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From The Andes To The Wasatch: How Andean Folk Music Connects Utah Communities

Los Hermanos de los Andes
The impact of Los Hermanos de los Andes’s folk music continues as they partner with organizations like the Latinx Cultural Center at Utah State University for special events. ";

The sound of the ancient pan flute draws listeners in as Los Hermanos de los Andes plays on the Utah State University campus. Many students stop to listen, take video and chat with members of the Latinx Cultural Center. 

Los Hermanos de los Andes is an Andean folk group based in Utah whose members share their knowledge of ancient Incan instruments and their deep connection to the Andean music. 

Nataly Baquerizo, the social media assistant for the Latinx Cultural Center at USU, chats with me about the connection she shares to the music. We sit on sofas in the cultural center’s space in the campus library, amidst a flurry of other students getting ready for the cookout fundraiser for the center later that day.

“Me and my family are from Peru," Nataly said, "and so hearing Los Hermanos de los Andes come makes my day because this is what my family listens to and it just reminds me of my family back home.”

For the members of Los Hermanos de los Andes, which translates to ‘The Brothers of the Andes’, their love of Andean folk music is what first brought them together 30 years ago. The original three members met as students at Brigham Young University, but their introduction to Andean folk music started in their home countries of Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Bolivia-born Edgar Zurita plays the pan flutes in the group.

“Back when I was 14 is when I got introduced to the Andean music." Edgar said. "Back in Bolivia at that time there was a music revolution. One of my friends invited me to go see a concert and I was very skeptical to go. But once I saw the concert I immediately fell in love. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. That changed my life because I fully gave myself to music.”

The instruments used to create the unique sound of the Andean folk music date back to the ancient Incan civilization. The pan flutes, called zamponos, are made of bamboo reeds. The reeds are lashed together in order from shortest to longest to create a continuous gradient of sound. Edgar also plays the quena, a type of single-notch flute that resembles a recorder. Another member of the folk group plays the charango, a type of lute developed in the Andes after Spanish colonizers introduced stringed instruments. Originally made from armadillo backs, the modern charango is made from wood.

The band members love to share the history of their instruments and music. They are invited to play across the world, but have found a special connection with the people of Utah.

“Utah has embraced us, our music, and we embraced Utah," Edgar said.

At Utah State University, the Latinx Cultural Center also works to connect with Utah communities and share the Latin culture. The center organizes several events on campus throughout the academic year.

I spoke with the director of the center, Dr. Christopher Gonzalez, before the cookout. While music played, he was preparing carne asada for the street tacos and tortas featured on the menu.

“Our Latinx student demographic is the largest non-white student group on campus and so it kind of made sense to do more to recognize and to provide representation and to provide visibility to that particular student group." Dr. Gonzalez went on to explain how this concert would impact the community.

"This particular concert I think is really important for us because, first of all, they are a folk music group. They’re not classically trained musicians that you would find at the university so because of that this is an atypical kind of performance that we’re able to showcase in our lovely Daines Concert Hall. By doing that, I think it kind of helps open up that space. We might use the term it decolonizes that space a little bit and also opens the door for other opportunities to respect different kinds of music and music from diverse cultures.

"And I think it’s really important that students, both Latino and non-Latino, have an opportunity to hear this kind of music in person. And really to help the USU community feel more integrated when it comes to diverse cultures and this is an important step in that.”

To learn more about the Latinx Cultural Center, click here