichis and ayarichis, the jula julas and the San Pedro sikus. The Jalq’as and the Calchas refer to the zampoñas as “phukunas”, and to their players as “phukuneros”. Both groups prefer the ayarachis, while the Laymes and the Jukumanis lean towards the jula julas.

These tropas are usually accompanied by the pututus (trumpets made from horns). The erques (sort of rustic clarinets, known as “erquenchos” in Argentina) are made from the same material, as well as the jatun pututus, larines or tira tiras, large trumpets found in the department of Potosí, especially in the province of Chayanta.

The Calchas still use the jantark'i or jantarque, a wooden whistle similar to the Chilean “flautas de chinos” or the Mapuche pifilkas, which are played by women only. Since the large pinkillos are reviewed in a different section of this issue, here we will name just the mohoceños, the rollanos, the senqatanqanas and the turumes.


Video 01. “Jula julas”, by Arawi.
Video 02. Jula jula of Norte Potosí.
Video 03. “Jula jula”, by Zenón Mamani.


Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia

The entire Quechua region is bounteous with charangos and guitarrillas. We can mention the charango sacabeño (native to Sacaba, department of Cochabamba; small in size, laminated wood, bended back, with wooden plugs and between 5 and 8 strings); the rankha charango (native to Mizque, departament of Cochabamba; 8-10 metal strings and one supplementary string, laminated wood, bended back, with up to three different sizes); the small walaycho or juch’uy charango (5 double metal strings, hollowed wood body); the khonkhota, q’onq’ota, talachi, mokholo, machu charango or jatun charango (8 gut and metal strings, laminated wood, straight back); the charango anzaldeño or arriero (native to Anzaldo, departament of Cochabamba, 5 double metal strings, laminated wood, straight back); the guitarrilla potosina (5 triple metal strings, laminated wood, straight back); and the mediana (small guitar, laminated wood, 5 double metal strings, straight back).


Video 04. Walaycho. “Aymaya fiestapi”, by Chinchillas del Norte Potosí.
Video 05. Walaycho (Tarabuco). “Owejachaypis phuyuhina willmatayuq”, by Juan Champi.
Video 06. Khonkhota. “Way way cholita”, by Gregorio Mamani and Zura Zura.


Among the most distinctive music styles of the region we find those of the Jalq’as, who still practice the art of takipayanaku (musical dialogues between two singers exchanging verses) and continue singing malawiras, long songs accompanied by the charango or the guitarrilla. Other rhythms are the huayno, the cacharpaya, the tonada potosina, the cueca, the fandango, the zapateado (in Spanish, “foot stamping”) and the salaque or salay.


Video 07. Malawira in Irupampa.
Video 08. “Severina” (salaque Jalq’a), by Yara.
Video 09. “Colquechacamanta” (with Potosí foot stamping rhythm). Folkloric ballet “Inspiración Nacional”, Bolivia.
Video 10. Tonada potosina at the festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña.


Music of the Quechua communities of Bolivia

Major festivals include public-spirited celebrations and those in honour of the patron saint of the town (e.g. the Virgin of Urkupiña in Quillacollo, departament of Cochabamba); the tinkus or ritual fighting between communities, mostly in the regions of the Machas, the Laymes, the Pocoatas and the Jukumanis; the festival of San Bartolomé, also known as the festival of Ch’utillos, in the town of Potosí (with the Yuras participation); and, most of all, the Carnavales. Chicha and Calcha carnivals are famous for the presence of large tropas of pinkillos, while those of northern-Potosí feature lots and lots of charangos and the one celebrated in Tarabuco (where the festival is known as pujllay, from Quechua puqllay, “to play”) is renowned for the senqatanqana players, who pass along the streets sounding the spurs attached to their large wooden shoes.


Virgin of Urkupiña, in Wikipedia [es].
Tinku, in Wikipedia.
Article. “Tinku”, in Danzas y fiestas originarias de Chuquisaca y Potosí [es].
Article. “Ch’utillos. Más allá de la fiesta” (literally, “Ch’utillos. Beyond the festival”), in El Deber [es].
Article. “Entrada autóctona de Chutillos: gente de Yura”, in Danzas y fiestas originarias de Chuquisaca y Potosí [es].
Article. “El Pujllay en Tarabuco”, in Danzas y fiestas originarias de Chuquisaca y Potosí [es].


Video 11. Moseñada, at Urkupiña festival 2008.
Video 12. Tinku in Macha (Northern Potosí), for the Festival of May 3 (2010).
Video 13. Ch’utillos festival (1994).
Video 14. Pujllay of Tarabuco.


Generally speaking, the traditional music of these peoples can hardly be found outside the boundaries of their community. Only a handful of ethnographic recordings and some Bolivian music groups committed to preserving the intangible Quechua heritage have collected and spread these sounds respecting their true character; many others have collected or found inspiration in a few of them, though on several occasions these artists have done little or no favour to the original.


"Music of Bolivia: a brief summary", in Land of winds


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