The bagpipes is an old wind instrument that has survived in many areas across Europe, at least since the Middle Ages. Although the most famous type is the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe, there are many other kinds like the French ‘biniou’, the Swedish ‘sackpipa’ or Bulgarian ‘gaida’. In the Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain), this family of instruments usually gets the generic name of ‘gaita’, and the musician that plays them is called ‘gaiteiro’ (in Portugal and Galicia/NW-Spain) or ‘gaitero’ (in most other parts of Spain). The Portuguese folk band Gaiteiros de Lisboa has released a new CD in February 2011, Vôos Domésticos.
The bagpipes tradition in Portugal is kept in central and northern rural areas of the country, but not so much in Lisbon, where the evolution of the folk music has been towards more refined singing and string instruments styles, like for example the ‘fado’. Nevertheless, the band Gaiteiros de Lisboa started in 1991 taking the bagpipes as the symbol for their style of folk music, based on a huge diversity of wind and percussion instruments.
Portuguese Wind and String Instruments
The bagpipes tradition in Portugal is still extended in central and northern rural areas of the country such as: Tejo, Sado, Torres Vedras, Beira Litoral, Coimbra district, and in Trás-os-Montes, Miranda do Douro, where they play the Gaita Mirandesa or Trasmontana, which is quite similar to the bagpipes played in the neighbour Spanish region of Sanabria (Zamora province). The full name that these instruments take in Portuguese language, for example in the Trás-os-Montes region, is: ‘Gaita-de-Fole’ (or ‘Foles’), since this specifies that the wind that is blown by the piper is not directly delivered into the instrument’s pipes (chanter and single bass drone), but first accumulated in the pneumatic bag, or ‘fole’ (traditionally made with a full young goat’s skin).
There are interesting links about the Portuguese bagpipes, for example, the association Associação Gaita-de-Foles based in Lisbon : www.gaitadefoles.net.
Although Gaiteiros de Lisboa has put a special focus on the music for wind and percussion instruments, we must not forget that Portugal’s musical tradition is also strongly based on a good number of locally developed string instruments (Portuguese violas, guitars,...), such as:
Nevertheless, the only string instrument that Gaiteiros de Lisboa has incorporated in their ‘instrumentarium’ is the sanfona (hurdy-gurdy in Portuguese), which at the end keeps lots of commonality with the sound of bagpipes (drone strings and continuous flow of notes).
The Music of Gaiteiros de Lisboa
The folk music of Gaiteiros de Lisboa is strongly based on traditional woodwinds, large bass drums and other percussion instruments, which is something characteristic from a part of Portugal’s rural music. They try to incorporate a broad spectrum of Portuguese traditional rhythms, but also admitting influences and inspiration from foreign artists that are key for the understanding of the European folk music in the latest decades, such as: THE CHIEFTAINS, PENGUIN CAFÉ ORCHESTRA or HEDNINGARNA.
Considering the kind of ‘creative’ mix of traditional and sometimes self-invented wind and percussion instruments that Gaiteiros de Lisboa like to make use of, it is not surprising that they also recognize the influence from a great music and comedy theatre group from Argentina such as LES LUTHIERS (www.lesluthiers.com).
The kind of contemporary Portuguese folk bands that Gaiteiros de Lisboa consider having affinity with their own music are for example: UXU CALHUS, DAZKARIEH, TERRAKOTA, DIABO NA CRUZ, XAILE, RONCOS DO DIABO, BRIGADA VICTOR JARA, and maybe also Galician bands such as CHOUTEIRA, LEILÍA or TREIXADURA, even though they recognize clear differences in their respective ways to work on folk music.
Since their starts in the early 1990s, Gaiteiros de Lisboa has played in folk music concerts and festivals across Europe, and of course in Portugal, the neighbour country Spain (mostly in Galicia), but also in former Portuguese colonies such as Brazil and Macao (in Asia).
Now in 2011, they are presenting their latest CD ‘Vôos Domésticos’.
Photo Credits: Gaiteiros de Lisboa: (1) from website; (2) by Folkinvierno Las Rozas.