Type: Aerophones > Flutes > Duct.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 421.211.12
Country: Colombia & Panama.
Regions: Central & South America.
Description: A kuisi or kuizi is a duct flute that is made from a cactus stem, with a beeswax and charcoal powder mixture for the head [where the air stream is blown into]. The kuisi is played in both Colombia and neighbouring Panama. In the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; for example the Spanish speaking village of Atánquez. Similar flutes called carrizos, whose name originates from the name of the cane they are made from. The ensemble is thus named conjunto de carrizos.
The conjunto accompanies the dance chicote, a circle dance in which men and women alternate, placing their arms n each other’s shoulders. On the coastal plain, for example the town of San Jacinto, Bolivar. An ensemble known as the conjunto de gaitas commonly provides the music for the cambia, porro and other such genres as the vallenato. This ensemble consists of two duct flutes [ghaitas], a maraca and two hand-beaten drums of African descent.
Playing Techniques: Musicians often use wax to close the finger-holes and to alter the tone of the flute. By blocking one or the other tone hole on the kuisi sigi, and in the kuisi bunzi either the upper or lower finger-hole is covered. So that only the four finger-holes are used at any one time.
Varieties: There are male and female versions of the kuisi [or gaita in Spanish for pipe]. The female kuisi bunsi [also rendered kuisi abundjí in Spanish] is also commonly known as a gaita hembra in Spanish and has five holes; the male kuisi sigi [or kuisi azigí] is called a gaita macho in Spanish and has two holes.
Construction: Modern kuisi’s are between 70 cm and 80 cm in length, traditionally the measurement of the kuisi was defined by the arm of the maker. Kuisi’s built by the Kogi people are reported to be up to two feet or 60 cm in length. They are constructed from cane [carrizo] by the flautist him self.
The kuisi is always made by a male. The length being measured as three times the span between the extended thumb and little finger. Plus the span between the extended thumb and index finger. The finger holes are located with a distance between them. The finger holes are then located with a distance between them measured by the width of two fingers plus, half of the width of the thumb.
They are constructed from a cactus [Selenicereus grandifloras] which is bored and whose thorns are cut. The centre is removed, first moistening and then boring with an iron stick. The cactus stem is thicker at one of its ends, this will go upside and coupled with the bee wax head which carries the feather mouth piece. Though the instrument is slightly conic on the outside, its perforation is cylindrical.
Citations: Bibliography: Joaquin Posada Gutierrez, Memorias Historico Politicas 1865 ; Bogota, Imprenta Nacional in 1929 ; Aquiles Escalante, El negro en Colombia, Monografias Sociológicas, no. 18 Bogota: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1964, pp. 149] on the fusion of Indigenous, African and European instruments and music cultures ; Websites: