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buber.net > Basque > Music > Euskal Musikatresnak
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Euskal Musikatresnak

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 arm.
    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 Country.

    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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