This article was written by Miguel Esquirol and originally appeared in the Bolivian blog community site Blogs de Bolivia. The original Spanish version can be found here (ES).
Lately, many charangos have been given as presents. Evo Morales presented one to Condoleeza Rice, the Chilean President gave one to Bono and as a result, a conflict has surfaced about the “moral property” of this instrument (ES). The Vice-minister of Culture in Morales’ government, Edgar Arandia even sent a letter to Bono explaining that the charango is actually a Bolivian instrument.
Our favorite songwriter/blogger, Grillo Villegas (ES), took the opportunity to give a brief summary of the history of this miraculously beautiful instrument and demonstrated that: one, it is not Bolivian (nor Chilean) and two, all of that does not really matter. What matters is the soulful sound that musicians are able to make with the instrument. Here is a segment of his article:
During Colonial times, the Spanish brought to the Americas a chordophone instrument called the “vihuela”, with 6 or 7 doubled strings with varying sizes and tunings. It was used primarily in the 16th century in Spain and produced many published pieces of written music. Once it arrived in the Americas, this instrument took on many of its own characteristics of each region and produced many mestizo chordophones, from Mexico to Bolivia. The master charango-player and researcher Ernesto Cavour wrote various books such as “The charango, its life, customs and misfortunes” and “The musical instruments of Bolivia”, where he affirmed that after visiting countless European museums, the “vihuela” essentially had the same physical, resonance and size of the charango. The arrival and establishment of this instrument in the city of Potosí is well documented in the national archives, in the carvings of the San Lorenzo church in Potosí and in various colonial paintings.
The only thing we wish for is that the improving relations with Chile are not ruined because of details that should bring together, not divide the two countries. On the bright side, this recent attention given to this instrument can only attract more interest to the charango.