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Saturday, July 2, 2011

El Charango -- Andean Musical Magic!

Say "hola" to Senor Charango everyone.

This 26-inch long member of La Famila Lute hails from Peru & Bolivia.  This traditional model, made from an armadillo shell, was invented in the early 18th century, though many of the contemporary ones are made from cedar or spruce wood.

It's said that when the conquistadores arrived in South America, they brought along the vihuela, the ancestor of Spain's classical guitar.  Whether or not the charango is a direct descendant is unclear but there's many stories about how the traditional charango was constructed from the soundbox of armadillo.
One account has it that native musicians enjoyed the rhythm of the vihuela made but were unable to shape the wood to reproduce the sound.  So they grabbed the next best thing, a nearby armadillo.  Another story is that the Spaniards refused to allow the natives to practice their ancestral music and the charango was designed as a lute that could be concealed under a poncho.

To hear this typically 10-stringed instrument is an ethereal wonder.  Yesterday I had my first encounter with the Charango, played by an expert Bolivian in the heart of downtown D.C.  What a gorgeous sound experience it was.

There's even a short film, "El Charango," which expands on the history of this wondrous little guitarra.

Andean music--takes me airborne!