Andean Music, the Music of the Incas
Andean communities have a powerful musical tradition inherited from the Inca Empire. The Inca society was based on collective effort and their success outweighed the individual’s. This is the case of music in the Inca civilization, musicians joined to create music through cooperation and support. The purpose of music in this society was primarily spiritual and associated to religious rituals and wars, usually accompanied by singing that was high pitched and nasal. The arrival of the Spanish in South America started a process of political and cultural assimilation, a cultural transformation of a pagan society into Catholicism. To facilitate the transition, music was transferred to the new Catholic rituals.
The Incas used one word “taqui” to describe dance, music and singing, though this word in Quechua means “song”. They did not differentiate among the three, they were strictly interconnected. Their music was pentatonic, based in the combination of five notes: re, fa, sol, la and do. Their use of music can be grouped in three categories according to its purpose: religious, warrior and agricultural.
Music reached through all the corners of the empire, social classes and activities. There were countless songs, tunes and dances which were related to most human activities and were represented by gestures, moves and costumes. Most dances were related to rituals and agriculture. There were specific dances to affect the weather such as to attract rain, repel frost and hail. Dances represented the life of domestic and wild animals as well a birds. Dance and songs were also used to report historic facts, myths and legends of the origin of the Incas.
The objective of agricultural, livestock and warrior dances was to maintain a good relationship with the divinities who they believed helped in bringing successful crops, healthy livestock and win battles.
The Incas and early Andean civilizations had two types of musical instrument, wind and percussion. String musical instruments were introduced later by the Spanish and adapted in their musical repertoire.
Wind instruments consist of panpipes and flutes. Within the panpipes there are ocarinas, antaras, zampoñas or siku, phukuna and rondador.
The siku (Aymara and Quechua) or zampoña (Spanish) originated in the highlands of the Andes near Lake Titicaca. The pipes were originally made of a light reed called songo that grows in the banks of Lake Titicaca. The zampoña has two separate rows of pipes, open at one end and closed at the other end. There are six pipes per row horizontally arranged with the open end at the top. They are held together by a string that goes between the pipes and around them. There are different sizes of zampoñas. Malta is the smallest, ika is the small, siku is medium size, sanka is medium large size, semitoyo is large, and toyo is the largest size of zampoña.
The oldest antaras have been found in burial graves in archeological sites in Nazca. It consists of one row of pipes arranged by size and forming a triangle. The cylindrical shape pipes were made of clay and were held together with threats of cotton or wool. Today antaras are made of bamboo.
The rondador is similar to the antara, but it is made of one row of pentagonically arranged pipes. It is believed that this instrument originated in the northern territories of the Inca Empire comprising northern Peru and Ecuador.
The quena is the oldest known wind musical instrument in the continent. There were made out of clay, stone or bone. Today quenas are made of wood or bamboo. The quena is a flute open on both ends with six finger holes in the front and one in the back. It has a wide range of sounds which evoke different emotions.
The ocarina is an enclosed flute with four to twelve finger holes, some have eight finger holes on the top part and two in the bottom part. They were originally made of clay or bones.
The pututu was a trumpet made from a large seashell or a hollow cow horn. It was not used to play music but mostly used for communicating an important arrival and was also used in religious ceremonies.
Pinkillo is found throughout the Andes. It is made of cane, bamboo, bone or tree branches. The pinkillo can measure up to 1m 20cm and can have from two to six finger holes, it is played with one hand leaving the other one free to play another instrument, usually the drum.
There are many types of percussion instrument used in Andean music; among them are the bombo, caña de agua, wankar, chullus or chajchas, caja or tinya.
Bombo is a large wooden drum made from a hollow trunk tree and covered in animal skin usually that of llama or sheep on the top and cow at the bottom. They come in different sizes.
Wancara is a large round drum covered with animal skin from end to end which produces a deep bass sound. The wancara is much larger than the bombo.
Tynya is a smaller wancara and believed to have been played only by women in the Inca Empire.
Chajchas are also known as Chullus. It is a rattle made of dried goat hooves which are tied into a ribbon, they are also made with seashells, seeds, hard wood, stones or beads. The sound made when the chajcha is shaken resembles that of wind and rain.