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date: 20 October 2019


  • Henry Stobart


Onomatopoeic word in the Amerindian language Quechua for an infant or weeping child, used to refer to two forms of instrument. Firstly, it describes an idioglot clarinet formed by inserting a cane (length 10–30 cm), slit to create a reed, into a cow- or goat-horn bell. It is played in many parts of the southern Andes (Bolivia, Argentina and Chile), and is usually confined to the rainy growing season. In Taríja, Bolivia, and northern Argentina the erke or erkenchu player typically accompanies himself with a small double-skin drum or Caja. During Carnival the Jalqas, from near Sucre, Bolivia, combine paired ‘male’ and ‘female’ erkes (without drums) to perform melodies, which are sometimes pentatonic. Exceptionally, the smaller ‘female’ size is played by a woman.

Secondly, the erke exists as a side-blown trumpet, 2 to 6 metres long, made of cane, with a bell made from the dried skin of a cow's tail, animal horn or metal. It plays impressive fanfare-like figures, rarely moving outside a four-note compass (the major triad and its lower dominant). Performance is usually confined to the dry winter months as its sound is sometimes said to attract frosts. The ...

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