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Piper Brings Spanish Flair to Irish Fest

Though Irish Fest's showcase this year is music from Nova Scotia, there are other Celtic music traditions that will be represented on stage this year - and some may surprise you.

Carlos Núñez is a world renowned piper and flutist from Galicia, Spain. Galicia is the most northwestern part of the country. Known as one of the seven Celtic nations, 2,500 years ago some of the tribes that became the modern Irish came from there. Today those common influences show up in the music of both cultures.

Núñez's music is fused with Gaelic and Spanish flavors, blending in his two backgrounds. He says Latin American music has many Celtic roots because some of those who lived in Galicia immigrated to Latin American countries.

With the music, instruments were also transported to the new continent. The pipes often used throughout Latin America originate from the gaita, which Núñez plays.

The gaita, the Galician national instrument, is a mix between Irish and Scottish bagpipes that has roots from medieval times. As Núñez described it, if Irish bagpipes (the Uilleann pipes) were water, Scottish bagpipes (the highland pipes) were fire, the Gaita would be earth.

“When I come to the United States, people said ‘Oh Carlos! He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes!’" he says. “Why? Maybe because the pipes have these kind of electric guitar feelings; a natural kind compression and distortion that comes from the instrument.”

Núñez’s musical philosophy emphasizes fusing many different styles. He says the future of Celtic music is one of mixed backgrounds, becoming InterCeltic music. The fusion is in the music, in which musicians draw on their own musical backgrounds and bring it to the group onstage. Because of this fusion, listeners hear something fresh with each performance.

Núñez will be performing at Irish Fest this weekend. He is on tour throughout the U.S. with his brother and percussionist, Xurxo Núñez, guitarist Pancho Àlvarez, and Canadian fiddler Jon Pilatzke.  Núñez started his performing career with The Chieftains and has performed with orchestras.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.