June 2012

The “quena”
into the urban atmosphere

If musical instruments could speak, what would they tell us about history? Every melodious object has a story behind it waiting to be discovered. Due to successful quena performances in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1966, this musical instrument grew popular among many folkloric groups.

By: Walter Sánchez
Instituto Investigaciones Antropológicas


Photo: Walter Sánchez

The popularization of the “quena” into the urban atmosphere, along with the new ways to play this native instrument are due to a French musician: Gilbert (“El Gringo”) Favré. Born in Switzerland (19.XI.1936-12. XII.1998†), he first arrived in Chile and fell in love with Violeta Parra. After a torrid romance, he left for Bolivia (1965) where he soon became a member of the “Los Jairas y el Trio” group, also formed by Alfred Dominguez and Ernesto Cavour.

Gilbert Favré is important to take note of because he came not only from a country where the “Indian Flute” and the “Music from Andes” had been promoted since the late 1950’s, but also because he learned to play “quena” in Europe. In effect, in those years Europe had begun to receive hundreds of intellectual immigrants, musicians, men of letters and poets, most of them exiled from their countries for political reasons. Thanks to that, the continent was promoted with the incorporation of new esthetic literature, musics, sounds and new native musical instruments from the Andes (charangos, flautas de pan/ siku) among which the “quena” stands out. It is in this context that Favré was exposed to native music, along with the influence of Violeta Parra whom he met in France. He was an interpreter of European wind instruments and Favré almost naturally introduced his techniques for playing the “quena”. An esthetic resource, the vibrato was already used by other musicians in Europe. If we follow what the ethno-musician Gerald Borras points out, in some French groups “we can hear an anemic flute blowing, the inevitable vibratos that supposedly have to underline the lyricism of the piece”. It is this effect of drama that Favré introduced to his performances in Bolivia. With this he caused a big sensation in the Song Lauro’s Festival, at the time playing the yaraví “El llanto the mi madre” (See: “Los Jairas”. Lauro LPLR-1049), and after this with another yaraví of the Peruvian Alomías Robles: “El Condor pasa”.

Although the use of the “quena” in urban music already existed before the presence of Favré, its adoption by folkloric groups was produced after the success obtained by “Los Jairas” in the National Lauro Festival (Cochabamba, 1966). Laureano Rojas, owner of the record company “Lauro&Co.” and organizer of that event, was a witness of this impact.

“Particularly, I am sure that the evolution of wind instruments was done by a foreigner called Favré who before three years ago participated in the Bolivian Song Festival and became a member of “LOS JAIRAS” group and they were the winners. It was since that time that… all groups carried their “quenas” (free media, 19-IX-1968).

Estudiantina Municipal from Cochabamba
Photo: Walter Sánchez

This combination between festivals, the concurrence of new artists and cultural industry, generated a new dynamic to Bolivian music that went together with the increasing discographic consumerism and the eagerness of the Bolivian public to listen new sonorities, rhythms, sound of voices, as well as dances and songs. It was part of the project of the musical nationalism acoustically associated with the development of the folklore.

With this imagination, contestant delegations arrived each year to the Festival bringing new rhythms, musical instruments, dances, songs, and showing the most important characteristics of their cultures. The nationalist esthetics supported, however, the sound of the “quena”, an acoustic symbol of folkloric nation. It went together with the sounds of the siku (zampoña), another native wind instrument from Andes.

“As you may remember, three years ago, in folkloric groups, we didn´t know about “quena”. And now, you may note, all folkloric groups play all kinds of instruments. Furthermore, in this last Festival (1968) we had the opportunity to listen to 10 students as players of “zampoña” (Las Kory Majtas) with that genuine taste of Bolivia” -Laureano Rojas (Free media, 19-IX-1968).

This new sonorous invention was motivated also by the musical industry and promoted by the emergence of new urban groups who played native instruments with native rhythms, self-identified as “autochthonous”. Thus by 1969, the autochthonous group, “Los Hijos del altiplano”, had made a big impression in Lauro´s Festival. They also did in the principal folkloric parties of the city, playing musical instruments (siku and quenas) of Andean communities.

Quenas and Zampoñas in la Cancha
Photo: Walter Sánchez

In 1970, the folkloric group “Los pastores” incorporated the “zampoña” with its instruments. It was just one of the first signs of the presence of peasant and native musical instruments that already, however, had first been incorporated with the influence of the Argentina folkloric group, along with the use of guitar and “bomboyegüero”. With the consolidation of neo-folk, in the second half of 1970´s, whose structure is extended to the quintet or sextet, the “quena” will take its central place into the folkloric popular Bolivian music.

Los Kjarkas 3   1       4
Los Trovadores
1   1     1 3
Los Criollos
2         1 3
3 2 1       6
Intiwara 1   1     2 4
Ecos del Sur 1 2 2       5
Los Sin Nombre 3         1 4
Los Chaskas 1 1 1 1   1 4
Los Primos       1   1 2
Las Kusi Songos   1     4   5
Los Sajras 2 1       1 4



Arce Ameller
Cruz Jacinto Elva
Leiza Pacci Lineth

Calendario JUNIO 2012

> Exposición de pintura y dibujo
“El hermetis mo del garabato ”
Artista Diego García
11 de junio – 19:00
Lunes 11 – sábado 16 / Hrs: 9:00 - 12:00 / 15:00 -19:00

> Exposición de ilustraciones
digitales “XPO POP ART 2”
Artista Cachy Nogales
25 de junio – 19:00
Lunes 25 de junio – miércoles 4 de julio
Horarios: 9:00 - 12:00 / 15:00 -19:00

> XV Fiesta de la Música
Ponencia: “Medellín transformada y su impacto desde
cultura como participación popular” (disertante Mgr.
Mario Alonso Román Narváez)
Martes 26 De Junio - Hrs. 19:00

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