By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
The khonkhota (qhonqhota, qonqota, k'onk'ota, jitarrón, guitarrón, mokholo, jitarra, guitarrilla, machu charango) is a type of charango played in Bolivia, in the region that stretches between the northern part of the department of Potosí, the southern part of the department of Oruro and the western part of the department of Cochabamba (where it is known as "bandola"). It is mostly built and performed by Bolivia's Quechua-speaking indigenous groups like the Layme and the Jukumani. Other chordophones with similar features can be found through the Bolivian Altiplano (high plains), such as the talachi or thalachi, the p'alta charango or guitarrilla, the guitarrón, the guitarrilla Chipaya, etc.
Ernesto Cavour suggests that the name of the instrument might well come from the Aymara term qonqoratha, which he translates as "shake", or be an onomatopoeic term referring to the sound of this charango, resembling "khon-khon-khon". The Aymara term alluded by Cavour has not been found; the verb qhonktaña, "thunder, boom" is the closest word.
The khonkhota is a small, plainly crafted guitar, made of laminated wood, usually cedar or poplar. The distance between the nut and the bridge is 65 cm long. It has eight wood tuning pegs and eight steel or gut strings in five courses (double-strung courses corresponding to the first, third and fifth). On the mast, long and thick, there are five cane frets. The sound box measures approximately 15-18 cm in height, has a straight back and an eight-shaped, very recognisable figure. The soundboard has a small circular sound hole, which gives the instrument a lower, deeper sound, and is decorated with colourful geometric or vegetable motifs.
It is easy to carry; rather plain, with few decorations; simple in design and with a rough finishing. The khonkhota is similar to other instruments used in peasant's music in that it is made in a simple manner to fulfil a certain function: playing music and enjoying it. As mentioned above, its sound is low, loud and harsh; it has a distinctly expressive voice.
Traditional performance uses a limited number of chords to accompany the melody of tonadas nor-potosinas. In these tonadas (as well as in related styles), the smaller charangos (e.g. the jiyawa) are attributed the leading role (soloist instruments), and they are played in chords with a characteristic strumming technique (k'alampeo). There are several possible tunings for the khonkhota depending on the place where the instrument was made and/or is played (Cavour collects up to half a dozen).
Nowadays, the techniques of khonkhota making are being "improved" (that is, some of the techniques used in the making of other charangos are being used to make the khonkhota) while, at the same time, its sound possibilities are being "enlarged". However, the fact that the instrument is mostly used in indigenous communities, where it retains its traditional features and repertoire, imposes considerable limitations to both processes.
Article. "Les guitarrillas du nord du departement de Potosí (Bolivie): morphologie, utilisation et symbolique", by Philippe Lyèvre. In Bulletin de l'IFEA, 19 (1), 1990, pp. 183-213 [fr].
Album of pictures, in Charango Schweiz.
Video 01. "Amor, amor", by Luceros.
Video 02. "Linda paceñita", by Luceros.
Video 03. "Rosas t'ika", by Girasoles del Amor.
Video 04. "Maypi kacianki", by Los Cristales de Norte Potosí.
Video 05. "Aymaya fiestapi", by Las Chinchillas de Norte Potosí.