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Bolero Trios, Mestizo Panpipe Ensembles, and Bolivia’s 1952 Revolution: Urban La Paz

Musicians and the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement

Author(s): Fernando Rios
Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 2010), pp. 281-317
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
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Vol. 54, No. 2 Ethnomusicology Spring /Summer 2010

Bolero Trios, Mestizo Panpipe Ensembles,

and Bolivia’s 1952 Revolution: Urban
La Paz Musicians and the Nationalist
Revolutionary Movement
Fernando R ios  /  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

J uxtaposing two contrasting yet contemporaneous urban La Paz musical

trends, this essay discusses how Bolivians localized the internationally fash-
ionable bolero trio style and folklorized the mestizo panpipe tradition in the
twelve-year period following the 1952 Revolution. My main goal is to provide
a nuanced perspective on how Bolivian musical practices and their recep-
tions connected with the MNR (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario;
Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) government’s nation-building project at
a time of momentous political, economic, and social change. As I document,
mainstream urban La Paz musical tastes rarely adhered to MNR nationalist ide-
ology in a straightforward or predictable manner, in part because the specific
type of “imagined community” (Anderson 1991) that Bolivian state officials
envisioned and promoted largely failed to earn widespread citizen approval.
This study also reveals that the MNR era’s most popular form of national music
was an ineffective conduit for inclusive Bolivian nation-building.
This essay is divided into three major sections. The first summarizes the
MNR’s economic goals, political agendas, and musical folklorization initiatives.
The second primarily examines the activities and performance practices of
the panpipe groups receiving the most public exposure and state support
in the MNR years, Los Choclos (The Corn Kernels) and Los Cebollitas (The
Little Onions). I also discuss how the Andean mestizo panpipe consort tra-
dition previously known in Bolivia as misti sikuri (misti is a synonym for
mestizo) was resignified to its current status as an indigenous custom. This
section concludes with an analysis of audience reception. The third major
section examines the career, musical practices, and mass popularity of the
MNR era’s most influential Bolivian bolero trio, Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos

© 2010 by the Society for Ethnomusicology

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282   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

(Raul Shaw and the Pilgrims). Fronted by ex-Trío Los Panchos lead vocalist
Raúl Shaw, this group not only performed romantic bolero songs but also
established a highly emulated style of interpreting local genres (e.g., huayños)
that surprisingly paved the way for consolidation of the charango’s status as
an emblematic Bolivian national instrument.

The 1952 Revolution, Bolivian Nation-Building,

and Mestizaje
The Bolivian Revolution of 1952, a mass insurrection that ousted an
unpopular military junta and oligarchic elite from power, ranks among Latin
America’s major twentieth-century political and social revolutions, along with
those of Mexico, Nicaragua, and Cuba (see Grindle and Domingo 2003). In
an action consistent with the party’s name, Bolivia’s Nationalist Revolution-
ary Movement nationalized the Big Three tin mining companies’ properties.
Another key MNR opponent, the military, was “purged, reduced in size, and
downgraded in status” (Malloy 1971:122). The establishment suffered another
blow when the MNR passed an Agrarian Reform law that benefited landless
indigenous people to the detriment of hacendados, the “6 percent of land-
owners who owned 1,000 hectares or more of land and controlled fully 92
percent of all cultivated land in the republic” (Klein 1992:229). The party
also changed the rules of political participation by promulgating universal
suffrage. This decree eliminated the literacy-based and occupational criteria
that had disenfranchised most Bolivians, especially rural indigenous people,
since the nineteenth century (Bolivia gained its independence in 1825). Prior
to 1952, Bolivia’s constitution had denied voting privileges and the right to
hold public office to over 75% of the population (Malloy 1970: 34).
Of urban middle-class origin and leadership, the MNR, ideologically simi-
lar to Mexico’s post-revolution Partido Revolucionario Institucional (In-
stitutional Revolutionary Party; see Knight 2003), strove to modernize the
economy through state-directed capitalism and to consolidate the party’s
political dominance in the period from 1952 to 1964. The support of the
masses and a solid state infrastructure were required to accomplish both
goals.With this in mind, the MNR embarked upon a nation-state construction
project meant to increase state power and forge an all-encompassing national
identity. Throughout Latin America, historian Nicola Miller asserts (2006:212),
state-building and nation-building “were related processes, operating in paral-
lel.” However, the state and nation generally were not viewed as coterminous
entities by post-independence nineteenth-century Latin American political
leaders, who tended to exclude the masses from full membership in the nation
by denying them basic citizenship rights. The MNR, in contrast, envisioned a
more inclusive nation that ideally united much of Bolivia’s population across

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   283

its ethnicized lines (whites, mestizos, indigenous people) and regional divi-
sions (e.g., Andean highlands, Eastern lowlands). This nation-building plan
resembled that of many early-to-middle twentieth-century Latin American
political regimes that likewise placed their faith in state-directed capitalism
(see Turino 2003 for a comparative discussion).
The MNR’s nation-building project thus followed a common Latin Ameri-
can pattern. This was also true of the party’s proposed solution to a standard
nationalist problem: how to reconcile the monocultural nation-state model
(one nation, one state) with the reality of cultural diversity. Faced with this
conundrum, the MNR championed mestizaje (racial/ethnic/cultural mixture
or fusion) as the means of crafting pan-ethnic national unity, as did political
leaders in most Latin American countries (see Stutzman 1981, Smith 1996).
Since the Spanish colonial period, mestizos had occupied an intermediate
place in Latin America’s social hierarchy between indigenous people and
“whites”—known as criollos in the Andes. These social categories, construct-
ed in relation to each other, came to be mainly defined by cultural practices
(e.g., social values, dress, language usage, music and dance styles) and oc-
cupations (e.g., mestizos as merchants, indigenous people as farm workers)
rather than ancestry. In the Andes, Bolivia’s most heavily populated region,
mestizos blended aspects of indigenous and criollo traditions. Andean mestizo
cultural practices could thus potentially serve as a unifying nexus for much
of Bolivia’s population.
Despite their intermediate social status, Bolivia’s Andean mestizos gener-
ally had more in common with criollos than with indigenous peoples in terms
of fundamental cultural values, in large part because Andean mestizo “self-
definition required the establishment and reiteration of difference between
themselves and Indians” (Harris 1995:365; emphasis added). This relational
dynamic stemmed from many factors, including the social hierarchy (criollos
at the top, indigenous people at the bottom) and the colonial era policy of clas-
sifying mestizos within the “republic of Spaniards” rather than the “republic of
Indians” (ibid.:358). Over time, individualism and capitalist enterprise became
key aspects of Andean mestizo identity, in marked contrast to the noncapital-
ist ethos of egalitarianism and communitarianism that largely came to define
Andean indigenous identity in most rural Bolivian communities (see Harris
1995, Thomson 2002, Larson 2004). To the capitalist MNR leadership, this
made mestizos seem to be far more modern than Andean indigenous people,
and in line with this social evolutionist view, the party’s officials envisioned the
mestizo as the “best hope for a formative middle class” (Albro 1998:100).
Standing in the way of the MNR dream of a predominantly mestizo Bolivia
was the fact that most of the population self-identified as indigenous (see
Toranzo 2008:36). Tackling the so-called Indian problem, in 1953 the MNR
decreed that Indians no longer existed in Bolivia and henceforth would be

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284   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

called peasants (campesinos). MNR leaders wanted rural indigenous people

to think of themselves as a social class rather than as an ethnic group. The
terminological change from “Indian” to “peasant” was intended to make it
easier for individuals to pass from one category to the other, in particular for
indigenous people to become mestizos, with the eventual goal of creating a
Bolivian mestizo majority.1

Bolivian State-Funded Musical Folklorization

in the MNR Period
During the first MNR term, Víctor Paz Estenssoro’s initial presidency
(1952–1956), government-sponsored music festivals presenting mestizo and
indigenous ensembles (e.g., mestizo string groups, indigenous wind consorts)
increased dramatically in number as well as scope when compared to prior
administrations. This new policy, implemented by the Subsecretary of Press,
Information and Culture (SPIC), Bolivian Cinematographic Institute (ICB), and
Municipal Council of Culture, publicly enacted the MNR’s key alliance with
Andean indigenous people and mestizos. It also aided the nation-building
process, because Bolivian state officials framed these mass festivals as patri-
otic exhibitions of national folklore, which predisposed those in attendance
to conceptualize locally specific music and dance traditions as pan-regional
and pan-ethnic emblems of national identity shared by all Bolivians.
The Bolivian media industry’s continued underdevelopment (measured
against that of most Latin American countries) was one of the factors that
limited the impact of MNR nationalist ideology on local musical trends. For
almost the entire MNR era, there was only one Bolivian record label, Discos
Méndez (founded in 1949), a private La Paz company of modest output.
Television would not make its debut until 1969. Film production was in the
hands of the ICB, whose propagandistic movies and newsreels (see Susz
1997) had little bearing on local musical trends. State-owned Radio Illimani
(named after La Paz’s Illimani mountain) was the MNR’s main sphere of
musical influence in the media arena. Although Radio Illimani was under
SPIC jurisdiction (Coronel 2003), there does not appear to have been much
state oversight of the station’s musical programming.
Soon after second MNR president Hernán Siles Zuaso’s inauguration in
1956, Bolivian government expenditures, including most of the budget for
folklore festivals, were slashed. These budget cuts were in accordance with
IMF stipulations, with which the MNR complied in order to receive vast
sums of U.S. aid (see Lehman 1999). The MNR’s monetary commitment to
spectacles of national folklore would never again reach the level of the first
administration. With the SPIC and ICB severely downsized, the Department

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   285

of Folklore became the main governmental entity entrusted with the Bolivian
state’s folklorization initiatives.
Throughout the MNR era, Bolivian state-sponsored festivals treated An-
dean indigenous and mestizo music quite differently.2 Indigenous musicians
were encouraged to “preserve” their traditions. Operating under misguided
premises, MNR-appointed festival organizers told indigenous ensembles to
perform “ancient melodies” (rather than the new compositions normally
showcased at rural indigenous fiestas) and discouraged them from transform-
ing mestizo tunes into indigenous compositions; this common Andean indig-
enous practice was equated with “deformation” and “contamination” (see ED,3
May 24, 1953; May 21, 1954; Oct. 21, 1955). In contrast with official attitudes
towards indigenous music, hardly any state concern was voiced about the
purity of mestizo musical styles. This perhaps reflected MNR officials’ views
that mestizos were inherently less traditional than indigenous people. At
any rate, it allowed for greater leeway over the types of ensembles permitted
at state-funded mestizo music concerts—which were open to bolero trios,
orquestas de jazz (U.S. swing band-style “jazz orchestras”) and orquestas
típicas (“typical orchestras” modeled after Argentine tango combos)—than
at indigenous music festivals, which were restricted to rural wind consorts
(e.g., panpipe ensembles).
MNR-appointed folklore authorities reversed their stance on the merit of
cross-ethnic musical expressions when mestizos and criollos, rather than in-
digenous people, were doing the crossing. Non-indigenous artists who altered
indigenous music into a form more pleasing to mainstream city tastes—and
thus better-suited for radio broadcasts and the concert stage—could earn
praise from MNR agencies for improving the original traditions. The Depart-
ment of Folklore not only lauded this type of transformation—what Katherine
Hagedorn calls “folkloricization” in her work on Afro-Cuban Santería music
(2001)—but also facilitated it. As stated in the Department of Folklore’s
charter, the indigenous melodies catalogued in the “national music archive”
were “at the disposal of those interested in elevating these samples of our
shared artistic heritage to the level of grand works” (ED, May 20, 1954; em-
phases added). Department of Folklore director Julia Fortún, trained by the
renowned Argentine ethnomusicologist Carlos Vega (personal communica-
tion, Julia Fortún), justified the use of rural indigenous music for state ends
with her assertion that collecting “folkloric materials” was a requisite step
in the formation of a “genuine national culture” (Fortún 1957: front cover).
Under the sway of the MNR’s modernist-nationalist ideology, she argued that
careful study of local cultural traditions would enable Bolivians “to choose
that which deserves by its usefulness and value to be incorporated into our
modern way of life” (ibid.).

