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Guacharaca [ɣwatʃaˈɾaka] is a percussion instrument usually made out of the cane-like trunk of a small palm tree. The guacharaca itself consists of a tube with ridges carved into its outer surface with part of its interior hollowed out, giving it the appearance of a tiny, notched canoe. It is played with a fork composed of hard wire fixed into a wooden handle. The guacharaquero (guacharaca player) scrapes the fork along the instrument's surface to create its characteristic scratching sound. A typical guacharaca is about as thick as a broomstick and as long as a violin. The guacharaca was invented by native American Indians from the Tairona culture in the region of la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia as an instrument to simulate the guacharaca (or Ortalis ruficauda) bird's singing. During the mid 20th century it was adopted by vallenato and cumbia musicians and today it is most often associated with these musical styles.

Guacharacas provide a steady rhythmic backbone for all varieties of vallenato and cumbia.

It's not easy to play the Guacharaca. You have to have rhythm, speed and coordination. To hold the instrument you have to hold it on your non-dominant hand and you have to make it rest on your shoulder. With your other hand you have to move the wire fork up and down to create a pattern. Then, depending on the music you are playing the movement will change which will make it a bit harder or a bit easier giving it more significance.

The Guacharaca is an Indigenous instrument. It was invented to simulate the singing of the Guacaracha (Bird), and it's used to play vallenato and cumbia. It's from Colombia, Santa Marta.

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Further reading[edit]

  • George List, "Performing Styles in Folk Music and Dance: The Mbira in Cartagena", Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 20. (1968), pp. 54–59.
  • George List, "African Influences in the Rhythmic and Metric Organization of Colombian Costeño Folksong and Folk Music", Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Spring - Summer, 1980), pp. 6–17.