Thursday, January 31, 2008

Plays and shows at Valpo's squares

A new renovated summer programme staging free plays, music and other artistic shows is being organised by the Heritage and Cultural office of the local city council. Most of them scheduled to start during weekdays just before sunset at squares like plazuela Anibal Pinto, Plaza Victoria and Cívica. More info at:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Valparaiso round the Horn

Valparaiso sailing history once in a while also reminds us that it has left an imprint on the folk musical tradition under the shape of the sea shanties. So in the last decade at least two CD albums in particular show this folk musical tradition that links Valparaiso and the main world cityports in songs. The first one, Valparaiso round the Horn was released in 2000 by the well known english shantyman Joe Stead telling the story in songs of a sailing voyage from Liverpool to Valparaiso around 1860s.
The second one, released in 2007 is the Valparaiso Men's Chorus - Guano & Nitrates. Like the first CD it is an album entirely composed of traditional sea shanties. A reviewer comments that the likes of "Drunken Sailor", "Blow the Man Down", "Spanish Ladies" and such. Generally, a strictly traditional selection does not a remarkable album make, but the Valparaiso Men's Chorus enacts several strokes of genius. The first, and most immediately noticeable, is a definitive New Orleans party flair to their music.
More on:
The Valparaiso Men's Chorus - Guano & Nitrates
Valpo and sea shanties (Spanish)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Farewell to a fireman

Perhaps is difficult to say bye to a fellow you didn't really met but you saw from time to time, but it is his story what really struck and moved me. Firemen in Chile are a professional voluntary service started in Valparaiso in 1851. All other firemen in the country follow this precept and the traditions started in Valpo long ago. So, He was a young fireman who died fighting a forest fire who had gone wild getting over 106 houses burned at the end in one of the hilly neighbourhoods of Valparaiso. Gabriel Lara was his name, a young fellow of 25 who returned to the fire trying to save a comrade, but suddenly the wind changed and he got burned instead dying after 6 days of fight at the hospital, so I went to pay my respects to his memory asking permission to play something with one of my bagpipes during his wake for his burial at his fire station. I explained there that for me, like in the Bible's Old Testament statement singing is praying twice, but piping is praying thrice. Anyway, the firemen there asked me if I could play at his funeral later on, so last night I played some hymns and marches on gaita (galician bagpipes) during his funeral service and on the night walk to the cementery.
The local TVN station showed this funeral live on their newscast. Thousands of people went to say the last farewell to him.... the latest fireman hero in our city.... Gabriel Lara, R.I.P. We won't forget you.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Celtic night at Castillo Wulff

This last thurday, in the fashionable Viña del mar's Wulff Castle there was a celtic night within the framework of the summer's Duoc UC theater festival. The show started at the sunset with the Gaitas del Centro gallego de Valparaiso that opened the show getting down from the hillock above the castle with the traditional San Benito march to follow with the Lugo muiñeira (jig set) with their own dancing group to continue later with the folk band Riveira that mixed a folk traditional repertoire crossing all the way from Ireland to Galicia.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Castellers in Valparaiso

CASTELLERS DE VILAFRANCA (Catalonia) & Santiago (Lo Prado & Cerro Navia) will perform this traditional catalonian human castle along with folk music brought by the catalonian castellers at Parque Italia square next thursday 17th. More info at:

An update (01/18/2008): I exchanged the photo at the top by one by the castellers at the square in Valparaiso yesterday. Also, I had never been that close to a casteller's group, and this time, thanks to one of their musicians I even played a few notes on a grall, the keyed folk oboe used by them to mark the moments in the built up of the human castle they call coya. There were 3 grallers (oboe players) plus a tenor drummer. Two of them did play a main melody with the third doing some variation on it from time to time with a second voice. The traditional tune didn't last more than a couple of minutes, the same time it takes to the castellers to go up and down in the built up. The chilean casteller groups from Santiago, mostly school kids do this part of their build up along with recorded music.

