© 2023 by Terry Sebastian

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True Spirit of the Andes

Updated: May 27, 2019

Agustin playing the Charango at Iglesia de San Francisco, La Paz

When Agustin Portillo plays his Andean flute, the listener is magically transformed into another dimension.

The Quena or Andean Flute is his specialty. "The Quena has great significance for me. When I play it I forget about everything, I can feel the Spirit of the Andes" he says.

Although Agustin claims himself as an expert in the Ancient Instrument, he also effortlessly masters the Charango and Zampoña (Pan Flute), which are all typical sounds from the heart of South America.

The sweet sound of the Charango, a tiny guitar carved from one piece of wood has a very distinct sound. It can be described as the 'Harp of the Andes.'

At 17 years old, Agustin Portillo started studying classical music at High School in La Paz. When he started playing the Quena for the first time, he fell in love. "I started playing the flute because the sound was beautiful and it came naturally to me." he says. 

After perfecting his craft in many local Folkloric bands when he was younger he then set off for bigger aspirations abroad.

Spending time in Europe is where he gained invaluable experience. "I went to Germany and brought my music to Europe, France, Switzerland and many other countries. The greatest was playing at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland."  he says "It was an amazing experience to bring the Folkloric Music and Culture of South America to the world."

Following 10 years touring Europe, he returned to his homeland and got the idea to open a Music store."I started with 2 Charangos," he remembers and that it was difficult for many years just to get noticed, "but I started slow and built up my business." he states. After almost 10 years he now fabricates Charangos and Flutes, custom made for his customers. "I like to give personal attention - I am a musician so I know the quality musicians expect." he says.

He suggests when breaking out on your own to "know your clients well - love what you do and have passion for it and you will succeed."

"To be a musician or businessman here in Bolivia you have to be passionate and persistent because there is no Government Support. Many great musicians leave because our authentic music has more value abroad."

Besides no Government Support, there is a lack of Music and Art Schools in the Country. "I think that is very important to cultivate Art and Music for the future of our children and for the preservation of our diverse culture. This is why I also teach my craft to our future generations."

For his dedication Agustin received a prestigious award in 2011 from The Bolivian Artist Union for 25 years of service as a professional musician. "To be the recipient of this award and represent Bolivia as a cultural advocate is a great honour."

He continues to play festivals and parties in Bolivia with his group 'Llajta.'

"Music for me is medicine and therapeutic. It helps us get through tough times and gives us life and hope, especially when my country is struggling -  it makes us all more human and brings us together as one."

You can find Agustin's store close to the Witches Market in La Paz - 812 Calle Jimenez. Cel. 72531178