The sound of music

Pitch perfect

The sound of music
The South American country of Peru is a music lover’s paradise. While Peruvian music is an interesting fusion of Andean, Spanish and African sounds, the variety of musical instruments it is home to is simply mind-boggling. From panpipes to flutes to percussion instruments, there is a range that’s almost unparalleled.

The instrument that caught my attention in an instant was zampona. This handcrafted panpipe of native Andean origin, dating back to the Inca Empire, is made of 11 reed tubes bound by colourful textiles. Though the instrument I encountered was small in size, it comes in different sizes and styles, some as long as six feet that necessitates the player to stand on a chair to play it, I was told.

Equally fascinating was charango, which is also the country’s national instrument. A version of the European mandolin, this instrument was designed on the Spanish vihuela model, I learnt. Originally crafted from the dried shell of an armadillo, charango is now made with a variety of wood including pinewood, walnut wood and congona wood. Known variously as kirki, tatu, quirquincho and mulita, charango is 10-stringed, and is believed to have come into its present form in the early part of the 18th century. Initially played only during courtship rituals in certain parts of Peru, it gained popularity among performers in the entire country of Peru only after 1959, I was told. Its variants include the walaycho, chillador, chinlili, and the larger and lower-tuned charangon.

When it comes to percussion instruments too, Peru has some distinct drums like the cajon and bombo. While cajon is believed to have been developed by African slaves, bombo traces its origins to Europe. A box-shaped instrument, cajon is primarily played in Afro-Peruvian music, as well as contemporary styles of flamenco and jazz. It is hollow, featuring a hole on one side, where cotton and copper strings regulate its reverberation. It is crafted from wood from the castor oil plant. Peruvians hold cajon in high regard, almost treating it as a cultural patrimony.

Bombo, shaped like a cylindrical drum, is often played during magical Andean rituals. For bombo, on a wooden cylinder is stretched bull hide, while nylon threads bind the hide to the cylinder. In order to facilitate the drummer to strike either ends of the drum, bombo comes with a strap that can be slung over the neck of the drummer. Similar drums are found in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia too. It is played typically with a small stick and a mallet. Two other percussion instruments to take note of are the wankara and tinya, both of Andean origin.

An interesting tidbit I learnt about these drums is that, in the past, while most of them were made of animal hide, sometimes, human skin of enemies they had vanquished were also used!

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