Inka Marka
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Inka Marka

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First published in New Sunday Times, Malaysia, 5 Aug 2007.

Rediscovering their Incan spirit
by Himanshu Bhatt

(A band of South American immigrants in Australia are rediscovering their lost cultural roots in the sounds of their homeland - the Andes, writes Himanshu Bhatt.)

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About twelve years ago, Jose Diaz was surviving on odd jobs in Bolivia – he was a mechanic, a cook and a gardener at different times – when he migrated to Australia for a better living.
Raised in a village in the outskirts of Cochabamba, a town in a Bolivian valley, he pined for his native land, and learned to play music with his brother-in-law in Sydney on weekends.
They were soon joined by Chilean Michel Bestrin, also an immigrant who had hardly played music in his native country.
“We were pretty much a garage bunch,” remembers Bestrin today. “Jose picked up the panpipes (an instrument of the ancient Incas), I learnt the guitar.”
It was of matter of time before the sounds of their South American music started to generate interest; and the group found they could actually make a living playing music.
When Diaz contacted his mother in Bolivia to tell her he was going full time into music, she was perplexed. “Are there no jobs in Australia?” she asked.
Today, Diaz and Bestrin are the core members of the band named Inka Marka or ‘Force of the Incas’. They are joined by Argentinean friend Enrique Berbis and Chilean youngster Jaime Carrasco who used to skip school to play with the band till a few years ago.
Though based in Melbourne, the sounds they have come to play are heard along the mountainous area of the Andes, which has the highest peaks outside Asia and the longest range in the world that straddles across Chile, western Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and south-western Colombia.
In Australia these geographical distinctions evaporated, making it possible for the musicians from different ethnic American backgrounds to play together.
Speaking after their show at the World Music Festival in Penang recently, the irony was not lost on the members that it had to take their moving away from their native lands for them to so appreciate their lost cultural roots.
In fact, Inka Marka’s music has naturally evolved to produce a generic sound of the Andes.
“Being away from South America, your own sound develops,” explains Diaz in an interview. “It may not be as traditional as it is at home. It’s a mixture of influences. But the roots are South American.”
Indeed, there are many different styles being played today across South America – from pre-Columbian to fusion to jazz. Some places even have influences of African slaves who were brought there centuries ago.
“There are varying degrees of differences in each song we play,” says Bestrin. “Some are pre-Columbian, some are European, some are indigenous in the tradition of the Aymara Indians.”
“We try and talk about it as much as we can but on stage we just let it go and be as natural as we can.”
A portion of their repertoire includes songs with the Quechua language of the Aymaras, the descendants of the Incas.
The group now also plays indigenous instruments like the panpipes and the quena or bamboo flute, both of which are still extensively played in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
“The pre-Columbian Indians had their own music loosely based on the pentatonic scale,” Bestrin explains. “There are certain phrases and repetitions of notes in the panpipes that go centuries into the past.”
“The Spanish then brought the European musical form with chord patterns and the 8-note musical scale which is more melodic.”
“When we go overseas, people are curious to know what Andean music is about,” adds Enrique Berbis.
“When we were about to play in South Africa, the people were just looking at us very seriously like Zulu warriors,” he recounts with a laugh. “But as soon as we struck the first chord, their faces changed. They became completely euphoric, and started dancing.”
Inka Marka has performed across Australia and in world tours to places like Singapore, South Africa, Brunei, Kuching and New Caledonia. At the festival at Penang, the local crowd seemed to react with a kind of awe at the completely unfamiliar sounds, with melodious, exotic vowels, the group was playing.
In Australia, the South American immigrants have reacted in an ambivalent way to the group. Some youngsters have been inspired to touch base with their lost roots.
“It’s a mixed reaction from our community,” says Jaime Carrasco. “A lot of people are refugees and having something that reminds them of their country is not what they’d like.”
For the future, Berbis and Carrasco - both came to Australia as infants - intend to write original songs; they even hope to incorporate elements of aboriginal Australian culture to reflect the land of their upbringing.
“Or maybe,” says Bestrin, “we’ll just pull back and return completely to our original roots – and play the music of - Straits Times Malysia-Himanshu Bhatt


Discography

KUSI KUNA 1997 (Happiness and Joy)
Includes many traditional melodies from Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. A bright Happy and Up-tempo disc.

Entre Los Amigos 1998 (Between Friends)
A selection of Andean tunes including several
original melodies written by Inka Marka.

Auki Auki 2000(Dance of Grace for the Elders Aria Award nominated album for Best World Music CD .
Including a selection of traditional melodies from Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador .Music that touches the Soul.

Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) 2001
A bright happy album that takes the listener on a JourneyThroughout Latin America including Cuba, Uruguay,Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Wiracocha 2002 (Andean God of Wisdom)
This is an instrumental Compilation including many mystical and ethereal melodies suitable for meditation, relaxation and background music.

Misa Criolla 2004 (Mass for the Creoles)
Spanish Language mass written by Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez in 1967. Featuring Inka Marka and Canto Co

Shaman 2005 Inka Marka’s best album to date. A brilliantly produced and performed CD.A blend of Traditional and Contemporary melodies and songs, played in their own perfect style

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Bio

The Inka Marka sound is one of ancient rhythms and Inka mysticism. Inka Marka can offer the opportunity to experience the authentic flavour of the Andes .With 5 extremely talented musicians
who each play a variety of instruments, sometimes all at the same time, they take you to the mystical mountains of Peru ,Bolivia and Ecuador on the soaring wings of the Condor. With the traditional instruments they combine various other more contemporary ones to bring you their own style which fuses the past with the present.
Based in Melbourne Australia, they have become one of Australia’s best loved and popular Folkmusic acts. Well known and received throughout Australia, the Pacific and Asia.The Inka Marka sound is one of ancient rhythms and Inka mysticism. The band recently played for Brunei’s Royal Family, the British Ambassador to Brunei and other dignitaries at the Empire Hotel( one of the world’s top resort’s) in Brunei, They performed at the Sarawak Rainforest Festival in Borneo Malaysian in 2000, 2002 and again 2007,,an International festival the caliber of WOMAD.One of only 2 acts ever to be invited back this many times due to thier popularity. Together for over twelve years, Inka Marka’s performance resume includes highlights as follows: Rainforest Festival Sarawak, Pennang World Music festival, Singapore Latin Festival, New Caledonia & French Pacific concert tour, South African Multicultural exchange program, Port Fairy International Folk Festival, Melbourne International festival, Australian National Museum, Australian National print awards, Australia day celebrations, and United Nations Day national celebrations and many, more
Their first album, Auki Auki was nominated for a World Music Aria award in 2000 ( Australia's version of the Grammy awards) Valle de la Luna, Wiracocha, Misa Criolla , and Shaman continue to interpret and elevate Andean music with joy and spirit throughout the world. Our music is about emotion communicated through each note. Its uplifting; it takes the listener to a higher plane. The music is also inherent to ancient Inka spirituality