Andean Cultural Traditions
In Andean traditional culture, festivals mark life events such as the blessing of a new house, the birth of a child, or the cycles of planting and harvesting. These festivals are celebrated with vibrant, energetic music and dance, and combine native religious practices with Catholic rituals that were introduced by the Spanish.
Music is central to Andean communities, and serves as a metaphor for how successful community members work together. Musicians like Andes Manta who are selected to perform at festivals earn great prestige.
The vibrant, energetic music of the Andes region of South America is performed in its most authentic form by Andes Manta, professional musicians and natives of the Ecuadorian Andes. Students hear and learn about dozens of traditional instruments, including six-foot-long panpipes. Andes Manta musicians discuss the history, music, and traditions of their culture, demonstrate the rich and haunting sounds of the rain forest, and perform traditional folk music. Andes Manta is committed to performing traditional Andean music, rooted in the cultural heritage of the Incas and their ancestors, in its purest, most authentic form
What to Look and Listen For
- How the Lopez brothers describe learning music as children by listening and observing at
village festivals, carnivals, and ceremonial gatherings.
- Songs sung in both Spanish and Quechua.
- Families of instruments, instruments that look similar but are made in different sizes.
- The musicians yelling, shouting, or whistling encouragement to each other as they play.
- How the difficulty and speed of the music increases as the musicians play for long periods of
- Abrupt changes in the speed (tempo) and mood of the music.
The Lopez brothers make their own instruments by hand. Many of their instruments imitate the sounds of nature, including wind, rain, the forest, and birds. Some traditional Andean instruments include:
- Zamonia (zam-PONE-ee-uh)
Panpipes made by connecting bamboo pipes of various lengths, organized from long to short. Each individual pipe, because of its specific length, produces a different pitch. A musician can blow into more than one pipe at the same time, producing several tones together. There are many different sizes and styles of Andean panpipes, each with a specific name.
- Quena (KAY-nuh)
A vertical bamboo flute with holes for producing different pitches. There are also different sizes of quena. A small quena is called a quenilla (kay-NEE-yah); and a large one is called a quenacho (kay0NAH-cho).
- Bombo (BOM-bow)
A large drum played with a drumstick.
- Palo de Lluvia (PA-low day YEW-vee-ah)
A “rain stick” made by hollowing out a tube of bamboo, piercing the bamboo with small pegs that protrude into the inside of the tube, filling the empty tube with seeds or small stones, and capping off the ends. When the “rain stick” is turned upside down, the seeds hit the small pegs as they fall from one end to the other, producing a sound like rain.
- Chakchas (CHOK-chus)
A rattle made of goat or llama toenails.
The Spanish introduced stringed instruments, including:
- Guitarra (gee-TAH-rah)
A the acoustic guitar familiar to North Americans.
- Cuatro (QWA-trow)
A small guitar with only four (cuatro) strings that produces higher sounds than the guitar.
- Charango (cha-RAH-goh)
An adaptation of the Spanish guitar with a body made from the shell of an armadillo. It has up to fifteen strings and is played rapidly as a solo instrument.
Learn more about the music of the Andes:
For Educators & Others
The Performing Arts Series
This program is available in an hour-long streaming video format as part of the Kennedy Center Performing Arts Series. Click here for more information on this and other programs, as well as software requirements and satellite broadcast details.
This presentation was part of the Kennedy Center's AmericArtes Festival of Latin American Arts and Culture.
During the performance, you will hear abrupt changes in the speed of the music. Experiment
with doubling your speed.
- Count 1 –2 –3 –4 over and over, feeling a
- Continue to count, and clap only on beat one.
- Now count 1 –2 over and over, keeping the
same steady beat.
- Continue to count and, again, only clap on
beat one. You will feel the music moving
twice as fast.