In summary, it was an extraordinary performance, and certainly the first time in this town where many passerby, tourists and local people from the port helped to the 150 catalonians to support the base of the castle, and felt and saw with emotion over them how at the end a small boy or girl crowned the communitary effort of so many.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Call for musicians:FIMIV 2008

The FIMIV is a music festival firmly established as one of Chile’s finest annual events. This four-day extravaganza of diverse music brings together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebration of the wealth and variety of world music from the south american southern cone region. Organisers are keen to hear from artists who would like to participate at the next festival that takes place in weekends through 2 weeks of November 2008. During these weeks selected bands will apply for grants in aid to take a festival national tour to cities in southern Chile (Osorno, Puerto Montt) and Easter Island as well. Applications must include recent recordings (audio and/or video), pictures and biography information. The festival usually provides artists fees and covers expenses in Chile, including local travel, accommodation, food and other incidentals. Artists from outside Chile will usually apply for external travel grants to make their own overseas travel arrangements. Deadline: 31st May 2008
Complete artist packets (cd, bio, photo, sound sheet) should be mailed to: FIMIV2008. Esmeralda 654, Placeres, Valparaiso, Chile. Attn: Festival Director L. Chirino Gálvez
All groups must submit materials before May 31. Materials will be reviewed and a committee will make recommendations. Selected artists will be announced in July. For more information (check info in Spanish), or contact

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cases and gigbags

Affordable cases and gigbags for non standard string instruments different than guitars and violin mean a challenge in countries like Chile. Almost every available case in a music shop will be the standard classical guitar size (O), plus less frequently the folk guitar sizes (OO, OOO, Dreadnought locally known as guitarrón, and Jumbo). Almost all of them made in Asia. Therefore, unless you comission a handmade custom size in some small shop, there is no other alternative than accommodating when possible an inner suitcase for your instrument using some of the available standard sizes for axes such as the banjo, bouzoukis and other lutes.
Gigbags are another matter, they are quite affordable but they provide limited protection to the instrument and could be commissioned for special sizes without much trouble. So at the end, almost everybody who holds a collection has to battle with these odd ends combining these two, cases and gigbags inside carry cases to move instruments for exhibitions, workshops and performances. So the photographs at the top, it shows some of the instruments belonging to my collection we move every year for a workshop-showcase we do at the Festival Inmigrante de Valparaiso we organise.

Friday, January 11, 2008

luthier's workshops in Valparaiso

Music instruments have been made in Valpo for over a hundred years. Initially, european makers started their business in town repairing, importing and finally making their own branded instruments. Such is the story of the Kirsinger music shop.
Others such as Humberto Kohler (above) and M. Needham are examples of luthier family dinasties that go back to the beginning of the XX century. They traditionally used spruce tops and chilean native woods such as rauli for the back and sides. Later on, luthiers have added chilean douglas fir (pino oregon) and much recently chilean redwood (alerce).
Our city port holds a proud story with local makers of musical instruments that setted their shops in town from mid 1800s onwards. Some of them such as Kirsinger developed as companies making and selling all kind of instruments from mandolins to pianos. More recently others such as Manuel Diaz Garcia, Sergio Apablaza and Luis Harris have added new instruments types such as charango, cuatro, etc. to what was traditionally known. Finally, Fernando Ramirez keeps an organologic museum that is preserving a good part of this story.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mandolas, bouzoukis et al.

