Masters of more than 35 traditional instruments, the four Lopez brothers in Andes Manta—Fernando, Luis, Bolivar, and Jorge—bring the vibrant and intricate music of the Indigenous peoples of South America’s Andes Mountains to the 79th National Folk Festival. From the haunting melodies of the highlands played on the panpipes to the joyous dance rhythms of village festivals and life cycle celebrations that blend pre-Columbian and Catholic ritual, the group’s music expresses the timeless power of a prehistoric musical culture that has survived 500 years of European occupation.
The Lopez family roots are in the village of San Gabriel in the remote Ecuadorian Andes. Though the Lopez brothers’ parents moved to Quito in 1960, they imparted the Andean traditions of their ancestors to all seven of their children. These were reinforced during family trips back to the mountain villages for traditional holiday celebrations and festivals. From an early age, each child learned to make and play the flutes and panpipes constructed out of native bamboo. Fernando, the eldest, showed a remarkable talent for music when he taught himself to play an abandoned guitar he discovered in a field. At the urging of a teacher, he was sent to the Quito Conservatory to study classical guitar. However, Fernando found he was more drawn to the traditional Andean music of the countryside. Together with his brothers, the four began to make a name for themselves in Quito’s musical circles as rising talents who would carry Andean traditional music forward to the next generation.
In 1986, Fernando and Luis were invited to perform concerts at Bard College, and the warm reception they received led them to take up residence in the United States. Bolivar and Jorge joined the group within a few years, and Andes Manta was formed, with the brothers eventually making their home in New York’s Hudson Valley. Between them, the four brothers are masters of the full range of traditional Andean instruments, including the stringed instruments charango, bandolin, and guitar; the Andean flute known as the quena; and the rondador, the panpipe that is considered the “national instrument” of Ecuador and that is known for producing a unique “chordal” note. They have a developed a well-earned reputation for their virtuosity and their captivating live performances.
Andes Manta has appeared in 48 states and performed in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., to hundreds of universities and school assemblies. Though they tour nearly year-round, the four Lopez brothers make time to return home to Ecuador as often as possible, to strengthen and renew their cultural roots.