The Siku is a traditional Andean pan flute (panpipe) and the main instrument in the musical gengre sikuri.
Siku (also spelled Sicu) is the Aymara name for this instrument. In Quechua, it is known as Antara. In Spanish, it is called Zampoña.
The Siku is played across the Andes, but is especially associated with Aymara-speaking populations living around Lake Titicaca and the Quechua-speaking peoples of the Qullasuyu region.
Within the Andes, many different sikus have been developed within the various settlements and they vary when it comes to factors such as shape, size and tuning. These local differences also extend to playing styles.
Sikus are made, and have been made, from a variety of materials. Bamboo shoots is a common choice, but sikus are also made from materials such as bone, condor feathers, and a type of cane known locally as chuk or chajlla (Scientific name: Arundo donax).
Several different types of bamboo can be utilized to achieve different sounds. Songo is a shallow-walled (and thus more fragile) bambo known to produce an especially loud and resonant sound compared by the more common deep-walled bambo.
The pipes are held together by one or two strips of cane to form a trapezoidal plane. .
Sikus are made in various sized to produce different sounds.
The smallest ones are called ika or chulli (Quechua: ch’ulli ). If we go up one step in size, we find the malta, which is the most common size. The zanka (Quechua: sanka) is larger than the malta and the sound is an octave lower. The largest flutes are called t´uyu in Quecha and jach´a in Aymara, and on these huge flutes the longest pipe is around 120 centimeters in lenght.
Ira and arka
A standardized siku have two rows of pipes; the ira row and the arka row.
In the olden days, it was common for two people to play together, with one playing the ira notes and the other one arka notes. Today, it is more common to play alone and alternate the rows to achieve a complete scale, although some traditionalist ensembles still preserve the old tradition.
According to local folklore, the ira row corresponds to the male principle and the arka to the female.
Number of pipes
Today, the standardized siku has 13 pipes (6 in ira and 7 in arka). This type of siku is locally known as siku ch´alla. Sikus with fewer or more pipes than 13 are less common nowadays but do exist.
The siku ch´alla will typically use a diatonic scale and be tuned in E minor / G major. Arka: D-F#-A-C-E-G-B. Ira: E-G-B-D-F#-A.
The tabla siku
The tabla siku stands out from the crowd by having all pipes cut to the same length. Still, the tubes sound different from each other, because they have stoppers inside that adjust their internal lenghts.