Saturday, November 24, 2012


Music in Bolivia has strong ties to its traditional native music. Bolivia, like many other countries in South America, was colonized by the Spanish, and there's no doubt their music had its influences in Bolivian culture. However, after the 1952 Revolution, Bolivia eschewed much of the European influence on its culture, and there was a revival of its native cultures as a means of national identity. Traditional music, arts, and dress became very popular among many Bolivians.

One of the first groups to break onto the scene in 1965 was a quartet called Los Jairas. Other musicians emerged as well, including one of my favorites, Ernesto Cavour, with a style that more or less took traditional music and modified it in such a way so it appealed to urban-dwellers and Europeans. Later, other groups like Wara, Los Kjarkas, and Kalamarka came onto the scene and soon Bolivian music started making a name for itself internationally. This video is of Ernesto Cavour performing on the charango (see below). He is an amazing musician. 

In addition to European instruments that were introduced to them, namely the violin and guitar, they also utilize their own assortment of instruments that are commonly found throughout the Andean region and South America. Some of the instruments you’ll hear in Bolivian music is the charango (type of lute plucked with the fingers, traditionally made from the shell of an armadillo, but now made with different types of wood), zampoña (type of pan pipes, named after the Greek god Pan, traditionally made from bamboo or cane, but also made from wood, plastic, metal, or ivory. The longer the pipe is the lower the note, and it’s played by blowing across the top of the pipes.), quena (a type of 6-holed flute with a thumb hole; it’s played in front), bombo (a type of bass drum), and güiro (an open gourd with parallel notches carved into the side so that you can rub a stick across it making a ratchet sound, may also be made of wood or plastic). There are many varieties of these instruments, some larger and some smaller to give different tones and allow for different texture and range of sounds.

This video of the group Wara shows how they use traditional instruments (here you can see and hear the quena, the pan pipes, and the charango) in a modern musical style. 

Different types of dances are found across Bolivia and surrounding areas. One dance is called the Huayño. One of the most identifiable aspects of the huayño is the rhythm: the first beat is stressed followed by two short beats. Certain variations use a lot of panpipe music (along with a variety of other instruments that may include guitars, violins, quena, accordion, or charango) to accompany the dance, which always starts out with the man inviting the woman to dance. He lays his handkerchief on her shoulder as they turn in an enclosure before the actually start dancing. The dance itself has vigorous steps and stamping of feet. A cheerful dance called the Carnavalito is related to the Huayño.

Another dance that is popular around the Lake Titicaca area is the Kullawada. It’s a dance for and by the alpaca and sheep wool weavers. The dancers wear bright colors and use a spinning wheel as the symbols of the dance. I'm really digging on the hats that look like lampshades, and especially the hat that looks like it has a pagoda on top of it that one of the men wears. I'm sure I just need to have that. 

The Tinku is a type of dance that originated from the north of Bolivia in the Potosí region. It has its roots from the time when the natives were made the slaves of the Spanish who had claimed their land. The people would dress in colorful clothing and start to dance. The women would form a circle while the men on the inside would perform moves like staged fights. (I wonder if this is a similar conception to capoeira in Brazil, where the natives practiced fighting moves masqueraded as dance so that the Spanish wouldn’t suspect a rebellion.) However, this looks more like choreographed fighting than acrobatics. (And if you look at the hats the fighters are wearing at about a minute and a half in, I could use that too.)

The Saya is a type of dance that is almost always performed by Afro-Bolivians. The music that accompanies the dance, which consists of polyrhythmic drums and other instruments, has African origins. The musicians in this piece are the band mentioned earlier: Los Kjarkas. 

While it’s more popular in and originated from Chile, the cueca dance is also found throughout other Andean countries including Boliva. It’s a courting dance, mimicking the mating habits of a rooster and hen. While there are many variations, the males tend to dance with aggression while the female’s moves are more elusive, and the male ends the dance by bending down on one knee with the female placing her foot on his raised knee. Both the male and female spin a handkerchief above their heads as a way of luring the other. 

Up next: the food. 

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