Spanish piper Carlos Núñez and his brother, drummer Xurxo Núñez performing live. (Jaizki Fontaneda)
For most people, the music of Spain conjures up images of guitars and flamenco dancers stomping on the floor for percussion effect. But did you know that there is over a 1,000-year history of bag pipe music on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal)?
An autonomous community in northwest Spain, Galicia along with its neighboring Spanish community of Asturias and the country of Portugal share the history of Celtic music. One of its featured instruments is the bagpipe along with several flutes and pipes of varying sizes.
On Friday night, The Broad Stage Theater in Santa Monica was graced by the presence of Galician musician Carlos Núñez, one of the masters of the Spanish “gaita,” which is the generic name given to the Galician bagpipe. Promoting his new recording, Inter-Celtic, he brought a musical program that connected this instrument with multiple countries and musical styles as part of the Celtic migrations to the Americans.
Accompanied by his brother Xurxo Núñez on drums/percussion, Galician musician Pancho Alvarez on the “viola guitar” (a ten-string, five-course small guitar) and Canadian Stephanie Cadman on fiddle, vocals and step-dancing, the evening consisted of a tour of this very unique music form through several centuries up to the present day.
The first song performed was “Amanecer” from the 19th century romantic period, which fused classical and traditional genres, featured a guitar and violin solo accompanied by Carlos on a small flute. There is a feel of the Irish and the Scottish to this music but it also has been flavored by the Moors (Northern Africans/Arab/Muslims) who controlled this peninsula for over 500 years.
This was followed by “La Hermandad de las Estrellas,” which showcased Carlos’ virtuoso playing on flutes, that has its influence on the Spanish Fandango music genre. It has also been used in classical music.
One of the greatest compositions of classical music is Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” from the early 20th century, who according to my musicologist, DJ and author friend Tom Schnabel, was influenced by Galician music. The presentation of this piece with the “gaita” (bagpipe) verified the connection of the structure of this composition with the instrument and music genre.
Cadman on violin provided us with some additional flavor for the evening by performing several times her style of “step dancing,” which many will remember from the famous touring show “Riverdance.” The similarities of this type of feet generated percussion with the Flamenco dance genre that was highlighted by the very elegant and beautiful Cadman.
Other selections included “Camino de Santiago” and “Marcha do Entrelazado de Allariz.” One of my favorites pieces “Feria de Mangaio” from Brazil followed; it had a “bossa nova” base and featured flutes and the viola guitar in a picking style similar to the Cuban “tres” instrument.
Speaking of Cuba, the “gaita” (bagpipe) made its way to the island via the Galician immigration to Latin America during the early part of the 20th century. It was there where Carlos recorded another of my favorite pieces of the evening, “Galleguita” (girl from Galicia), a mix of Galician music style and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Next, a music fusion project took over the stage when three young Mexican-American musicians who play the “son jarocho” music genre native to the Caribbean area of Mexico joined the group. The small guitars, which are the base for Jarocho music, blended well with the “gaita” infusion and the foot percussion by the female member of the Mexican trio.
As “the 7th member” of the traditional Irish band The Chieftains, Carlos recorded and toured extensively with the iconic band winning a Grammy for their Santiago release, which highlighted Galician music and included artists such as Los Angeles-native Los Lobos and Mexican-American icon Linda Ronstadt.
“Guadalupe,” a featured song from this recording culminated in what I call “the pinky conga line” where members of the audience were encouraged to link their little fingers to their neighbors’ as they danced around the theater seating, ending in front of the stage.
Part musician, master of ceremonies and cheerleader with a Spanish accent, Carlos’ show at The Broad Stage highlighted how music is the international language. In the age of internet, cell phones, text messages and all things “on demand,” it feels great to be able to experience live music played by such master musicians.