This article is intended to familiarize the reader with the general characteristics of the percussion instrument called ‘charrasco’, which is traditional in several rural folkloric celebrations in Galicia, NW Spain.
General Description of the Instrument
The charrasco is a large size idiophone percussion musical instrument traditional in the autonomous community of Galicia, NW Spain. It may resemble a large size sort of ‘sistrum’, this one consisting of a wooden pole (with a total height that can range from 1.5 to 1.8 metres), having on its top end a trapezoidal or rectangular shaped wood frame (approximate typical dimensions: width = 0.5 metres, height = 0.4 metres). This frame has a certain number of pairs of small metal circular jingles (ferreñas in Galician, sonajas in Spanish), that are placed to vibrate in vertical or horizontal position.
The number and the arrangement of the pairs of jingles can be rather diverse, but a quite common large size charrasco can have as many as 28 pairs of jingles, placed in vertical position grouped in two vertical layers of 14 pairs of jingles each.
Smaller versions of this instrument, such as for kids’ size, can have as few as six pairs of jingles.
The instrument has also a long piece of string or metal wire attached on both the upper & lower ends of the pole, kept under tension, and also supported in its mid length by a short piece of wood placed perpendicularly to the pole (the bridge).
The kind of wood that is mostly used for the construction of the charrasco is pine tree (pinus pinaster, maritime pine tree), very common in Galicia.
Sometimes the charrasco incorporates other elements attached to the pole, such as tin cans intended to enhance the resonance effects.
The Playing Technique
The charrasco is intended to reproduce a sound similar to the jingles in the Galician tambourines, although with a stronger sound, first because of the size (and thickness) of the upper frame that can incorporate a number of jingles equivalent to several tambourines. But mainly because the jingles can be vigorously shaken by three effects performed by the musician:
The Musical Tradition
The charrasco can to some extent be considered an evolution of the Galician tambourine. It is said that it was originally played in street celebrations such as Carnival (Antroido or Entroido) or Christmas (Nadal), mostly in the southern part of the Galician province of Pontevedra on its border with the province of A Coruña, in the traditional region of the river Ulla, comprehending the councils of Teo, A Estrada, Vila de Cruces and Touro, and the parishes of Boqueixón and Vedra.
Due to its strong sound, it was also intended to be played with Galician requintas (traverse flutes) and gaita bagpipe bands, for example in the municipality of Cuntis. It is understood that the invention and the use of the charrasco is not as old as the tambourines or the gaita (that can go back to medieval times). Although there could have been primitive versions of the instrument dated in earlier dates, the charrasco as known today should probably be dated around the end of the 19th century or the early 20th century.
Now in the 2010s, after the big revival of the Galician folk music since the 1960s, the charrasco has become an instrument of broader popularity in the Galician folk and traditional bands (for example, NA LUA), even more in the bagpipe marching bands (for example, XARABAL), although never surpassing the dominance of the traditional Galician percussions: drum (redobrante), bass drum (bombo) and tambourine (pandeireta). Part of the attractiveness of the charrasco is derived from its large vertical size, and the visual effect of the performer shaking and beating it with the stick.
The name ‘charrasco’ is probably an onomatopoeia derived from the rattling sound of the jingles. This name must not be confused with the noun ‘churrasco’, which is given to different cuts of beef cooked on the grill in several countries in South America and in Spain. And neither ‘carrasca’ that in Spanish refers to the Holm Oak or Holy Oak (quercus ilex), a large evergreen oak native to the Mediterranean region.
More Examples of the Charrasco
Here is a series of pictures downloaded from the www that illustrates several kinds of charrascos:
Left: Charrasco with 12 pairs of jingles.
Middle: Charrasco with 29 pairs of jingles. The top pair of jingles is placed in horizontal position. The rest of them are placed in vertical position in two parallel vertical layers of 14 pairs of jingles each layer. The quality of construction is quite refined as corresponding to an instrument built to be sold in general music shops in the early 2010s.
Right: Charrasco stick with serrated edge.
Documents of Reference:
Videos in the www:
Photo Credits: (1) Musician wearing Galician traditional clothing, charrasco with 13 pairs of jingles, (2) Musician holding a basic charrasco, a requinta traverse flutist and bass drummer standing behind, ca. 1920, (3) Charrasco with 12 pairs of jingles, (4) Charrasco with 29 pairs of jingles, (5) Charrasco stick with serrated edge (unknown).