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    Land of winds > Instruments > Instrument | Issue 20 (Jul.-Aug. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Andean aerophones (08): transverse flutes


Andean aerophones (08): transverse flutes

Until recent times it was thought, largely due to the absence of archaeological evidence to disprove such a widespread hypothesis, that the transverse flutes played in the Andes today were the legacy left behind by the instruments that had been brought into the region by Europeans since the 16th century, especially the pífano (fife) used in military bands. However, the discovery of a Tiwanaku-style wooden transverse flute in the north of Chile (San Pedro de Atacama, 1969) changed that assumption; at present, it is believed that this type of aerophone, and its numerous variants, already existed in Latin America in general and in the Andes in particular before Europeans arrived, and what happened was that the existing instruments (as many other Latin American instruments) were heavily influenced by the newcomers.


Article. "La flauta traversa del Nuevo Mundo surgió en Tiwanaku", by Rafael Francisco Díaz. Revista Musical Chilena, 67 (219), pp. 12-41 [es].


Transverse flutes are not very common in the southern Andes. Special mention deserves the kiná of the Mapuche (south of Argentina and Chile). It basically consists of a piece of cane, hemlock or other materials (including the plant known as kina or küna that gives the name to the instrument), with 4-6 finger holes, which would date to recent times. In a number of chronicles it is referred to as pitucahue, though some references are confusing and inaccurate.


Article. "Cronología de los instrumentos sonoros del Área Extremo Sur Andina", by José Pérez de Arce. Revista Musical Chilena, 60 (166), pp. 68-124 [es].


In the Chilean Norte Grande region, transverse flutes are not so popular either (with the exception of some dances of Bolivian origin that are performed during festivals such as that of La Tirana); curiously enough, these flutes are used in nearby areas (e.g. the Chaco salteño, in north-western Argentina) by peoples such as the Avá (or "chiriguanos"), who call them temïmbï ïe pïasa or "cross flute".

In the Bolivian Altiplano, transverse flutes are generally referred as phalahuatas (phala, pfala, phalauita, pfalawita, palahuata or palauita; Aymara derivatives of the Spanish term "flauta", flute), but can also be called flauta, pito or pífano. Broadly speaking, these instruments are made of cane (sometimes, wood), have six finger holes and are usually accompanied by bombos and/or tambores (drums, snare drums). In general, they are played in groups and often work as an alternative to the bands of pinkillos and quenas, accompanying traditional dances such as those of the puli puli, the machu machu and the lecos of Apolo (Franz Tamayo province of the department of La Paz); that of the auqui auqui or awki awki (Bautista Saavedra and Camacho provinces of the department of La Paz); and that of the chunchus accross the country. According to Cavour, the instrument can sometimes accompany the large pinkillos or rollanos of the Calcha region (department of Potosí).


Video 01. Lecos of Apolo (low quality).
Video 02. "Pífano chunchu", by Suma Jilas (low quality).


In Peru the Andean transverse flutes have between 6 and 8 finger holes, and are referred to as pitos, pífanos or flautas, and even "quena traves(era)" (transverse quena) or "pinkillo traves(ero)" (transverse pinkillo). They are made of cane, elder wood (rayán), alder wood (suncho), metal or plastic, and can be found across the Peruvian Sierra; however, they are more common in the departments of Ancash, Apurímac, Cusco y Puno, and less common in the departments of Ayacucho, Huánuco, La Libertad, Lambayeque and Cajamarca.

The "band of carrizos" is present in the provinces of Pomabamba, Yungay and Huaylas (department of Ancash) and in some areas of the department of La Libertad, to accompany a number of local dances. Transverse flutes are widely used in the department of Cusco, and one of the instruments included in a traditional ensemble that has grown very popular, the "banda de guerra" (war band), whose name comes from the fact that their predecessors were the bands that accompanied the montoneros (guerrilla forces) during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). These bands consist of pitos (80 cm long transverse flutes made of cane of plastic, with six finger holes) and percussion instruments. Although today they are slowly being replaced by brass bands, they continue to be an essential element of famous cultural expressions such as the qhapaq ch'unchu of Paucartambo or the well-known k'achampa (accompanied by two pitos, tambor and bombo).

