By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
Andean aerophones (07): "rural" quenas
Traditional Andean quenas (notched flutes) can be grouped, grosso modo, in "large quenas" (which can reach more than 50 cm in length, and are usually blown in "tropas" or big ensembles) and "small quenas" (between 20 and 40 cm. long, played alone or in duets), also known as "rural quenas" (Spanish, "quenas campesinas") for they are usually found in rural areas. The standard version of these "small quenas" is the "model" quena tuned in Gmaj, which is used by most part of the quena players performing Andean music nowadays. Starting from this "model" quena, and drawing inspiration from both the families of European aerophones and some particular sizes of traditional quenas, the quena makers created different types of quenachos and quenalis.
There are significant differences between traditional instruments and commercial ones. The former are usually made from sturdy thick-walled round cane with a knot in its lower end (where a hole will be drilled); typically they have square or U-shaped embouchures and the finger holes (usually round, sometimes square) do not always create an equal tempered scale. Generally, the inner part of the tube is not sanded, and neither is the outer surface varnished. On the other hand, the latter are made from fine thin-walled slightly conic cane, feature U-shaped or V-shaped embouchures and their finger holes create an equal tempered scale. All progress made when it comes to making western "professional" musical instruments has also been applied to the construction "modern" quenas.
"Rural" quenas distribution reaches almost the entire Andean world, which is nothing strange considering that they are, together with fifes (or traverse flutes) and pinkillos (or duct flutes), one of most popular and widely used wind instruments in the region. The widest variety is found in both the heart of the Central Andes (Peruvian Sierra) and the heart of the Southern Andes (Bolivian Altiplano and valleys), while in the neighbouring regions (Ecuador, north of Chile and north-western Argentina) this diversity decreases significantly and there are only a few types.
Within Bolivia, Ernesto Cavour ("Instrumentos musicales de Bolivia", 2004) mentions the quenas karhuani, yura, viticheña and chatre, besides several more with five finger holes on the front and one thumb hole on the back, which are often referred to as "rural"(Spanish, "campesinas") and "pastoral" (Spanish, "pastoriles").
The quena karhuani or "de llameros" (literally, "llama herder's quena") was used by those whose job was guiding the llama caravans; featuring six finger holes on the front and one thumb hole on the back, it is still used in the region of Aquilambaya (department of La Paz). The quena yura (25 cm long, five finger holes on the front and one finger hole on the back) from the towns of Yura and Punutuma (department of Potosí) is usually tuned in A, and it is used to play songs during the mink'a (communal work for common purposes). One of the smallest (24 cm long) is the traditional quena viticheña, which is tuned in C, has five finger holes on the front and one thumb hole on the back and is played in Vitichi (department of Potosí). Finally, the quena chatre, 36 cm long and with six finger holes on the front, sometimes takes the place of the pinkillos chatre or chatripuli.
In Peru, traditional quenas usually have square embouchure holes. The book "Mapa de los instrumentos musicales de uso popular en el Perú" (1978) features the following "small quenas":
• The phalawata used in Cnachis (department of Cusco) to accompany the kuntur tusuy or condor dance, and the quena from Ica and Nasca (30-40 cm), with 4 finger holes.
• The lawata or lawita from Calca (department of Cusco), 30-40 cm and five square holes.
• The requinto from Huamalíes (department of Huánuco) and the pingollo or quena from the northern Andean range, Amazonas and Huancavelica (28-45 cm), with 6 finger holes.
• The small shilo or chilo from Cajamarca, southern Huánuco and Huamanga (15-25 cm); the quena or mala from Huánuco (35 cm); the pinkullo, conivi or quena to accompany the Jula Jula dance in Huánuco and Chumbivilca (40 cm); the chatripuli or chayna from Puno, Arequipa and Moquegua (40 cm); and the quena quena, clarín or quenali from Puno and Apurímac (50 cm), with seven holes.
Also, there are in Peru several traditional "large quenas":
• The hilawata or pusa from Sandía and Chucuito (department of Puno, 80 cm) and the ph’alaata from Puno (60-120 cm), with five finger holes.
• The chacallo or chaqallo (used to accompany Chaqallus or Chaqalladas dances; 60-80 cm) and the quenacho, both from Puno, with 6 finger holes.
• The machu quena or ocona from Puno and Ayacucho (80-90 cm); the San Borga quena from Chumbivilcas (70 cm, made of elder wood); and the puli puli from Puno (60 cm), with 7 finger holes.
Rubén Pérez Bugallo, in his "Catálogo ilustrado de instrumentos musicales argentinos" (1996) points out that the presence of "quena-type" instruments in present day Argentina dates back to two thousand years BC, according to archaeological evidence. However, the quena that is played nowadays in traditional contexts (especially in the north-western part of the country) would have come from Bolivia. The same would have happened in the Big/Far North of Chile (Spanish, Norte Grande), according to Samuel Claro Valdés ("Oyendo a Chile", 1997).
Traditional quenas, with their distinctive features and tunings, and their unique repertoire, represent one of the most authentic elements in the Andean music universe. However, their modern successors retain very little of their original character, and what was meant to preserve and enrich the heritage has turned up to impoverish it.
Pictures A, B y C: Edgardo Civallero