The Andean panpipe: its origins and enduring music
16 October 2019
If any sound captures the essence of Andean culture , it is the sweet tones of the panpipe (or pan flute ). an instrument known and played across the Andes since ancient times.
Most likely, the Andean panpipe first developed among the Aymara cultures of the Lake Titicaca region, and spread from there to other regions, where it took on diverse designs and sizes.
It is said that early Andean shepherdesses would walk the mountain slopes playing their panpipes to attract their goats.
The Andean pan flute has many shapes, sizes and tunings, and each has its own name. In general, the panpipe is known in Aymara language as the siku. In Quechua as antara and in Spanish it is also known as zampoña. Additionally, different-sized sikus (and there are at least four sizes) have their own names.
In Andean pre-history, pan flutes were made from bones, condor feathers, clay and other materials, but bamboo became the material of choice.
Today, sikus are made of different varieties of bamboo, each providing different tonal qualities. Bamboo tubes (or pipes) of different lengths, closed at one end, are tied together with plant fibers in a tight row. Sikus average about 13 pipes, but can have more or less notes. The longest panpipes, toyas, can be up to four feet or longer.
Panpipe tunings vary. Most often, two rows of different notes are tied together, which played alternately cover a diatonic scale. However, expert duos of players also play siku melodies in perfect alternation, which takes great coordination, and healthy sets of lungs. This last style creates a natural stereophonic sound that is fascinating to hear and to watch. Well-known Andean musical groups, such as Inti-Illimani, Los Kjarkas and Punos’ Sikuris del Barrio Mañazo have perfected panpipe music to an exquisite level.
Andean music is played at religious festivities , holiday celebrations and pilgrimages across the Andean region.
Although brass bands have recently become popular at such celebrations, the most traditional musical sounds are created by groups playing panpipes, bamboo flutes (quenas) and skin drums (bombos).
Sikus and bombs accompany the most traditional dance groups at the Festival of the Virgen de Candelaria in Puno, at Cusco’s Inti Raymi Festival, and at the pilgrimage of Q’oyllur Riti, the Ice Star.
The musical style known as sikuri is based on these instruments. Still today, the culminating moments of many celebrations and parties is the entrance of the sikuris, who march into the festivity chanting and playing the traditional songs.
The experience of the sikuri is simply captivating- the powerful chants and pounding drums combine with the wistful melodies of flutes and panpipes in such a way that one feels transported back to ancient times. At parties, the sikuris also prompt energetic traditional dances, in which Cusqueños partygoers enthusiastically participate.
When in Cusco, you’ll find sikus and quenas, as well as other traditional instruments (such as the charango) at many handicraft stores and markets.
They make excellent, easy to transport gifts, and just might inspire you or someone you know to experience a new world of beautiful musical sounds.
Please contact us at andeanlodges.com to reserve your acclimatization tour in Cusco, and your unforgettable trek to Ausangate, where you’ll hear local llama herders play their panpipes and flutes in the most beautiful mountains, deep in the heart of the Andes.