Gu-Achi Fiddlers


Gu-Achi Fiddlers – Old Time O’odham Fiddle Music (Canyon Records CR-8082)


by Shlomo Pestcoe (from

The Tohono O’odham are the largest Amerindian nation in the state of Arizona. Tohono O’odham  means “Desert People” in the Uto-Aztecan language of the O’odham, a reference to their homeland in the Sonoran Desert regions of southern Arizona and the northern Mexican state of Sonora. They were dubbed the Papago (Papahvi-o-otam, literally, “Bean People” in the language of the neighboring Akimel O’odham [Pima] who are closely related to the Tohono O’odham) by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (1645-1711), the famed Jesuit missionary/cartographer/astronomer/explorer, who established the first missions in the region in 1686. In 1986, the tribal government legally replaced the sobriquet “Papago Indians” — long considered to be derogatory– with the term Tohono O’odham as the official name for this First Nation.

The O’odham fiddle tradition of stretches back to the earliest days of Spanish colonization. Catholic missionaries introduced European string instruments into the region for use in church services.

In the mid-19th century, Tohono O’odham fiddlers picked up the latest “pop” dance music forms to come over from Europe– the waltz, polka, mazurka, etc.– and adapted them to fit their musical culture. The music they created was dubbed waila,” (pronounced “wy-lah”) which comes from the Spanish word baile (lit. “dance”).

Waila fiddle bands provided the music for religious festivals, community celebrations and social dancing until the 1950s, when the fiddle was overshadowed by the button accordion and saxophone.  This was result of the pervasive influence of norteño music from Northern Mexico, in which the 3-row diatonic button accordion and the alto sax are the main lead instruments. A new O’odham style featuring those instruments emerged called chicken scratch, a reference to a traditional Tohono O’odham dance in which dancers kick their heels high in the air like chickens scratching. Today, the terms waila and chicken scratch are interchangeable and are both synonymous for contemporary O’odham vernacular social dance music.




2 Responses to “Gu-Achi Fiddlers”

  1. Alex Says:

    I met a band named Bayou Seco that specialized in reviving many of the old O’odham tunes while performing at the Desert Rain Cafe, in Sells, Arizona, the capital of the Tohono O’odham nation. They played the old tunes and people danced, it was a grand-old time.

  2. "Good Job Everybody" + I Heart Canada · Aaron Jonah Lewis Says:

    […] was another one that came while I was away. It’s called “Old Time O’odham Fiddle Music” by Gu-Achi Fiddlers, a wonderful collection of fiddle music from the Tohono O’odham (“The Desert People”) of […]

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