FolkWorld article by Michael & Christian Moll:

Flamenco Flavour

Discovering the animal in the pipes

Carlos Nunez 1999; photo by The Mollis

Northern Spanish Celtic music enjoys currently a huge popularity. Nearly all musicians in Northern Spain only have their eye on their Celtic heritage. Still, Galicia has a lot of musical connections to the South.
Carlos N&uactue;ñez has explored with his new album, "Os Amores Libres", the connections of Galician gaita traditions with the South. A fascinating theme to talk about with the master of Galician pipes.

The idea behind "Os Amores Libres" is to combine Galician Celtic music with music from the South of Spain and from other Southern areas. It took Carlos two years non-stop to record his new album, and it took an even longer time before, thinking about the album and investigating the possibilities of the Flamenco.

Carlos explains the background of the Flamenco connection. "When I was playing with the Chieftains Galician music, my music reminded them a little bit of Flamenco. I said - why Flamenco? This is not Flamenco, this is Galician, this is Celtic music! But I started thinking, why do the Chieftains think that my music is Flamenco?" So he started to experiment in playing with Flamenco musicians from the South of Spain, and directly discovered that Galician music has many things in common with Flamenco, for example the rhythms and scales are similar.

"Up to now, for mainly political and social reasons, the musicians and the society from the North of Spain always look only to the North, never to the South. Because the South means for them Flamenco music, topical and typical Spain, it means Franco, it means torros and... - These days, all the people just copy and follow the Irish way, the Scottish way: a little bit from Riverdance, a little bit from De Dannan, a little bit from Donal Lunny. I think maybe Celtic music is getting like a standard, a kind of formula - I think this is a little bit a decadence. So I thought it might be interesting to open the music to new things from the South. And Celtic Music has a South. Galicia is like the bridge between the North and the South."

Carlos Nunez Banda with Luis Robisco (left); photo by The Mollis "Some call Spain the Medieval New York - why? Because in the medieval Spain there were so many different cultures and relations, and our music has developed out of that. So why just work with the Celtic side? The Flamencos opened us many possibilities for the harmonies, for the rhythms. We didn't have a tradition of string instruments, like the guitar - in Galicia it was like in Ireland, only wind instruments, melodic instruments. So in the Flamenco there is a marvellous pool of harmonies, complex new things and new codes for Galician Celtic music."

On "Os Amores Libres", Carlos is not only working with Flamenco musicians, but presents many more Southern connections of Galicia. He collaborates with musicians from Northern Morocco, called Musica Andaluci. Their music is like medieval music, but it has a classical tradition, with the musicians having a very theoretical and serious way to understand the music. "When we played our Galician music to these people in Morocco, they directly understood everything, and then started to improvise in this musical system. It's interesting because many Irish people, like Sean O Riada many years ago, thought that there was a connection of Irish old music with Morocco."

Another Galician connection are the Jews. There has been a huge number of Jews in Spain, as well as of Arabs, who were driven away after 800 years of co-operation and developing a common culture. Some of them have continued with the old Spanish traditions in the diaspora. For the recording, a female singer from Israel was invited for some tradtional tunes and songs which were kept in the diaspora.

"All this is open Galician music to the South."

Carlos Nunez and Paddy Keenan, Tonder Festival 98; photo by The Mollis The gypsies are another major theme on the album, not only the Flamenco gypsies, but also those of Eastern Europe and Ireland. Carlos was fascinated by the fact that following the line of the gypsies, their music is always nearly the same. He recorded with the Rumanian gypsy band Taraf de Caransebes, and with Paddy Keenan representing the Irish travelling pipers. "Paddy Keenan plays with a very special style, always improvising. This style remembers me a lot to the Flamencos, the gypsy flamencos. It is impossible to get a phrase repeated twice, they always improvise, change everything."

The Flamenco collaboration is Carlos' biggest fascination. "They have an incredible technique, and when they play, they feel pleasure when they suffer. Flamenco is always a bit sportive, an olympic sport - they always like to be better than the other, so they work, work, work - it's incredible." On the album, he works with one of the best modern Flamenco acts, Paco de Lucia with his sextet. "When I am playing pipes with them, we have something like a duel; I counter-play very quickly with the flamencos on the pipes."

