By Jack McNeel -- Today correspondent
POST FALLS, Idaho - A different sound was heard at the Coeur d'Alene's Julyamsh Pow Wow this year: the music of the Quichua Tribe of Ecuador.
Raul Conejo has been making the annual trek from his home in the small city of Otavalo, Ecuador, for 10 years with a musical group called Quichua Mashis. Conejo is the only member who speaks English, and he talked about the meaning of that title.
''Quichua is both the name of our tribe and our language,'' he explained. ''Mashis means 'brother' or 'friend.' So we are Quichua friends.'' He explained there are a number of separate Native tribes in Ecuador but all speak essentially the same language with only some variation in particular words.
Julyamsh was the fifth pow wow they've attended on this trip, along with a number of fairs. They will be performing at fairs or pow wows in Montana, then Seattle, Anacortes, Puyallup, Spokane, Yakima and Lynden, all in Washington state, and Salem, Ore. By mid-October, their six-month visas will expire and they will return to Ecuador for the following six months.
As several other Quichua groups are also touring the United States, people throughout the country will have an opportunity to hear their music. ''It's very traditional music from Ecuador,'' Conejo said. ''We also play songs from Bolivia and Peru because we are very close and share our music with them. They play our music and we play their music.''
Several stringed instruments with unusual names provide a harmonious mix of rhythm while a flute plays the melody. This group does some singing, but it's primarily the music of flute and stringed instruments. There is a charango, a small guitar that's something like a ukulele and made in Bolivia, and a bandolin with 15 strings. The group also has a bass guitar and a violin. Most of the musicians interchange on the instruments.
The flutes come in several styles and sizes. The zampona is much like a pan pipe with two ranks of small pipes to blow across. Another type they use is the quena flute.
''We want to let the people know we just came to the United States to bring happiness and share our culture: how we live, how we have our festivals. Our music is happy, but inside is telling a little bit of sadness,'' Conejo explained. These annual visits have been occurring for many years, but Conejo is concerned that they might be one of the last groups to do this. ''They're [the government] changing the laws,'' he said.
Spending six months away from home can be tiring and he's looking forward to returning to Ecuador. ''We're getting a little bit old and would like to be back with our families. But younger guys will take our place.''