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286   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

Beyond issuing general statements about the need for selecting and “el-
evating” local musical genres and styles to serve as modern Bolivian national
identity emblems, the MNR’s folklore authorities provided mestizo and criollo
artists with few clear instructions concerning the most effective ways to
link folklorization practices to nation-building and modernization. It would
have made sense to prioritize mestizo expressive practices which musically
enacted the hoped-for pan-ethnic unity of Bolivia’s heavily populated Andean
region. However, for whatever reason, MNR functionaries never came close to
elaborating a coherent folklorization agenda. Unfettered by strict guidelines,
urban La Paz musicians mixed elements of local and foreign styles as they
had always done, a practice that at times intersected with the ruling party’s
modernist-nationalist ideology.

Misti Sikuri Ensembles and the Sikureada Genre: La Paz’s

Andean Mestizo Panpipe Tradition in the Pre-MNR period
In the initial MNR term, mestizo panpipe consorts gained substantial
public exposure in urban La Paz for the first time in Bolivia’s history. In vari-
ous ways, these working-class mestizo panpipe groups sonically enacted the
MNR’s nationalist tenets of mestizaje and pan-ethnic unity, as I discuss in a
later section. Here, my main goal is to explain the origins of this Bolivian
musical tradition and discuss key developments that occurred in the years
prior to the 1952 Revolution.
Bolivian ethnologist Rigoberto Paredes’s writings (1913:176, 182) suggest
that Andean panpipe ensembles called misti sikuris were a rural mestizo tradi-
tion since the late nineteenth-century in the departmento of La Paz (Bolivian
departmentos are equivalent to U.S. states). It was closely related to the Peru-
vian mestizo panpipe ensemble style known as sikumoreno or pusamoreno.
According to Peruvian music scholar Américo Valencia (1983:68, 95), Peru’s
first sikumoreno groups were formed in Puno (which borders La Paz) during
the 1890s and modeled themselves after Bolivian ensembles from the La Paz
town of Sicasica.4
Bolivian misti sikuris took after the Andean indigenous tropa, a type of
wind ensemble (usually accompanied by percussion) comprised of a single
family of melody-producing instruments. This consort format is the standard
configuration in Bolivian as well as Southern Peruvian rural villages for Andean
indigenous wind ensembles, whose members perform their parts in unison
and parallel intervals (e.g., octaves, fifths, fourths).
As their name suggests, misti sikuris used the siku panpipe (other pan-
pipe-types used in Bolivia’s Andean region include the jula-jula, sikura
and ayarachi).5 A double-row instrument, the siku is played with a hock-
eting technique, as the complete pitch series alternates between the ira

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   287

(leader) and arca (follower) panpipes, each of which normally has six to
eight tubes per row. The second row of tubes acts as a resonator. In the early
twentieth-century, Bolivian mestizo sikus may have differed from indigenous
instruments in how their resonating rows were constructed (see Izikowitz
1934:394, 398–99).
A far more noticeable difference between misti sikuris and indigenous
sikuris of the early-to-middle twentieth-century was in their use of percus-
sion.6 Whereas indigenous sikuri musicians often double as percussionists on
the bombo or wankara drums, misti sikuris had a separate rhythm section
consisting of a military bass drum, snare drum, and various cymbals. With
these brass band instruments, misti sikuris maintained the bouncy, up-tempo
feel of their signature genre, the simple duple-meter sikureada or zampo-
ñada (from zampoña, the Spanish word for the panpipe). The genre’s names
mimicked the indigenous custom of naming musical styles after the instru-
ments used to perform them (e.g., tarkas play tarkeadas). In addition to its
lively rhythm and brass band percussion section, rapid ira-arca hocketing at
cadences was another sikureada trademark.7
In the MNR era, La Paz musicians transformed the misti sikuri tradition
to evoke a greater sense of autochthonous indigeneity, yet for much of the
early to middle twentieth-century, Bolivia’s mestizo siku tropas had a very
different orientation. Rather than wearing the Andean peasant garb that be-
came standard in the 1960s (e.g., ponchos, sandals), misti sikuri performers
of the early 1900s dressed in embroidered jackets (Paredes 1913:182), while
in the 1940s they donned “extremely luxurious” costumes representing the
likes of U.S. boy scouts, Spanish bullfighters, and “turks” (González Bravo
1948:412) in the carnivalesque style also fashionable among the elite (see
Abercrombie 2003:200 and Guss 2006:301–03). Bedouin Arabs, Afro-Cuban
dancers, and European Musketeers were some of the main characters por-
trayed in 1950s misti sikuri attire (personal communication, Alfredo Solíz). As
for their musical repertoire, Bolivian misti sikuris interpreted the full gamut
of local mestizo genres (e.g., cuecas, bailecitos, huayños, sikureadas),8 and
also cultivated international popular music styles (e.g., waltzes, habaneras,
tangos) (see González Bravo 1948:411). Similarly setting themselves apart
from indigenous panpipe groups, the energetic dance associated with the
misti sikuri tradition differed from that of indigenous sikuris (see Paredes
1913:176, 182).
Not much is known about the misti sikuri tradition’s early history in
urban La Paz. What we do know is that by the 1920s misti sikuris existed in
Ch’ijini (Ichuta Ichuta 2003:131–132, 134), a working-class mestizo or cholo
neighborhood.9 Then located just outside La Paz’s city limits (the border was
redrawn later), Ch’ijini would become known for its patron saint celebration,
La Fiesta del Señor del Gran Poder (The Fiesta of the All Powerful Father)

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288   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

(see Guss 2006). In the 1920s, the neighborhood was first developing into
an important commercial district for the urban La Paz area; this reflected the
mestizo population’s growing numbers (ibid.). Misti sikuris and other music
and dance styles prospered as identity emblems in this emergent working-
class mestizo community. To satisfy local demand, 1920s Ch’ijini artisans
fabricated embroidered misti sikuri outfits, and sometimes played a few notes
on the instruments “to attract clients” (Ichuta Ichuta 2003:134). Misti sikuris
fell from favor in urban La Paz in the 1930s and 1940s, when brass bands and
estudiantinas (plucked string orchestras) became the preeminent mestizo
ensembles (ibid.:132; Albó 1986:55; Rios 2005: Chapter 2). This trend was
consistent with the main relational dynamic of Andean mestizo identity con-
struction. As explained above, mestizos often distanced themselves culturally
from indigenous people through various means, including their choice of
ensembles. Brass bands and estudiantinas fulfilled this function as they were
not only clearly distinct from Andean indigenous tropas but also were much
more expensive to assemble. The latter aspect was significant because pub-
lic monetary displays had long been one of the key ways in which Bolivian
mestizos distinguished themselves from Andean indigenous people.
Declining urban La Paz interest in misti sikuris was counterbalanced by
the tradition’s spread to the Andean indigenous population. By the 1940s, misti
sikuri ensembles had become an indigenous custom in the rural La Paz prov-
inces of Camacho and Larecaja (Taborga 1948a:271, 1948b:384). Meanwhile, in
Peru, the related sikumoreno style had been gradually replacing the indigenous
sikuri tradition in various sites in the Southern Lake Titicaca region (Valencia
1983:66). A similar process seems to have happened in rural La Paz. Writing
in the 1940s, Bolivian ethnomusicologist Antonio González Bravo remarked,
“Misti Sikuris . . . are propagating themselves among the Indians, erasing the
traces of the true indigenous dances” (González Bravo 1948:411). His alarmist
comments notwithstanding, Andean indigenous cultivation of mestizo and
Iberian music and dance traditions is nothing new. For instance, the Bolivian
waka-tokoris genre, played by indigenous musicians with three-holed waka-
pinkillo duct-flutes and caja snare drums, is a local version of the European
pipe and tabor tradition (see Paredes 1913:169) that is very similar to that
found in many indigenous communities throughout the Andes (e.g., Peru, Ec-
uador). However, the misti sikuri ensemble and sikureada genre’s adoption by
indigenous Andeans differed in at least one significant respect from the usual
pattern. It may be the earliest documented instance in the Andes in which a
number of indigenous communities took up a mestizo music and dance style
that centered on an instrument of indisputable indigenous origin. Potentially,
the misti sikuri tradition indexically linked mestizo and indigenous expressive
practices, a useful combination for a locally distinctive musical tradition in
the heightened nationalist context of the MNR era.

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   289

Los Choclos and Los Cebollitas in the MNR Years

Expanded Bolivian state support in the early MNR period for so-called
“national folklore” created a niche for urban La Paz-based panpipe tropas,
a development that mainly benefited the whimsically named working-class
mestizo siku groups Los Choclos (The Corn Kernels) and Los Cebollitas
(The Little Onions). Their participation in government-sponsored music
performances eclipsed that of similar ensembles during Paz Estenssoro’s first
presidency. During the second and third MNR terms, when state monies were
no longer readily available to fund musical performances, Los Choclos and Los
Cebollitas were the only local panpipe groups to obtain stable employment
(albeit part-time) in the Municipal Theater’s state-supported “folk theater”
productions. This was also the time when these two groups became the
first Andean panpipe consorts to tour internationally in the state-approved
capacity of national music representatives.
Los Choclos, also the name of a Peruvian sikumoreno ensemble (Valencia
1983:70), was apparently the only continuously active urban La Paz mestizo
panpipe group in the decades prior to the MNR period. Los Choclos was
founded by local shoe shiners in 1925, according to Jorge Miranda (personal
communication), who joined the group in the early 1950s and soon afterwards
became its musical director. From the group’s early years, they participated in
Ch’ijini’s Fiesta del Señor del Gran Poder and other patron saint celebrations
held annually in urban La Paz (Albó 1986:111; Ichuta Ichuta 2003:131) and
Lake Titicaca’s port town of Copacabana (personal communications, Arturo
Gutiérrez and Jorge Miranda). Los Choclos remained active in the 1930s and
1940s when brass bands and estudiantinas were the preferred ensembles
among La Paz mestizos. These musical traditions were beyond the means of
most Los Choclos’ members, whose occupation not only provided a meager
income but also placed them near the very bottom of urban Bolivia’s social
hierarchy. Unable to compete with more prosperous mestizos, but desirous of
taking part in patron saint fiestas, the shoe shiners of La Paz expressed their
religious devotion with an instrument they could afford, the siku, an entire set
of which could be purchased for less than the cost of one brass instrument.
Shortly after the 1952 revolution, Los Choclos separated into two groups
along generational lines. The younger ensemble, at first called Club Juventud
Los Choclos (Los Choclos Youth Club), soon became known simply as Los
Choclos as the older group faded away (personal communications, Jorge
Miranda and Arturo Gutiérrez). This latest incarnation brought their panpipes
to the nearby city of Oruro to honor La Virgen del Socavón (Virgin of the
Mineshaft) during carnival festivities in 1953, 1954, and 1955 (see Beltrán
1956:26). While there, the group established a relationship with local shoe
shiners and taught some of them how to play the siku (personal communi-

