Rosa Quispe Huanca is an Aymara singer and participant in UN Women’s Originarias Programme in Chile, one of the aims of which is to promote indigenous women’s businesses and projects developed in coordination with indigenous organizations, as well as public and private institutions. The programme also promotes the integration of indigenous women into the ecosystem of economic and social entrepreneurship in order to further gender equality and interculturality.

Rosa Quispe Huanca: Ambassador of Aymara music, defender of her language and traditions

Rosa Quispe Huanca is an Aymara singer and participant in UN Women’s Originarias Programme in Chile. Photo: UN Women

In Chile, the annual Pulsar Awards are a platform where the best musical creations of the country are recognized. This year, Rosa Quispe Huanca was the only woman nominated in the category “Dissemination of music of native peoples”. Thanks to her song “Mi palomita” (My little dove), from the album Urphilitay, Quispe Huanca fulfilled a dream she had been working towards for more than twenty years and won the award.  

The album Urphilitay is “dedicated to all the Aymara and non-Aymara granddaughters”, and the artist makes a musical journey of her walk between the countryside and the city. It is an album of Andean sonority that highlights the strength of the Aymara woman, in which she transmits to the new generations a love for the Aymara traditions and native language. Quispe Huanca stands out for her role in the preservation of cultural heritage, one of the cornerstones of the Originarias Program. 

It is not, as some people say, that the Aymara language no longer exists. We are not in a museum. We are alive! We speak the language in the communities.

How did you receive this outstanding national award?  

I was delighted and excited to receive this award. I did not expect it because I am from the region and had just arrived in the capital to perform my music. This album has sentimental value because it is related to my descendants and those of many families who today have granddaughters and great-granddaughters, to whom the song Urphilitay is dedicated. It is a well-deserved recognition for never giving up and valuing our music, promoting and strengthening it.  

“Urphilitay: dedicated to all the Aymara and non-Aymara granddaughters” is the name of your new album. Why is it dedicated to the granddaughters?  

This album is dedicated to the Aymara and non-Aymara granddaughters because I have always advocated for us women and the recognition of all Aymara women. Urphilitay, which means little dove, is a woman’s name—in this case, my daughter’s. This song is dedicated to my granddaughter Monserrat, to whom since she was born I used to say ‘I am going to sing a song for her to remember her grandmother’, and also, why not dedicate it to many Urphilitay in Chile and the world?  

My granddaughter turned 20 years old; imagine the years I had to wait to record this album that I had in my mind for a long time. It is a project that took me years to record, but it was worth the wait. For me it has been a long-cherished dream, as I finally achieved the goal I set myself to promote our Andean music in our Aymara language.  

How was the creative process for this new album?  

This album was recorded in the community. For example, there are songs like “Linda iquiqueñita”, dedicated to the Iquiqueña woman, which was written by my brother and in which I sing with my daughter and granddaughter. I am proud of this new generation.  

They are songs inspired by my environment in the countryside. I sing to the pampas, the water, my town of Huayca, and the carnivals. There are twelve songs that reflect the Andean spirit and its connection with the Pachamama.  

Rosa Quispe Huanca’s album “Urphilitay: dedicated to all the Aymara and non-Aymara granddaughters” highlights the strength of the Aymara woman. Photo: UN Women

Let’s talk about your musical career. How did you begin as a singer?  

I have been singing since I was a child at school and church. My teacher said I had a melodious voice. My mother and father were cattle farmers. My mother would always sing when we were in the fields, and that’s where the love for music in our language was born.  

I have been singing formally for 25 years. I am the first Aymara woman to stand in front of an audience at the university, with traditional costumes, to sing in my language. That was in 1994; those were other times when there was a lot of discrimination, and indigenous peoples were not recognized.  

Later, in 2008, I was invited to participate in the symphonic work AYNI, directed by Andreas Bodenhofer, where I sang and toured in Germany and Chile, in cities such as Santiago, Talca and Antofagasta.   

Promoting and defending the Aymara language is one of the goals behind this album. Why is it important to promote it?  

For me, it is essential that our language continues to develop. I would even say to strengthen it through music so that our children learn it. It is not, as some people say, that the Aymara language no longer exists. We are not in a museum. We are alive! We speak the language in the communities. What I must admit is that we do it somewhat less. It may seem like it has been lost; that is why it is so important to transmit our language through songs.  

I am an ambassador of Aymara music and, of course, of Chilean music. In the south, they think it is Peruvian music. I want to point out—and I hope people understand—that Chile, Bolivia, and Peru have only one common root. Together we were the Aymara nation. We are one. There are no borders between us. We are family.  

In addition to music, you have developed educational projects for children. What are these initiatives? 

Yes, I always hold talks in preschools and elementary schools because I feel that this is the seed that can germinate in the future. I also recorded a CD with bilingual children’s music that has served as educational material. I made it so that children and youth know that we are from an original people called Aymara and that this is our identity. We have our values, customs, traditions, dance, gastronomy, medicine and spirituality. These things are what I have tried to transmit through my music.

After the success of Urphilitay, what are your future projects?  

I will continue composing music. I want to record with a brass band. I am thinking of something more danceable, with different types of music and rhythms for young people and adults to dance to in the Aymara language. It would be the first time a woman sings with a brass band.  

I have several international tours and invitations to show my culture. I am preparing myself. There is a lot of work behind this. It is not just standing up to sing. There is a lot of research involved. There is generational knowledge that is transferred. Art must be professionalized. I owe my audience respect, so I have to be well prepared. I cannot improvise. It’s disappointing when it is not valued. 

Listen to the full album here: