Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Musical Instruments

This article comes to us via EITb:

Basque musical instruments

No one visiting the Basque Country leaves without noticing the magical sounds of so many instruments strongly rooted in the folkloric traditions.

Everyone visiting the Basque Country usually becomes familiar with the txistu, accordion and tambourine, but there are other Basque musical instruments. Some are unique to a particular region and set of dances in the Basque Country.

The Basque Country has zealously preserved its own folkloric traditions, but likewise it would be unusual for a country such as this, which has always regarded music as one of its most genuine means of expression, to remain distanced from other musical tendencies.

And in fact the Basque Country hosts for example the most important Jazz festivals of Spain, such as those of Vitoria-Gasteiz and Donostia-San Sebastian, and offers programmes of classical music such as the Fortnight of Music of Donostia-San Sebastian or the Bilbao Opera season.

As far as the music goes, the txistu is the Basque instrument. It is a simple wind instrument which, in its different forms, and usually accompanied by a light drum beat played by the same musician, is used to play the music of the majority of Basque dances, from the most solemn ones to the "jotas" and fandangos, which everyone dances.

An instrument which often fulfils similar functions is the alboka, a little pipe made of straw, wood, and horn. It is made from the horns of oxen and it produces a high pitched sound. It is not difficult to play, it is said, but the musician must always maintain a mouth full of air. It was nearly lost in recent years but it has been resurrected, especially in the towns of Bizkaia. The alboka is often times accompanied by a tambourine.

It is difficult to say with certainty what txalaparta were and for what they were utilized. They date from ancient times, some claim from the pre-historic era. They are two thick wood staffs, that are struck down upon a hard surface in a rhythmic fashion. The only known tune that has been retained comes from the sidrerias or cider houses, producers of popular sagardoa or cider wine. It is possible that the txalapartak owe their origin to these cider houses. They used them to notify the surrounding community (up to ten kilometers away) of the new batch of cider wine that was ready. Villagers would then arrive to test samples and decide if they wanted to buy a portion.

The tobera are very similar to the txalapartak except that they are made of iron in place of wood. These are often used to celebrate and proclaim a wedding.

The Dulzaina comes from a diversified family of instruments from the province of Nafarroa. Difficult to play, it is used to play the various folk dances in Nafarroa. Unlike the txistu, it is played with both hands. It was in danger of being lost but recent efforts have succeeded in preserving and promoting the continuation of this instrument.

The Trikitixa: includes an accordionist and tambourine player that help to enliven Basque gatherings and festivals. It was first introduced into the Basque Country in the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa towards the end of the last century.

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