In Lambayeque there is a transverse flute very little known, the kinran pinkullu, which is played only by women. In Cajamarca, transverse flutes are made of elder wood, a material widely used to make flutes of all kinds (mostly recorders). And in Sandia (department of Puno), there is one of the few transverse flutes with a semi-closed (or "en semi-tapadillo") distal end, the chuncho pito, which can also be found in nearby Bolivia.


Article. "Un enigma etnográfico en los Andes septentrionales del Perú: Notas sobre un aerófono indígena tocado solo por mujeres", by Juan Javier Rivera Andía. Indiana, 29, 2012, pp. 253-272 [es].


Video 03. Transverse flutes of Paccarectambo Distrit, Cusco 01.
Video 04. Transverse flutes of Paccarectambo Distrit, Cusco 02.
Video 05. Pito and tambor band in Siusa, Cusco.
Video 06. Flutes accompanying the dance of the qhapaq ch'unchu in Paucartambo 01.
Video 07. Flutes accompanying the dance of the qhapaq ch'unchu in Paucartambo 02.
Video 08. Original music for the k'achampa dance 01.
Video 09. Original music for the k'achampa dance 02.


In the Ecuadorian Andes, transverse flutes can have different shapes, be made of different materials (carrizo or tunda cane, bejuco, bone, wood, plastic, metal...). Perhaps one of the most popular ones are the flutes or gaitas of Imbabura, widely used in the area of Otavalo during the celebration of the Inti Raymi Festival and all its related traditional activities (ritual bath at night, the "storming of the square", etc.).

The same kind of "flauta de carrizo", usually played in pairs of "male" and "female" flutes, is used across the entire mountain range, including the provinces of Cotacachi, Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Imbabura. In the latter two provinces, there are also "tundas" or yacuchimbas, large flutes mostly played in the area of Cayambe during the festivities of San Juan and San Pedro.


Book. "Música patrimonial del Ecuador", by Juan Mullo Sandoval. In FLACSO [es].


Video 10. Flute players of El Topo (Cotacachi) during the Inti Raymi Festival 01.
Video 11. Flute players of El Topo (Cotacachi) during the Inti Raymi Festival 02.
Video 12. Flute players of Cotama (Imbabura).
Video 13. Flute players of Peguche (Imbabura).


In Colombia's Andean foothills (especially in the central and southern cordillera) well-known are the "chirimías" or flute bands, which usually include one flute referred as the "primera" (first, leader) and another or several ones as "segunderas" (second, followers) accompanied by one or several tamboras (drums), snare drums, maracas, charrasca (güiro) and/or the triangle. These bands perform a variety of music genres that are typical of the Colombian Andes (e.g. bambucos and marches), and continue to be very popular despite new ensembles coming about in recent times.

Among the many Andean chirimia bands of Colombia are those of the local indigenous communities: the kuv' flute ensembles of the Paez (flutes kuv' nuch y kuv' newish, and a drum called kut), the bands of the Misak or Guambiano (flutes pegatés or noos, a big drum called nubalé and a snare drum called cuchimbalé) and the bands of the Yanacona (departments of Huila and Cauca), the bands of the Embera-Chamí (department of Caldas) and the "bandas de yegua" (literally, "mare bands") of the Pasto (department of Nariño).

A very peculiar ensemble is the chirimía of the Napi River, the only Andean-style "banda de flautas y tambores" created by Afro-descendants communities located in the lowlands of the Chocó department.


Book. "Bandas de flautas, de acá y de allá", by O. Romero Garay and C. Miñana Blasco [es].


Video 14. School of flutes and drums: Andean music from the southwestern part of Colombia.
Video 15. Chirimía of the Yanacona de Caquiona indigenous reserve 01.
Video 16. Chirimía of the Yanacona de Caquiona indigenous reserve 02.
Video 17. Chirimía of the Yanacona de Caquiona indigenous reserve 03.
Video 18. Chirimía yanacona 01.
Video 19. Chirimía yanacona 02.
Video 20. Chirimía yanacona 03.
Video 21. Chirimía yanacona 04.
Video 22. Chirimía of Riosucio (Caldas).
Video 23. Chirimía of Cauca.
Video 24. Chirimía of the Napi river.


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