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290   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

cation, Alfredo Solíz of Oruro). By 1954, Los Choclos’ Oruro counterparts

had their own panpipe tropa, Los Hijos del Pagador (The Sons of Pagador),
named after Oruro’s Pagador mountain (ibid.; various documents from Alfredo
Solíz’s collection). In similar fashion, Los Choclos inspired the shoe shiners
of Cochabamba—then Bolivia’s second-largest city—to form Los Hijos del
Tunari (personal communication, Alberto Orosco of Los Choclos). This group
was most likely the one that treated Paz Estenssoro and Charles de Gaulle
to a panpipe tropa version of “La Marseillaise” in Cochabamba in 1964 (see
Trigo O’Connor D’Arlach 1999:157).
Several new urban La Paz siku groups emerged in the mid-to-late 1950s.
All of them, to my knowledge, drew their members from urban society’s lower
socio-economic levels: those who sold services or goods on the street and/
or engaged in manual labor. These working-class mestizo or cholo ensembles
seem to have been linked to trade unions in a manner akin to estudiantinas
and brass bands. Post-1952 Bolivia’s expanded unionization thus appears to
have had some bearing on the rise of urban panpipe groups whose core per-
sonnel hailed from a single blue-collar profession (this also was true of early
Peruvian sikumorenos; see Valencia 1983:68–71, Turino 1993:146–47, Acevedo
2003:133–40). Manuel Cruz (personal communication), who joined the news-
paper deliverers’ panpipe tropa Los Cebollitas in the 1950s, recalled such urban
La Paz siku groups as Los Clavelitos (The Little Carnations) whose livelihood
was selling flowers, Los Pastelitos (The Little Pastries) who sold pastries, and
Los Cigarritos (The Little Cigarettes) who washed cars and “smoked too much.”
Other La Paz panpipe groups included the railworkers’ ensemble (personal
communication, Jorge Miranda), the window factory group that wore ponchos
and played “some huayños” with U.S. jazz musician Woody Herman during his
visit to Bolivia (ED, Sep. 6, 1958), the “La Paz workers” ensemble Los Caballeros
del Campo (The Country Gentlemen), who entertained French ethnologist
Louis Girault with an Incan fox-trot (d’Harcourt 1959:84–87),10 and Los Hijos
del Illimani, who provided accompaniment for Municipal Theater productions
on a few occasions (e.g., ED, Apr. 16, 1958; Sep. 3, 1960).
Los Choclos’ main competitor in the MNR era was the other vegetable-
named group, Los Cebollitas. Among urban La Paz siku consorts, these two
ensembles dominated the state-sponsored folklore niche. They were the
only panpipe groups to appear regularly at SPIC festivals, on Radio Illimani
broadcasts, and in nativist theater revues. Despite having a very low social
standing, often being belittled as the “boys” (regardless of their age) who
shined shoes and delivered newspapers on the street, both ensembles head-
lined recitals at the esteemed Municipal Theater alongside the most famous
Bolivian musicians of the day (see, for example, ED, Jul. 10, 1954; Municipal
Theater 1954 Concert Program). Los Cebollitas also played at ICB festivals
(e.g., ED, Nov. 19, 1953; Mar. 27, 1954) and enjoyed the favor of Waldo Cerruto,

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the ICB director who at one time formed part of the ensemble’s “honorary
directory” (El Arte de los Sindicatos 1956:14).
Los Cebollitas debuted at Ch’ijini’s Virgen del Rosario (Virgin of the Ro-
sary) fiesta in 1950. Formed by members of La Paz’s newspaper deliverers’
trade union, the ensemble even organized itself like a union, with elected
officers including secretaries of culture, relations, propaganda, and sports
(ibid.:11–14). Early in its existence the group crossed paths in Copacabana
with Peru’s Conjunto de Sikuris del Barrio Mañazo (Macedo 2006:28–29), one
of Puno’s oldest sikumoreno tropas (Acevedo 2003:137–39). But Los Cebol-
litas mainly “emulated Los Choclos,” and for much of the 1950s the group’s
directors were ex-Los Choclos members Antonio Valdivia and a Mr. Centeno
(personal communication, Manuel Cruz). The two ensembles developed an
artistic rivalry, frequently squaring off in musical duels held at nearby parks,
in a way that may have resembled the competitive style of indigenous wind
ensemble performances in rural highland villages.
In keeping with the misti sikuri tradition, Los Cebollitas and Los Cho-
clos played various Bolivian mestizo genres and international popular music
styles along with their trademark sikureadas/zampoñadas. Arturo Gutiérrez of
Los Choclos recalled (personal communication) that their repertoire in the
1950s included Colombian cumbias and the Argentine-style La Paz anthem
“Tango Illimani.” Not to be outdone, Los Cebollitas combined an indigenous-
sounding pentatonic melody with Cuban-inspired rhythms on a “mambo
dance” they played for Louis Girault (d’Harcourt 1959:98–99). Bolivian non-
Andean mestizo genres also had a place in Los Choclos’ and Los Cebollitas’
repertoire. On a 1955 EP (TK-10082), Los Cebollitas used their highland
sikus to interpret the taquirari, a duple meter mestizo genre from Bolivia’s
Eastern lowlands. The taquirari was the MNR party’s theme song,“Siempre”
(Always). The other track, by group member Paulino Quispe, was the huayño
“Indiecito de la Puna” (Little Indian from the Mountains). This piece’s title
infantilized Andean indigenous people in a manner all too common among
nonindigenous musicians in Bolivia and elsewhere.
Closer to the sound of Andean indigenous music probably were Los
Choclos’ and Los Cebollitas’ folkloric numbers in the Municipal Theater’s
nativist revues. These MNR-funded works staged scenes from rural Bolivian
life, with choreographed depictions of Andean indigenous traditions form-
ing the basis of many sketches. In the production Bolivia Indiana (Indian
Bolivia), Los Choclos interpreted the march-like kantus panpipe genre of
Charazani’s indigenous communities (ED, Jun. 12, 1957). To urban La Paz
audiences, Los Choclos’ kantus repertory likely conjured up mystical im-
ages of Charazani’s famed Kallawaya healers (although indigenous people
in Charazani do not associate their kantus tradition with Kallawaya healers;
see Templeman 1994). Similarly exoticizing indigenous spirituality, the sketch

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Plegaria de la Puna (Highland Prayer) in the work Fantasía Boliviana

(Bolivian Fantasy) enacted Andean rites for the condor and rhea while Los
Cebollitas’ sikus provided the musical accompaniment; the group’s attire
consisted of the plumed suri-sikuri headdresses often worn by indigenous
siku groups. In Canto al Sol (Song to the Sun), a Fantasía Boliviana sketch
portraying indigenous sun worship, Los Cebollitas played kena-kenas (large
kenas) while wearing the jaguar-skin outfit associated with this instrument,
which they learned to perform along with the tarka to meet the needs of
nativist theater productions (see Cerruto 1996:91–93).
Los Choclos’ and Los Cebollitas’ indigenous-flavored repertoire came
from several sources. Copacabana’s fiestas constituted a wellspring of tunes,
because Andean indigenous ensembles from Peru and Bolivia often made the
pilgrimage to this lakeside town (Arturo Gutiérrez, personal communication).
Los Choclos and Los Cebollitas had other opportunities to collect or draw
inspiration from indigenous melodies. In the period when both groups first
achieved prominence, the early-to-mid 1950s, an unprecedented number
of Andean indigenous wind groups performed in urban La Paz. These rural
ensembles participated in the MNR-funded “autochthonous music” festivals
held annually at La Paz Stadium from 1953 to 1956 (ED, Jul. 19, 1953; Jul.
12, 1954; Nov. 5, 1955; Aug. 4, 1956). This series presented indigenous siku
tropas as well as other rural Andean panpipe traditions (e.g., ayarachis, sikuras,
jula-julas). Audience members also heard indigenous musicians play various
kinds of end-notched flutes (e.g., kenas, choquelas, phusipías), duct flutes
(e.g., waka-pinkillos, chajes, tarkas), and traverse flutes (known variously
as phalas, pífanos, or flautas) in the typical rural Andean consort format.
The occasional recordings that visiting Andean indigenous ensembles made
in La Paz were another source of repertory for urban mestizo musicians in
the MNR years (see ED, Jul. 18, 1954; Oct. 16, 1961).
Impersonating the Andean Indian gradually became the customary Boliv-
ian mestizo panpipe ensemble practice as the 1950s and 1960s progressed.11
Los Cebollitas was perhaps the first local mestizo siku group to adopt Andean
indigenous peasant outfits—consisting of a striped poncho, lluchu (woolen
cap with ear flaps), and rubber-soled ojota sandals—as their standard per-
formance attire. This folkloric costume departed from the earlier misti sikuri
garb depicting Bedouin Arabs, Afro-Cuban dancers, U.S. boy scouts, and other
non-Andean characters. Further accentuating the group’s “Indian” image, in
nativist revues Los Cebollitas went by the name of Los Sikuris del Altiplano
(Panpipes of the Highlands), which had more of an autochthonous ring to it
than The Little Onions.12
Los Cebollitas’ folklorizations of indigenous music styles translated par-
ticularly well to the international stage. ICB Director Waldo Cerruto, MNR
President Paz Estenssoro’s brother-in-law, noticed the group’s potential early

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on. He recalled (personal communication) making contact with Los Cebol-

litas at Plaza Murillo (adjacent to the Presidential Palace) where one of the
members operated a newspaper stand.
Impressed with their showing at the ICB’s Native Art Competition (ED,
Jan. 12 and 17, 1953), where the group played its composition “Caminito
del Indio” (Little Pathway of the Indian),13 Cerruto invited Los Cebollitas to
join the Fantasía Boliviana revue for a 1955 tour of Argentina, Uruguay,
and Paraguay (Cerruto 1996:73–158). Never before had the Bolivian state
financially supported an international artistic endeavor of this magnitude. In
all likelihood, Los Cebollitas became the first Andean panpipe group to tour
the Southern Cone’s capital cities Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Asunción.
Performing as Los Sikuris del Altiplano, they earned high praise abroad, fulfill-
ing many critics’ expectations for authentic Andean indigenous music. One
impressed Argentine reviewer called them an “Indian group,” while another
from Paraguay was captivated by the “novel” music of “the autochthonous
group” whose “panpipes and drums emitted a surprising and fascinating
melody” (ibid.:130–31, 153–54).14
Four years later, again with Fantasía Boliviana, Los Cebollitas went even
further abroad, all the way to China, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union
during a three-month tour (Rios 2005:299–304) which took place when
MNR leaders briefly cultivated Socialist bloc allies in response to a tempo-
rary decline in U.S. financial support (see Lehman 1999:131–36). Upon the
troupe’s return, Fantasía Boliviana’s prestige was such that the company
served as Bolivia’s unofficial cultural ambassadors to greet visiting Mexican
President Adolfo López (ED, Jan. 30, 1960) and the U.S. military attaché (ED,
Nov. 20, 1960). Fantasía Boliviana traveled the next year to Colombia for
Cali’s IV Feria de la Caña de Azucar (IVth Sugar Cane Festival). Los Cebolli-
tas’ performance at this event was much applauded (Occidente [Colombian
newspaper], Dec. 28, 1961). In 1964, the panpipe group once again fulfilled
the role of Bolivian national music representatives when they serenaded the
famed Argentine singer and actress Libertad Lamarque upon her arrival at La
Paz’s El Alto airport (ED, Sep. 11, 1964).
Los Choclos, too, had opportunities to perform outside of the country.
The group’s international debut took place in Acapulco, Mexico, at the 1959
Pablo Casals Festival with the MNR-funded Ballet Boliviano. The company
also performed in Mexico City (personal communication, Jorge Miranda;
Rivera de Stahlie 2003:191, 237), then the home base for Raúl Shaw y Los
Peregrinos (discussed below). Five years later, Los Choclos participated in
the International Folklore Festival held in Río Hondo, Argentina (ED, Oct. 17,
1964). By this time, near the very end of the MNR era, the notion that Andean
panpipe music represented national culture had achieved some degree of
mainstream acceptance in urban Bolivian centers.

