Charango made by Rubén and Jaimen García

Charango

One of my favourite instruments is my charango that was made for me by Rubén and Jaime García in La Paz, Bolivia. Charango is the national instrument of Bolivia and I just love the sound of this beautiful instrument, although I don’t play it very often (sadly). I used this charango on my album “The Divine Comedy Of Dante” and that production is also the reason why I have got this instrument.

While working on my tune “The Empyrean”, which is the second final piece on my album “The Divine Comedy Of Dante”, I felt that I needed a high-pitched string instrument for this particular tune. I had an idea that such an instrument would pronounce the heavenly feeling that I was looking for. My first thought was to use a mandolin, but musically it was too difficult for this instrument. I wanted a lot of open chords played in a fingerstyle-classical-guitar-arpeggios-way, so a mandolin isn’t the right kind of instrument for this type of job.

My next thought was to use some kind of harmonizer effect on my electric (or acoustic) guitar, but I skipped that idea quite fast – it would have been too artificial and I didn’t want that “fake sound” on my music about the highest heaven – Paradise – that Dante finally had reached with his beloved Beatrice. No, that would have been totally wrong for this situation!

I found myself having an arrangement-problem that needed to be solved …

After about seven months of my one year long work with the album “The Divine Comedy Of Dante”, and before the end-work of this production (mixing, additional recordings, editing etc.), I felt that I needed to go away for a short vacation to refresh my mind, recharge the batteries and to get new perspectives on things. So I went to Playa del Carmen in Mexico, which is the perfect place for recreation … and for having some fun. :-)

One night in Playa del Carmen, when I had my usual dinner at a restaurant with very nice food and good Mexican live music, one of the guys in the band played on a charango. “There it is !”, I immediately thought. “That’s the instrument I’m going to use for “The Empyrean”, I was thinking. “Why haven’t I thought about this before?”, I asked myself. Anyway, in the break I went to the charango-guy and asked him where I could buy a charango around the Playa del Carmem area. The guy told me that I could buy his charango if I wanted to do that and I did so (!). Right there, in the middle of their break and between the main course and the dessert of my dinner I became the owner of a charango. :-) I remember that I paid about one thousand pesos for this instrument and it was probably over-priced. However, this guy needed those extra pesos more than me.

When I got back to the work of finishing my production I noticed that my newly bought charango didn’t reach the standard for an instrument in a recording situation. It never stayed in tune and some notes didn’t sound good at all. I could hear how well the sound of a charango fit in my arrangement, though! I needed to get another charango with better quality as soon as possible.

On the Internet, which was fairly new to use for more complicated things other than e-mail at that time around 2001, I found a guy in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA who sold charangos and other South American instruments through the web. I contacted him and asked if he could play and record the same piece of music on all five of the charangos that I had picked out on his site. It was five charangos made of different wood so they would probably have different timbres and I wanted to experience that before I made my decision. The seller had no problem with this and we decided that he shouldn’t tell me which charango he played on. After a couple of days, I got five mp3-files with five different charangos and the files were only labelled 1, 2, 3 etc.

After having listened several times to the five different charangos, one of them finally stood out. I called the seller and we made an arrangement for payment through Western Union. The day after our phone call I went to the closest Western Union Office in my then hometown Gothenburg, and sent about 600 USD for the charango in advance. I had no doubts in trusting this guy since he seemed to be serious. Besides, he was a real musician too. I also took into account that this could be a trick and that I could loose all my money, but it was worth the risk for this opportunity of getting a good quality charango. Definitely! Only four days after I had sent the money to the USA the charango was delivered to my studio (very well-wrapped).

My charango is a fantastic, unique and very well-built instrument that worked perfectly on my tune “The Empyrean”. I have also used it on other pieces in this album “The Divine Comedy of Dante”, which is inspired by the book “The Divine Comedy” by the Italian author Dante Alighieri. I really love the sound of my charango and should use it more often than I do. Maybe I need to set up a project including my charango in the future in order to use it more often. It could be an album based on the charango and other acoustic instruments or something else ….

Here’s a link to the “Coda” from my album “The Divine Comedy Of Dante” that ends with a solo piece for charango. Enjoy!

/Tony