Inka Music, a Form of Life

Music is an important part of every culture. It is a form of communication which passes from generation to generation and in it you can find recorded the history of many peoples.

Originally, Inka music was composed in the Andes. Unfortunately, due to the absence of written forms, we do not have a lot of information about it. Nevertheless, thanks to archeological find we have information about instruments, such as those of ceramic.  We also have instruments that were found in ancient tombs.  Some chroniclers, such as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Guaman Poma also left us drawings and or description of musical instruments.

Inka music is one of the most well developed from the Pre-Hispanic world. The inhabitants of Inka societies had many wind and percussion musical instruments.  Among them are the quena (a flute), the tinya (a kind of snare drum), the calabacin (gourd), the pan pipe (zampoña), the wankara (a kind of drum), and the baqueta (drum sticks). These are the most representative.

The music of the Inkas relied on the pentatonic scale which was composed of five notes without intermediate ones such as do, re, fa, sol, la.  Most of the instruments were made from clay wood, leather, bones, etc.

Today, you can find many Inca musical instruments in museums, such as in the Inca Museum of Cusco where you will find quena flutes made from the bones of llamas and from condors. Thanks to the archeological finds the quena is today considered the national instrument of Peru.


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Music was carried out for religious, profane, and war purposes. During religious feasts the whole community expressed its faith by means of the jailli (also spelled haylli). It was a song form that accompanied agricultural work. It was a very rhythmic and happy style. It is said that when people gathered seeds and the harvest the Inkas sang these lovely melodies.

Other jailli songs were performed during wars and in them was invoked bravery. After their victory this form of music also sang of victories and the defeat of enemies.

Another type of music was a arawi, also called yaravi. It was loving, melodious, and was dedicated to your love by exalting her beauty or even the pains of love.

The wakaki was a happy form of music that was sung while plants matured. The wayñu, today called huayno in Peru, brought together poetry, music, and dance. This music joined the Incas with the land and the earth.

Andean music was played on special occasions such as in fiestas, ceremonies, rituals, marriages, and more. Every kind of event was special for the Inca and so involved music. There were also special songs to ask the gods for a good harvest, when a house was built, or when someone died. Music was an essential element of indigenous communities.

Music helped provide stability to the Incas. It was a connection between their past and their present. As a result, it should continue into future generations.

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