Icaros, the sacred songs of the Amazonian shamans, are traditionally sung either unaccompanied or with the rhythmic shaking of the shacapa, the leaf-bundle rattle. Recently, however, there has been some experimentation with additional instrumentation. Don Agustin Rivas Vasquez, for example, sings his icaros using a variety of drums, pan pipes, maracas, a harmonica, and a stringed instrument of his own devising, as well as a variety of singing styles, some sounding very much like Peruvian popular music. For example:

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Flautist Tito La Rosa has backed the singing of Shipibo shamans Amelia Panduro, her son Milke Sinuiri, and Jose Campos with traditional Peruvian instruments — bone flutes, pan pipes, conch shells, rattles, and whistling vessels — as well as contemporary percussion, violin, charango, and keyboard. Here is La Rosa’s version of Milke Sinuiri’s Madre Ayahuasca:

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Similarly, musician Alonso Del Rio served as an apprentice to don Benito Arevalo, a renowned Shipibo shaman, for three years, and now sings his own icaros accompanied by his guitar — and sometimes traditional Peruvian wind and string instruments — in a style sometimes close to folk music. The following is Del Rio’s La Casa de Mis Abuelos:

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By the way, CDs by Tito La Rosa and Alonso Del Rio are available for sale here.

Most elaborately, Dada World Data — consisting of Jim Sanders, Andre Clement, and Dustin Leader — has set the icaros of Ashaninka shaman don Juan Flores Salazar to jazz-inflected electronica, using guitar, drums, bass, and keyboard, as part of a live multimedia performance they call Maestro Ayahuasquero, and as part of a series of films they are producing about don Juan, ayahuasca, and plant medicine. A good example of the resulting sound — an icaro by don Juan called Mapacho — can be found here:

For purposes of comparison, here is a video of don Juan singing an ayahuasca icaro without any accompaniment:

And here is a video of the same icaro with the full multimedia treatment:

Some of these adaptations are, it seems to me, more successful than others. I am curious about what people think.

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16 Responses to “Icaros, Modernized”

  1. Luke says:

    Tito La Rosa’s album is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard, especially in the Aya trance

  2. isayui says:

    I think, and this is only my opinion,
    that what really heals is the icaro, the pure icaro, i mean without any kind of instruments, dont take me wrong, a guitar is ok, a maraca or a drum are ok, but the main core of ayahuasca healing is the freedom of the prayer running free in the tip of the tongue of the, let me not say shaman, but medicine man

  3. gavishnu says:

    i heard what you call moderdized icaros and thought ‘this is the best music ive ever heard’.
    merging traditional icaros with instruments and well produced sounds has taken these other-worldly messages and melodies to a whole massively new level. one in particular i was blessed to experience was with backing vocals, like a choir of angels singing behind the main icaro by a shaman, and it was accompanied by beautiful drumming too. amazing. thank you so, so much. thank you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    On what album is La Rosa’s version of Milke Sinuiri’s Madre Ayahuasca: Paz Hally

  5. Steve Beyer says:

    If I remember correctly, it is on the CD Icaro: Smamanic Songs, with Tito La Rosa, Jose Campos, Amelia Panduro, and Milke Sinuiri.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, got my CD this weekend, deeply tuching.

    Paz Hally

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hello, i like icaro songs very much and mostly the Juan Flores as vocal.I also like a song that i discovered on youtube but i don’t know the artist or the song name, maybe someone can help me.Here is the link:
    or you can search with this title: Ayahuasca Iquitos Peru 2002 – part 1 of 2
    The song start and the end of part 1 and continue in part 2.
    Thank you

  8. Louis says:

    Hello, there are two versions of the ‘Icaros-shamanic songs’ CD of Tito.
    I was just figuring out where to look for the difference and came to this site.
    It is a pity in my opinion that the one you can buy is not as nice as the copy I have of the other. It seems that the musicions have done an seperated recording in the studio, first leaving the shipibo`s singing there icaros and then more carefuly build the instrumental part under it. The CD you find on internet to buy seems recorded all together where the shamans are not as concentrated as if they were at home, nore the musicians.
    Other very nice shipibo icaro songs you can find and buy at http://www.shamansoftheamazon.com/
    from Dean Jefferys
    Maybe I pas later again for some more..
    See you

  9. Ian Darrah says:

    Hi – love your work – your presentation. Aho! I just returned from dieta near Pucallpa with Don Diego: http://www.sachavacay.com
    Amazing. Just wanted to comment that I tend to like the simple pure essence of the traditional song coming from sacred breath and the heart and with (maybe) traditional instrument! That seems the most direct and powerful to me.

  10. I love the experimental nature of the medicine. I’ve been in many ceremonies where the only sounds are the jungle, the shakapa, and the curandero singing. These are powerful and beautiful. I’ve also been in ceremonies with flute, guitar, middle-eastern drums, tablas, didgeridoos, jaw harps, kalimbas, etc. These also are so beautiful. My belief is that the spirit of the medicine loves music and is fully open to experimentation.

  11. Elianne says:

    Steve, I am wondering if you can help me. This is the oddest story, but it’s true. I live
    in Marin County, California, and quite a few years ago, I bought a used book from one
    of the local libraries here. In it was a painting that was obviously done with a lot of love and care, which someone had placed between the pages to flatten and then forgot about. It was a beautiful painting, and I couldn’t help but think that the artist would have been very sad to lose it, and might not even remember what he (or she) had done with it! I found a name painted in the lower left corner and tried to locate someone by that name and never could. I felt to hold on to the painting, and today I just located it again as I was sorting through some things. So I did a Google search, an I came upon your site in the listings. The painting was signed “Milke Sinuiri Panduro” and it was dated 22-10-99. Could you help me find him so I can return it? Thank you very much.

  12. Richard says:

    I think even better might be to contact David Esquibel Amaringo, a fantastic artist who lives in Iquitos and Pucallpa. He has a pretty good grasp of English as well. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=769172367

  13. Xenia says:

    Where can I get the song “Fiesta” by Don Agustin Rivas? Is it available as a CD? Where would I be able to buy it?
    I could only find a reference to an album apparently called “La Magica” from 1998 but all versions (mp3 only) I have found so far contain some sort of clipping throughout all tracks. Your sample does not!
    I would actually love to get a few of his Icaros as I have seen him sing in person :)
    Any pointers?

  14. Sonia says:

    Hi everyone,

    Do you know where can I find the lyrics of Madre Ayahuasca, Tito la Rosa version please? I will be glad to get them just to sing it;-)

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