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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

A Charangero

As we write this, we’re listening to the discordant harmony of sounds descending from the heart of the Pariamanu Amazon. The calls of unseen birds and unrecognizable insects fill the air and echo reminders of the past two months filled with the language that is music.

About 7 weeks ago we became students of the charango, a 10-stringed instrument tuned in pairs aptly described by Lonely Planet as an Andean-Ukulele. Our maestro, Marco, started us off with a repertoire of traditional Bolivian melodies like Dos Palomitas and Noches de Sucre. We quickly melded our own music culture with that of the charango and created our own rendition of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon.

Our road to becoming charangeros has been highlighted by many beautiful memories of spontaneous jam sessions. We were walking the streets of La Jastambo when an amiable elderly fellow returning from his farm motioned to us and made air strumming motions. We reasoned he wanted us to start playing our charangos, so we proceeded to play a quick four chord progression. At this point, the man started to dance a typical Bolivian two-step, adding some flair with the help of his pick-axe. After a few minutes he stopped, and we exchanged some warm buenas tardes’ and went on our ways.

Henry’s house was a frequently visited space for music and musicians throughout our homestay. His brother, Hector, was a multi-talented musician who played the guitar and accordion among other things, and the head of two bands, one Bolivian contemporary and one Mariachi. When we dropped by the house, somehow always seemed to end up happily playing and improvising some mash-up of songs, from Train’s Hey Soul Sister to Hector’s Escuelita (his school song), occasionally donning Mariachi sombreros.

We shared a more comical experience on our 45 minute micro (public bus) ride into Sucre. Clearly, it was the perfect time to practice for our concert the following day. We started to play and slowly all the passengers got off the bus, and then when it was just us, the bus driver raised the music volume until we stopped playing. Not all of our musical endeavors have been appreciated…

The last two months have been filled with similar musical adventures: overnight bus concerts, afternoon siesta freestyle accompanied by Lucy’s singing, and mid-trek walking tunes (with the help of our guide and Nico’s quenas, an Andean woodwind instrument).

Our abundance of musical experiences have shown us what it means to be a charangero: a musician who spreads feelings and emotions through sound, and who speaks the language of music, a language understood around the world. From our performances in church band to our Despedida farewell, our relationship with the people and places we’ve visited have been deepened and strengthened by the music we’ve shared.

Photo Credits: Henry and Luca