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While pleasing foreign audiences, Los Cebollitas’ and Los Choclos’ folk-
loric versions of Andean indigenous musical traditions also gained the ac-
claim of elite Bolivian critics who extolled them as improvements (e.g.,
ED, Feb. 2, 1955). This ethnocentric view mirrored the MNR’s modernist-
nationalist ideology. According to this logic, indigenous music was at its best
when “elevated” to match middle- and upper-class expectations. In this case,
the results were choreographed productions replete with exoticist imagery,
featuring indigenous Andean instruments modified to approximate Western
equal temperament. This latter feature was noticed by Louis Girault, who
praised the “excellent” Los Cebollitas for being much more “in tune” than
the many other Andean (indigenous) wind ensembles he had encountered
(d’Harcourt 1959:98). At the time, few (if any) urban Bolivians and foreign
ethnographers were aware that Andean indigenous musicians’ lack of strict
adherence to equal temperment tuning was one of the key sonic features
that enabled musical participation in community fiestas (see Turino 1993,
Stobart 2006). Aesthetic judgments rooted in modernist notions of progress
and social evolutionism thus went unchallenged in urban Bolivian public
forums. Los Cebollitas’ and Los Choclos’ repertory of international popular
music genres (e.g., mambos) may have lent some additional weight to the
idea that urban mestizo siku tropas were more modern than their rural
indigenous counterparts, strengthening the former’s candidacy to become
a fitting national ensemble for a modern Bolivian nation.
Outside the theater stage, Los Cebollitas and Los Choclos mixed aspects
of indigenous and mestizo musical styles at fiestas and informal gatherings.
This practice may have elicited feelings of inclusive national sentiment by
making tangible the notion of a pan-ethnic and pan-regional Bolivia. Hearing a
cueca (an emblematic Bolivian mestizo genre) played with sikus, for instance,
could have led audience members to link mestizo and indigenous cultural
traditions together and thus minimize some of their differences (although this
practice also could set mestizo groups apart from indigenous ones, maintain-
ing the mestizo-indigenous divide). By using the same instrumental lineup to
interpret various regional genres (e.g., taquiraris from the Eastern lowland
tropics), Bolivia’s mestizo panpipe consorts used an inclusive performance
practice similar in scope to that of many national music ensembles elsewhere.
Mexican mariachis likewise used one configuration to play a number of
regional genres, from huapangos of Eastern Mexico to sones jaliscienses of
Jalisco to polcas of the Northern frontier area (Sheehy 1997).
The siku’s indexical associations and Andean indigenous origin height-
ened Los Cebollitas’ and Los Choclos’ semiotic capability to musically bridge
the ethnicized chasm separating indigenous and nonindigenous Bolivians.
Another important factor was the misti sikuri tradition’s spread to many An-
dean indigenous communities since at least the 1940s (see discussion above),

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a process which intensified over the next decades. The sikureada developed
into the most widely diffused panpipe genre, and the siku became the pan-
pipe-type most commonly used in Bolivia’s Andean indigenous communities
(see Vellard 1954:94–96; Solomon 1997:137–46; Borras 2002; Ichuta Ichuta
2003; Stobart 2006:176–84). Although it occurred without state oversight,15
the misti sikuri ensemble and sikureada genre’s incorporation into Andean
indigenous cultural life was compatible with the MNR goal of pan-regional
cultural homogenization.16
Since the early twentieth-century, mestizaje has often served as “a master
narrative of national identity” in Latin America (Wade 2000:15). Local musical
genres whose ethnic or racial origins and associations potentially mediate
key cultural obstacles to nation-building projects have frequently become
emblematic national traditions (see Raphael 1990 on Brazilian samba, Auster-
litz 1997 on Dominican merengue, Moore 1997 on Cuban son). In Colombia,
anthropologist Peter Wade explains, local accounts of the birth of cumbia
and many other genres usually entail “endless play on the classic indigenous-
black-white triad underlying the mestizaje which is always adduced when
Costeño [coastal] music—and Colombian national identity—are discussed.”
The “end result,” Wade observes,“is the constant reiteration of the founding
myth of Colombian nationality” (2000:66). Acknowledging cumbia’s hybrid
origins fits the Colombian state’s nationalist ideology. Sometimes, though, a
genre’s mixed origins are downplayed in Latin America. This was the case
with samba, according to Hermano Vianna, who argues that it originated as
a syncretic genre yet was resignified as a purely Afro-Brazilian expression,
which paralleled the prevalent notion that “Brazilian ‘authenticity’” meant
“essentially ‘Afro-Brazilian’” (1999:xvii).
A similar process happened in Bolivia. MNR-era writings (e.g., newspa-
per articles, folklore publications) did not acknowledge the mestizo genesis
of the misti sikuri ensemble and sikureada genre. Tellingly, the designation
“misti sikuri” fell into disuse in urban La Paz (but not in some indigenous
communities; see D’Harcourt 1959:87–88). From then on, mestizo panpipe
tropas mainly would be called sikuris, zampoñaris, or zampoñeros. Aiding
the misti sikuri ensemble’s resignification as a traditional Andean indigenous
practice was the sikureada genre’s indigenous-sounding name. It gave the
impression that this lively panpipe genre originated as an exclusively indig-
enous custom; this misperception continues to exist in Bolivia (e.g., Condori
2004:27–28, CDIMA 2007:56–59; also see Ichuta Ichuta 2003). The misti
sikuri tradition’s resignification paralleled the growing centrality of Andean
indigenous imagery in mainstream urban Bolivian conceptions of the nation,
a process that seemed to contradict the MNR position on the nation-building
merits of mestizaje. However, the selective valorization of indigeneity has
often formed a key part of pro-mestizo Latin American nationalist state proj-

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296   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

ects (see Stutzman 1981, Smith 1996, Hellier-Tinoco 2005, López 2006). Los
Choclos and Los Cebollitas were mestizo ensembles, after all, whether or
not their renditions of rural indigenous musical styles were viewed by urban
audiences as mestizo folklorizations.
With its pre-Columbian air, the urban mestizo panpipe tropa could serve
well as a Bolivian national identity emblem. The siku was local to the Andean
region, where most of Bolivia’s population lived. It was also visually distinc-
tive (this trait often caught the attention of audiences at Los Choclos’ and Los
Cebollitas’ performances—e.g., Cerruto 1996:131–32, 137–38, 151–53). The
siku was not the only wind instrument—or even the only panpipe—used
in the Bolivian Andes, home to a vast array of locally distinctive aerophones,
but it had a key advantage in that its softer sound quality appealed to non-
indigenous urban tastes to a greater extent than that of most Andean winds
(including other panpipes such as jula-julas). This was an important advan-
tage, because elite and middle-class aesthetic preferences usually guide the
selection of canonical national music traditions, as Thomas Turino has shown
for the Zimbabwean case (1998). As for the siku, it is one of the few aero-
phones not consistently overblown to the high register in rural indigenous
practice. As a result, indigenous musicians produce a lower tessitura and
far less strident timbre on the siku than on most Andean winds (e.g., kenas,
pinkillos), thus conforming more closely to urban mainstream aesthetic stan-
dards (this has also been true in Peru; see Turino 1993:153–55). This helps
to explain why the juries at the MNR’s autochthonous music festivals often
disproportionately awarded the top prizes to siku groups rather than to other
indigenous wind ensembles (see ED, Nov. 5, 1955). The siku’s timbre also
provides a likely explanation for why the misti sikuri tradition’s originators
chose it in the first place instead of another Andean wind instrument. As for
Los Choclos and Los Cebollitas, both of whom also played tarkas, kena-kenas,
and pinkillos in nativist theater productions, the siku was their mainstay
throughout the MNR era as well as in later decades, which attests to this
particular instrument’s relatively greater appeal in urban Bolivian circles.

A National Music with Little Local Appeal: Urban Bolivian

Indifference Toward Panpipe Ensembles in the MNR Years
Los Choclos’ and Los Cebollitas’ performance style met the basic prerequi-
site of a locally distinctive Bolivian national music tradition which embodied
the key MNR nationalist tenet of mestizaje, but the lack of widespread cross-
class/ethnic Bolivian interest in Andean mestizo panpipe music minimized
its contribution to nation-building. The urban siku tropa remained a strictly
lower working-class mestizo phenomenon in terms of its active participants
and main audience in the 1950s and early 1960s. For the rest of La Paz’s mes-

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   297

tizo population, the brass band served as their emblematic music tradition,
as it had in prior decades. Panpipe ensembles held even less appeal for the
upper classes. Only in the late 1960s, after the MNR had fallen from power,
would elite and middle-class Bolivian siku consorts begin to appear in La
Paz, within the context of a burgeoning urban youth movement (see Rios
The stigma of the siku’s lower working-class associations partially ac-
counted for the instrument’s lack of substantial appeal in MNR-era urban La
Paz. Members of one of Bolivia’s earliest middle-class panpipe ensembles,
founded in the late 1960s, related to me their early fears about being mistaken
for shoe shiners. To differentiate themselves, the group made sure to project
a “classy” image by arriving at venues wearing suits and ties (they changed to
ponchos at the locale), fully showered and wearing deodorant (anonymous
personal communication).17 Using the discourse of modern hygiene to con-
struct middle and upper class identities is a ubiquitous practice in the Andean
countries (see Stephenson 1999, Weismantel 2001) and many other places.
This instance reveals, in a disturbing manner, the extent to which the urban
mestizo siku ensemble’s socio-economic associations were seen as highly
undesirable by middle- and upper-class individuals. This led some folkloric
musicians to try to divorce the urban panpipe tradition from its working-
class mestizo roots, a resignification that eventually would largely succeed,
although the urban siku tropa’s strong identification with shoe shiners and
newspaper deliverers remained intact in the MNR era and discouraged many
middle- and upper-class musicians from taking up the panpipes.
The siku was also strongly identified with Andean indigenous people,
and this lessened the instrument’s allure for urban society’s higher echelons,
whose longstanding anti-Indian prejudices did not suddenly disappear with
the 1952 revolution. For much of the early-to-middle twentieth century, An-
dean indigenous people had been denied entrance to La Paz’s main plaza,
Plaza Murillo (Albó 1986:29; Dandler and Torrico 1987:347). In post-1952
Bolivia, discrimination against indigenous people remained entrenched at
many elite-oriented La Paz establishments, including movie theaters, res-
taurants, hotels, and late-night music locales known as boîtes (French for
“box”), occasionally prompting state officials to denounce the persistence
of segregationism (e.g., ED, Aug. 14, 1954). However, the absence of indig-
enous musicians at upscale entertainment locales in La Paz continued in the
MNR era. The only urban La Paz public venue where indigenous ensembles
performed on several occasions in this period was La Paz Stadium, rather
than more exalted places located downtown such as the Municipal Theater.
Perhaps the MNR maintained this vestige of segregationism to placate the
middle-class and especially the elite, whose tolerance for Indian-sounding
music as played by Los Choclos and Los Cebollitas probably would not have

