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

April 13, 2017

The kamacheña

The kamacheña

Part 03. Performance


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

According to the Andean traditional calendar, which lays down that each musical instrument can only be performed during a specific time of the year and for specific purposes (usually related to agriculture and other traditional practices), the kamacheña is played during the awti pacha or "dry season" (comprising from Carnival to All Saints' Day). Hence, its sound will be heard at winter festivals, e.g. during the feast of San Roque (mid-August) and, of course, All Saints celebrations (early November) and Carnival (February and March).

The music provided by male performers beating the caja and blowing the kamacheña (Andean traditional gender taboos do not allow women to play aerophones) typically accompanies the rondas or round dances. They are performed by a dozen or more male and female dancers in a circle, holding hands and turning around the flutist/percussionist (called quenero in Argentina). While dancing, female dancers may start to sing coplas (short stanzas), sometimes back and forth to each other (contrapunto). In addition, the kamacheña is used to play tonadas or puntos, short instrumental pieces that are performed out of choreographic context, sometimes imitating the melodic lines of the most popular coplas.

Related to the kamacheña ―and probably derived from it― are the flautillas chaquenses ("small flutes from Chaco") found in the hands of several peoples indigenous to the region known as southern Chaco, comprising northeastern Argentina, southern Paraguay and southeastern Bolivia. These wind instruments, made of different materials and using different techniques, are of great variety in structure, size and decoration (they are usually filled with abundance of it). In the past, these flutes used to have 3 fingering holes; today, perhaps influenced by the flutes of the neighboring Ava ("chiriguano") people, they have 6, and therefore they cannot be played with a single hand. Traditionally, they are male instruments, and are devoid of any ceremonial significance. Pérez Bugallo (1996) notes that the Eastern Qom ("toba") and the Pitlaxá ("pilagá") peoples call the flute nashiré koktá; the Western Qom people, nahaidé; the Yofwaja ("chorote") people, wosók sisé; the Nivaklé ("chulupí") people, vat' anjantché sisé; and the Wichi ("mataco") people, kanohí or, more rarely, tanowhós.

The geographic and temporal distribution of the kamacheña is limited to the specific region and period of the year described above. The instrument will neither be found in commercial recordings nor in the hands of urban musicians or ensembles; moreover, photos and videos documenting its construction and use are scarce. While available information is not abundant and there is also a seeming lack of interest in spreading it, the flute continues to sound ―like many others in South America― in those communities where the tradition is kept alive to date.



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