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    Land of winds > The people > Language | Issue 15 (Jul.-Aug. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Of charangas and charrangos


Of charangas and charrangos

Scholars and authors alike have devoted many efforts to uncover the etymology of the word "charango". Among the theories that have so far been proposed there are two that have come to dominate in recent years.

The first one attributes the word to Quechua origins: it could come from the Quechua term ch'ajwanku, a form of the verb ch'ajway ("to shout out") that can be translated as "they shout"; or the compound chara-anku, from Aymara chara, "leg" and Quechua anku, "tendon". Both explanations have little evidence to support them. In addition, a few wrong translations have been offered such as that of the Quechua term ch'ajwaku as "noisy, boisterous": the right term for it would be ch'ajwilli.

The second theory focus on the Spanish origins of the word, which is a more solid hypothesis: "charango" would derive from the Spanish adjective "charanguero" or "charranguero", meaning "slapdash, clumsy, of poor workmanship" and mostly used to refer to both musicians who play carelessly and instruments out of tune. The link between "charango" and "charanga", though possible, is less probable; the term refers to the typical military band which consist mostly of wind and percussion instruments and, since quite recently (and following a French model), to funny music bands. Its connection to the Andean chordophone is almost nonexistent. However, the designation of the charango player (and the charango itself) as "slapdash" or "clumsy" fits perfectly with the idea that, until recently, many scholars, chroniclers and professional musicians had of the instrument as "a small rustic guitar played by Indian".

There are other theories. Cuban musicologist Rolando Pérez proposes an African origin: "charango" would be derived from Kikongo nsalanga ("something which moves quickly"). Other authors point out that, during the 1800s, in the area of the Plata river, the term "changango" was used for "old, badly built guitars".

An unexpected descendant of the term "charranguero" can be found in central and southern Chile, where the word "charrango" designates a string instrument made with a wood plank, a wire string and two bottles, which is used to accompany cuecas.


Article. "The charango as transcultural icon of Andean music", by Max Peter Baumann. In Trans – Revista Transcultural de Música.
Article. "Apuntes para el etimo del charango", by Clemente Hernando Balmori [es].
Article. "Acerca de la etimología del charango", by Héctor Soto [es].
Article. "Etimología de la palabra charango", by Ernesto Cavour A. [es].
Article. "El charrango", in Enciclopedia Chilena [es].


Picture 01. Charrango 01.
Picture 02. Charrango 02.


Picture A


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