Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Music and Dance > Aymara

For thousands of years music has played a major role in Andean societies. Proof of this is found in the countless musical instruments discovered during archeological excavations of the Nasca, Parakas, Tiwanaku, San Pedro de Atacama and Arica cultures, among others. Descriptions left by the Spaniards who arrived in the Andean area 500 years ago, tell us that music and musical instruments were present throughout the ritual cycle and in everyday life as well. Today, music continues to play a leading role in Aymara societies and permeates both the sacred and profane spheres of life.

Instruments particular to Andean cultures—including the flutes called sikuris, laquitas and pinkillos and certain kinds of drums—still remain in use today, but the people also play European instruments such as the bandola, the harp and the guitar. Native instruments continue to be used in traditional orchestras such as the sikuri bands, in which each member plays a flute (sikuri or zampoña) and a drum at the same time. Sikuri bands participate in the patron saint festivals using a complex, typically Andean musical dialogue. The flute players are arranged in pairs and each partner plays certain notes of the scale while the other plays the remaining notes, and together they produce the melody.

Music plays a crucial role in Carnival, and is heard incessantly for the four days and nights that this celebration lasts. In Cariquima, an Altiplano town near Iquique, the instruments used include the pinquillo (five-holed flutes) and the bandola, a 16-stringed instrument with 4 groups of 4 strings each. Coplas are sung in sequence by all present. Carnival time generates a veritable war of sound, with residents dividing up into the “upper” and “lower” town groups, which compete to see who will be the best, the loudest and the most long-winded singer.

In addition to coplas (rhymed verse), Aymara music includes many songs dedicated to llamas and alpacas—animals that are essential to the subsistence of the Aymara people living on the Altiplano. There are songs for male and female llamas, and songs for the lead pack animal. Together they are poetic declarations of the affection that the Aymara people feel for their animals.