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298   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

extended to performances by actual rural indigenous musicians at so-called

respectable locales. This segregation also showed the limited degree to which
mainstream urban society welcomed indigenous people into the nation.
The MNR-indigenous alliance likely added to urban Bolivian disinterest in
the siku. In the wake of skyrocketing inflation (at one point reaching 600%),
unpopular IMF-designed and U.S.-approved economic measures, rampant
government corruption, and escalating persecution of political opponents
(sometimes imprisoned in concentration camps), the MNR’s once formidable
mandate dissipated in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Mitchell 1977; Dunker-
ley 1984), except among the Andean indigenous population in regions where
the Agrarian Reform benefited them. Forming peasant syndicates affiliated
to the ruling party and exercising their newfound right to vote (see Gordillo
2000), indigenous Andeans became an unexpected key source of MNR political
support. State-funded autochthonous music festivals cultivated this alliance.
These mass events also functioned as public statements of MNR-indigenous
solidarity, as in 1956 on Bolivian Independence Day, when hundreds of Andean
indigenous musicians formed the backdrop to second MNR President Hernán
Siles Zuaso’s inauguration (see ED, Jul. 15, Aug. 4, and Aug. 12, 1956).18
The MNR-indigenous coalition did not have the effect of persuading
most urban Bolivians (whether elite, middle-class, or working-class) to look
more favorably upon their rural indigenous countrymen, especially given the
regime’s plunging approval rating. Exacerbating anti-Indian sentiments was
the MNR’s deployment of indigenous militias (see Mitchell 1977:70–72, Albó
2008:19–20). The orchestrated spectacle of gun-toting Indians reinforced
stereotypes about Andean indigenous people’s bloodthirsty nature, as did
sensationalist news reports covering intra-indigenous conflicts (see Solomon
1997:522). Negative urban Bolivian views toward Andean indigenous people
seem to have increased rather than declined in the MNR period, partially ex-
plaining the lukewarm reception indigenous highland instruments obtained
in La Paz even when played by urban mestizo musicians.
In sum, Andean panpipe music’s insufficient mainstream appeal in MNR
era urban Bolivia thwarted Los Choclos’ and Los Cebollitas’ contribution
to nation-building. This situation is not altogether surprising, and not only
because the MNR’s nationalist rhetoric often fell on deaf ears. Around the
world, just because a musical style or genre has the semiotic potential to
mediate a particular country’s major social division does not guarantee its
canonization as the main national music tradition. In late nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century Argentina, for instance, the milonga genre “stood at the
crossroads of gaucho and immigrant cultures” (Schwartz-Kates 2002:11) and
thus could musically bridge the country’s key rural-urban divide (ibid.:11–16).
Yet by the 1920s the tango had taken over as the Argentine national music
par excellence, even though its strong association with Buenos Aires made

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it less effective as a unifying pan-regional genre than the milonga probably

could have been. This illustrates how the musical genre or style constructed
as the representative national tradition sometimes can be an unlikely force
for national unity (see Askew 2002 regarding Tanzania). In the Bolivian case,
Los Choclos and Los Cebollitas musically realized the MNR project of a more
inclusive nation, but nonetheless these panpipe groups failed to significantly
capture the imaginations of local audiences across class, ethnic, and party
lines, in contrast to the much wider popularity enjoyed by local bolero trios,
the ensemble of choice in MNR-era urban La Paz.

The Latin American Bolero Genre and the

Trío Romántico Ensemble
The bolero genre,19 with its lyrics of “bittersweet, unrequited, betrayed,
or eternal love,” was one of Latin America’s favorite romantic ballad forms
in the 1950s (Torres 2002:161). Numerous musicians tried their hand at
mastering it in the internationally fashionable trio format. In this respect La
Paz musicians were no different. The context, however, was very different.
Only in Bolivia did the 1950s bolero trio vogue erupt in such a nationalist
political setting, a somewhat incongruous development given this musical
trend’s non-Bolivian origin. To be sure, listening to local cover versions of
bolero hits enabled many Bolivians to temporarily escape the turbulent po-
litical, economic, and social changes they were living through. But escapism
was not the sole reason why they found local bolero trios so appealing. The
sound of crooning lead singers and rich vocal harmonies could also evoke
a sense of national sentiment, when Bolivian bolero trios interpreted local
genres (e.g., huayños, cuecas). This practice, localized even further when one
of the guitarists switched to the charango, was something that Raúl Shaw
y Los Peregrinos pioneered, to the delight of their fans, for whom this kind
of Bolivian folkloric-popular music served as an acceptable national style at
least in part because it was not strongly linked to politically divisive issues.
A moderate tempo vocal genre, the bolero emerged in the early 1900s as
an offshoot of the Cuban contradanza (also called habanera) and danzón,
which in turn had both developed out of the European Country Dance. Fea-
turing the danzón’s cinquillo ostinato (2/4 time: eighth note-sixteenth-eighth-
sixteenth-eighth), the bolero arrived in Mexico City where it was taken up
by Agustín Lara. Author of about five hundred boleros including the classics
“Solamente Una Vez” (Only Once) and “Mujer” (Woman), Lara moved the genre
away “from the 2/4 meter that featured a Cuban-influenced cinquillo rhythm,
to a smoother 4/4 meter that stressed accents on beats one, three and four”
(ibid.:158). From the 1930s, this less syncopated version of the bolero was
diffused internationally “as a discernibly Mexican cultural product” by the

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300   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

powerful broadcasts of Radio XEW, “The Voice of Latin America from Mexico”
(Pedelty 1999:35, 39–40).
In the mid-to-late 1940s, Mexican radio stations and films introduced the
trío romántico (romantic trio) style of interpreting the bolero genre to audi-
ences throughout the Americas. The group most responsible for setting the
mold for countless tríos románticos was Trío Los Panchos (see Dueñas 1993,
Ortíz 2004). Founded in New York City by Chucho Navarro and Alfredo Gil of
Mexico and Hernando Avilés of Puerto Rico in 1944, Trío Los Panchos spent
the next three years on tour before relocating to Mexico City. The group’s
trío romántico sound centered on carefully blended three-part vocal harmo-
nies (with occasional countertenor lines), accompanied by guitars (lightly
strummed, arpeggiated, and/or plucked), a requinto (a tenor guitar tuned a
fourth above the others), and various Spanish Caribbean percussion instru-
ments (e.g., maracas, timbales, bongós). Los Panchos’ fame was enhanced
by their many appearances in Mexican films, which often were named after
boleros (Torres 2002:158–166). Associated with romance, the glamorous Los
Panchos spawned imitators in every Latin American country.

The Bolero Trio’s Rise in Urban La Paz

The urban La Paz environment was ripe for the appearance of local bolero
trios in the mid-to-late 1940s. Audiences of the time enjoyed Bolivian mestizo
genres from the tropical lowlands as well as Cuban-inspired international
popular music genres (e.g., rumbas). Bolivian orquestas de jazz (swing-band
style groups) performed both types of “tropical” music in boîtes and other
nightspots where couples danced to light-hearted hits sung by soloists or
duos. Vocal duos were especially popular, in particular La Paz’s Las Kantutas
(named after the national flower) and Las Hermanas Tejada (The Tejada Sis-
ters), both of whom often performed on local radio broadcasts (Rios 2005:
Chapter 2). They formed part of a female vocal duo trend that existed in
many urban Latin American sites (e.g., Sao Paulo, Santiago, Quito), with the
first international stars being the Mexican sibling groups Las Hermanas Águila
and Las Hermanas Padilla (see Koegel 2002:105–06). La Paz audiences thus
were receptive to mass-mediated Mexican music trends and had come to
appreciate blended vocal harmonies and tropical-sounding rhythms some
years before the bolero trio arrived on the local music scene.
Raúl Shaw Boutier, of mixed English and French heritage, was part of
the first wave of Bolivian bolero singers. In the 1940s, he moved from his
birthplace of Oruro to La Paz, where critics acclaimed him as “the tenor of
the Americas” (ED, Oct. 5, 1945; Sep. 3, 1946; Jul. 4, 1947). Shaw later joined
Trío Panamérica Antawara (Pan-American Sunset Trio) (ED, Mar. 22, 1951), a
Trío Los Panchos cover band (personal communication, Raúl Shaw). About

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six months before the 1952 revolution, the real Los Panchos spent a few
weeks in Bolivia while touring South America (ED, Oct. 1 and 15, 1951). A
“Grand Competition for Los Panchos-Style Trios” was held in their honor in
La Paz; Trío Panamérica Antawara took part in this event (ED, Oct. 4, 1951).
Shortly after this concert, Shaw’s life changed dramatically when Los
Panchos members Navarro and Gil asked him to replace feuding lead vocal-
ist Avilés. When Shaw accepted the offer, they asked him to change his full
last name, Shaw Boutier, because its foreign ring clashed with the group’s
Mexican image. Raúl Shaw Boutier thus became Raúl Shaw Moreno (personal
communication), and under this name he toured the Americas with Los Pan-
chos (see Ortíz 2004:157–67, Fernández 2005:49–54). He recorded thirty-one
tracks with them, including “Lágrimas de Amor” (Tears of Love), Shaw’s own
composition (Ortíz 2004:380). Bolivia, for the first time, had produced an
internationally recognized popular music superstar.

Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos’ Musical Career

and Performance Practices during the First
and Second MNR Administrations
Shaw’s brief tenure in Los Panchos lasted from November of 1951 to Sep-
tember of 1952 (ibid.). Back in La Paz, he joined forces in 1954 with brother
Alex’s bolero trio Los Indios (The Indians), which they renamed Raúl Shaw
y Los Peregrinos (The Pilgrims) (personal communications, Raúl and Alex
Shaw). Raúl Shaw’s crooning tenor voice occupied center stage, supported
by Mario Barrios (third voice, first guitar), Lucho Otero (second guitar), Hugo
Encinas (second voice, guitar), and Alex Shaw (countertenor voice, guitar).
This expanded bolero trio format, an international trend in the 1950s, placed
more emphasis on the lead singer than Los Panchos had done. It was an ideal
setting for Raúl Shaw’s powerful voice. The new group quickly became a
local fixture, overshadowing La Paz’s many other bolero trios.20
From 1954 to 1956, Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos scheduled regular gigs
at elite-oriented downtown venues, such as confiterías (establishments serv-
ing snacks), movie theaters, and boîtes. The group usually alternated sets at
these locales with orquestas de jazz whose up-tempo numbers made a nice
contrast to boleros best suited for slow dancing. In addition to securing
these coveted upscale venues, which were closed to urban mestizo panpipe
tropas and rural indigenous wind ensembles, Shaw’s ensemble also played
at MNR-sponsored events. In 1954, they participated in the SPIC’s free con-
cert series at the Open Air Theater (e.g., ED, Oct. 10, 1954) and performed
at a paid admission Municipal Theater recital held in honor of President Paz
Estenssoro (ED, Jul. 11, 1954), providing evidence of how the group’s appeal
was not limited to a particular social class.

