“The Charango” comes from the kichwa word of “chaj-wacu” which means happiness and allegre in Latin or “Charangere” in Spanish meaning “bullangero” for rowdy.
It is believed to be a post-Colombian instrument which came about as a result of the Spanish invasion of the Andes. It is not clear from which Spanish stringed instrument the Charango is a direct descendant. It may have evolved from the mandolin or the lute. It is a versatile instrument that can be played solo or in duet with one or more guitars; can take centre stage or be played in accompaniment with flutes, pan pipes, drums and many other instruments. In the past Charango’s were made out of Armadillo shell called “Quiriquinchu”; which are now prohibited.
Traditionally the charango was played by the rural peasants (campesinos), the Inca, Aymara and Mestizo people who inhabit the Andean regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and North Western Argentina and Northern Chile. The Inca have a saying “the charango is to scream like a cat” this is a metaphor and a reference to the sound of metal strings of the charango being played.
The South American influx of migration of rural indigenous people to the urban centres in search of work can be traced back to the late 1950’s & 60’s. The mixture of the European and Indigenous people began what is referred to as the “criollo” culture; the mestizo, or mixed race culture. Musically no instrument better illustrates this than the charango. The instrument influenced by the Spanish lute was copied by the indigenous population, which introduced a new and unique addition to Andean folk music. The Charango along with the pan flutes is representative of what musicologists refer to as the “Pan-Andean” movement.
Its popularity today spans all cultures and classes and is played by farm workers, concert players, artisans, businessmen, the young, the old and men and women alike. When the strings are picked the charango portrays a harp like quality and when strummed its colourful lively energy comes into its own. The charango’s rhythmic capability gives the instrument its own unique sound.
This small stringed instrument has achieved almost mythical status making the charango a true icon of South American music and is also extremely popular across the rest of the world. The charango plays a huge role in the events and everyday lives of millions of people, taking centre stage at festivals, celebrations, weddings, funerals, religious events and common family occasions.
The new wave of Andean music is a vehicle to understanding the history of a continent, its people, and their struggle to maintain a connection to the past and establish a true, independent identity.
A master Charango player Marcos Arcentales teaches hand-makes and sells this unique instrument. Interested in finding out more about purchasing or learning to play the Charango please enter your email and information in the form on the right.
For more information on how to play the Charango download Charango Instructions