Saturday’s Instrument: The Siku

Siku is a traditional Andean (a region in South America) panpipe. This instrument is the main instrument used in a musical genre known as Sikuri. It is traditionally found all across the Andes but is more typically associated with music from the Kollasuyo (a region of Inca empire), or Aymara (between Bolivia and Peru) speaking regions around Lake Titicaca.

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Andean folk music is defined by the haunting tones of this instrument from the panflute family, The Siku. It is also known as the Antara (Quechua) and the Zampoña (Spanish), these reed pipes are the key musical ingredient and are also one of the most popular souvenirs for visitors to Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

Today Andean folk music sounds much like it always did with the exception of the guitars and other stringed instruments introduced by the Spanish. The style remains the same, heavy on repetition and atmosphere.

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The music remains a vital part of ceremonies and of daily life, and you will undoubtedly hear it performed throughout Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The distinct compositions and unique sounds are recognized world-wide.


The Siku is originally from the Aymaras of Perú and Bolivia, where a woman would play her Siku as she came down from the mountains. Since the largest Siku has every note (A-G) and was too big for the woman, they often got two smaller Sikus that would be played together as a duo, so they could play them continuously after each other and thus the range of the instrument covers the whole scale. Once the women partnered, they then became musically bonded with each other, as part of their religion, and neither could play the pipes with any other for the rest of their life.


Sikus were perfected in the times of Incas along with a range of metal, bone, and earthenware flutes and wind instruments. The characteristic of Sikus is serial flutes with single separate notes for each pipe.

Zampona pipes were also an instrument from the panflute family, originated with the Tiahuanaco culture, which flourished around 700 AD near the border of Peru and Bolivia. In their language it was called the Siku and players were Sikuris. Tiahuanacan musicians were inspired by the Andean peaks and composed music to perform in ceremonies honoring their deities: the sun, moon, sky, land, and condor.


Sikus are typically made from bamboo shoots but have also been made from condor feathers, bone, and many other materials. Additionally, different types of bamboo are employed to change the quality of the sound. Songo, or shallow-walled bamboo, gives a louder, more resonant sound than regular deep-walled bamboo, but is less common due to its fragility.

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Other names:

Siku is the name of the instrument in Aymara, but it is also known as: Quechua:antara, also "sicu," "sicus," "zampolla" or Spanish “zampoña”.


There are multiple different sizes of Siku, typically tuned an octave apart. The smallest of the family is called Ika or Chulli (Quechua: Ch'ulli). The next larger size, the most common, is called malta (Quechua: malta). An octave lower than the malta is the Sanka or Zanka (Quechua: Sanka). The largest of the family is the Toyo (Quechua: T'uyu) or Jach'a (Aymara: Jach'a). The longest pipe of the Toyo is typically around 120 centimeters.

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