Mandolas and bouzoukis are the ground-up cousins of the mandolin family. Originally they were made using staved ribs for the bowlback with a canted flat top according to the napolitan and greek tradition. The greeks around 1930 transformed it with a napolitan fashion and a western fretscale the longest scale of the three courses turkish buzuk saz creating in this process the bouzouki. At the end of the XIX century, makers in Portugal, France and later in United States started to make larger flat back models and even carved archtop instruments such as those by Gibson for mandolas, and mandocellos tuned CGDA/Cgda, mimicking in that way the same tuning of the equivalent classical string instruments.
Nevertheless, since tle late 60's, some players such as Andy Irvine were using portuguese guitars and other folk citterns to play irish folk music and from this succesful experience many more large flat top mandolin family instruments with a simpler flatback and lower octave tuning like GDAE/GDAD started to be made to play traditional western european music such as the irish, scottish, and later on since the late 80's also in breton, galician, asturian and many other european folk traditions. Most of these musical traditions have been labeled under the name celtic, so to these instruments too.
Examples from my collection for these instruments with their scale lengths are shown in the photo above. Clockwise, from top to bottom: a Fender bouzouki (66 cm SL), Flatiron bouzouki/OM (60 cm SL), Musikalia octave mandola (53 cm SL), Salterio/Gremlin mandola (42.5 cm), and on the bottom some citterns that were instruments after which some of these larger instruments were modeled such as a Kirsinger bandola/ waldzither (43 cm SL) , and a portuguese Coimbra guitar (47 cm. SL).
In South America, these instruments are barely known. Nevertheless, like in Europe, at the beginning of the XX century there were local historical makers of the classical mandolas such as Kirsinger in Chile and Breyer in Argentina. Therefore, as they are little known we show them at workshops, showcases and performances at schools and at the festival FIMIV we organise every year in Valparaiso.
Currently, in the larger cities and especially in Chile and Argentina, there are more than a few players and celtic bands using these instruments (e.g. banda celtamericana), playing mostly on korean made generic brands or italian makes such as those by Musikalia, plus the ocassional luthier handmade instruments by a very few. There is even an argentinean luthier specialized on these instruments: Aicardi & Moore.

Carnaval cultural de Valparaiso 2007 & Banda Celtamericana

After Christmas of every year we have this festival called Carnavales culturales de Valparaiso, which is the largest state run street festival in the country.... it uses all available theaters, halls and squares in town during three days ending in a large parade through one of the main streets of Valparaiso. To be part of it there is an annual national and regional selection of all the arts along with a selected foreign city .... representing in that way the best of recent plays, music concerts, painting exhibitions, literary exhibitions, movies, etc. For the banda celtamericana, this is the second time their music project is selected.... The first time it was in 2005 under the name Nimloth-Puerto celta doing traditional celtic music, and this time as one of the three music projects representing Valparaiso region in an open stage for world music at the national Congress Senate gates, most likely owed to their recent Gabriela Mistral homage CD and the new work fusing traditional chilean folk music to celtic rhythms.

Ouds and lutes

The oud is the oldest lute in existence still played today. The arabic word means wood, and indeed the two most common styles found today follow design patterns of many hundred of years. The photograph above shows from left to right, a nacar ornamented egiptian oud compared with a lightly build turkish oud. Both are the commonest ouds found in Chile where only three well known arab folk groups use them. Perhaps the best known are the oldest arabic Oriente folk band whose syrian oudist is better known for a tv program and the Nagan band.
In Chile, Nicanor Oporto from Valdivia is the most acknowledged maker of handmade lutes in the country. In Argentina, there are a number of makers, among them Lutheria Verdi make repairs and build renaissance style instruments.

Male and female galician gaitas

I do play in a galician pipeband and from time to time we discuss what gaita is better so we end talking about sex. Galician gaitas sometimes are called macho or hembra according to some features that make the macho gaita harder to play and noisier vis a vis the female gaita. A tipical female gaita would be like the ones made by Seivane (black gaita at the top) whereas macho or varon gaitas like the one made by Antón Corral (red gaita below) that are more common in southern and western Galicia. So the Seivane styled gaitas are "hembras" whereas Corral, Xil (Gil) and other makers from the Vigo school are gaitas "varones".
Most people agrees that Seivane sound reminds something from the older gaitas de antaño. Also its sound is more apagado, less volumen than Xil's. This last maker has a more powerful and bright sound (más cuerpo). Another important fact is what reed (palleta) is better for each punteiro (Chanter). It makes a world of difference. For example, in Xil's punteiros fits better with Enriquez and Seivane with their own as well as Rubén Enriquez and Linares.