The haunting, harp-and-flute-laced strains of Andean music have long since penetrated the collective subconscious. Paul Simon's experiments with Los Incas are one reason for this, and the troupes of poncho-clad buskers who can be found in every major urban center are another. But nobody seems to know much about these musicians or the music they play. This is too bad, as their story is fascinating. Most of them were born in places like Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and less commonly, Argentina. They are modern-day descendants of the great Inca Empire, of which magnificent architectural traces can still be seen throughout the area. They speak the Spanish imposed centuries ago by rampaging conquistadores and render lip service to Catholicism, but many words of Indian origin have survived into the vernacular, as have several important customs and indigenous religious beliefs. Their instruments have similarly ancient pedigrees. The panpipes, known as antaras and zamponas, are especially old, as is the quena, a notched flute. These are usually flanked by booming drums, at least two guitars, the charango (a type of mandolin), the plangent local harp, and perhaps a vocalist. Aside from performing traditional tunes, some bands have incorporated elements of pop, jazz, Latin, and especially new age into their sound. This compilation was culled from the archives of the Rumi label. The 16 tracks run a gamut of periods and influences, but the least-adulterated tunes offer the keenest pleasure.
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AllMusic Review by Christina Roden