Icaros, Modernized

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:

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:

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:

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


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

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

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

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

    Paz Hally

  7. 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