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As a mission close to our heart, sharing Andean Indigenous culture through cultural education in schools has been one of the most important and enjoyable aspects of our three decades performing in the US. Our fifteen year partnership with Chicago's Urban Gateways has afforded us the opportunity to reach thousands of Chicagoland students each year. Established in 1961, the founders of Urban Gateways believed in arts education as a mechanism for social change. We too believe in arts bringing about social change, as we've witnessed firsthand through connections SISAI has made, both in schools and more broadly with our annual performances in places dear to us like Hiawassee, Georgia, and in many other communities throughout the country. Read on to learn more.

Sharing Culture

The people of the Andes, the Kichwa, Kechwa and Aymara, have wise ancient practices that are continued today. Close to the land, they farm their food in a sustainable way, speak their own languages, and sing and play a traditional music like no other on earth. Through our educational performances SISAI continues to teach about sustainable living, tradition and culture, and the strong communities that keep those practices alive. Now more than ever science needs to tap into the vast knowledge that Indigenous people hold and have kept throughout time. Understanding the value of Indigenous culture and knowledge is important for our planet's future, as Indigenous communities around the world are most closely tied with the natural world we all depend on, and they can help provide guidance as to how to best protect our planet's future.

Live Performance

The sounds of the Andes are unique, and captivate audiences of all ages. A blend of the deep heartbeat of the traditional drum, the ethereal voice of the zampoñas, the strength of the kena that carries over mountainsides, and the delicate notes of the 10 stringed charango all come together to give life to the ancient Kichwa musical heritage. SISAI incorporates images from the Andes taken by member Suzanne Reed in their performances, they are specific to SISAI's home town of Otavalo and bring to life daily experiences of life there as well as the sweeping landscapes and beautiful lakes, traditional homes and cultivated fields that characterize the highland community.

Nature, Peace and Community

SISAI introduces Andean instruments that come from the nature that surrounds the people. We teach the names of those instruments, and talk about the peaceful feelings come from the sounds of the flutes made from reeds gathered at the edges of highland lakes. We imagine the flight of the condor through the mountains as we play Condor Pasa. We present the idea of the minga, a call to community, a way one can help others through reciprocity. We tell stories that have been passed down in Andean communities, such as the legend of the Aya Huma, or spirit head, that represents the dualities we encounter in life, and about the strengths and communal practices that has kept Kichwa and Andean culture alive throughout over 500 years of colonialism.


Audiences first guess what an Andean percussion instrument called chajchas are made of, then they get to play them! Participants get hands on experience with drums, gourd rattles, chajchas and rain sticks, while playing along with the band. The whole audience learns to clap to a rhythm traditionally played during the celebration of the harvest, Inti Raymi, which is the celebration of the sun. Both the sun, Inti, and the earth, Pachmama, receive thanks during this June solstice observance. The importance of our natural world, our dependence on it and the reverence for it in the Andes is presented to students.

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