An Old Instrument New To Me: The Zampoña

A zampoña
A zampoña

The Zampoña – I had never even heard of the instrument before Peru, so if you are like I was and hadn’t heard the beautiful sound of a zampoña before, you are in for a treat.  In addition to the guitar and charango (a guitar-like instrument), the zampoña is a marked instrument of Peru and the Andes region.  It dates back to at least the Incas and possibly even further.  The only examples I can think of that anyone might know is that reoccurring flute-like melody in the beginning of the Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” or in the interlude of “The Circle of Life”.  Yeah, that’s right – I listen to the Lion King soundtrack.  Actually, it was mostly arranged by Elton John and musically it is quite amazing.  I’m not entirely sure what instrument was used for those, but that is as close as it comes to the sound of the zampoña out of any popular examples that I can think of.

Check out this YouTube link as an example of a guy playing the charango and the zampoña at the same time.  You can get a taste of what both instruments sound like:

It is also known as a type of panpipe or panflute, but there are other local wind instruments that fall into that same category which are pretty much just variations of the basic structure.  They are constructed with one or two rows of small bamboo pipes held together by wood and thin string of some kind which in its history I have heard to be llama wool, but I’m not entirely certain.  Each pipe is about ¾ inch in diameter, each with different lengths depending on the pitch you are going for; and the deeper the tube the deeper the sound.  The pipes are all lined up next to each other, usually in two rows, so you just blow from tube to tube in a flute-like manner to create a wonderful and unique wind-instrument sound.  They are usually tuned to the key of G Major and the scale is divided between the two rows of pipes.  They are typically played in at least pairs so the melody can continue during breaths, and also to be able to make harmonies.

The sound and the instrument both seem so pure, unique, and genuine, which cannot be matched by any other flute that I have heard up to this point.  I picked up two types of Zampoñas the other day in a strip of music stores in downtown Lima for a total of 25 soles between the two (a little under $10 USD).  Talk about a steal.  The instrument is nowhere to be found in the United States, and here it is among the most popular instruments.  I didn’t pick up a professional one or one of too much value I imagine, but I’ll practice for a while and see where I get.  They do seem quite delicate though, so I will have to be careful during transportation.  We’ll see if it can make it to the United States and through customs (I assume that wouldn’t be an issue, but with the complete lack of the instrument in the US, who knows).

My practice time has been limited, but it will be a nice little instrument to add to the repertoire.  If I can get the sound accurate, it can sound very mystical and spiritual when actually played right.  Until then, I will have to work around siestas and annoy the other volunteers until they are ready to sleep.  Then I will play it twice as loud.

-Andrew

Andrew Crawford

Coming all the way from the windy city of Chicago, Andrew Crawford graduated from Lake Forest College with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Music. His primary objective for the volunteer experience is to explore and write about the music throughout the parts of Peru that he can reach, primarily Lima. He also loves to play music himself on just about anything he can get his hands on, mainly the guitar, harmonica, and drums – but he wants to add some Peruvian instruments to the list. Anyone want to jam??

3 thoughts on “An Old Instrument New To Me: The Zampoña

  • October 29, 2009 at 11:29 am
    Permalink

    Welcome to the magical world of the zampoña! It is super ancient. In the Museo Nacional del Archeologia, Antropologia e Historia del Peru in Pueblo Libre, Lima, Peru, there is the largest collection of pre-hispanic musical instruments in the world. They have zampoñas (or antaras) dating back thousands of years. Many pre-Inca cultures played this instrument. On of my favorites is the ceramic Nazca antara. That's right, Nazca, like the Nazca lines you can only see from up in the air. Ancient culture. A dear friend in Cuzco, Alfredo Najarro, has studied archeological instruments and makes replicas of Nazca antaras (zampoñas) and other ancient instruments.

    The sound of the zampoña resonates in my soul, stirring genetic memories of what it is like to live in harmony with each other and the Pachamama (mother earth and space/time continuum). It pulled me from San Francisco, California to live in the Ande and play with the indigenous guys here. For more sounds of zampoñas, here are some YouTube videos.

    This is a sikuri (people who play zampoñas in the traditional dialog style) group I played with in Puno, Peru.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCyY0LPij8U&fe

    Here is a soundtrack I did, playing the zampoña. A different feeling all together…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkhTknSqek0

    Aahhhh, the universe of the zampoña is limitless!

    Sincerely,

    Lynette

    Reply
  • December 9, 2009 at 3:17 am
    Permalink

    I'm not certain if they were technically Peruvian panpipes, however, one of the themes from "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" uses panpipes. The piece "The Lonely Shepherd" from that soundtrack features Georghe Zamfir playing some manner of panpipes.

    Reply
  • January 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Andrew, I also discovered the Zampoña when I went to Peru, and immediately fell in love with the instrument. I brought one home and started practicing, getting better each time. Then I figured out it would be nice to have one on my mobile phone, so I created an iPhone application, and it got very popular (more than 1000 downloads so far).

    I have just built a website for it. If you have a smartphone (iPhone/iPad/Android), please download it free and I would love to hear your feedback:
    http://www.Zampona.org/

    Cheers!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *