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All you need to know about Andean Music

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The haunting sounds of bamboo pipes have been part of the Andean landscape for over two thousand years. The deeply ingrained musical traditions of Peru and its neighbours were partly inherited from the various pre-columbian cultures including the Inca, Aymara, Moche, Chavin and Nazca. It was added to by the Spaniards and African slaves who arrived in South America about five centuries ago.

In Pre-Colombian South America, music was a sacred art, a powerful source of communication with the divine world, associated with religious or agricultural rituals and wars, usually accompanied by singing that was high-pitched and nasal.

The Incas only used the word 'taqui' to describe dance, music and singing. They did not differentiate among the three, because for them they were strictly interconnected. Their music was pentatonic, based on the combination of five notes (re, fa, sol, la, do) and melodies were of another world.

Though they had just two types of musical instrument, wind and percussion, the Inca were responsible for spreading their style of music and instruments around South America as far north as Colombia, and as far south as Chile.

When Europeans first heard this music, they were horrified, believing it to be diabolically inspired. They decided to destroy this pagan worship. Members of the clergy prohibited the playing of Andean flutes, although to facilitate the transition, music was transferred to the new Catholic rituals as well.

What saved pre-columbian music in South America from disappearing entirely were the Andes. The inaccessibility of the land meant that the music could survive untouched in remote pockets. In less remote countries, like Mexico, the conquerors were more successful in killing off the traditional music.

Having said this, Spaniards also brought their music, their language and their instruments, with their strong Moorish and Gypsy influences, to create a new and unique kind of Andean Folk music. The locals were introduced to exotic stringed instruments such as the lute, guitar, harp, violin, accordion, mandolin. They also discovered new percussion instruments such as the Cajon and Cajita and various wind instruments such as saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and tuba.

Most people today recognise the classic Andean music to the sounds of the kena (wood or bamboo flute) and siku (bamboo pipes), accompanied by a charango (10-stringed guitar made of an armadillo shell) and the bombo (large wooden drum). This is emblematic of what musicologists refer to as the 'Pan-Andean' movement.

In fact, the Pan-Andean movement dates back only to the 1960s, following the economic migration of rural indigenous people to large urban centres and subsequent mix of criollo and Andean traditions.

After the global success of Simon & Garfunkel's hit 'El Condor Pasa' in 1970, and even Abba's 1976 hit Fernando, large numbers of Andean musicians facing political and economic challenges at home, emigrated and found appreciative audiences all over the world!

Now play this video, close your eyes (or not) and see how you'll be transported to the remote Andes...

Celebrating the arrival of summer is one of the biggest annual fiestas in Spain. Hogueras de San Juan, or bonfires of Saint John, is a solstice tradition based around fire.

Legend has it that the bonfires that burn on this night can cure diseases of the skin and cleanse the body and soul. One can even change a bad year into a good one simply by jumping over the bonfire several times.

The ‘San Juanes’ blend a number of practices, rituals, and customs from pre-Christian cultures and repackage it all with a Christian flavour, in a way the Spanish do so well!

Although celebrations take place on the night of Saint John, each city has its own specific take on the event. From North to South and even on the islands, Spain celebrates this festival primarily on the beaches and coastal areas. On the night itself, wherever you are, you should find bonfires lit on the shore and people jumping back and forth over the embers to cleanse their year. If you get the chance, you should join in, it’s a very inclusive and fun event with everyone taking part.

Here are some of the best places to enjoy the Bonfires of San Juan.

Alicante, Valencia (20th to 29th June)

Some of the highlights here include a spectacular International Folklore Parade, firework displays every evening, a huge spectacle of fancy ninots (effigies), and the famous cremà (burning) which happens at midnight on 24 June following a spectacular fireworks. During the next days, a firework competition takes place on El Postiguet beach, and the historic town centre is turned into a brilliant medieval market!

A Coruña, Galicia (23rd June)

Over the course of the day, successive parades including the famed ‘giants and big-heads’ but also music bands, bagpipes and traditional dances fill the streets of A Coruña. Dinnertime is marked with the smell of sardiñadas (roasting sardines) throughout the city. As night falls, hundreds of bonfires are lit and at midnight an immense bonfire erected on the beach illuminate the city.

Tarragona, Catalonia (23rd June)

Also known as the Nit del Foc (Night of Fire) this is one of the most anticipated nights of the year in Catalonia. The main highlights include the arrival of the flame carried by runners from Catalonia’s highest peak (Canigó Mountain), then after the main bonfire is reduced to embers, the Ball de Diables enter the Casc Antic, the old city, to start their impressive midnight procession.

Tenerife, Canary Islands (23rd June)

Various concerts begin in the late afternoon around the Castillo San Felipe and Playa Jardin before a huge fireworks show with enormous flaming balls brought down from high up in the mountains. Just as in other parts of the country people make wishes for the future at the same time as they burn bad memories. Another astonishing tradition here involves local goat keepers bringing their flock of goats to the sea as dawn breaks, fulfilling the ancient tradition of purifying the animals.

Gran Canaria, Canary Islands (23rd June)

The celebration of San Juan is particularly important in Las Palmas as it falls on the same day as the anniversary of its foundation (24 June 1478), and so the festivities here are particularly spectacular with the entire city venturing down to the beaches to partake in bonfires, fireworks, open air concerts and swimming after midnight.

Ciutadella, Balearic Islands (20th to 24th June)

Ciutadella has developed its own rituals unique to Menorca, the Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella, which combines elements of the traditional fiesta with celebrations for its own patron saint, Sant Joan. Some of its unique features include the Diumenge des Be (Sunday of the Lamb), and a mad horse show where riders actually ride through the interiors of already packed houses.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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