Land of winds. Digital magazine on Andean music. Header picture
History of the Andean music
    Land of winds > Music > History | Issue 17 (Jan.-Feb. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Harps and violins in the Andes


Harps and violins in the Andes

As happened with a good number of the string instruments that can be found today in South America, the harp was brought to the country by European settlers, missionaries and colonial administrators in the early 1500s.

Harps introduced to America corresponded to the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque models; these included single-row diatonic harps and those with a second-line of strings to allow for chromatic notes. The latter, however, were not used in America. Generally speaking, these harps had a wide and deep sound box and a turned (not carved) column low in proportion to the instrument's width; the number of strings ranged from 16 to 33, even 46; sound holes were placed in two parallel lines of three each; tuning pins were made of metal or bone; and they were carefully varnished.

Among European colonists –especially those of a higher social status– the harp (alongside the vihuela) was played to provide entertainment for their celebrations. Gradually –and strengthened by the arrival of religious orders– the harp was also used as a musical instrument in religious ceremonies to accompany or take the place of the cathedral/churches organs. The harp also played a key role in the evangelization process, mostly in the Jesuits and Franciscans' hands. The musical pieces performed at the time were written in the colonial style by local and European composers.

Indigenous musicians learnt to play this chordophone at urban monasteries, rural churches and missions. Between the 17th and 18th century the harp went back to colonial country houses and urban mansions where it was mostly played by women (but also by slaves) to accompany the singing and entertain the guests. By that time, in the early 1700s, the use of the harp began to decline in Spain, with the instrument gradually disappearing from the court life, cathedrals and the Royal Chapel, though it remained being taught in music schools.

Book. "The Indispensable Harp: Historical Development, Modern Roles, Configurations, and Performance Practices in Ecuador and Latin America", by John M. Schechter. In Google Books.


Harps and violins in the Andes

In today's Ecuador, the use of traditional harp is decreasing; Mariano Cachimuel "Taita Chavo" (Carabuela, province of Imbabura) and César Muquinche (Illampu, province of Tungurahua) are among the last harpists that keep the indigenous playing style of the Sierra alive. While urban musicians still play mestizo and traditional music on the harp, most of them rarely use the "indigenous" harp variant. The list of these players includes such well known names as Julio "Atahualpa" Poalasín, Gonzalo Castro, Ernesto Guerra, Mesías Carrera, Segundo Bastidas, Carlos Saquicela, Milton Sánchez and Ramiro Uribe.

In Colombia, the harp is usually associated with the "llanera" music, though in the past it was also used to play Andean rhythms.

In Bolivia the harp has seen a demise in popularity, but smaller variants of the traditional instrument (the so called "arpines") can still be heard in rural communities of the departments on the occasion of All Saints' Day festivity.

Article. "Arpa". In Ecuador con Música [es].


Picture 01. José Morocho, harpist from Morlán (in "Memoria Musical del Ecuador").
Picture 02. Bolivian "arpines" in the Museum of Musical Instruments of Bolivia.


Video 01. Taita Chavo, harpist from Carabuela.
Video 02. "El provinciano", by Julio "Atahualpa" Poloasín.
Video 03. "Angustia de vivir", by Gonzalo Castro.
Video 04. "Canción de los Andes", by Carlos Saquicela.
Video 05. "Vasija de barro", by Ramiro Uribe.

The Andean harp reaches its utmost expression in the Peruvian Sierra, an area that extends from the department of Ancash to the department of Cusco, where it is played solo or along with another chordophones such as the violin. Playing techniques differ widely from traditional styles (the solo harp, the harp and violin together) to modern approaches (accompanied by electronic percussion and keyboard), but also depending on the music performed (from the cumbia to the "chicha" or the tropical music). There are many harpists in the country's folk scene, some of whom have played with several famous bands or accompanied well known singers besides pursuing their own musical career as solo players.

Leading names from the departments of Ancash, Lima and Huánuco include Ángel Dámazo, Douglas Buitrón (accompanying several Peruvian singers such as Anita Santiváñez and Alicia Delgado), Diner Cabello, Lucio Pcheco and Tomás Pacheco. From the departments of Junín and Huancavelica: Teodoro Chávez (Los Ases de Huayucachi), Juan Castro and Carlos Blancas, Atilio Moreno (Orquesta Selección del Centro) and Mauro Flores Hilario.

From the province of Huamanga (department of Ayacucho): Antonio Sulca ("Sunqu Suwa"), Florencio Coronado, Luciano Quispe and Estanislao Medina. From the province of Sucre: Alberto Alarcón Torres. From the province of Lucanas: Modesto Tomayro ("Mollicha", Conjunto Danzantes de Puquio), Zenón Llamocca Inca ("Inkacha", who usually accompanies the Danzaq de Ayacucho), Jaime Quilca and Gregorio Condori ("Lapla de Huaycahuacho"); the latter often plays with the violinist Andrés Lares, "Chimango". Finally, from the deapartment of Cusco: Gualberto Apaza, Orlando García Quispe and Alejandro Huamán, among many others.

Article. "Arpa peruana", by Claude Ferrier. In Música Peruana [es].


Picture 03. Peruvian harps.
Picture 04. Peruvian harp player.
Picture 05. Scissors dancers with their harps.


