Dancing in aisles to Sukay
By Chuck Graham
||It is as difficult to describe the folk music of the Andes
Mountains of South America as it would be to describe the music of an obscure Oriental
culture. There is nothing in our own music with which to compare it. The Andean folk music
reaches back to the Inca, is played on rows of pipes similar to the pan pipes of ancient
Greece and on flutes that, at one time, were carved from the femur bones of humans. The
music, however, is not barbarian. As played by the quartet Sukay at the University of
Arizona Student Union Ballroom last night, the music can have a keening wail that may be
haunting but is never crude.Sukay is a word from the Quechua language of the Incas meaning
"to open the earth for planting." The overflow crowd of some 700 last night was
definitely opened and letting the Sukay music fall on fertile ears. By the time this
ensemble of musicians had finished its two-hour performance, people were spinning out
impromptu dance steps in the aisles. Virtually everyone who wasnt dancing was
standing to applaud, and every record album the group had for sale were sold. Sukay began
when the Swiss born Edmond Badoux, 35, and his Brooklyn, USA, wife, Quentin, were doing
research on Andean music for 15 months during 1975-1976. On that trip they met a pair of
Bolivian folk musicians. In 1978 the foursome began working together as Sukay. One of the
Bolivian pair was Gonzalo Vargas. The other left the group and has been replaced by fellow
Bolivian Edmundo Aleaga.
Although the roots of this music are Inca, the songs played
last night came from several hundred years of rural mountain life. Spanish missionaries
had introduced guitar, mandolin, harp and other European instruments the Andes a couple of
centuries back. But the new instruments had little effect on the mountain music itself.
Sukays music belongs to the flutes and pipes. Guitars and their Andean variations
such as the charango, which looks more like a 10 string ukulele than anything else, are
used as rhythm instruments. Drums are mainly used to keep the basic beat.
The pipes range in length from a few inches to more than 4 feet. Each instrument,
though, only plays one octave. In their program, Sukay uses 26 different sets of pipes,
which are called sikus.Nor are the pipes tuned chromatically, like European instruments.
Instead, the pipes are arranged so that adjacent pipes are in harmony with each other.
Thus one player can, in effect, blow on two adjacent pipes simultaneous and hear a chord.
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Sukay World Music, Suite 523, 3450 Sacramento
Street, San Francisco, CA 94118
Tel/415 646-0018 Fax/415 646-0066
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