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Vihuela conchera.jpg
Closeup view of a vihuela conchera, a Native-American lute from Mexico. Many modern instruments put the armadillo shell on the outside of a wooden bowl, instead of using the shell for a bowl.
String instrument
Other namesConchas

String instrument

Plucked string instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-6
(Chordophone whose body is shaped like a bowl with permanently attached resonator and neck, sounded by a plectrum)
Developedfrom lute or possibly vihuela between 16th and 19th centuries
Playing range
  • Range mandolin.PNG
    (mandolin tuning)
  • 130pc Vihuela mexicana.png
    (vihuela Mexicana tuning)
  • Range guitar.svg
    (standard guitar tuning)
Related instruments
charango, mandolin, Mexican vihuela, guitar, lute

Concheras [1] or conchas are Mexican stringed-instruments, plucked by concheros dancers. The instruments were important to help preserve elements of native culture from Eurocentric-Catholic suppression. [2] The instruments are used by Concheros dancers [3] for singing at "velaciones" (nighttime rituals) and for dancing at "obligaciones" (dance obligations).



The bodies of the lutes were traditionally made from a concha (armadillo shell). [3] Today the bowls may be made of wood and the mandolin have a flat back.


Older couple dancing and playing conchas in honor of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos in Colonia Doctores, Mexico City. At left, a vihuela de conchera. At right a mandolin or mandolina de conchera. AzCoupleGuitarsDance.JPG
Older couple dancing and playing conchas in honor of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos in Colonia Doctores, Mexico City. At left, a vihuela de conchera. At right a mandolin or mandolina de conchera.

After the arrival of the Spanish conquerors to Mexico in 1519, the indigenous musicians and instrument makers of central Mexico, took up European instruments. Tradition has it that the instruments were adopted by Native Americans in what is now modern Mexico in the 16th century. At least one person, not involved in the tradition, has speculated that the birth of the instrument might be closer to the mid-18th century. [5]

The Spanish church leaders had prohibited the use of drums to Native Americans, in an effort to eliminate their dancing, which was tied to the drum rhythms. [1] However the Spanish did not object to the Native-Americans learning to play European instruments. [1] The Native-Americans took their drum rhythms and incorporated then into music on the lutes to "preserve the original beats of Danza rhythms." [1] They used the Spanish instruments to "preserve their own songs, rhythms and sacred knowledge." [1]

They copied the violin, the chirimia (a primitive version of the Oboe that came from the Muslims of North Africa), the lute, and the mandolin (or its predecessors the vandola or gittern). The native instrument makers were so adept at creating beautiful sounding instruments, that soon the Spanish crown forbid the locals from making instruments, because this was taking business from the Spanish instrument makers of Europe and colonial Mexico. [6] The natives were unable to make the wooden parts for the belly, for lack of the small, thin, wooden strips that are glued together to make a lute's bowl. [6] They substituted a natural bowl, made of an armadillo shell. [6] The instrument took its name from the shell, and the dancers from the instrument. [6]

Other names for the Conchas

Some of the dancers who use the conchas call them "Mecahuehuetl" (from Nahuatl Meca(tl) = chord + Huehue(tl)= old one "drum", which was also the name for the vihuela and is used for the guitar today. [7] This name reflects the fact that the early Conchero dancers were able to encrypt the precolumbian rhythms and steps of their agrarian rituals into the musical chords of the guitars and mandolins. A traditional conchero can tell which step should be carried out by how the melody is being strummed on the conchas. Another name used for the armadillo-shelled instruments is "Chihuanda." The etymology of this term is uncertain, with Purépecha seen as the most commonly agreed to root.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Luna, Jennie (2013). "La Tradición Conchera: Historical Process of Danza and Catholicism". Diálogo. 16 (1). Danza Conchera is called such to refer to the mandolina (small guitar-like instruments) that were made with the shell (in Spanish: concha) of an armadillo... These conchas or mandolina instruments replaced the drum, which was prohibited by the new Spanish rulers
  2. Aguilar, Mario E. (2009). The Rituals of Kindness: The Influence of the Danza Azteca Tradition of Central Mexico on Chicano-Mexcoehuani Identity and Sacred Space (Thesis). How do you feel about those Danzantes that reject the Catholic traditions of Mexican culture in La Danza? Well I feel they have a lot to learn. If it wasn't for the church, we would have lost so much more: lost how the traditions were actually carried. But because of the church and a few of its good missionaries, we still have the traditions. The church came and said no more drums, so we began to use the guitar and mandolin. Our people were ingenious, they said “The hell with you, I will make my own guitars and mandolins out of armadillo shells:, they call the concha.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 INAH (1988). Atlas Cultural de México. Música. México: Grupo Editorial Planeta. ISBN   968-406-121-8.
  4. 1 2 3 Ricart, Ramón Andreu. "CORDÓFONOS DE CONCHEROS". vihuela y guitarra de Concheros", de 5 y 6 órdenes dobles, respectivamente, afinándose como sus respectivos originarios, solo que cada una de sus dobles cuerdas se afinan octavadas [vihuela and Concheros guitar", of 5 and 6 double orders, respectively, tuning as their respective origins, only that each of their double strings are tuned octave.]
  5. 1 2 Carracedo Navarro, Juan Jose. "La guitarra cochera mexicana, ¿la prima o la tía del charango?". La guitarra se entorcha con 10 cuerdas metálicas distribuidas en 5 cursos y su afinación corresponde a las de una guitarra moderna sin incluir la sexta. De tercera a quinta van octavadas. [Translation: The guitar is wound with 10 metal strings distributed in 5 courses and its tuning corresponds to that of a modern guitar without including the sixth [string]. From the third to fifth [course] they are octaves.]
  6. 1 2 3 4 Aguilar, Mario E. (2009). The Rituals of Kindness: The Influence of the Danza Azteca Tradition of Central Mexico on Chicano-Mexcoehuani Identity and Sacred Space (Thesis). When the colonial authorities prohibited the indigenous dancers from making any European instruments, they began to create their beloved guitars and mandolins out of gourd shells and later armadillo shells. These “conchas” or shells, carapaces, gave the dancers’ their name “Los Concheros” (The shell people). ...Because the indigenous luthiers could no longer have access to the wood necessary to create the string instruments, especially the wood for the back of the guitars and mandolins, they soon resorted to using the shell of the armadillo. This gave rise to the name commonly used for the indigenous/mestizo dance tradition known as the Concheros (the shell people).
  7. "mecahuehuetl". Nahuatl Dictionary, [Alonso de Molina in his 1571 work Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana, 1571, part 2 called this the word for a vihuela or harp].