Bolivian music styles vary greatly between regions. That's because Bolivia is such a multi-ethnic country. Bolivia has over 30 different ethnic groups
and cultures and each has their own type of music. In addition, may styles have been adopted from other countries by Bolivian musicians.
In Bolivia you can hear traditional Andean music which uses many different types of pan pipes (called zampoñas) and flutes, guitars, the charango (a tiny 10-string guitar made from an armadillo shell), drums, and more. It ranges from melancholy to very high-spirited.
Andean music usually focuses on telling a story, traditionally the legends of the Aymara, Quechua, and Tiahuanacota people, and each music style is also accompanied by a particular dance style (each dance tells a story too). It is most evident in our Carnaval, which takes place in Oruro each year. During Carnaval you can hear every Bolivian music type there is and see the dance style of each as well.
In Western (Andean Bolivia) you can hear or see traditional music and dances such as the caporal, tinku, cueca, cumbia or the very lively saya (created by Bolivia's only Afrobolivian community). It's the dance style Brazilian singer Kaoma stole and made famous as the "lambada" which was played all around the world. Many Bolivian music groups have had their music plagiarized. There are several famous Bolivian music groups from the Andes that are known all over the world. They are the Kjarkas, Kalamarka, Savia Andina, and others.
In Eastern Bolivia music is completely different. Here music is usually very fast and festive. You can hear styles like the chacarera and taquirari. The names of many music styles in Bolivia's tropical Eastern half are in Guarani and traditional dances are also typical of the tropical Amazonian tribes such as the Guaraní, Ayoreos, and others.
In Southern Bolivia, and specifically in Tarija, you'll find the liveliest music in the country. The "chacarera" is originally from this region where music has been heavily influenced by the Spanish flamenco and the music of the Argentinean gauchos (cowboys). Watch these videos of Tarija's music and dances.
Throughout all Bolivia you can hear the tango, operas, and foreign rock music (usually top 40s). Classical guitar and orchestras are also very popular in Bolivia. Click here to see and hear five music videos by my friend Luis Alfredo Gavilano, a classical guitarist and one of Bolivia's best. He's from La Paz. The classical guitarist who is most famous outside of Bolivia is Pirai Vaca, who now lives in Germany. He travels all over the world and comes back to Bolivia frequently. He's from Santa Cruz.
Anther music type Bolivia is very famous for is Renaissance Baroque Music brought over from Spain 500 years ago by Catholic Jesuit missionaries. They taught the Guarani and other indigenous cultures to play European baroque music. The Jesuit Missions of Bolivia are town scattered all over Eastern Bolivia where the priests taught the people to read and write music, and to create and fashion cellos and violins. They brought pipe organs all the way from Europe into the nearly impenetrable Amazon jungle. Today these villages are lively, bustling towns, their Jesuit churches have been renovated, and the 400-500 year old organs are still being played! Bolivia hosts an International Baroque Music Festival every two years in over 20 Jesuit mission villages throughout the state of Santa Cruz, Bolivia and baroque musicians from all over the world come to play in the Bolivian jungle. Bolivian Baroque Music in the Amazon.
Bolivia also has many rock groups but few are known internationally. You may or may not have heard of Azul Azul. They are known worldwide for their son "La Bomba". However, the groups that have been most successful at marketing themselves throughout the world are Andean music groups that cater to tourists such as Savia Andina, the Kjarkas, female singers Zulma Yugar and Mercedes Soza and the group
and this has given much of the world the impression that all of Bolivia is Andean.
To hear a great variety of Bolivian music,
watch Bella's 24-hour video TV
here. It contains hours and hours of Bolivia videos (some are documentaries about Bolivia or tourist attractions in Bolivia) but there are also many hours of Bolivian music types and dances to watch. You'll be able to see all the dance styles in Bolivia but you'll also see all the traditional costumes and clothing worn for each occasion (even each type of costume worn tells a story in Bolivian music). I had to move it off of this page because it takes a little while to load for those who have a slow connection but it's REALLY worth having a little patience. You can listen to the Bolivian National Anthem here and download an MP3 version of it.
Alternatively you can listen to some free previews of music from Bolivia here online - just click on a title in the Amazon music box below. If you are visiting this page from the
Bolivia for Kids
and need Bolivia music for your class project, all the songs are in MP3 format. Or visit our Bolivian Music and Book Shop online.