Bolivian music styles, like Bolivian clothing, vary greatly from one region to another and are invariably connected to typical Bolivian dances. In Bolivia music is usually not created just for playing, and almost all traditional Bolivian music can be danced to. The following are examples of some of the most popular music of Bolivia, most of which can be seen during Carnaval or traditional Bolivian festivals.
There are so many different Bolivian dances, we’ve divided this into 4 pages. When you finish reading this page on Andean music from Western Bolivia, proceed to page 2 to hear the music of the Central and Southern Bolivian valleys, continue to page 3 with the lively and music of the Eastern Bolivian tropics and plains, and finish on page 4 with the most surprising of all, the centuries-old tradition of baroque music of Bolivia's Jesuit Missions, an ancient European Renaissance music style taught to the indigenous peoples in Bolivia's Chiquitania region and passed down from generation to generation for over 500 years.
This music is from the Altiplano too and is played with various wind instruments (somewhat similar to flutes) that are typically Andean such as the “pututu”, “wankara”, “sicus”, and others. This music is only played during the ceremonial dances of some of the ethnic groups from the area of Oruro, but a version of it, with a modified choreography, is played at many Bolivian festivals.
Also from the Bolivian Andes, it originates with the merger of a dance about the ostrich (called the “suri” in Aymara – thus the enormous feathered headdresses used by Bolivian dancers), and another type of music from Bolivia known as the “huayño”, which is played with a type of pan flute called the “sicuri”.
Also from La Paz, it is more a dance than a rhythm and is inspired by the Aymara medicine men (the “kallawayas”). It also uses the typical wind instruments, although they are often replaced by band instruments when large Bolivian musical groups play them during festivities.
This is more of a theater-dance type of music, and not exactly a musical style. It originates in La Paz and is based on parodies with dances and masquerades accompanied by Andean flutes (quenas, zampoñas and pinquillos). It tells the story of Spanish conquistadors from the Renaissance period (when they recovered their territories from the Moors) to the Colonial Era.
This Bolivian music type involves a lot of athletic jumps executed by Eastern Bolivian warrior dancers who were deported by the Incas from the lowlands to the highlands as war trophies or slave labor. They never forgot their origins and represented their tropical customs and ceremonies through this dance to the rhythm of flutes, chants and drums.
Kullawada o Cullaguada:
This is the tune of the Andean thread spinners and originates from the religious ceremonies they held to thank their deities when their herds produced an abundant amount of wool. As so many other Bolivian music types, it is played with the aforementioned wind instruments but, also like so many other types of music in Bolivia it has also been modernized and is played by large bands.
This is one of the traditional Carnaval rhythms, a fusion between the music of the “carnestolendas” (3 days of Carnaval before Ash Wednesday) of the Spaniards and of the indigenous peoples. It originates with the indigenous carnivals which were celebrated separately from the Spanish carnaval. The music and dance are both monotone, but not monotonous, as they are happy and colorful and nearly always accompanied by drums, cymbals and trumpets.
Waca-Waca o Waca Tokoris:
This is another example of the humoristic fusion between Spanish and native Bolivian music. It began as a theatrical parody of yet another custom brought over by the Spanish, bullfighting. At the theater one Bolivian dancer would dress up as a bull and pretend to attack another, who played the “torero” (bullfighter), while women danced around them. The music is produced with wind instruments, the “charango” (a tiny 10-stringed guitar) and bass drums. Now it is often played with modern instruments.
Originally from Northern Potosí, this music is also played with the charango (which in Bolivia is usually made from an armadillo shell), accompanied by chanting, which is almost always done by the women of the group. It is a ceremonial war rhythm played at times when disagreements between ethnic groups are resolved with fist fights. This is one of the most recognized Bolivian music types around the world.
This is a pentatonic (5-toned) rhythm played with only one instrument, the “tarq’a”, a wind instrument that looks like a large, thick bamboo flute.