FolkWorld Live Review 2/99:

Northern Spanish Folk Music - Simply the best stuff!

Kepa Junkera & Banda
Xose Manuel Budino & Banda

at Celtic Connections Glasgow 1999

By Michael Moll

Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis Since Carlos Núñez' ventures with the Chieftains, and afterwards on his own, the message has spread the world that there is some great music from Northern Spain to discover. Now more and more North Spanish musician are appearing on international stages, showing that they have just the same calibre of a Carlos Núñez; they are taking the hearts of quite a few of lovers of Celtic, Spanish and European folk music. What all these musicians have in common is combining very catchy tunes, that often have some Celtic influences, with a very energetic stage performance that is full of the Spanish temper.

Celtic Connections 1999 has invited - along with a Carlos Núñez Main Auditorum Performance - two of the internationally lesser known young talents from Northern Spain: Kepa Junkera and Xose Manuel Budino, both with their very own excellent bands.

Kepa Junkera Booklet Kepa Junkera played three official concerts at Celtic Connections, including one in the Main Auditorium as support of Maire Brennan. I went to see him at the Sunday Times Suite at the Royal Concert Hall, supported by the four Irish party bear girls collectively known as The Bumblebees, who looked after a week of Celtic Connections actually still quite healthy.
Kepa comes from the Basque Country, and has established himself as one of the world's best accordeonists. Born in Bilbao in 1965, Kepa has a deep passion for the Basque diatonic Accordeon, the Trikitixa; he has developed his very own unique style on this instrument from his self-taught experience. Since 1983, he collaborates regularly with the premier Basque folk band Oskorri. When Kepa started to write his own tunes, the reactions were controversial. In the trikitixa championships in 1986, he and his companion made the second price, although for the audience the real winner was Kepa. Something was changing in the trikitixa world since then.
His recent impressive album, 'Bilbao 00:00 h', made him known throughout Europe - and was voted Nr. 5 in the FolkWorld CD Top Ten 1998.

Kepa Junkera; photo by The Mollis I was curious to see if Kepa can keep his highest quality music heard on "Bilbao 00:00h" also without all these international famous musicians. And it's been for me the same experience as with Carlos Núñez - Kepa can not only keep the quality of the album in live, he is by far better in live than on CD! Full of energy and vitality, his hands fly over the Trikitixa, and seem never to stop. The audience is soon captured by the intriguing sounds, by the temperate catchy Basque tunes, mostly composed by the master himself.
His band is made up by a very lively double bass player, a guitarist/mandolinist, a drummer and two lads playing on a txalaparta. You might ask now - what is a txalaparta? Well it is similar to a huge xylophone, where the wooden rots are sometimes also piled and exchanged, two relaxed Spanish lads tapping wiith their sticks on them. Especially the Txalaparta players and the double bassist are the lively once on stage; meanwhile Kepa sits with his accordeon on a chair, and works hard on his instrument.

Mixing traddy with new elements, his blend of music is simply wonderful, and it is great to hear that Kepa has founded a school where 100 students are following his steps on the trikitxa.
His vital performance in the Sunday Times Suite was honoured by standing ovations (seldom seen at Celtic Connections!); and he thanked the audience with another of these ear-wigs which actually seemed to be never-ending, with some audience participation (the audience had to blow to let the accordeon play again...). What a concert, what a brilliant musician!

Xose Manuel Budino; photo by The Mollis Moving from the Basque Country to the West, passing Cantabria and Asturias, we are reaching Galicia, the home of the second new talent seen at Celtic Connections: Xose Manuel Budino.
Xose was lucky enough to have one of his two performances in a sold-out Fruitmarket, supporting the hugely popular Martyn Bennet (known by his Chart album "Bothy Cultures"). The Fruitmarket is Celtic Connections' coolest venue, set in a beautiful ancient market hall that is left in its original outfit, with a stage in front and much room for a big standing crowd. This very concert was also recorded by BBC television.

Xose is the new star of the Galician folk scene. Playing the Gaita, the young man is often compared with Carlos Núñez, and although his style is quite different to Carlos', the quality of music is similar. He has played already with several respected Galician bands, like Fol de Niu and Xarabal; his talents are proved in the fact that he was the representant of Galicia at the Macallan Trophy/Category Piper Solist at the Lorient Interceltique Festival in four consecutive years (1988-91); and in 1991 he was chosen for the 'First Price of Galician Music'.
On his first own recording "Paralaia", he plays with an all-star band, consisting of Jacky Molard and Soig Siveril from Britanny, Mercedes Peón from Galicia and Kepa Junkera (see above!).

For Celtic Connections, he has brought along not that well-known, but still superb musicians from Galicia, playing percussion, bass, bouzouki, accordeon and bass clarinet. Xose himself plays Gaita, Whistles and Uilleann Pipes. Together, they create a powerful sound, based on beautiful traditional Galician tunes and Xose's own compositions. These six musicians would have been already enough to get any audience up and dancing, being excited and amazed by Xose's music.

Mercedes Peon; photo by The Mollis But Xose still had a very delicious bonbon to add: Mercedes Peón. Mercedes is one of the best voices of Galicia, having done great work in collecting and investigating Galician traditional music. Traditionally, Galica's song tradition is based on female singers and composers; the singing style Cantiga is powerful and full of the Southern temper.
This girl has a totally impressive, powerful voice; she sings her songs full of passion, you sometimes do not believe that it is just one girl singing there. Add to this a very self-confident appearance (well you surely need that to sing Cantigas on your own...), knowing how to play with the audience. All the Martyn Bennet fans were taken away by this voice, cheering and crying for more.

The mixture between beautiful whistle tunes, powerful gaita tunes in more of a folk rock style and these impressive songs of Mercedes made this a most memorable concert. All who have been there now know why Xose is reputed as the best thing since Carlos Núñez (although he has an entirely different style).

To conclude, let me say once again: These Northern Spanish musicians are something very special. The scene over there seems to be very healthy right now, with all those fascinating musicians getting the attention they merit.
They have that kind of approach and stage appearance, combined with intriguing melodies, that will make them a lot of fans also outside of Spain. For me, they are the best thing the folk scene has currently to offer. Hopefully, more visits to the rest of Europe will follow!

Photo Credit: All Photos by The Mollis; from Top to Bottom:
Carlos Núñez; Kepa Junkera's Booklet; Kepa Junkera at Celtic Connections; Xose Manuel Budino in the Fruitmarket; Mercedes Peón at the Fruitmarket.

CDs from both Kepa Junkera and Xose Manuel Budino are available from Resistencia Records.
Kepa's latest CD was reviewed in FolkWorld No. 7

This is one of a whole series of live reviews from Celtic Connections - watch out for the other ones both in this and the next FolkWorld issues!

Infos for a possible future festival available at: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall homepage with Celtic Connections

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To the content of the FolkWorld online music magazine Nr. 8

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 2/99

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