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Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos’ repertory of Bolivian mestizo genres, com-

bined with the ensemble’s unquestioned popularity, opened the door to their
participation in MNR-funded festivals and enabled the group’s members to
deflect possible critiques from nationalist government officials.21 Early in the
group’s career, their catalog of boleros was complemented by Andean cuecas,
huayños, and diabladas,22 and Eastern lowland taquiraris and polcas;23 these
mestizo genres appeared on a 1955 recording interspersed with bolero selec-
tions (ED, Jun. 11, 1955). Trumpeting the ensemble’s local flavor, confitería
Los Manzanos announced in an advertisement that Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos
would interpret “the songs of Bolivia and the Americas in one embrace” (ED,
Jul. 29, 1955). Boîte Maracaibo promoted them as a “folkloric group” whose
repertory featured “the new huayño-sikuri rhythm” (ED, Aug. 4, 1955), prob-
ably a bolero trio version of the sikureada panpipe genre. Raúl Shaw y Los
Peregrinos’ use of the bolero trio musical style to interpret Bolivian mestizo
genres followed in the path laid out by Los Panchos, whose recordings in-
cluded Mexican corridos, rancheras, and huapangos (see Ortíz 2004:374–81).
Other boleristas adopted this practice as well. Ecuador’s famed bolero singer
Julio Jaramillo, for one, often interpreted his country’s national genre, the
pasillo (a local waltz-variant).
In 1956, Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos embarked on an international ca-
reer that would be the envy of a Bolivian generation, inspiring the bolero
trios Arturo Sobénes y Los Cambas and Los Pepes to try their luck abroad.24
Shaw’s ensemble first went to Chile to record for ODEON. This was followed
by concerts and recording sessions in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and finally
Mexico, where the group was based from 1958 until they disbanded circa
1960. In Chile, their records at one time outsold those of homegrown bolero
star Lucho Gatica, according to a newspaper report that described how the
Bolivian group incited crazed enthusiasm among its fans, a phenomenon that
apparently resembled Elvis mania in the U.S.:
In every place where they perform there is screaming, fainting, fights, basically
the whole range of a scandal . . . they have broken all the records for LP sales . . .
Raul Shaw now has had to contract the services of a professional bodyguard and
four well-built male secretaries, under the pretext that their job is to carry the
guitars, to protect him from feminine aggressions. (Chilean newspaper article,
quoted in El Diario, Feb. 27, 1956).
The perfectly coiffed, clean-cut looks of Raúl Shaw, always seen in a suit
and tie or tuxedo when he was on stage, attracted many admirers in Bolivia
too, leading some of them to join the all-female fan club that La Paz’s Radio
Altiplano created in time for the debut of the Mexican film Mi Mujer Necesita
Marido (My Woman Needs a Husband) (ED, Apr. 5, 1960). This farcical movie
presented the singer in a cameo role and showcased his international bolero

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hit “Cuando Tú Me Quieras” (When You Will Love Me).With his then-modern
sound, Shaw was without question the favorite local musician in urban Bo-
livian circles. His appeal could even rival that of glamorous pop stars from
abroad, as revealed by Shaw’s first-place ranking in the Radio Altiplano call-in
program “I am the public and I am the popular music judge” (ED, Jul. 1, 1958).
For a Bolivian singer, this was a highly unusual situation, because urban La
Paz residents had generally preferred foreign musicians over local ones for
much of the twentieth century.
Certainly this was true in the late 1950s when Bolivian access to im-
ported records was at its highest point so far. The MNR precipitated this
development by eliminating record sale taxes in mid-1958 (see ED, Nov. 9,
1962). This measure, which made foreign records much more affordable
to local consumers, was consistent with the second MNR administration’s
implementation of the free trade IMF stipulations favoring U.S. companies. It
took effect at an important moment in the U.S. recording industry’s expansion
into Latin American markets. As Mexican music historian Eric Zolov explains
(1999:20–26), record sales first became a key revenue source for U.S. tech-
nology corporations in the mid-to-late 1950s. Like Mexico City, La Paz was
inundated with foreign-made recordings, overtaking the limited production
of Bolivia’s sole record label, Discos Méndez. Bolivians now had far greater
opportunity to purchase the latest offerings by North American vocalists
(e.g., Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole), U.S.-promoted Latin dance bands (e.g.,
Xavier Cugat), and non-Bolivian bolero singers (see ED, 1958–1960). This
sudden influx of imported records led many Bolivians to construct suppos-
edly “modern” identities through personal identification with mass-mediated
international styles. In urban La Paz, youths organized neighborhood parties
called Fiestas de Animación where guests improvised percussion parts to
accompany their favorite albums (personal communications, various).
The proliferation of non-local recordings in post-revolution Bolivia oc-
curred when the MNR commitment to state-sponsored folklore festivals had
been severely curtailed to satisfy the IMF’s austerity demands. U.S.-approved
economic policies brought the MNR into increasing conflict with its own
populist rhetoric and nation-building project, as well as stunting the local
recording industry’s development. This lessened the chance that Bolivian
entrepreneurs would try to create and maintain a profitable country-wide
market for locally distinct music styles that could elicit feelings of inclusive
national sentiment. Yet because the MNR’s laissez-faire policies toward im-
ported records also made the international releases of Raúl Shaw y Los Per-
egrinos readily available at home, the group’s commercial successes abroad
frequently evoked national pride for Bolivians well aware of their country’s
lack of presence on the world stage. In La Paz newspaper columns, writers

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thanked the internationally traveled musicians for serving as “great artistic

ambassadors” (ED, Feb. 27, 1956), being “one of the few of our compatriots
who has acquired international prestige” (ED, Jun. 29, 1958) and embodying
“high patriotic spirit” (ED, Oct. 26, 1958).
Nationalist language often figured in local discussions of Shaw’s group,
gaining fuel from the Bolivian genres present on many of their recordings. One
very popular release devoted to this repertoire was the English-titled ODEON
album Music of Bolivia. This LP was available for purchase in La Paz soon
after the group recorded it in Chile (ED, Aug. 28, 1958). The track “Pollerita”
(Andean layered skirt), a huayño by Shaw with a stanza in Quechua,“caused
a frenzy” in La Paz, remembered Bolivian bolero musician Víctor Córdova
(personal communication), who founded Trío Los Danubios in 1959. Other
selections from this ODEON album also became urban Bolivian folkloric
standards, in particular the huayño “Naranjitay” (My Little Orange) and polca
“Palmeras” (Palm Trees). The prestige Bolivians granted to this recording thus
led to the canonization of its contents. Aspiring to this level of recognition,
many La Paz-based groups recorded bolero trio-flavored versions of Boliv-
ian mestizo genres. Among the most popular were Los Pepes’ 1958 album
Folklore de Bolivia (Folklore of Bolivia) and Arturo Sobénes y Los Cambas’
1959 LP Bolivia y Su Música (Bolivia and Its Music).
Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos established a highly influential new style
of interpreting Bolivian mestizo genres. Shaw’s crooning solo tenor, full of
vibrato on long notes, alternated with the backing vocals of Los Peregrinos,
who usually repeated Shaw’s last phrase or stanza in three-part harmony. The
group’s vocal sound was a far cry from the untrained, rougher quality that
North American folk revivalists such as Bob Dylan employed to construct a
sense of authenticity, but that exceedingly few urban Bolivian folklorists used
in the MNR period. Instead, most sought to match the vocal style of Raúl Shaw
y Los Peregrinos, whose fusions of the local and translocal were generally
understood by La Paz audiences as modernized forms of traditional Bolivian
music. This viewpoint was consistent with the urban Bolivian predilection
for equating internationally fashionable popular music trends with modernity.
For this reason, Bolivian bolero trio folklorization practices in some ways re-
sembled the MNR’s cultural modernization objectives, whether or not party
officials saw it this way.
Further localizing the bolero trio format, Shaw’s group often added a char-
ango player when performing Andean mestizo genres (though not for boleros or
Bolivian lowland repertoire). A ukulele-size stringed instrument with re-entrant
tuning (most commonly ee-AA-eE-CC-GG), the charango is used by mestizos
and indigenous people in the Bolivian Andes. Mestizo models usually have ten
strings divided into five courses. The instrument’s tessitura resembles that of
the requinto that many bolero trios used. When Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos

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interpreted Andean-inspired repertoire, the group member who switched to the

charango was second guitarist Lucho Otero. His charango technique, somewhat
rudimentary by Bolivian mestizo standards, mainly consisted of strummed
chords, which sometimes interlocked with plucked guitar lines or solo piano
passages in bridge sections, instrumental interludes, and introductions, such
as on the group’s recording of the cueca “Ódiame o Quiéreme” (Hate Me or
Love Me) and huayño “Ríe Corazón” (Laugh, My Heart).25
Despite Otero’s far-from-stellar charango skills, Los Peregrinos’ celebrity
propelled him to the status of Bolivia’s best-known charanguista. He influenced
many local musicians to take up the instrument, including Jaime Lafuente of
the La Paz bolero trio Los Dandys (personal communication). Founded circa
1956, Lafuente’s group was described in a boîte Maracaibo advertisement as
“four voices, three guitars and one charango” (ED, Jan. 16, 1960). Rising inter-
est in the charango was such that ads for method books started to appear in
Bolivia’s major newspapers, perhaps for the first time (e.g., ED, Dec. 4, 1958;
La Nación, Jan. 7, 1960). Solo charango players with punteado (plucked) tech-
nique became a more frequent presence on the urban La Paz scene, including
artists from other Bolivian departmentos such as Mauro Nuñez of Sucre (ED,
Jul. 18, 1957) and the Potosi musicians Modesto Gómez (personal communica-
tion; ED, Jan. 16, 1959) and Toribio Oros Alba (La Nación, Jan. 7, 1960).
The charango’s growing popularity in mid-to-late 1950s urban La Paz
was not solely due to the efforts of Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos. La Paz mes-
tizos had been using this instrument since at least the nineteenth-century
(see Soux 2002). In the 1940s and early 1950s, Bolivian radio programs oc-
casionally presented charanguistas, especially Gerardo Chocni López and his
group Los Sumac Waynas (Quechua for “The Good-Looking Guys”) (Rios 2005:
Chapter 2). However, Shaw’s ensemble and the many Bolivian bolero trios
who emulated them by using a charanguista to interpret local mestizo genres
unquestionably raised the instrument’s status as a Bolivian identity marker, a
crucial step in the charango’s gradual construction as a representative national
instrument (Bolivia’s government declared the charango “Intangible Cultural
Patrimony” in 2006).
Of the many locally distinctive instruments played in Bolivia, Raúl Shaw
y Los Peregrinos chose the one perhaps best-suited for semiotically bridging
the country’s Andean mestizo-indigenous divide. The charango’s long history
of continuous indigenous and mestizo use is, to my knowledge, unsurpassed
by that of other locally distinctive Bolivian instruments. Mestizos and indig-
enous people, therefore, both can easily claim it as their own, more so than
with other instruments. This makes the charango somewhat unique, not only
for a Bolivian instrument, but also for a Latin American stringed instrument.
The Cuban tres, Colombian tiple, Venezuelan cuatro, and most other Latin
American stringed instruments are mainly associated with mestizos and/or

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306   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

whites rather than blacks or indigenous people, which limits the instruments’
pan-ethnic meanings. The charango, in contrast, can indexically link much
of Bolivia’s population across its ethnicized lines (the main exception being
the Eastern lowland region). Furthermore, because of its syncretic origin as
an Andean version of the Spanish guitar or vihuela, the charango to some
extent embodies the MNR’s nation-building panacea of mestizaje, the fusion
of distinct cultures into a new form.
However, Otero left much of the charango’s capabilities as a pan-ethnic
emblem unrealized. His playing of tertian triad-based chords in standard An-
dean mestizo harmonic progressions (e.g., i-III-VII7-III-VI-III-V7-i) was not at
all reminiscent of rural indigenous charango practice, which instead features
non-triadic chord voicings conceived melodically rather than harmonically
(see Stobart 2006: Chapter 4). In addition, Otero did not try to approximate
the indigenous charango sound by using the chord-melody strumming tech-
nique known as k’alampeado that Northern Potosi miners had developed
(this rural mestizo charango style is briefly discussed in Leichtman 1989).
He also opted for a nylon-stringed charango instead of a more indigenous-
sounding steel-stringed model. These choices placed Otero’s charango style
firmly in the urban mestizo camp.
The same was true of Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos’ entire localist rep-
ertoire, notwithstanding the occasional song with pentatonic passages and
fanciful Andean Indian imagery, such as the huayño “Huayra Huayra” (Quechua
for “Powerful Wind”), which bore no resemblance whatsoever to rural indig-
enous expressive practices. The group’s approach when interpreting local
genres thus had severely limited potential as a national music tradition with
pan-ethnic appeal, yet its lack of substantive indigenous content was also
one major reason why so many middle and upper-class Bolivians embraced
this particular form of urban folkloric-popular music with such enthusiasm.
Unencumbered by strong indexical associations with rural indigenous people,
bolero trio versions of local mestizo genres could elicit national sentiment for
non-indigenous Bolivians while bypassing the contentious issue of pan-ethnic
national inclusion, something that urban mestizo panpipe music could not
as readily do.
Being free of overtly politicized associations added to Raúl Shaw y Los
Peregrinos’ and other local bolero trios’ popularity in urban La Paz. At a
time of rising opposition to MNR rule and deepening intra-party factional-
ism (Mitchell 1977), the bolero trios of La Paz stood above the fray to most
Bolivian ears, regardless of one’s political affiliation, because in all likelihood
no one thought that the Bolivian government had anything to do with this
music, even though the MNR’s post-1958 taxation policies on imported re-
cords contributed indirectly to the Bolivian bolero trio vogue. At any rate,
IMF-mandated reforms unintentionally aided this musical trend. Unlike urban

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mestizo panpipe groups, therefore, Bolivian bolero trios’ performances of local

genres could produce feelings of national sentiment without strongly calling
to mind the MNR party or the indigenous population. This was part of the
music’s overall appeal, but at the same time greatly lessened its contribution
to inclusive Bolivian nation-building.