The Flamenco collaboration even opened Carlos' mind for the animal in the pipes. "There is something like an animal side in the pipes, that we always tend to hide to create a more beautiful sound; we don't play the animal kind of way. But with the Flamenco you can use this kind of sound, because Flamenco is just that - it's like a shouting lion. It's amazing - I discovered what they call duende (translated goblin or poltergeist): It is when you loose your mind and you become an animal while playing. So after hours and hours playing with the Flamencos, with the sextet of Paco de Lucia, I felt that my fingers were apart from my head. The head and the fingers worked not at the same time - it was something amazing. Who had the control of the fingers? The animal part in me was stronger than the rational part. It was amazing, amazing!"

Carlos hopes that with these collaborations Flamenco and Celtic music will come closer together. "It is nice if we discover the Flamencos, and the Flamencos discover us. I hope this won't be just a project, I hope that in future Flamencos will regularly invite Celtic musicians and Celtic musicians will invite Flamencos."

Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis Every collaboration on this album has its very own story and experience for Carlos. All in all he recorded on this one disc with over 140 musicians, always inviting some of the best for each particular track. From the Celtic world, there is also one track with the Afro Celt Sound System. As Carlos says, they did not use the typical radio formula, with drum and bass rhythms, but used the computers in the codes and rhythms of traditional music, doing loops and samples from the traditional instruments.

"Simon Emerson and all these people, they should be very open, but sometimes they told me: Carlos, that is not drum and bass, that's not hiphop. So they were very single minded, they use a very normative kind of rhythms. And I say: Simon forget the drum and bass, this is Galician Pandeiretada. But at the same time I discovered that this very modern music in London has something in common with old traditional music. Maybe it is the hypnotic part of the music."

The album "Os Amores Libres" is working already very well in Spain, having become in its first week directly gold. Although it is in Carlos' opinion a difficult and complex album, not a commercial, radio formula album - and that makes him proud, seeing his audiences being interested in discovering new things.

The next thing on Carlos' agenda is how to present this album live. He thinks that while the album is complicated, with a huge number of musicians, the concerts should be simple. "If you depend on all this complicity, it is like an old woman who needs a lot of jewels to look pretty. A young and pretty girl does not need all that, so I think it is very important to be able and bring the music with just a small show and few guest musicians to the audience."

The Tønder Festival audience could get already a good idea of what the album is like on stage, presented Carlos' Galician band along with a Flamenco guitarist, Luis Robisco, and a superb Flamenco bass player of the Paco de Lucia Band, Carlos Benavent. The show proved that Carlos does not need many guest musicians to present the mix of Flamenco and Celtic music live - the counter-playing between pipes and Flamenco guitar and bass was absolutely terrific, like never heard before. A strong proof that Carlos is not playing for plastics (as he would say), but that he is one of the real big talents that has come out of Northern Spain.

Carlos Nunez and Natalie MacMaster, Tonder Festival 99; photo by The Mollis Meanwhile, the Northern Spanish scene has a lot of "plastic pipers" these days. Carlos recalls that three years ago, when he did his first album, no one in Spain would have believed in Celtic music, in pipe music; no major company would be interested in it. Then Carlos' album became Platinum in Spain, and suddenly every company wanted to have its own piper - girl pipers, pipers playing with dance music, etc.
"It's incredible to see that it's now the main industry who is looking to do plastic with Celtic music - they just like to have plastic and sales. But for the same reason that Spanish listeners know that the guitar of Paco de Lucia is one thing, and the guitar of Gipsy Kings is another, I hope that people will understand that not all the pipers are the same. I think in any case it is good, this explosion means that there is a big audience and interest."

Does Carlos think that this boom of poor commercial plastic pipers might also push back the Celtic scene in Spain, similar like it happened after the big 70s boom on the Irish scene? "Talking about plastics, in Ireland there is a lot of plastics. Sometimes when you talk with people like Paddy Keenan, who emigrated from Ireland and now come back, they tell you that it's incredible - you can make now money in Ireland, everybody makes money with traditional music. But the music in the seventies was better than it is now. In the seventies they did not have money, but there was great music, and now it's just plastics. Well this is life."

"But I am 28 years old, so I still have many things to do, and I don't like to do just plastics. I like to be happy, and for being happy, I like investigating and doing new things." And keep playing the highest quality of music that we know of him.

The album "Os Amores Libres" has come out on BMG records in Spain this summer, and will be available in the rest of Europe this autumn. It is reviewed already in this issue.

Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis
(1) Carlos in Tønder 1999
(2) Carlos Nuñez Banda with Luis Robisco (left) in Tønder 1999
(3) Carlos with the Irish gipsy piper Paddy Keenan, Tønder 1998
(4) Carlos 1997
(5) Carlos with Natalie MacMaster Tønder 1999

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