Video 06. "Totora" and "Orgullo de mujer", by Ángel Dámazo.
Video 07. "Tonto corazón", by Alicia Delgado, with Douglas Buitrón playing the harp.
Video 08. "Tierra oyonina", by Mario Mendoza, with Diner Cabello playing the harp.
Video 09. "Dos cervezas, cantinero", by Lucio and Tomás Pacheco.
Video 10. "El navarrito", by Los Ases de Huayucachi.
Video 11. "Sacrilegio", by Orquesta Selección del Centro.
Video 12. "Huandoy", by Mauro Flores.
Video 13. "Coca quintucha", by Antonio Sulca.
Video 14. "El cóndor pasa", by Florencio Coronado.
Video 15. "Puka pirucha", by Luciano Quispe.
Video 16. "Cebadallaschayay", by Conjunto Danzantes de Puquio (Modesto Tomayro).
Video 17. "Chutay chutay", by Gregorio Condori and "Chimango" Lares.
Video 18. "Avioncha", by Gualberto Apaza.
Video 19. "Jakachito", by Orlando García.
Video 20. "Waynos cusqueños", by orquestín cusqueño (small orchestra from Cusco).

In Chile, the harp is widely used in rural areas and popular music, especially in female hands and often to accompany the singing of the "cantoras de rodeo" (rodeo female singers). It is within this context where the traditional harp playing style and its repertoire are best preserved and cherished.

Alberto Rey is a remarkable figure in Chilean folk and Latin American music. Besides being the harpist of the Dúo Rey-Silva, he developed a prolific solo career. Other Chilean harpists include José Luis Araya, José Véliz, Guillermo Vilches, Víctor Manuel Campusano, Patricio Guzmán, Fernando Lamilla, Cristian Rodríguez, Manuel Espinoza and Ociel Ortiz.

Video 21. "Cuando pa' Chile me voy", by Guillermo Vilches.
Video 22. Lorena Oyarzún, rodeo singer, with Fernando Lamilla playing the harp.
Video 23. "Camino de luna", by Cristian Rodríguez.
Video 24. "Camino de luna", by Manuel Espinoza.
Video 25. Homage to Alberto Rey.
Video 26. "Arriba en la cordillera", by Alberto Rey.

Likewise the harp, the violin was brought to America from Europe. Andean rural variants of the instrument do not differ very much from the commercial model, which is much appreciated by traditional performers. In the Peruvian Sierra, especially in the communities of the Otavalo, Salasaca and Saraguro peoples, the violin is used to play different musical genres such as the capishca and the sanjuanito. Among the Saraguro the violin plays a key role alongside the tambor (drum), providing the usual accompaniment of ajas, wikis, ushkus and sarawis parades during the Christmas procession. Carlos Perugachi, former member of Ñanda Mañachi, is one of the best known Ecuadorian traditional violinists.

Picture 06. Pacho Morocho, Saraguro de Oñacapa, with his violin.
Picture 07. Contemporary Saraguro violinist.


Video 27. Saraguro violinist.
Video 28. Christmas procession in Saraguro.


Harps and violins in the Andes

In Peru, the combination of violin and harp is a preferred duo and has a great tradition in the Sierra and central-southern part of the country, where they complement each other playing a wide range of traditional musical genres, from the chuscadas of Ancash to the huaylías and the aylas of Ayacucho. In addition, the violin also accompanies the famous "Danza de las tijeras" ("Scissors dance") and alongside the pampapiano, the quena and the harp makes up a traditional ensemble known as "orquestín cusqueño", which usually plays the popular "huaynitos de chichería" of Cusco. Máximo Damián Huamaní, Andrés Lares León ("Chimango"), Zenobio Dagha and Reynaldo Pillco Oquendo are among the leading names of the Peruvian violin scene.

Picture 08. Peruvian violinist and harpist 01.
Picture 09. Peruvian violinist and harpist 02.
Picture 10. Peruvian violinist and harpist 03.


Video 29. Máximo Damián Huamani, in "Sigo siendo".
Video 30. Andrés Lares León.
Video 31. Reynaldo Pillco Oquendo.
Video 32. "Busco tus ojos", by local violin and harp players.
Video 33. "Chuscada ancashina", by Trío Melodías de Pomabamba.

The violin is only found in certain parts of Bolivia, including the Quechua-speaking valleys of Cotagaita (department of Potosí) and, especially, the department of Tarija. Here the violin ("violín pascuero", "violín suyao") is used to play local musical genres (such as the "ruedas de violín") and several rhythms that are also typical from neighbouring north-western Argentina (chacarera, tonada, bailecito, zamba, escondido, cueca, gato). In the same way, the violin playing style known as "chapaco" shares a number of features with the "chaqueño" violin in Argentina.

Picture 11. "Chapaco" violinist.


Video 34. "Violín de la Pascua" (Tarija, Bolivia).
Video 35. Chacareras tarijeñas (Bolivian Chaco).
Video 36. Chacareras salteñas (Argentine Chaco).


Picture A | Picture B | Picture C

> Top    |    > Music    |    > Cover    |    > En español

Disclaimer of Land of windsEditorial staff of Land of winds