Customs

Music Springs from Cuzco’s Charangos

Charango

Cuzco is a city of music and performers. Throughout it one finds music stores and schools where they teach people to play many instruments such as the guitar, the charango and others. The guitar may be more commonly played but the charango, a native instrument, is especially popular.

One particular street, Bella Vista, in the Santiago district, is known as “The Street of Musical Instruments.” There you can find numerous stores that sell instruments such as charangos, quenas (native flutes), and bombos (indigenous drums), among others.  Many of them are made fright there in the stores from the prized naranjillo wood (zanthoxylum naranjillo).

When I asked a salesman about the charangos I found out this musical instrument was born in the South American altiplano, high plateau which includes parts of Cuzco and Puno’s regions as well as western Bolivia, for example Potosí, Oruro and La Paz.

He said that the tuning of the charango is similar in both Bolivia and Peru and, as a result, we think that both descend from the baroque Spanish guitar, only the charango is much smaller than a guitar.

Charango in San Blas Artisanal Fair
Charangos in San Blas Artisanal Fair

The charango has five sets of paired strings, even though there are variations. Some have more and some fewer strings. But they are almost always five sets, the vendor told me.

One does not have to go to concert halls to hear Cuzco’s musicians perform. Every day around the city of Cuzco we see people playing a variety of instruments, such as charango, didgeridoo, guitars, etc. In the most traveled streets, such as Marques of the Sun Avenue, sit musicians performing for the passing public.

The buses that help the people of Cuzco get from one place to another in our city fill with music and joy when musicians, magicians, comedians, and others climb aboard. People who suffer various ills also get on board to narrate their travails and beg people to buy pencils, chocolates, or candies from them.

Children from School Garden Dancing with Charangos
Children from Kindergarden Dancing with Charangos

On the route that traverses the Avenue of Culture I got on a bus from the Pegasus line. On that “micro” as we call it I met a fifteen year old young man when he got on the bus and presented himself to everyone. His name was Adolfo

He began his show by getting all the passengers, the driver, and the driver’s assistant to laugh heartily from his jokes. We thought he was a comedian. The he stopped for a minute and told us he was an artist but had few opportunities to perform on stage.  Because he was so young the producers did not take him seriously.

Then, with a contagious smile, dedicating his performance to everyone, pulled out his charango and entertained us with covers of a couple of songs from the Grupo Nectar, which was a cumbia, and from Chinito del Ande, a huayno.

Charango Decorated with an Image of a Man
Charango Decorated with an Image of a Man

 

As I heard him play his charango and sing I was fascinated with how well he controlled his voice while keeping a solid rhythm going in his charango, and how much feeling he put in his performance. He finished with his characteristic smile thanking everyone for having listened to him.

He said “I am going to pass by all of your seats in case anyone would like to support art”. Happy and thankful for his concert on wheels they gave him voluntary tips.

When the bus stopped, wrapped in good music, I got off to continue with my obligations, happy to live in a city filled with musicians.

Musicians Playing Charango, Guitar, and Quena
Musicians Playing Charango, Guitar, and Quena

 

 

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