MarKamusic Instruments


MarKamusic's musicians are called upon to play over forty familiar and exotic instruments to create the unique musical textures, tonalities and colors of the many lands and cultures in the South American continent. These instruments are the product of native aboriginal musical craft traditions, which have evolved over millennia, as well as from African, European, and North American sources, which fused with the indigenous instruments to create hybrid versions of the above.  Some of the less familiar instruments that you may see and hear over a MarKamusic performance can be classified in three main groups:

a.Wind instruments, b. percussion instruments and c.string instruments.



  • Quena [Kéh-nah]:

A foot-long bamboo flute with a simple notched mouthpiece and seven holes, six on top and one under which produces a hunting, sweet and melancholic sound.  The oldest quenas found in Peru predate the Inca times as much as 3500 hundred years. Originally this instrument was made out of the leg bones of flamingos, human femurs and bamboo. Today is mostly built out of bamboo or wood and there are variations made out of wood, PVC pipe and copper pipe.  During the times of the Spanish colony, the Spanish prohibited the Indians from playing it because they thought the Indians became estranged by its sound as well as provoking rebellious feelings among them. Its beautiful and distinctive tone can be heard today throughout the Andean regions of South America and it is probably the wind instrument of choice among the indigenous people, especially herders and peasants.  A longer, deeper toned variant is called the Quenacho, and another variant with an extended mouthpiece is called the Pinkuyo.

  • Zampoña [Sahm-póhn-yah]

A generic term for a family of wind instruments each consisting of a collection of thin bamboo tubes strapped together in a form similar to East-European Pan-pipes.  The Zampoña family ranges in sizes from the tiny Chuli to the six-foot long Toyos. The Zampoña is the oldest of the South American indigenous flutes. It is believed that as early as 5000 years ago this instrument was used in its pentatonic version. It was not until the arrival of the Europeans that the Zampoñas acquired their tuning in G.  Some ethnomusicologists believe that the name of this family of instruments stem from a mispronunciation by the Indians of the word symphony (sinfonía in Spanish).   Other members of the family, of different sizes and tuning arrangements are called Maltas, Bastos, Semitoyos, Sikus, Antaras, Rondadores (from Ecuador), and Payas. The names always varying according to their regions of provenance.  In the Andean mountains you can often see pairs of Zampoñeros playing alternate notes in rapid succession resulting in a kind of "stereo" effect.  Traditionally,  two individuals divide the Zampoñas into two separate rows of pipes so that while one of the players is “breathing” the other player is playing and vice versa.  A great degree of synchronization is require of the players to successfully accomplish this activity..  

The Indians probably devised the instrument this way because since they live in the high plateaus of the Andes well over 12,000 feet of altitude and the air is so thin there, they could rapidly hyperventilate by playing the instrument, and also because every aspect of their existence is marked by a communal attitude towards life.


  • RONDADOR:                                

The Rondador is a panpipe native to Ecuador and therefore it is the most distinctive of the Andean peoples of this region and northern Peru.  The musical form most often connected to the Rondador is the Ecuadorian San Juanito.  During the Inca times, often feathers from the condor or other birds were used to adorn the instruments while creating their mystical spirit.Its construction resembles closely the Peruvian Antara and the Andean siku. To make a Rondador very thin walled bamboo canes are chosen to facilitate  resonantly smooth pipes. The instrument has all the tubes arranged in a single row and it is played by blowing simultaneously in two contiguous tubes at once (none like other Andean panpipes in which only one pipe is blown at a time).  The pipes are tuned in a pentatonic way interlaced from major to minor:  The essential characteristic that sets the Rondador apart from other panpipes is that each pipe is laid down followed by a pipe tuned on its lower third, thus allowing to produce a melody with a harmony in parallel thirds. Nowadays Rondadores exist in an assortment of tunings.



A ceramic flute which appears in many fanciful shapes, from that of birds, fish, and turtles to unrecognizable lumpy shapes.  Other varieties of this instruments have recently been fabricated out of wood and even plastic.  It is played all over North Central and South America.  It usually has from four to six holes and is played by covering the holes with the fingers of both hands alternatively. Is used primarily to recreate hunting melodies as well as bird and insect sounds of various pitches.


  • PUTUTO:                                               

Known as the Pututo among the Indians of the highlands in South America, are the familiar bull horn and Conch shell.  The Instrument is used to this day in South and Central America to produce loud trumpeting sounds, often to announce the commencement of communal gatherings, religious events, fairs, festivals and processions.   When made out of a conch shell the Indians use a 50 to 70 year old conch to which they cut the top head or axel, leaving an opening at the top of the conch through which they will blow, very much like a regular trumpet.  The pitch of the conch is changed by introducing and alternating the depth of the hand in the sound hole (or opening of the conch).  There are many variations of the Pututo, but the most common one is the one made of the horn of an animal. Bull horns, in this case, are the most used material.

                                                       PUTUTO BULLHORN                                                            CONCH PUTUTO


  • TARKA:

Is an ancient Andean wind instrument made out of wood, which has a rectangular shape if looked transversally. Its length varies between 14’’ and 20’’ and its diameter between 2’’ and 3’’.  It has a mouthpiece and six holes on the top.  The Tarka can produce a full octave and a have which allows it to create rich and complex melodies.  In the folklore of the Andean regions this is not very common and is rather used for simple and repetitive melodies.  The provenance and age of the instrument are undetermined, though it provably had European influence it is definitely pre-Hispanic.  This instrument produces a hunting sound and it was mostly used for religious ceremonies and dances.


