Autochthonous Indigenous Symphony of Embera Chami in Colombia

Maribel Arenas |

Bogota (EFE).- Every week in the Marcelino Taskon Indigenous Reserve, which is located in the Colombian municipality of Valparaiso, about forty Embera Chami Indigenous children make their homeland vibrate between the musical notes that come from their ken (wooden flute), violins , saxophones and clarinets.

They are all part of the Amber Chami Philharmonic Orchestra, the first indigenous philharmonic orchestra in a South American country that combines symphonic and local sounds to appreciate the culture of the community.

For the Embera Chami, music is a means of healing souls within traditional medicine, which has historically been practiced among the indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Amber Chami “updated”

Among the four dozen young people and children who give life to the group, Emmanuel Caicedo Toscon stands out with the movement of his quena, similar to a kind of conductor’s baton.

Her cheekbones are distinguished by the fact that they are engraved with the silhouette of mountains. His nose and chin are crossed by an arrow line, which imitates the connection of the mind with heaven and earth.

The musicians of the Amber Chami Philharmonic Orchestra present “Song for Harmony” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bogota (Colombia). EFE/Carlos Ortega

In an interview with EFE shortly before the start of the orchestra’s concert at the Bogota Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this 18-year-old musician assures them that they are “very modern natives” who like reggaeton, Andean melodies, vallenato or salsa, like any young Colombian. All this without leaving roots.

Caicedo makes it clear that he wants to devote himself professionally to music, and even proudly declares that his greatest desire is to play in the Medellin or Bogota Philharmonic.

“For what you want, you have to work hard, nothing is easy,” he muses as he contemplates his instrument, and reveals that the trick to making it sound is to “learn how to control your breath so so that the air comes out thin and does not dissipate.

Preservation of origin legends

The program that Embera Chami will perform in the Bolivar Hall of the Ministry highlights pieces such as “Rio Verde,” a song written by another indigenous brother “for the entire Embera nation,” the musician explains.

The song, he adds, affirms the importance of women, the power of the river and water, and the importance of protecting and caring for them in his community.

The conductor of the orchestra, Alejandro Vazquez, notes that in addition to the harmony of sounds, the voice of the performers is also integrated into the repertoire to perform texts on themes that mention their origin stories.

The musicians of the Amber Chami Philharmonic Orchestra present “Song for Harmony” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bogota (Colombia). EFE/Carlos Ortega

“There is a spirit that protects society and provides us with water and rain,” says the young Caicedo, although this creature is “very miserly” and gets angry if the first house he is not given as an offer inhabits.

Aware of his status as a “Capunia” (non-indigenous people), Vazquez acknowledges that the teachers who lead the classes, and himself, have more to learn from the community than aspiring musicians.

“Sometimes the Academy makes us not enjoy music, but endure it. They do it with love, caress and impressive healing and make you enjoy the music again,” he concluded.

By Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at