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    The Sound of Music: Traditional Colombian instruments

    Colombia is often referred to as a dozen countries in one and nowhere is that more obvious than in the diverse nature of its traditional music.

    Colombia is often referred to as a dozen countries in one and nowhere is that more obvious than in the diverse nature of its traditional music. 

     

    Its most popular folk genres weave the influences of indigenous tribes, European colonialists and West African slaves, inventing some instruments and adopting others along the way. Here we present the instruments at the heart of Colombian music: 

    1. Accordion

    No-one is too sure how the accordion arrived in Colombia in the 1800s. Legend has it a German ship was shipwrecked in the Magdalena River and the accordions rescued went on to captivate the nationEither waythe accordion is now the backbone of Colombian folk musicVallenato was born in the Caribbean coastwhere minstrels played their accordeons and sang stories from town to townAccordions also feature in cumbia music. Every year Colombia holds the world’s biggest accordion-playing contestthe Vallenato Legend Festival in Valledupar and the instrument has inspired some of the country’s biggest music starsincluding Carlos Vives, Shakira, Juanes and Fonseca. 

    Acordeón, vallenato colombiano

    Foto: W Radio

     

    2.     Guacharaca

    The guacharaca is a percussion instrumentusually made from the trunks of small palm treesIt’s essentially a tube with ridges carved into the surfacescraped with a wire forkThe Tairona indigenous peoplefrom the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on Colombia’s northern coastinvented the guacharaca to simulate the singing of the guacharaca bird and the instrument now represents the indigenous side of vallenato and cumbia, alongside European and West African influences. A guacharaca player is known as a guacharaquero. 

    Guacharaca, instrumento colombiano

    Photo: Twitter via @P_Cultural

     

    3.     Tiple

    The tiple is a small guitar (about three-quarters the size of a classical guitar) descended from guitars brought by Spanish conquerors to the New WorldThe tiple was first played by artists and people from humble backgrounds until gaining more widespread popularityThe tiple is usually played alongside a tambourine and is an essential part of Colombia’s rural heritageThe Tiple and Guabina Festival is held in Velez, Santander, every August. Guabina is a singing, dance and musical genre whichlike the tiple, is popular in regions such as Santander, Antioquia, Boyaca and Cundinamarca. 

    Tiple

    Photo: ozonojazz.com

     

    4.     Tambora

    The tamboraor bass drum, is a large drum, popular with African-Colombian communities in Colombia’s coastal regionsIt’s made from tree bark and covered with deergoat or sheepskin. Tamboras are essential in cumbia music, which can be heard across Colombia including the Barranquilla Carnival and the National Cumbia Festival in El Banco, Magdalena. The tambora, played with baquetas, a type of drumstickis also part of the Pacific coast marimba tradition where musicians chant and play at social gatheringssaint worship and wakesThese traditions are passed on orallywith older musicians guiding the younger tambora players. 

    Tambora

    Photo: CV Noticias

    5.     Gaita

    The gaitaalso known as a kuisiis an indigenous wind instrument from Colombia’s Caribbean coastIt’s thought to have been first played by the Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The gaita is made from cactus, with a feather in one end and holes for different notes. It has a male, female and short versionwith varying numbers of holes, and is used in cumbia, merengue, puya and porro music. The gaita is known as the “Colombian bagpipe” because it sounds like Spanish bagpipesIts most famous devotees are Latin Grammy winners the Gaiteros of San Jacintowho also play the drums and maracas when they perform. . 

    Gaiteros de San Jacinto Gaita

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    6.     Arpa Llanera 

    The llanos’ harp is at the heart of music from this region, the cowboy plains of eastern Colombia. Spanish conquerors brought the instrument with them when they travelled to the New World and it soon became absorbed into local culture. The llanos version has 32 or 33 strings of different lengths and is usually made from cedar, pine or another hard wood. The harp has since inspired infusions with pop and salsa music, although its popularity in the region’s traditional llanera music is evident at the annual “Golden Harp” festival, usually held in Saravena, Arauca. 

    Arpa Llanera en paisaje, instrumento musical colombiano

    Photo: Blog Música Llanera

     

    Colombia has a diverse musical culture and it’s clear that when it comes to passionate support for traditional, folk music, Colombia is the answer. If you liked this article, please feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of your social networks. 

     

    Read the following articles to learn more about Colombia’s culture:

    Colombia: Land of a thousand rhythms 

    Colombia’s most beloved sports: Tejo and Chaza

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