  • Charango [Chah-rahn-goh]:

Diminutive high-pitched ten-string instrument played throughout the Andean region, the product of indigenous craftsmen inspired by the Spanish Guitar and Vihuela.  The face and neck look like a miniature toy guitar, and the soundbox consists of carved wooden shell or the dried skin of lizards or armadillos.  It is most often played by rapidly fanning or plucking the strings. A larger variant is called the Ronroco.

  • Tiple [Teeh-pleh]:

A small, guitar-like string instrument, most often seen in Colombia.  It is strung with four sets, or courses of three strings each, and has a distinctive nasal, high-pitched sizzling sound, much like a twelve steel string guitar.  In later years the tiple has gained recognition primarily by experimental musicians (Sting) and Jazz players (such as Pat Matheny) who use it to add its distinctive foreign sound to their ever-changing hungry for exotic sounds music genre.


  • Venezuelan Cuatro [Kuah-troh]:

A tiny Venezuelan/ Colombian string instrument played by the people of the plains shared by the two countries. In recent years it has spread over much of South America. Similar to the Hawaiian ukulele, the cuatro has four strings and is strummed rapidly to produce a lively, percussive, bouncy sounds.




  • Cajón Peruano [Kah-hón- Peh-ru-ah-noh or peruvian Cajón]:

A percussion instrument originating from the black folkloric tradition of Peru, it consists of a wooden box played by rhythmically slapping its thin front surface at various angles and heights while the player sits on its top. The front face is only partially fixed to the body of the box, giving a distinctive rattling sound when played.  Often, loose piano strings or broken reeds are attached to the rear surface of the front face, which vibrates against them producing a sound very similar to a snare drum.  The back face of the Cajón is a fixed plate of wood with a circular sound hole right in the middle.  The Peruvian Cajón can produce a great variety of sounds and timbres in very many different pitches which makes it rival a whole drum kit. It makes sense that an instrument like this one  would develop among the African slaves in coastal Peru.  The dispossessed slaves would also use their cajones as a chair, as a table and as a box where they could transport and keep their few belongings.  In recent years the  Peruvian Cajón has become quite popular among world beat andJazz musicians, who use it for its easy of handle and transportation while going to rehearsals. Its small size makes it ideal instead of a whole drum kit.

  • Caña de Agua [Kán-ya deh áh-guah]:

Known as the Rain Stick, it mimics the sound of rushing water or drizzling rain depending on how you handle it.  It originated in the Pacific coast of South America, specifically in the northern desertic coasts of chile, where it is still made from a length of sun-dried cactus-branch. The thorns are pulled out while and then reinserted point in while the cactus branch is still green. After the cactus has dried out one end is sealed and the branch is filled with seashell fragments, small pebbles or hard seeds.  Later the open end is also sealed.  It spread as far as Mexico, where is made from lengths of bamboo.  In the desertic regions of its provenance it was originally used in religious ceremonies destined to end the drought and call in the rains.


  • Güiro [Gwee-roh]:

A bottle-gourd instrument of African origin made from a long, hollow gourd.  On its surface it has indentations that are stroked by a flexible wooden stick or fork-like scraper to make a rhythmic, scratching noise.  The Güiro is played all over Latin America, but it is used mostly in Afro-Caribbean music

  • Chajchas [Chah-chahs]:

A uniquely Andean percussion instrument known also as Chullus, it consists of a woven ribbon with numerous dried goat-hooves tied onto it.  When it is shaken it suggests the sound of wind and falling rain.  Chajchas can also be found made with seashells, stones, beads, seeds or scraps of hardwood.

  • Ganza:

In its most rudimentary form, this Brazilian noisemaker consists of a tin can partially filled with sand or very fine pebbles, which is shaken rhythmically to produce a variety of percussive patterns. 


Originating in Bolivia and Argentina this large two-headed slack bass drum consists of a hollow tree trunk with cowhide on both ends.  A common arrangement is to have one head made from cowhide and the opposite head made from sheepskin with the wool intact. It is played with either sticks or a muffled beater. Bombos change name and size and vary in appearance from country to country. In Peru is also known as Wancara.  Later versions of these instruments are made out of a thin sheet of steam-bent/curved plywood yet others are made out of wood cut into a cylindrical shell. It takes its name from the distinctively deep, muffled sound that it produces and from the onomatopoeia of its sound (bom-bom-bom = bombo).  This instrument derives of West African influence since there were no drums with hides tied on top until after the forced arrival of the African slaves to South America.



Better known as Quijada or Donkey Jaw, it literally originated from a lower donkey Jaw which teeth have remained attached after it dried out and voided of all flesh, by gluing and securing the first molar, which does not permit the other teeth to fall out, it rattles when hit rhythmically creating a very distinctive percussive sound.  Is widely used in the Afro-Peruvian musical traditions and also in Brazilian Music.




It name literally means turtle. It is a hollow and dried turtle shell turned upside down and then hit with a mallet on both open ends to produce a percussion sound very similar to the modern wood blocks. In fact this instrument is the predecessor of the wooden blocks.  The Tortuga is a Mayan instrument native to Guatemala but can be heard in southern Mexico, Central America and as far South as the Amazon Jungle.

Guatemalan Tortuga


Freddy Chapelliquen - Markamusic - 12 Charles Lane, Amherst, MA 01002-3801 - USA - Ph:   413-549-9155

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