FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

More pipers than priests

Carlos Nez on the Spanish Celtic scene and touring in the world


Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis

"All the Irish and Scottish musicians concentrate on the US and not on Europe - I think we should change that. Because Europe has very interesting traditions - I know that in Germany you have also the bagpipes, and in Poland as well, and nobody knows that. If I tell somebody in Spain that they have pipes in Germany, he will say 'that is not possible, just us and Scotland and...' - And I know the folk music scene in Europe is just in the beginning."

When you listen to Carlos Nez, you start to believe yourself that the time for European folk music will soon come. Carlos, from Galicia/Northern Spain, is one of the best pipers in the world, and is looking optimistically into the future of the folk music scene in Europe. "In Spain it was the same, five years ago it was impossible to think of such a success like 'Brotherhood of Stars', to think that people in Madrid, in Barcelona and Seville listen to this kind of music."

'Brotherhood of Stars', Carlos' latest album, published on BMG Classics, has made Platinum - more than 100 000 albums sold in Spain! The young Spanishman explains the success with the fact that the folk scene in Spain is using now the industry of Pop/Rock in Spain. "Today, folk music in Spain is not for a minority, it is a very important music style. Especially in Galicia, where Celtic music is Nr 1 - not Rock/Pop. Because it is our tradition, it is our music, it is something that people feel inside. It is great, it is something really new." Five years ago in Spain, there were only big arenas for Rock concerts in summer, and no auditoriums to have concerts in winter as well. "Now all that is changing, now we have hundreds of theatres working, and when Celtic artists come to Spain they have a very, very big circuit. - So, why not do the same in Germany with traditional music?" Why not? Talking with Carlos, you cannot give a good answer to this question. He is persuaded that if you have a strong belief in what you want to reach, it will be possible. And if you look on his career, and on the development of the Spanish folk scene, it is easy to believe that this may work.

Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis

The folk revival in Spain started with the democracy. In the thirties, during the Civil War in Spain, Franco became the dictator of Spain. He wanted to achieve a uniform and big Spain, and the official culture for this Spain should be Flamenco and the typical and topical Spanish torero. All the various different cultures in Spain, in Catalonia, the Basque country, Galicia, were suppressed during the Franco years. In the seventies Franco died, and Spain got democracy; Carlos: "With the democracy, each small country in Spain started like: 'Oh the Catalans, we are Catalanish, we have our own music. Barcelona, Barcelona - listen world!'. Same with the Galicians, same with the Basques, so in this moment there was a big revival of folk music. All the Celtic festivals in Galicia started in the seventies; the Galician people began to feel like a Celt, like a brother of the Irish and Scottish - and not the Spanish, Spanish is Moroccan, is South, but we come from the North."

The folk revival in Spain is carried by the youths. Carlos started to play with eight, but at that time, there were not many young pipers, being just the beginning of the new revival. Carlos tells that in Galicia there are now 15 000 pipers - "girls and boys, probably 50% are girls, it is incredible. In Galicia we have maybe 4 000 000 inhabitants, so we have more pipers than policemen, or priests, or pharmacists, or ... - it's great!"

The Celticism in Galicia actually started already in the last century, in the Romantic years. "There were many poets, authors and musicians talking about the Celts, about all these magic connections with the Atlantic countries. - But now we have democracy, and we have our own music working again. Which I think is very interesting."

Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis

However, Carlos tries to use for his music not just the Celtic connection of Galicia, but also the connections to Latin and Flamenco. "We are not just Celtic connected; we also have rhythms from Latin America, because we had very strong emigration to South America - Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela. We also have kind of Flamenco melodies and rhythms. I think the Flamenco is very exciting, because it is very virtuous; the way they play the guitar is magic, is just incredible - they have not melodies, clear melodies, they always use improvisation and harmonies and rhythms. So, when we use our melodies from the North with the harmonies and the rhythm from the South it is something new and very energetic. People like it very much, because they never saw that before."

"The Americans, when we play these tunes in the States, they say we play Celtic music with passion. We are the Celts from the South, the Celts from the sun." When Carlos tours with his band in America, it is not mainly the Spanish who come to their concerts; they play especially for the American Irish, and not for the Latin fans.

Having started touring in Spain with many, many concerts, last year the Carlos Nez Banda also had an America tour, having done 50 concerts in the States, then they moved on to Japan, Australia, some concerts in France, then a Latin America tour and finally the rest of Europe to introduce the album.

It is clear that a person like Carlos has lots of interesting stories from his travels. He tells us a bit about his Latin America tour: "Argentina surprised me a lot, Argentina is like a European country, there are many people from Scotland, Ireland, there are Germans, Italians, Spanish of course, it is very European. Buenos Aires is very much a European city, it is more European if you like than Madrid. There are many concerts, people like to go to see cultural things."

"We never could imagine that there is Celtic music in Latin America, but it is true: In Cuba there are many pipers. We have met there probably the oldest piper in the world, it is a man hundred years old who plays the pipes, and he lives in Cuba. When I met this man, he couldn't blow, he was too old, but I did. So he just played for me, you know, I blew the pipes and he played. And he taught me many melodies. So the Galicians and Spanish, we moved to Cuba and to these territories with our Celtic music, and vice versa, we came back to Europe with some Latin and Cuban music. The pipers in Galicia, in Spain, sometimes when they play very Celtic music, than I tell these people - 'Oh that is very nice, I listened this is a melody from Cuba.' - 'What? What? That is traditional Galician music.' - 'No that is Cuban.'"

"It is very normal that traditional music has many influences - not just in Spain, all over the world - just because it is traditional."

Carlos Núñez is a very special person, and he talks about so many interesting things. It is simply a person where it is worth to have a series of articles - FolkWorld has taken tribute of that, and has done a three-piece series on the Galician star piper.
Last issue, we had the article Carlos Nez' music traditions and instruments, before that Platinum with Piping about Carlos' shooting star career and his latest Platinum album 'Brotherhood of stars'. This article has finished the series. Carlos is, by the way, this summer at diverse European festivals.

All photos by The Mollis


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