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The charango is a small South American stringed instrument of the lute family, about 66 cm long, traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo. Many contemporary charangos are now made with different types of wood. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each, although other variations exist.

The instrument was invented in the early 18th century in the Viceroyalty of Peru.



When the Spanish conquistadores came to South America, they brought the vihuela (an ancestor of the classical guitar) with them. It is not clear from which Spanish stringed instrument the charango is a direct descendant. It may have evolved from the vihuela, bandurria (mandolin), or the lute. There are many stories of how the charango came to be made with its distinctive diminutive soundbox of armadillo. One story says that the native musicians liked the sound the vihuela made, but lacked the technology to shape the wood in that manner. Another story says that the Spaniards prohibited natives from practicing their ancestral music, and that the charango was a (successful) attempt to make a lute that could be easily hidden under a garment such as a poncho.[citation needed]

The first historic information on the charango was gathered by Vega going back to 1814, when a cleric from Tupiza documented that "the Indians used with much enthusiasm the guitarrillos mui fuis... around here in the Andes of Bolivia they called them Charangos". Turino mentions that he found carved sirens representing playing charangos in some Colonial churches in the highlands of Bolivia.[citation needed]

File #857 of The New Chronicle of Guaman Poma eloquently expresses under the suggestive title "Indian Criollos" a drawing and text representing the Indigenes of Peru and Bolivia playing a similar instrument. Assuming the chroniclist is not representing the actual "charango" it is very important to notice that the image he presented is dated in the early 17th century, registering the musical mestizaje of the chord instruments in Bolivia.

It is believed the charango came to be what it is today in the early part of the 18th century in the city of Potosi in the Viceroyalty of Peru (in what is present-day Bolivia), probably from Amerindian contact with Spanish settlers.

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