A guided tour through the sounds of Latin American traditional music, its instruments and performers. By Edgardo Civallero

March 2, 2017

The erkencho

The erkencho

Part 03. Local variations


[Please download the set of audio tracks accompanying these posts]

There are regional variants of the erkencho. In Argentina it is used throughout Jujuy province and in the mountainous area of Salta province, both of them located in the northwestern part of the country. In the highlands of Jujuy, the instrument's bell is usually made from goat's horn (due to shortage of cattle), and in the east of the same province, of copper or brass sheet. In Salta there are erkenchos that combine metal and cow's horn and can reach considerable sizes. In some modern versions, Argentinean builders do not cut the vibrating reed from the pipe itself; instead, they make a rectangular hole, where a small sheet of x-ray film or other similar material is inserted. Incidentally, that turns the clarinet heteroglottal.

In Bolivia, where the instrument is called erke (probably the original name) or, according to some authors, huacachupa (from Quechua wakachupa, "cow's tail"), it is mostly found in the department of Tarija, in the south of the country. It has also been located in the neighboring department of Potosí, in regions such as Calcha, and between the Jalq'a people in the department of Sucre. There, it is very common to elaborate the reed by directly splitting the node at the proximal end of the pipe, and to make the bells with huge cattle horns or gourds, in both cases densely decorated.


The erkencho


It is because of the influence of the Andean indigenous societies, that this highlands' instrument is also present in the neighboring lowlands ― for example among the Mak'á people from central and boreal Chaco (Argentina and Paraguay), under the name of wakasekech. Izikowitz (1934) mentions it among the Ashlushlay (Nivaklé or Chulupí) people in the same region; according to Pérez Bugallo (1996), that people calls it taklúk, and their neighbors, the Yofwaja or Chorote people, waka kiú.

No archaeological, ethnographic or documentary evidences have been found so far to assert a South American indigenous origin for this particular instrument. According to one of the theories currently in play, it might be derived from a number of European traditional aerophones with similar features, which were quite popular on the continent, particularly in the Iberian Peninsula, e.g. the Asturian turullu or the Cantabrian berrona.



Cavour, Ernesto (1994). Instrumentos musicales de Bolivia. La Paz: E. Cavour.

Izikowitz, Karl Gustav (1934). Musical and other sound instruments of the South American Indians. A comparative ethnographical study. Gotemburgo: S.R. Publishers.

Pérez Bugallo, Rubén (1996). Catálogo ilustrado de instrumentos musicales argentinos. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Sol [Biblioteca de Cultura Popular : 19].

Szarán, Luis (1997). Diccionario de la música en el Paraguay. [Online].



Martínez, Rosalía (1992). Bolivie: Musiques calendaires des vallées centrales. [CD]. París: CNRS/Musée de l'Homme.

Parejo, Rafael (s.f.). Argentina: Tritonic musics of the North-West / Argentine: Musiques tritoniques du Nord-ouest. [CD]. UNESCO / International Music Council.

Valladares, Leda (s.f.). Documental folklórico, vol. I. Quebrada de Humahuaca. Serie Mapa Musical de la Argentina. [CD]. Disc Jockey SCA.



Player of erke and caja, Bolivia [link].

Chango Tejerina playing coplas with erkencho, Argentina [link].

Erke and caja played during the Carnival in Tarija, Bolivia [link].

Erke and caja played during the Carnival in Tarija, Bolivia [link].

Mariana Carrizo (Argentina) in the Argentinean folk music festival of Cosquín, 2014 [link].


About this article

Text: Edgardo Civallero.

Image: Detail of two pajuelas of Argentinean erkenchos | Argentinean erkencho and caja [E. Civallero].

This is the third and last part of the digital book The erkencho, by Edgardo Civallero, which may be read online on Issuu and freely downloaded here.