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MELTING POT : Empire of the Song

July 17, 1994|Karla Perez\f7 Villalta

Of the seemingly ubiquitous bands of Andean musicians roving through Southern California, at least one is trying to do more than play a few tunes and make a few bucks: Llaqtaymanta, a street band from Ecuador, is reviving memories of an ancient past. The musicians roam the continents playing the songs of Tahuantinsuyu, the Inca Empire.

"Incas still exist," says musician/manager Jaime Farinango. "We maintain our identity, our culture and tradition."

During the summer for the past three years, the band has broadcast a message of brotherhood and peace on sidewalks, at festivals, parties and weddings. With the sampona, charango and guitar, they resurrect Incan tunes as well as melodies of their own composition. In winter, however, they put away their instruments to sell bundles of wool sweaters woven and knitted by the women of their towns. The money they earn funds their crusade to showcase their Incan heritage throughout the Americas, Europe and Australia.

"We are trying to rescue our culture. Through our music we try to show people that our culture is very much alive and is prosperous," says Alonso Ruiz, who plays wind instruments like the sampona, a pan flute made of sugar cane and bamboo that originated in Bolivia.

Though the Spanish, Quechua and Aymara lyrics don't make the greatest sing-alongs, crowds circle Llaqtaymanta, clapping, cheering and often buying CDs and tapes. "People here approach us and congratulate us because they've never heard anything like it. They say they're sick of rock 'n' roll," says Farinango.

William Farinango, Jaime's 19-year-old brother, says children dance and reach for the instruments he plays, such as the charango, a 10-stringed ukulele look-alike made of armadillo shell or wood.

The members of Llaqtaymanta plan to stay in Southern California for another year or so. They can't linger too long, however, for there's an empire to rebuild.

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