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Andean Music in Peru

Peruvian Music

Andean Music. Once solely used for religious and spiritual Inca practices, Andean music now not only serves as a form of entertainment.

A Latin American nation renowned for its preservation of indigenous customs, Peru makes no exception when it comes to the distinctive panpipe and flute sounds of its traditional Andean music. Although believed to date back even further than the ancient Inca Empire, the now world-famous musical genre is most deeply rooted in the rural communities of this mighty pre-Hispanic civilization who, as the name of the music suggests, resided in the mountainous Andes region. Once solely used for religious and spiritual Inca practices, Andean music now not only serves as a form of entertainment but reminds Latin American inhabitants of the importance of celebrating an age-old culture which has shaped the identity of their nation and its people.

Unknown to many in the western world, Andean music does not simply rely on the harmonies of one type of panpipe and flute but combines the subtly different sounds of an array of panpipe and flute instruments. Whereas the siku or zampoña panpipe, as it is named in Spanish, consists of two separate rows of aquatic reed pipes, the antara possesses just one row of bamboo pipes and the rondador, although also formed of just one row, is arranged in a curved shape enabling the player to move more easily from pipe to pipe. Fairly self-explanatory in terms of technique, panpipes, in addition to their cultural value, are arguably equally popular among Peruvians for the relatively simple motion needed to create the blowing sounds. Generating a sense of community spirit therefore, given that almost every community member can successfully produce a tuneful sound, panpipes unsurprisingly take center stage during Peruvian festivals.

As for the abundance of flutes used in Andean music, it is the notched-end quena which is the most highly-esteemed variety given its centrality to pre-Hispanic musical performances. Made from wood or bamboo, the quena is not reminiscent of the conventional horizontally-held flute of modern times but is instead similar to a recorder in appearance with its six finger holes on the front and one on the back. Equally held in a vertical position, the ocarina and pinkillu flutes vary slightly owing to their often longer length and, in the case of the pinkillu, musicians play it with one hand so as to leave the other one free to play another instrument.

Although certainly not just restricted to festivals, Andean music can arguably only be truly appreciated during these annual celebrations and it is Peru’s Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, in particular, which captivates the crowds with its spectacular panpipe performances. Sporting vibrantly-colored costumes and elaborately-detailed masks, the talented festival dancers prove their ability to multitask as they perform both enviable dancing moves and skilful panpipe melodies. 

A form of artistic expression which unites not just the Peruvian nation but also the nations of Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, Andean music incredibly continues to resist contemporary technological influences and it is this musical simplicity which makes the genre so widely accessible and popular among all generations.