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Basque Musical Instruments
We are all familiar with the txistu, accordian and tambourine,
but there are other Basque musical instruments. Some are unique to a
particular region and set of dances in the Basque Country.
It is difficult to say with certainty what
"txalaparta" were and for what they were utilized. They date from
ancient times, some claim from the pre-historic era. They are two thick
wood staffs, that are struck down upon a hard surface in a rhythmic
fashion. The only known tune that has been retained comes from the
siderias or cider houses, producers of popular sagardoa or
cider wine. It is possible that the txalapartak owe their origin to
these cider houses. THey used them to notify the surrounding community
(up to ten kilometers away) of the new batch of cider wine that was
ready. Villagers would then arrive to test samples and decide if they
wanted to buy a portion.
The tobera are very similar to the txalapartak except that they
are made of iron in place of wood. These are often used to celbrate and
proclaim a wedding.
In Basque, the Bolin Goxo comes from a diversified
family of instruments from the province of Nafarroa. Difficult to play,
it is used to play the various folk dances in Nafarroa. Unlike the
txistu, it is played with both hands. It was in danger of being lost
but recent efforts have succeeded in preserving and promoting the
continuation of this instrument.
Includes an accordionist and tambourine player that help to
enliven Basque gatherings and festivals. It was first introduced into
the Basque Country in the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa towards the
end of the last century.
This is most likely the first musical instrument unique to the
Basque Country. It is like a flute, only with four holes, which is held
and played by the left hand. The right hand holds a drum-stick with
which to strike the tamboril or drum which is suspended from the left
Investigators believe the original txistus to have been constructed of
animal bones, most likely the bones of oxen. Later, versions were made
of wood, and recently metal and nylon have been included. One fossil
remain of a txistu has beed dated to be over 27,000 years old.
After centuries of technical perfection and experimentation, it is now
common to see txistu bands of four musicians. The first txistu, the
second txistu and the silbote, or larger size version of a
txistu, all play differnt melodies. They are accompanied by the
atabal or drum.
[Here is more interesting information related to the
txistu, though I'm not sure how accurate it is.]
It could be said the the txirula is a miniature txistu. Smaller
in size, it also emits a higher pitched sound. The txirula is used
throughout iparralde or the French side of the Basque
It is made from the horns of oxen and it produces a high pitched
sound. It is not difficult to play, it is said, but the musician must
always maintain a mouth full of air. It was nearly lost in recent years
but it has been resurrected, especially in the towns of Bizkaia. The
alboka is often times accompanied by a tambourine.
Taken from Hizketa, the NABO Newsletter, Summer 1991.
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