The Decline of the Bolivian Bolero Trio Boom

Bolivia’s bolero trio vogue began losing ground in the early 1960s. By
then, Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos had disbanded in Mexico. Another Bolivian
bolero trio would not come close to reaching their level of renown at home
or abroad, as the trío romántico style’s moment of international glory “came
to a close toward the end of the 1950s” (Torres 2002:167). As for the genera-
tion of Bolivian boleristas who aspired to stardom, many pushed the bolero
aside in the mid-to-late 1960s and reinvented themselves as fully committed
folklorists who exclusively recorded traditional local genres. Los Dandys
swapped their suits and ties for colorful ponchos and added a kena player to
become Los Laickas (Aymará for “The Sorcerers”), Trío Melódico Los Latinos
(Latin Melodic Trio) added a charanguista and took the name of Los Amautas
(Quechua for “The Wise Ones”), Elsita Navarro y Los Melódicos’ singer/guitar-
ist Hery Cortéz founded the overtly nativist Los Ruphay (Quechua for “The
Rays of the Sun”), and Cuarteto de Oro (Golden Quartet) vocalist Edgar Yayo
Joffré and occasional bandmate Ernesto Cavour joined with Swiss kena solo-
ist Gilbert Favre in the seminal Andean folkloric-popular music conjunto Los
Jairas (Aymará for “The Lazy Ones”) (Rios 2005: Chapters 5 and 7). Among
the earliest Bolivian ensembles to combine the charango and guitar with a
siku tropa, Los Jairas recorded several tracks that showcased the panpipe
style of Los Choclos in the late 1960s (ibid.:603–05).
The rising popularity of urban Bolivian folkloric-popular music groups
who foregrounded Andean indigenous imagery and instruments (e.g., kena,
bombo) was connected to the local recording industry’s expansion. In 1962,
the MNR reinstituted taxes on imported record sales (ED, Nov. 9, 1962), a
measure that stimulated local capitalist entrepreneurship, one of the MNR’s
main goals all along. Unlike in the 1950s, though, protectionist Bolivian state
policies now had U.S. backing. In the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the
Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy’s administration supported certain Latin Ameri-
can economic nationalist measures under the assumption that local capitalist
development through Import Substitution Industrialization would prevent
the spread of socialism (Lehman 1999). With Paz Estenssoro re-installed as
Bolivian president in 1960, the MNR allied itself with the USA and became
“something of a showcase for the Alliance for Progress” (ibid.:136). The new
major Bolivian record labels established in this more protectionist economic

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308   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

climate, Discolandia, Lauro Records, and Campo, contracted a number of

bolero singers and groups who made the switch to more locally distinctive
musical styles (Rios 2005: Chapters 5, 7). The capitalist strategy of exploit-
ing local markets led the nascent Bolivian record industry to push the musi-
cal folklorization process in new directions, a development that conformed
with the twentieth-century Latin American pattern of “inclusive nationalism
and expanding modernist capitalism” advancing in close tandem (Turino
2003:202) as well as aided the decline of Bolivia’s bolero trio boom.

Conclusion and Closing Thoughts

Although most Latin American countries obtained their political inde-
pendence in the nineteenth century, it was not until the twentieth century
that inclusive nation-building became a state priority throughout the region.
As part of this process, locally distinctive musical practices that had primar-
ily functioned as regional, community, and/or ethnic identity emblems were
often resignified as national traditions. How particular genres, styles, and/or
ensemble-types came to be widely accepted as the main national forms varied
from country to country. In Brazil and the Dominican Republic, authoritarian
political regimes aided the canonization of certain genres (see Raphael 1990
on samba, Austerlitz 1997 on merengue). In Venezuela, where state-funded
folklore departments operated with relatively less oversight from top gov-
ernment officials, the ethnomusicologists Isabel Aretz and Luis Felipe Ramón
y Rivera played a major role in establishing the national credentials of the
joropo genre and tamunanque dance-suite (see Ramón y Rivera 1953, Guss
2000: Chapter 5). In Nicaragua, the lack of a suitable national music genre led
a local artist to invent the son nica (see Scruggs 1999). A key actor in the
canonization process in most Latin American countries was the local media
(e.g., record companies, radio stations, film industry), especially in places
such as Mexico with highly developed mass-communication industries (see
Sheehy 1997).
The Bolivian case outlined in this essay differs from these Latin American
examples. MNR-era initiatives in the musical realm usually lacked the necessary
funding and seldom came close to achieving their declared goals, which were
usually quite vague to begin with, and top MNR officials expressed little interest
in defining which local musical genre, style, or instrument best embodied the
nation’s essence. Furthermore, the MNR government did not provide substantial
and consistent financial support for particular ensembles or ensemble-types.
The MNR leadership’s role in selecting national music traditions was thus
largely indirect. This meant that state-appointed folklore authorities (e.g., Julia
Fortún,Waldo Cerruto) could perhaps have guided the musical folklorization
process toward very specific ends of their own choosing (e.g., canonizing

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one musical genre as the main national form) without having to deal with
much MNR interference. However, they did not so to a significant degree, nor
did any other influential figure up to that point in Bolivian history. As for the
local media industry, underdevelopment restricted its ability to affect musical
trends. One outcome of this state of affairs was that Bolivia, unlike most Latin
American countries, entered the mid-1960s without a preeminent national
music tradition that was widely recognized as such.
This longstanding void was one that La Paz’s bolero trios and urban mes-
tizo panpipe tropas failed to fill in the MNR era for a variety of reasons, as I
have explained. The bolero trio’s ephemeral status as a Bolivian national music
ensemble configuration is perhaps unsurprising, given the foreign origin of
this ensemble-type and its signature genre. In many sites worldwide, though,
musical genres of non-local provenance function as key local identity emblems.
Mexico is a case in point: mariachis incorporated the bolero into their stan-
dard repertoire under the name of bolero-ranchero, thereby firmly attaching
the Caribbean-inflected genre to Mexican identity (Pedelty 1999). A compa-
rable Bolivian “nationalization” of the bolero genre did not happen in the MNR
years—or even later—perhaps because Bolivians expect their national genres
to be of local origin. Mexicans appear to be more flexible than Bolivians on
this matter (other examples include the Mexican polka or polca; see Sheehy
1997). Interestingly, urban Bolivians exempted from this localist prerequisite
the bolero trio’s trademark vocal style (three-part harmonies with occasional
countertenor lines, soloists with wide vibrato), which local folkloric-popular
music singers continued to use long after the bolero trio vogue had ended,
with little questioning of its non-Bolivianness. Another bolero trio legacy, and
an even more unexpected one at that, was the consolidation of the charango’s
national instrument status in urban Bolivian mainstream society.
Also unexpected, perhaps, was the largely ambivalent urban Bolivian
response toward mestizo panpipe groups in the MNR era. This sort of reac-
tion, though, was not uncommon in the hemisphere. Latin America’s elite and
middle class only gradually came to accept the idea that musical representa-
tions of the nation should take inspiration from the traditions of the masses.
This process, always fraught with tensions and setbacks, was hampered in
urban La Paz by anti-Indian prejudice, classist attitudes, and the MNR’s plum-
meting approval rating, among other factors. Most urban La Paz residents
of this era chose the bolero trio—rather than the panpipe tropa—as their
favorite type of Bolivian national music ensemble, aware at some level that
it was a conservative decision that reflected the mainstream urban view of
the MNR’s modernist project of national inclusion.
Despite the panpipe consort’s limited audience appeal in MNR-era urban
La Paz, the establishment of an urban Bolivian mestizo panpipe ensemble
tradition largely dates from this period (1952–1964). In the late 1960s and

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310   Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2010

early 1970s, the number of urban La Paz siku tropas expanded to include
new working-class groups (e.g., Los Ch’uspitas, Kori Sikus,Wara Waynas, Kori
Inti) and, for the first time, middle and upper-class ensembles (e.g., Los Zam-
poñas del Huracán, Los Huiñay, Los Yaravís) and all-female groups (e.g., Las
Tunkawaris, Las Kory Majtas) (Rios 2005:610–14). In recent decades, the
panpipe tropa has served as an identity emblem for urban youths of rural
indigenous ancestry in La Paz’s satellite city of El Alto (see Archondo 2000,
Bigenho 2002:109–13, Vega 2002, Guaygua et al. 2003). Setting the stage for
this trend was the mestizo panpipe ensemble tradition’s long history in urban
La Paz, though few studies acknowledge this precedent (the main exception
being Ichuta Ichuta 2003).
In Peru, Andean mestizos likewise shaped the urban panpipe move-
ment’s early trajectory (see Turino 1993: Chapter 6). Circa 1970, middle-class
mestizos from Puno who were studying in Lima founded Peru’s “vanguard”
siku group, Asociación Juvenil Puneña (Association of Puneño Youths; AJP).
They specialized at first in the sikumoreno style, a Peruvian panpipe tradition
mainly associated with working-class mestizos or cholos. AJP switched to
Conima’s indigenous sikuri style in the late 1970s, largely for ideological rea-
sons connected to the group’s “solidarity with indigenous people and culture”
(ibid.:150–51). Following AJP’s lead, many urban Peruvian groups adopted
Conima’s distinctive, parallel-third siku consort tuning. Unbeknownst to AJP
and their emulators was the fact that Conima’s indigenous sikuri harmonic
style was mainly the brainchild of mestizo indigenista Natalio Calderón circa
1930 (ibid.:127–31). In their search for a more indigenous siku tradition, AJP
inadvertently chose the one most compatible with nonindigenous Peruvian
aesthetic preferences (Turino 1991).
Bolivian urban panpipe musicians also were first drawn to a mestizo siku
genre, the sikureada, which is closely related to the Peruvian sikumoreno
tropa’s signature genre. The next Andean Bolivian panpipe genres to become
standard repertoire for urban La Paz ensembles originated in rural Italaque
and Charazani, highland regions whose indigenous siku groups had the most
successful track records at urban La Paz festivals (see Rios 2005). In the case
of Italaque’s famed siku tradition, its early diffusion to urban La Paz had much
to do with the efforts of a mestizo indigenista, Bolivian ethnomusicologist
Antonio González Bravo. His involvement with this region’s siku tropas dates
from his time as a teacher at Warisata’s socially progressive “Indian school”
in the 1930s (ibid.:83–86). Whether González Bravo had as much of a hand
in shaping or modifying Italaque’s panpipe style as Peru’s Natalio Calderón
did in Conima is not known. Given Italaque and Conima’s close proximity,
though, it is feasible that there was some degree of mutual influence between
their respective indigenista musical activities in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   311

