Quichua Mashis,
(QM Records, 2000)

Tantanacui, the new CD of traditional Andean music from Quichua Mashis, rocks.

Quichua Mashis is Luis Gramal, Fernando Gramal, Eduardo Cachiguango, Ruben Teran and Carlos Gallegos, all Quichua Indians from the mountains of Ecuador who relocated to Seattle, Wash. According to their website, their purpose is to "heighten awareness of their ancient culture," which is that of the "Inka Empire, [the] region of South America cover[ing] Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia."

The music is performed on traditional instruments: various zamponas (pan flutes), the quena (a bamboo flute), the bombo (a drum made with goatskin on one side, complete with hair), the chakchas (shakers made from the hooves of goats) and the charango, a small 10-stringed guitar. Guitar, mandolin and violin round out the traditional instruments. Unfortunately, the liner notes do not tell us who plays which instrument or instruments; neither do they identify the instruments in each song, which makes reviewing the CD a challenge.

I expected the zamponas to dominate the music, but while they obviously feature in some of the tracks, the sound is full and varied. The opening track "Arcamau," begins with a soft, vocalized note which remains subtly in the background as first guitar, then mandolin enter, followed by the breathy yet piercing zamponas. The delicate plucking of the stringed instruments provides a vivid contrast to the haunting pipes. The quena picks up the melody before returning to the zamponas.

The title track "Tantanacui" caught my attention from the first bar, with violin carrying the lively melody, backed with a variety of traditional instruments. One of the musicians chants, sings and makes an oddly compelling sound somewhere between a yip and a hiss, driving the pace. This track demonstrates how beautifully the instruments blend while each retains its integrity. "Piel Canela" is a song with a not-quite bluesy flavor; while the lyrics are incomprehensible, the emotions and sense of the song ring through and features cool and lush vocal harmonies.

"Otavaleno" features zampona, mandolin and either guitar or charango or both. The unique sound of the chakchas comes through especially on this track. The rich tones of the violin return on "Capilla Vereda," a largely instrumental piece with a strong beat. Don't be surprised if you find yourself with an urge to get up and dance to this exuberant music. There are vocals similar to those in "Tantanacui," including the "yip-hiss" but the melody dominates.

"Reza Milenaria" is another song that starts out with a poignant melody on quena (I think) and vocals, then leaps into a rock beat backed with a traditional drum kit and electric guitar -- which works. The flutes, pipes and mandolin mesh wonderfully with the modern sound. Things calm down a bit with the rippling, wistful melody in "Arokahua," starting with zampona, then switching to quena and picking up the pace. The quena trades back to zampona, then the two play together in a lovely duet.

There's an infectious salsa beat to "Compita," while "Tanto Quererte" has a bouncy, contemporary-sounding melody with jazzy electric guitar interludes. "Palomita" is melancholy sounding, with expressive vocals blending especially well with zampona and mandolin. Next up is the dramatic "Kollasuyo," and the CD concludes with "Pajaro," another expressive combination of violin, quena and zampona. This one has a slight Celtic flavor in the merry melody; I could imagine trying to dance a jig to it.

Tantanacui gave me so much more than I expected, but I wish there had been more information in the liner notes -- which do feature terrific photographs of modern Quichua Indians -- or at least on the website. I wanted to know what the songs meant, whether they were in Quichua or Spanish, which instruments were played and who plays what. The CD succeeded in that it turned me on completely to the music, but it fell a little short of heightening my awareness, since I don't understand exactly what I am appreciating. I hope more information will be forthcoming from Quichua Mashis in the near future.

That being said -- if you're looking for a fresh, appealing sound that effectively blends the traditional with the contemporary, get your hands on Tantanacui now.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Tantanacui from Amazon.com.