Galicia lies on the north-western coast of Spain, separated from the rest of the nation by a rugged, mountainous terrain. The Celtic lineage of this green and hilly province has been the subject of protracted debate. Some say that the presence of the gaita (bagpipe) and other instruments constitute proof of long-ago settlers from the Six Nations. Others point out that a recently proven genetic link between the Spanish and today's Celts (the "Black Irish" Armada shipwreck theory aside) would indicate a migration in the opposite direction, and this is supported by a story in the Irish Book Of Legends that claims Ireland was once ruled by a Galician lord. Either conjecture could be apocryphal or true, but the fact remains that Galician music is remarkably compatible with Irish and other Celtic styles. The muiñeira is the Galician equivalent of a jig, and alalás resemble slow airs, so players from anywhere in the diaspora can join in with little or no translation.
Other influences are closer to home. The original Galician language owes more to nearby Portugal than to Spain; in fact, the two were once the same. There was also widespread cultural cross-pollination going on due to the medieval pilgrimage route that terminates at the Cathedral Of Santiago de Compostela. As Catholics traveled to worship at the tomb of Saint James The Apostle, they also exchanged customs, told tales and made music together. Today's Galician tunes harbor intense medieval echoes, which in turn contain Arabic traces gleaned from the Crusades and the conquered Moorish kingdom of Granada. These same North African roots were used by Spanish Roma (Gypsy) tribes in Flamenco, and by Sephardic Jews in their bittersweet Ladino odes. Interestingly, some musicologists now think that aspects of the Irish sean nos vocal style and certain Breton traditions can also be traced to North Africa.
Milladoiro is one of Galicia's premier groups, named after the small heaps of stones erected by the devout along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage road. The members met at the university at Santiago and still favor an intellectual approach at the research phase, but performances are another matter. Their instrumentation and musical vocabulary are eclectic; incorporating early music, Celtic overtones, hints of jazz and a colorful bouquet of Spanish flavors, but the merry dances and anthem-like ballads of the region predominate. Their albums that have been licensed by Green Linnet, "Galicia No Tempo", "As Fadas De Estraño Nome" and "Castellum Honesti," are all typically splendid, but the rest of their extensive catalogue is equally collectible.
The most prominent gaita virtuoso in Galicia, and one of the world's best, is Carlos Nuñez. He often tours and records with the Chieftains, who consider him an auxiliary member of the group, and has a busy international career. "Brotherhood Of Stars" (RCA Victor - 1997) is well named, as a galaxy of luminaries are on hand, including The Chieftains, plus Triona and Michael O'Domhnaill (Ireland), the ubiquitous American guitar whiz Ry Cooder, the Basque accordionist Kepa Junkera, and the Portuguese new Fado star Dulce Pontes. The album occasionally veers off toward light classical schmaltz, but the bandleader asserts himself before matters get too sticky. His 2000 release, "Os Amores Libres" (RCA Victor) is even more geographically far-flung, but is an entirely more satisfying set, with personalities from Ireland, Brittany, Israel, Spain, Morocco (a Sufi choir from Tangiers!), Rumania and the USA all bowing to the power of Nuñez' concept and personality. The result is as brave, truthful and focused as it is erudite and entertaining.
The Chieftains made a resoundingly successful foray into this territory on "Santiago" (RCA Victor). Guest stars Carlos Nuñez, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, and the guitarist Elliot Fisk (he studied with Andres Segovia) fit in nicely and apply their talents to the task at hand. The selections thoroughly explore similarities between Irish and Galician folklore but above all, the record preserves the participants' uninhibited and joyful music-making. The live cut, "Dublin In Vigo", was recorded at a crowded pub with unselfconscious and raucous audience participation. Drunken asides, stamping, clapping, unsteady vocals and all, it is a party on a disc.
See also: Xosé Manuel Budiño
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