The Colombian Gaita

I was skimming through El Tiempo when I saw a nice video of some Argentines who had traveled for 7 months to get to San Jacinto, Colombia in order to learn more about the Colombian gaita. Since I’ve been meaning to write about the gaita for a few months, this is a good chance to bring it up!

First though, I should mention an interesting fact. The gaita is called so erroneously due to its similarity to the Spanish instrument, the gaita de pico. Now, let’s look at the video below which features the gaita (it’s the first wind instrument you hear). I’ll follow it up with some history.

“The Colombian gaita is an ancestoral instrument that comes from the Cuna, Kogui and Zenue indians that have habited the northern coast of Colombia. It’s original name in Kogui is Kuisi Buisi for the ‘female’ and Kuisi for the ‘male’. The cylinder of the gaita is made of a cactus and other woods such as cedar, oak and pine; its ‘head’ is made of bee wax mixed with charcol and the mouthpiece is from duck feathers.

The female gaita has five holes from which one uses the first four and this is what makes the melody, the male gaita possesses only two holes and gives the harmonic acompaniment while the free hand shakes the maraca.

Originally, among the indigenious towns, the gaita had a strictly ceremonial and religious character and its melodies imitated the sounds of birds and of nature. With the passing of the centuries and thanks to the cultural interaction of the indians with the Spanish and above all, with the Africans, the gaita was transformed physically and interpreted differently.” – Gaitazo (translated by me)

More Info

Speaking of Gaitazo, it’s a great site with lots of information about learning more about the Colombian gaita. To learn about the group, called Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, that popularized the instrument, see this video (in SP). Over at BLAA (the virtual library), there’s a bit more information (in SP) on the gaita too.

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