EL SIKU – THE SIKU FLUTE
The Siku flute is an Andean wind instrument that originated in the pre-Inca times. In Aymara it’s called Siku, in Quechua – Siku or Antara. The Spanish named it Zampona or Pan flute, underlining it’s resemblance to the European flute.
Nowadays, both the Andean and the European version of this instrument experience a revival and musicians from all over the world frequently reach for its fascinating timbre.
Initially, the Siku flute was used mainly in the country, where the pre-Columbian traditions were noticeably preserved. However, as time passed by, it became also a part of the urban music, which introduced some slight changes to the playing technique and the tuning.
The term “Siku” refers to a whole range of instruments of common structure, but differing in tuning, size and the playing technique. In Bolivia, depending on the region, we can distinguish the following varieties of Siku: Khantus, Italaquis, Suri Sikus, Jula-Julas, Ayarachis, Laquitas, Mimulas, Jacha Sikus, Tabla Sikus, Canicianas and many more.
These instruments are played during the dry season – the period between the harvest time and spring. The arrival of spring is at the same time the beginning of a new agricultural cycle.
The Andean version of Siku flute is composed of two rows of tubes. For the whole piece to be played, two musicians are necessary, as each component of the flute can produce only half of the tones. The bigger part of the instrument is called Arka, described as the male part, and the smaller, called Ira, is the female one. This dualism (“chacha-warmi”) is present not only in music, but also in many Andean beliefs, cosmology and rituals.
The term “Sikuri” describes a band or a musician who uses Siku. Traditionally, each village has a Sikuri who plays an important role during all celebrations and events that take place in the village.
What’s more, Sikuri is also a title that can be used to describe those musicians, who, by playing Siku, contributed to the popularization of the Andean culture and it’s unique beauty.
QUENA O KHENA
Quena, another pre-Inca and pre-Columbian instrument, owes its name to the Aymara language. As it allows playing complex melodies with ease and has a powerful and rich timbre, it has become the main Andean solo instument. It has always accompanied the countrypeople in their farming work or trade journeys.
Contemporary attempts to determinate Quena’s exact origin are pointless. Even though the instrument was included in the list of Peru’s cultural relics, it is commonly known to have existed long before the present South American countries arised. Archeological findings proved that Khena was widespread in the Andes already thousands of years ago.
Another proof of Quena’s indeterminable ‘nationality’ is the Bolivian village Walata-Grande, where the majority of the population is engaged in the manufacture of traditional Andean instruments. Quenas from Walata-Grande are considered to be top quality instruments and they are valued by prominent musicians all over the world.
Charango is a small string instrument resembling the Spanish Wihuela, which was brought to South America in the colonial times. As the local population had no access to the original Wihuelas they created their own version of the instrument.
The name charango is closely connected with disdain, which the Spanish felt for the local communities. These simple, homemade instruments, manufactured by poor people, must have provoked laughter among colonizers. In those times, the word ‘charanga’ described something noisy and sloppy. ‘Charanguero’ meant rude, dull.
In spite of its unflattering history, this small instrument has evolved over time to its present, more sophisticated version. Nowadays, its charming, crystalline tones enrich the music of many artists across the world.