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

March 16, 2017

The kamacheña

The kamacheña

Part 01. Introduction


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

The kamacheña (also spelled camacheña) is a somehow mysterious Andean musical instrument. At the root of this veil of secrecy might be its reduced geographical distribution, compared to other popular wind instruments of the Andes. Or perhaps it is due to its use being limited to traditional contexts, its poorly known repertoire, or its difficult playing technique.

It is a vertical flute made from a segment of giant reed (Arundo donax) or any other similar Bambusaceae, about 30-35 cm long. At the distal end the tube is closed by the natural node of the cane, while at the proximal end the node is removed and a mouthpiece is cut with a knife. This mouthpiece consists of a semicircular shaped notch flanked by two "wings" carefully carved from the wall of the cane, which gives the instrument its unique identity. The musician has to introduce both of them into his mouth, and direct a concentrated stream of air against the sharp edge of the beveled notch. The sound produced can be modulated by the three or four fingering holes the kamacheña has on its front side.

Such a limited number of holes make it possible to play the flute with one hand (usually the left one), while the other to beats a small double-headed drum (named caja) with a drumstick. It is not unreasonable to suppose that by providing the kamacheña with its curious "side flaps" their creators would have meant to permit its manipulation with a single hand. In general, wind instruments played in a pipe-and-tabor fashion in Latin America are duct flutes ― e.g. Ecuadorian pingullos, Peruvian roncadoras and Bolivian waka-pinkillos, to mention just a couple of the Andean ones. Their mouthpieces allow the performer to hold the proximal end with the lips in order to maintain, to some extent, the stability of the instrument. Anyway, at least one quena (Andean typical notched flute, without "lateral wings") has been documented to be also played with one hand in Cajamarca (Peru) (Instituto Nacional de Cultura, 1978).



Cavour Aramayo, Ernesto (1994). Instrumentos musicales de Bolivia. La Paz. CIMA.

Goyena, Héctor Luis (1997). La música tradicional criolla del Departamento de Tarija (Bolivia). Música e investigación, 1 (1), pp. 59-98.

Instituto Nacional de Cultura (1978). Mapa de los instrumentos musicales de uso popular en el Perú: clasificación y ubicación geográfica. Lima: Oficina de Música y Danza.

Pérez Bugallo, Rubén (1996). Catálogo ilustrado de instrumentos musicales argentinos. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Sol.

Vega, Carlos (1946). Los instrumentos musicales aborígenes y criollos de la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Ed. Centurión.


About this article

Text: Edgardo Civallero.

Image: Argentinean kamacheña and caja [E. Civallero].

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