November Feature: Music of Celtic Spain

Nov 1, 2012

Throughout November Global Village highlights the music of Celtic Spain. Tucked into the northwest corner of the country, is the Celtic center of Galicia. It is a hilly and lush region of "a thousand rivers" and a beautiful coast with a corridor to the rest of Spain on one side, and Portugal, the Atlantic, and the Bay of Biscay on the other three. This beautiful and distinctive region has been shaped by a unique Celtic heritage, along with ties to the rest of Spain and, through a long history of seafaring and emigration, to many other parts of the world as well.

While modern-day Galicia has strong fishing and manufacturing industries and is becoming a growing tourist mecca, historically it was relatively isolated from the rest of Spain and Europe. This allowed the region to develop its own language, culture and music. Galicia takes its name (and cultural roots) from a Celtic tribe that first moved into the area some 2500 years ago. It was incorporated into the Roman empire during the reign of Augustus, overrun by Germanic tribes, and briefly became part of Al-Andalus or Moorish Spain before joining the Christian kingdom of Asturias.

Galicia, in fact, would become one of the most important Christian centers of the Middle Ages after the the tomb of the Apostle James was discovered in the early 800s.Today the relics of St. James and his two disciples reside in the 11th century Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Galician capital. The Cathedral and The Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago), a thousand year old road to the church, became one of the most important pilgrimage routes of the Middle Ages, second only to those to Jerusalem and Rome. The Way (which stretches from France to Spain and has nearly 2000 buildings of religious and historical significance), along with the Cathedral and its surrounding Old Town area in Santiago de Compostela, are now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

All this religious, political and cultural history is reflected in the music of region. It explains the strains of Gregorian chant and music of the troubadours that runs through Galician music even to this day. The many pilgrims from all over the world added their own instruments and musical influences, as did neighboring Al-Andalus, and the Atlantic, which offered a route for Galician sailors and emigrants, particularly to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and the United Kingdom. By the same token, as the Way of Saint James is traveled now by a growing number of pilgrims of many different spiritual persuasions and from many different parts of the world, it offers them an opportunity to discover the unique culture of the region and its enchanting music and accomplished musicians.

The music and culture of Galicia have been enjoying a renaissance since the end of the Franco era in Spain. This also coincided with a revival of interest in the music of related Celtic styles in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Brittany, a growing world music movement, and many traditional music revivals occurring simultaneously in other parts of the world. A number of popular artists and groups emerged during this time, including famed piper (and "seventh Chieftain") Carlos Nuñez, Milladoiro, Uxía, Susana Seivane, Mercedes Peón, Fuxan Os Ventos, and Doa.

Famed Spanish piper Carlos Nuñez with the Chieftains:

Exquisite Galician progressive folk ensemble Doa: