Spanish Bagpipes

Variants of the bagpipe are played all over Spain and figure prominently in the folk traditions of that country. Each region has its own design of bagpipe and style of playing. These bagpipes differ from each other in the number and type of drones, the arrangement of finger holes and other details of their construction.

Having said this, it is not at all clear where all of these instruments came from, or that they all had a common source. Even the origin of the word gaita is uncertain. It may be derived from ghaita or rhaita, the name of a North African instrument related to the oboe. On the other hand, the nations of Eastern Europe have their own bagpipe variants which are called by similar names such as gajda, gajdy etc., and it is possible that the instrument and its name originally came from this direction.

The situation is further complicated by the varied history of Spain. In ancient times, southern Spain was conquered by the Moors, an African people of Arabic ethnicity. The northern part of the country, however, remained independent of the Moors and has more of a Celtic influence in its history and culture, fueled by ancient Celtic migrations from the British Isles. Because of this dual influence in Spanish history, it is entirely possible that the bagpipes played in the northern part of the country and those in the southern part have completely different origins.

In Catalonia there is a bagpipe called the sac de gemecs. The construction is related to bagpipe variants played in Majorca and Italy, which would seem to argue for a derivation from the Mediterranean to the east rather than from Africa in the south.

In the Spanish province of Zamora they play the gaita de fole. This instrument is related to the Portuguese "gaita trasmontana," and has certain peculiarities in its scale that are similar to those in the scale of the Scottish bagpipe. Both of these facts would seem to argue for a derivation from the north rather than the south.

The gaita asturiana is played in Asturia. It is related to the Galician gaita, but has larger sound tubes of the same tonality, shorter reeds for the chanter and uses partially closed fingering similar to the Irish uilleann pipes. This fingering results in a stocatto, "Baroque" sound.

The gaita gallega is played in Galicia. This variant is similar to the Asturian gaita except that the sound tubes are shorter and the reed of the chanter is longer. Some specimens have only a bass drone while others also have a tenor drone. This instrument, too, shows a close similarity to Portuguese bagpipes.