“And we will be back again.” The call of a quena

By Jimmer Prieto – El Puente Staff

If we could see through music what is in the soul of the artists when they play, we would be surprised by the rich amalgam of meanings and values that each note represents. Who would have imagined that maestro Jaime Díaz Orihuela meant an allegory of man’s history on earth when he created his Symphonic Concert Machu Picchu for quena?

People begin their long journey from a sacred place along their chosen path. Amid the difficulties, a new human couple is born and grows. With this event, the people know that they have reached the end of their journey and celebrate the triumph of the path in another sacred place that welcomes them.  

We were able to discover a slice of the master’s soul, as much as words can describe it, in a conversation with Nayo Ulloa, musician, resident of Goshen, Indiana, and central artist of the Machu Picchu Symphonic Concert for quena that was performed to the public last April 23, in Sauder Concert Hall, at Goshen College. Nayo gave the concert the ancestral touch it merits for the magnificent way he played the quena.

The ensemble of the symphony orchestra with the sound of the quena was a challenge solved only by the “spirit of music” that pulsates equally among true artists.

The concert consists of three movements. The first movement is entitled La llamada (the convocation). The maestro explained to me, says Nayo, that this movement represents a call for unity and world peace. The quena is the voice of the indigenous peoples now that they have no voice. The mestizo peoples have the mission to speak for their ancestors in the notes of the quena. But there is something else. This movement has two musical themes central to the concert; the call of the man and the call of the woman.

Nayo took one of several quenas in his studio and made me listen to both calls, and we discovered a harmony between them. Then, without any effort, my mind flew over the immense Inca Valley during my visit to Peru, long time ago, when I was young.

The second movement is entitled The Pilgrimage. Nayo explains it thus:

“The Inca Trail exists. It is a long road built by the Incas in the valley they considered sacred. It stretches for 43 km. It is winding and difficult to walk among the Andean mountains. The vision of the pilgrimage is a hard path that begins in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco, where the Temple of the Sun is located, and ends in Machu Picchu. It is a reflection in which humans seek communion with their ancestors, nature, and God. Here the sounds of the quena represent the birth of something new. A new human being emerging from the difficulties and challenges of the road.”

The Plaza de Armas of Cusco was a ceremonial center where the Temple of the Sun was located. The city of Cusco, founded by the Incas, means ‘navel’ or ‘meeting point’ of the Inca empire. After the Spanish conquest, the new rulers built Catholic temples and mansions on the ruins of the ancient Inca palaces. There began as a tragic allegory—the sorrowful pilgrimage of the indigenous peoples—represented in the concerto’s second movement. 

Make the quena cry, Nayo! The maestro would say to me when I tried to put his deep inspiration into musical notes.

Watch the video in YouTube: https://youtu.be/kiEZms8IzNE

The third movement is titled La celebración (the Celebration). The Incas walked from the temple of the sun to Machu Picchu and celebrated having arrived there. Maestro Orihuela tells Nayo that “this movement represents all human races. It celebrates a new, non-subordinated humanity, the triumph of all human beings.”

For the master, this was true mestizaje. He shared these meanings and values with the disciple, opening before him a window to his soul, his philosophy of life and his inner religion, his deep humanity, and his global vision, free from the chains of time and space.

And what do you feel when you play the celebration? Nayo is not surprised by the question and answers, “For me, the celebration does not have a meaning as broad as that of the master. It means to have put the indigenous quena as the main instrument of a European orchestra”.

Two themes constitute the third movement: the huayno and the sikuriada, representing the quena and the sikur. The Machu Picchu concerto originally should have been played with the sikur, but we omitted that, says Nayo. Then he picks up his sikur and begins to play it. It was like listening to the voice of the Inca, the Aztec, the Aymara, the Maya, and all the indigenous peoples gathered in a single language, in notes of incomparable joy inviting to dance.

Watch the video in YouTube: https://youtu.be/DLsc6gTRdKQ

Thus we come to the end of this conversation in which we evoke the spirit of maestro Jaime Díaz Orihuela. My mind flew half a century ago; when walking through South America, I wrote a poem about my encounter with the spirit of the American Indian. Here is one of its lines in the Quechua tongue.

“Guatecyatak chamaunka Kikiyantatac runaska.”

(And we will return with human dignity).

This article is a tribute to maestro Orihuela, who envisioned redeeming humanity and captured it in his music at the end of times. A dreamer’s hope in G sharp, an illusion of history—for now—where the oppression of man by man, ignorance, and injustice have disappeared. He believed that in that celebration of unity in the diversity of the races of the earth, one day, the quena of the Amerindian peoples would be heard in concert, announcing that they were only gone for a short time and that they have returned and perhaps are already among us.

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Cover photo by Lupita Zepeda