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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 13 (Jan.-Feb. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Flute players communities

Flute players communities

Traditionally, the sikuris band usually brought together musicians from the same community. On occasions when there were not enough people to start the band, musicians from neighbouring villages were allowed to join it. With the support and participation of locals, the band not only performed at the community festivals and celebrations but also promoted and represented their community at numerous events held throughout the year in different locations.

The band itself was a small community with similar patterns of family bonds and social network. There used to be a "director" who composed or got new pieces of music, got new panpipes and bombos (drums), taught songs, arranged the musicians according to the size of the siku they were blowing and trained them to play "in halves" (each half, each single row of pipes, arka and ira, played by a musician) and combine their different voices to create a "dialogue" between them... The "director" position usually went to a person respected for his knowledge and skills (and sometimes there was competitive rivalry between authorities).

Within the band, the musicians blowing the "half" known as arka had to blend their sounds with those produced by the complementing ira players. As a result of their close collaboration players formed a tight bond with one another. In some sikuris bands (p.e. those from Conima), besides the arka-ira interaction, different sizes of panpipes perform different "voices".

The sound of each band was unique; their "director" ordered tropas of flutes (groups comprising different sizes of the same instrument) and changed them on purpose according to the melodies being played. Therefore, bands (and their communities) were fairly easy to distinguish from one another because they did not sound like the other. To this respect, Ernesto Cavour ("Los instrumentos musicales de Bolivia") explains:

Old zampoña players tell that their elders had different ways of getting different sizes [of flutes]. One way was that the master (the band’s director) went with a long reed pipe following rivers, up mountains and across mountainous regions looking for the finest sand; when he found this tiny dust, he poured it into the reed. After this magic powder had been used up the master musician measured the level of sand in the pipe and marked it as that year's measure, after which he was ready to construct the panpipe beginning with a single pipe.

Flute players communities

The feeling of belonging to the band was strong enough to give rise to rivalry between them. Such emotions and subsequent responses inspired the search and the eagerness of perfection in terms of music, dance and attire, a search that sometimes ended in enmity and bitter rivalry.

As a consequence of the migration from rural to urban environments, sikuris bands became widespread and in many towns their numbers increased rapidly. The aftermath was that many of the original and distinctive features described above gradually faded away and much of the diversity of sizes and pitches of flutes was lost.

Today, standard sizes are the most popular sizes, at the expense of the smallest ones, which, like some of the most traditional styles, are disappearing before the advance of the ones that best much present-day audience's preferences.

Despite external influences and evolution processes, the "sikuri culture" retains the values of its early creators, one of them being the community free spontaneous artistic performance, which insists on collective notions of belonging beyond prevailing individualism and mercantilism.

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