The Charango Controversy

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.


  • […] Chile and Bolivia have different controversies issues. Last week was the origin of Charango, a musical instrument that can be found through Central and South America. Bolivian president Evo Morales give it as a present to Condolleza Rice, while ex president Lagos give it as a present to rock star Bono. Eduardo Ávila, post about this issue with more details. […]

  • […] Miguel Esquirol of El Forastero, guest wrote an article about the great “Charango Controversy,” in which many Bolivians were upset when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presented U2 singer, Bono, with a charango as a native Chilean instrument. Many identify this instrument as typical Bolivian. In addition, this controversy was soon overshadowed by a strange and tragic bombing in La Paz, in which the bomber proved to have an odd background that many bloggers wrote about. Eduardo Avila […]

  • for those interested, please have a look at the early music charango site address listed above. there you will find an illustration of a small, 5c. chordaphone called a “chittarino diuerso” – “diuerso” being a xvi-xvii century italian word meaning “different” – or “diverso” as it’s written today. the illustration appeared in “gabinetto armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori” – plate n° 100 – as compiled by filippo buonanni (1716.)

    “chitarrino” as in “chitarra” gives this “charango” – call the instrument what you will – an italian, european identity … not chilean … not bolivian … not peruvian.

  • v. vega

    Europeans have normally stolen from minerals to cultural aspects of our cultures and added to their “own riches or cultural possessions”, so we are not discusing bill kilpatrick theories, only one resounding “HA HA HA HA”
    The charango was born from the spanish musical influence. The italians never had any worthwhile influence in our countries and culture apart from introducing “pasta”. Bill, be happy with that and your Irish surname and your English imposed by your masters: ENGLAND. The Italians and European also introduced fascism in Latin America together with the Nazis.

  • a year and some months late but never too late – i hope – to wrench the discourse away from erratic, wide ranging irrelevancy and steer it back on topic.

    the illustration mentioned earlier didn’t seem to attract attention or comment – how about this:

  • […] Forastero的Miguel Esquirol客座寫了篇有關「五弦吉他(charango)爭議」的文章(註:樂器圖片請見此),起因是智利總統巴切列特(Michelle […]

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