Andean music is lively! The sound of musicians playing panpipes almost immediately evokes foot-tapping, clapping, and dancing. Band members move and sway with every note.
The national instrument of Ecuador is a panpipe called the rondador. The panpipe pictured is a siku, which is a modern version of the ancient instrument. The oldest panpipes date back to around 4200 BCE. Illustrations of panpipes in Inca or Aztec pottery and carvings date back to about 100-600 CE. In his well-known historical work, Comentarios Reales de los Incas (1609), the writer Garcilasco de la Vega (1539-1616) observed that panpipe music “represents passions of love and its pleasures, its pain, and the favor or coldness of the beloved.”
A siku is made from two rows of hollow cane pipes, with one row stacked on top of the other. The upper row of pipes is called ira (male) and the lower row arka (female). The pipes are held together with a long strip of rattan, which is covered by a strip of colorful fabric. Musical notes are labeled on one side of the panpipe for musicians to read.
Musicians use the different pipes to create changes in the panpipe’s sound. To play the siku, musicians move the bamboo ends horizontally across their lips as they blow into the pipes. They alternate between the two rows with every note to move up or down the musical scale. Musicians can also change notes by moving their tongue inside their mouth.
Before I left Ecuador, I simply had to buy a panpipe--not to learn how to play it, but to remind myself how uplifted I felt whenever I heard someone playing the siku. Moreover, the panpipe helps me remember that the best times I had with my Ecuadorian friends and family were accompanied by the sound of this music playing.
To sample the wonderful sound of Andean music featuring a siku, watch this brief video from Quito.