It's an instrument that brings to mind the soaring condor and mountainous Andes – a haunting, beautiful sound emanating from this simple, traditional wooden flute. There are several flutes beginning with the letter q – the qarish from central Asia, or the qsiba, a small reed flute from Morocco – but the quena is this week’s focus, not the cliche of panpipes, but the lone sound of this cane or wood instrument, played primarily by musicians from the Andean region.
Essentially a tube with six finger holes and one thumb hole, half-closed at the bottom and played between the chin and lower lip, its sound is darker and more more textured than the western flute, due to its smaller length-to-bore ratio. The quena is usually made to sound in a scale of G major, whereas the slightly bigger quenacho (or kenachio) is in D major. In Peru some models are white and made from bone - notably and appropriately enough, from the leg of a condor.
Yet playing it is not as easy as it looks:
Notable players of the traditional Andean genre include Argentina's Facio Santillan, who also became a big star in the 1970s in France, West Germany and Sweden:
And here's that traditional polka dance tune, Pájaro Campana, played by Illapu, the Chilean folk and Andean musical ensemble that was formed in 1971 in Antofagasta:
Not all players are from the Andean region. Here's Russia's Vladimir Khrobystov, who later in this track also demonstrates the traditional sound of two quenas playing in tandem:
For a fuller spectrum of the quena culture, there's Los Koyas - a traditional group representing 12 Latin American countries, from the southern tip of the Andes to Cuba.
Of course the instrument also features in plenty of pop and rock to gain an 'authentic sound’ (not always successfully) such as on Argentina's rock band, Los Enanitos Verdesi (Little Green Men)'s song Lamento Boliviano (Bolivian lament).
There are other quena players and pieces out there, but do any more come to mind? Feel free to share other examples in songs or instrumentals, on albums, or other contexts in comments below. You can also get in touch the contact page, and also visit us on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. and Song Bar Instagram. Please subscribe, follow and share.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...