Although Bolivia’s and Peru’s urban panpipe ensemble traditions ini-

tially developed in similar fashion, the paths they followed diverged in
ways that at times corresponded with the country’s nation-building proj-
ect. The substantial differences between the Bolivian and Peruvian states’
nation-building priorities from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s, too complex
to summarize here, are those that scholars link to the capital cities’ geo-
graphic placement (Lima is a lowland coastal city, whereas La Paz is in the
Andean highlands) and to the lower profile of populist movements in Peru
as compared to Bolivia. Related to these notable differences is the fact that
Andean indigenous imagery has occupied a far more emblematic role in
mainstream urban conceptions of national identity in Bolivia than it has in
Peru since the 1960s. In the Bolivian case, what has generally happened in
the folkloric realm is that nonindigenous versions of indigenous practices
have been cast as national traditions of indigenous origin (see Abercrombie
Exemplifying this process, the urban La Paz siku tropa’s mestizo roots
were essentially forgotten by the 1970s, by which time few Bolivians remem-
bered the tradition’s earlier name of misti sikuris. The “misti” (mestizo) prefix
fell into disuse sometime in the MNR era. Peruvian mestizos, in contrast, never
changed the sikumoreno name, despite its derivation from the morenada, a
duple-meter genre mainly played by mestizo brass bands in patron saint fiestas.
Rather than blurring the lines between indigenous and mestizo panpipe tropa
styles as their Bolivian counterparts often did, Peruvian sikumoreno musicians
thus retained an obvious marker of their tradition’s mestizoness, perhaps re-
flecting this musical style’s greater connection to highland mestizo identity
(see Valencia 1983:65–87, Acevedo 2003:133–39) than to Peruvian national
identity. Solo panpipe music serves as another point of comparison: whereas
its incorporation into urban mainstream Bolivian “national” popular music be-
gan in the 1970s and was complete by the early 1980s (see Céspedes 1984),26
in this same period Peruvians mainly associated the solo panpipe with the
pan-Latin Americanist Nueva Canción movement to the extent that folkloric-
popular music ensembles featuring this instrument were usually placed in
the música latinoamericana category along with Chile’s Inti-Illimani and
Quilapayún (see Oliart and Lloréns 1984).
To be sure, many factors account for the differences in meaning that
Bolivians and Peruvians have often attached to the same or related musical
styles and instruments. But it is certain that the MNR period was a critical
moment in the redefinition of mainstream urban Bolivian identity toward
its current phase, one in which the panpipe and charango function as key
national emblems, a development that gradually took shape in the decades
following the 1952 Revolution.

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I wish to thank the staff at Bolivia’s Congressional Library for graciously allowing me access
to the newspaper archive. Their patience as I requested every issue of El Diario from 1951
to 1964 for this project is much appreciated. I also am very grateful to the musicians whom I
interviewed, especially Alex Shaw and the late Raúl Shaw of Los Peregrinos, Orlando Rojas of Los
Pepes, Jaime Lafuente and Tito Morlán of Los Dandys,Víctor Córdova of Trío Los Danubios, Jorge
Miranda, Arturo Gutiérrez, and Alberto Orosco of Los Choclos, Manuel Cruz of Los Cebollitas,
Alfredo Solíz of Los Hijos del Pagador (and the director of Las Kory Majtas), Javier Magne, Roger
Cusicanqui, and Fausto López of Los Sikuris del Altiplano, and Raúl Lizárraga and René Machicado
of Los Zampoñas del Huracán. I must acknowledge Ernesto Cavour for providing me with many
valuable contacts throughout my time in Bolivia. Thank you also to the late Waldo Cerruto for
information about the folklorization initiatives he oversaw as director of the Bolivian Cinemato-
graphic Institute. Many thanks also go to Thomas Turino and the anonymous reviewers for their
suggestions. Thalia, who supports me in everything I do, deserves my deepest gratitude.

1. The MNR’s 1955 Education Reform institutionalized use of the term “peasant” as a substitute
for “Indian” in Bolivia’s classrooms. It also prioritized Spanish language acquisition skills in rural
schools and excluded indigenous languages (Contreras 2003). Also consistent with the ruling
party’s mestizaje agenda, the MNR’s 1953 Agrarian Reform was designed on the capitalist notion
of private property, not on Andean indigenous communal ownership principles (Platt 1982).
2. The MNR gave jurisdiction rights over mestizo and indigenous music festivals to separate
entities. While indigenous festivals mainly fell under the purview of the Municipal Council of
Culture, the MNR entrusted mestizo music concerts to the Subsecretary of Press, Information,
and Culture (SPIC) and, to a lesser extent, the Bolivian Cinematographic Institute (ICB). This MNR
policy, which bifurcated local musical traditions along ethnicized lines, somewhat contradicted
the state goal of creating an all-encompassing national culture (see Rios 2005: Chapter 3).
3. I use “ED” as an abbreviation for the La Paz newspaper El Diario (The Daily).
4. According to Valencia (1983:68, 95, 102), Puno’s sikumoreno groups used to travel to the
provincial La Paz town of Sicasica to attend fiestas. Sicasica is known to Andeanist historians as
“the cradle of Indian rebels and successive uprisings” in highland Bolivia from the 1780s to the
1890s (Larson 2004:232). Further research is required to ascertain if linkages existed between
the town’s misti sikuri tradition and Bolivian political developments.
5. Jula-julas, sikuras, and ayarachis are Andean indigenous panpipe traditions. Jula-julas are
pentatonically tuned, single-row panpipes that usually have three to four tubes per instrument.
Sikuras typically have seventeen tubes that are tuned to a diatonic scale. Each sikura contains
the entire pitch series, making it possible for one musician to play a complete melody. In actual
practice, though, sikura musicians use a form of hocketing technique that produces a constant
echo effect. Ayarachis are double row panpipes with five to seven tubes that are not played
with a hocketing technique. See Cavour (2003) for basic information on many other Andean
indigenous panpipe-types used in Bolivia (e.g., chiriguanos, mimulas).
6. My discussion of Bolivian misti sikuris in this paragraph applies equally to Peruvian
sikumorenos (see Valencia 1983, Acevedo 2003, Macedo 2006).
7. In Conima, Peru, indigenous musicians use the term chuta-chuta for this same cadential
figure, a stock phrase in the choclo and ligero genres (Turino 1993:82). It seems to me that
Conima’s choclo genre (the ligero genre’s likely progenitor) originated as an indigenous ver-
sion of the sikumoreno/sikureada tradition. They feature similar octave hocketing figures at
cadences and use almost identical percussion sections (see ibid.:47). Conima’s choclo genre
may have taken its name from the urban Bolivian mestizo panpipe group Los Choclos discussed
in this article, or perhaps from the Peruvian sikumoreno ensembles Los Choclos of Juli or Los
Choclitos-4 de Diciembre of Illave (see Valencia 1983:70).

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Rios: La Paz Musicians and the 1952 Revolution   313

8. The Bolivian cueca and bailecito are related the Peruvian-Chilean zamacueca genre
and feature the sesquiáltera hemiola (alternation between 3/4 and 6/8 meters). The huayño is
a simple duple meter genre with a galloping pulse. Mestizo panpipe musicians sometimes use
“huayño” and “sikureada” as synonyms.
9. In Andean Bolivian cities such as La Paz, the terms mestizo, cholo, and cholo-mestizo
mainly refer to the urban working-class.
10. Popular in La Paz since the 1920s, the “Incan fox trot” probably originated in Peru
within the context of the elite-led nativist movement known as indigenismo.
11. In Oruro, for example, circa 1961 the urban siku group Los Hijos del Pagador began
wearing indigenous garb as their performance attire in place of their former outfits (e.g., Mus-
keteers, Cubans) (personal communication, Alfredo Solíz; various documents).
12. Los Cebollitas also used this alias on recordings (e.g., TK-10082; also see Sánchez
1996:56). The group separated into two ensembles in the mid-1960s, one of which took the
name of Los Sikuris del Altiplano (personal communication, Manuel Cruz).
13. I am unsure if Los Cebollitas’s panpipe tune “Caminito del Indio” was inspired by
Argentine singer/guitarist Atahualpa Yupanqui’s famed song of the same name.
14. For more on Fantasía Boliviana 1955, see Cerruto (1996), Rios (2005:274–85), and
Bigenho (2006).
15. However, mestizo schoolteachers may have encouraged this trend in some indigenous
communities in Northern Potosi (see Solomon 1997:143–44, Stobart 2006:176–84), where the
most traditional panpipe types are the sikura and jula-jula (Solomon 1997:130–37, 147–55,
448–65; Stobart 2006: Chapter 6).
16. To hear an indigenous group perform the sikureada genre, refer to the panpipe selec-
tion “Sikus: Wayñu” from Ayopaya (Cochabamba) on the field recording Bolivien: Musik im
Andenhochland (Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin MC14).
17. I have withheld the names of these musicians for reasons of discretion.
18. In a similar vein, the MNR government held an indigenous music festival in urban La
Paz shortly before the 1960 presidential election (ED, Apr. 21, 1960).
19.  Despite sharing a name, the triple-meter Spanish bolero and duple-meter Latin American
bolero are distinct genres (see Torres 2002: 152–53).
20. La Paz’s most popular bolero trios in the first MNR term included Trío Panamérica
Antawara (Raúl Shaw’s former group), Los Caballeros (Raúl’s brother Víctor Shaw was the lead
vocalist), Trío Los Carlos, Los Pepes, and Arturo Sobénes y Los Cambas. Many other local bolero
trios were founded in the second MNR administration (e.g., Los Dandys, Trío Los Astros).
21. Prior to Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos’s founding, MNR functionaries questioned Shaw’s
patriotism, alleging that he had denied his national identity while touring abroad. Shaw refuted
this accusation at the SPIC office (ED, Jun. 13, 1953).
22. A simple duple meter Andean mestizo genre, the diablada is mainly played by brass
bands and is strongly associated with Oruro, Raúl Shaw’s birthplace.
23. The Bolivian polca (no relation to the European polka) exhibits the sesquiáltera hemiola
and has some similarities to the Paraguayan polca and galopa genres.
24. Los Pepes toured Argentina, Chile, Peru,Venezuela, and Colombia (personal communi-
cation, Orlando Rojas of Los Pepes; ED, Apr. 18, 1959; Sep. 30, 1959; La Nación, Jan. 12, 1960).
Arturo Sobénes y Los Cambas traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they recorded Bolivia y su
Música, a very popular album in La Paz (ED, May 12, 1959; Feb. 24, 1960). Arturo Sobénes later
permanently moved to Sao Paulo.
25. These tracks appear on Raúl Shaw y Los Peregrinos’s 1958 album Mis Primeros Éxitos
Vol. II (My First Hits Volume II, ODEON-EMI BOLP-251).
26. Bolivian panpipe soloists were exceedingly rare until the mid-1970s. To my knowledge,
Tito Yupanqui’s version of “Italaqueñita” on Los Wara Wara’s 1960 album Dioses y Demonios
de Bolivia (Gods and Demons of Bolivia; Vanguard 70.280) was the only solo panpipe track
recorded by a Bolivian musician in the MNR era. This LP was produced in Mexico City (see
Rios 2008).

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