A conch shell is a beautiful thing.
But who would guess that cultures all around the world would not only admire it’s beauty but also figure out that – with a few minor modifications – it becomes a completely functional, natural trumpet! Among others, there are conch trumpets heard in music from the South Pacific, Tibet, Korea and pre-Incan cultures. Archeological finds and older documents also place it in Aztec culture and ceremonies as well. Here’s a bit more about the Aztec conch shell trumpet.
Pictured here is a musician called a “quiquizoani” playing the conch shell. The name is in the Nahuatl Indigenous language of Mexico and this specific image can be found on page 23 of the Aztec Codex “Magliabecchi”, currently preserved and archived at the University of Utah in the United States.
One of the best sites for information on Aztec instruments, including great pictures from archeological sites and historical references is Mexicolore.com (see resources below). Their research shows that there were 7 different types of conch shells and that the largest was called the ‘quiquiztli’. As you might imagine, the shell trumpet was highly symbolic and associated with the breath of life as well as the rhythms of the sea. Similarly, it was associated with the call to prayer, marking time during the day and during the night, the moon, fertility and Ehécatl – the Aztec God of the Wind.
Research also shows that conch shell trumpets were used by the Aztec military in a manner similar to modern day bugles.
Conch Shells in The USA
Closer to home, conch shells are part of a unique contest in the Florida Keys. Although the tradition of blowing the conch trumpet dates back over 200 years, it was originally used mainly for maritime signaling. Recently, however, the contest is a lot more colorful with contestants that vary in age from 3 – 83 and even perform with unique outfits, hula hoops and other novelty approaches.
Want to find out more about this modern conch contest? Check out the link below for some amazing variations on this ancient musical theme
What Does A Conch Trumpet Sound Like?
Check out this short video where a young buy demonstrates how to cut the conch shell and how to practice getting the trumpet sound.
MexicoLore’s Conch Shell Page
Florida Keys Newsroom – Info On The Annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest