Northern Spain: Music of Carlos Nuñez

“People say I play the pipes like the electric guitar!” Carlos Nuñez says.
carlos nunez galicina musican with pipes

The pipes he’s speaking of are the gaita, or Galician bagpipes. With a sound that falls between the bright tones of the highland pipes of Scotland and the mellow sound of the uillean pipes of Ireland, the gaita lend themselves to musical expression both lively and sorrowful, to dance music and to supporting singers of the heartfelt music of northern Spain — and of other genres as well.

Carlos Nuñez well knows how to explore all these aspects of the signature instrument of his native territory. Galicia is in the far northwest of Spain, with a history and culture that claims more connection to Celtic lands than to Mediterranean Spain, but a land that yet holds influences from Spain and from neighboring Portugal, as well. It also hold influences of the sea and the mountains which border and mark its lands. All these things come into play in the music Carlos Nuñez makes, as well.

Nuñez explored those Celtic connections early in his career by his frequent work with the legendary Irish band The Chieftains, appearing with them often on stages, and becoming a collaborator on their Grammy winning album Santiago ( inspired by the music of Galicia) and the Mexican influenced recording San Patricio, and their most recent project, Voice Of Ages.

“Galicia is the magical part of Spain,” says Nuñez, who is marking the release of of his album Discover, a two disc set that includes original pieces, music that shares that Celtic connection, music that connects with Spain and Portugal, and music that includes collaborations with, in addition to the The Chieftains, Ry Cooder, Teresa Salgueiro, Sharon Shannon, Compay Segundo, Linda Ronstadt, and others. Through it all, in the hands of Nunez the gaita maintains its own sound while working in company with the ideas and sounds of these artists.

Nuñez comes from Vigo, a port city in Galicia which has long been a crossroads of cultures. Galicia has long drawn travelers, traders, and pilgrims — since medieval times it has been the site of the pilgrim route known as the Camino de Santiago — a connection and crossroads which Nuñez honors in the way he collaborates, and in the way he shares the identity of his native ground. Respected at home as a master piper, well known in Spain and Europe, and in Ireland for his collaborations with Celtic artists, Nuñez brings varied aspects of his work together on Discover. He hopes to bring the sound of Galicia and the gaita to new audiences. “What the flamenco guitar is to the south [of Spain], the gaita is to the north,” he says. “The pipes have been here for over a thousand years. They are the oldest in the world.”

Nuñez is currently (October 2012) on tour in North America.

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