Making Music the Andean Way

The music of Ecuador is varied.  Listen to classic rock, jazz and salsa coming from taxis with open windows and no riders.  In this city of parades, marching band music abounds.  The local symphony orchestra hosted a recent concert, free of charge, which was wonderful.  (Two Who Trek think it is best described as South America’s version of the Boston Pops.)

The Orquesta Sinfonica de Cuenca (Cuenca Symphony Orchestra)

The Orquesta Sinfonica de Cuenca (Cuenca Symphony Orchestra)

Two Who Trek also enjoys traditional Andean music, from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. About 20 years ago, Sherri first heard a group play traditional songs on traditional instruments at the East Lansing Art Fair.  To describe it as folk music is an injustice. This is life music from the fingers and the heart, for the ears and the spirit.

Three categories of musical instruments work together to create Andean music

  • winds,
  • percussion and
  • strings

Multiple instruments are often played by one musician. Historically, strings were added after the Spanish conquest.

Various woodwind instruments for making Andean music.

Various woodwind instruments for making Andean music.

Winds include the quena, a vertical flute with a u-shaped mouthpiece.


A vendor plays a quena.

The rondador has one row of bamboo pipes and is played by blowing air into two pipes simultaneously.  It is the national musical instrument of Ecuador.

The siku or zampoña is a cane panpipe with two separate rows of pipes, open at one end and closed at the other.  It is native to the Lake Titicaca area, between Bolivia and Peru.

The siku or zampoña

The siku or zampoña

Percussion instruments include the rainstick or palo de lluvia.  It produces the sound of falling rain.  Chaichas or chakchas produce sounds like the rain or wind.  They are traditionally made from llama toenails. Bombas are bass drums that come in various sizes.  They are double-headed and are played with one drumstick.

Strings like guitars or violins may be used to make Andean music today.  The charango is the traditional stringed instrument and is larger than a violin and smaller than a guitar.  It is made of wood and has ten strings.

Carlos holds a charango

Carlos holds a charango

A hualaycho is a small charango with metal strings.  Kirkinchus are charangos made from armadillo shells.

Carlos holds a kirkinchu, a charango made from a real armadillo shell.

Carlos holds a kirkinchu, a charango made from a real armadillo shell.

Listen to some Andean music.  Follow the conversation as the various instruments speak to you.  Let your spirit soar!

Note: The above video was not made by Two Who Trek and shows images of Peru, not Ecuador.  But the music still demonstrates the instruments above and is definitely easy listening.

Categories: andean, blog, celebrations, Cuenca, ecuador, festivals, photos, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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