Styles & Forms | Celtic | World

By 200 BC, the Celts occupied Europe from the Balkans to France, with outposts in Turkey, Spain and the British Isles. However, the rise of Rome, followed by a Germanic drift south, pushed the Celts to the edge of the continent: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and the Basque country.

One theory suggests that the Celts also had a Mediterranean heritage, and arrived in the west carrying traces of black African culture. By the time they had put roots down in Ireland, the West African kora had been slowly changed into the harp and the tama (talking drum) had become the bodhran. Neither theory necessarily contradicts the other, but if you take the African instruments and add those of the European route – a fiddle, the Greek bouzouki and a set of pipes (found in Greece, Eastern Europe, Scotland and Ireland) – you have the perfect Celtic group, an ensemble with a 2,500-year pedigree.

However, the length of this heritage has not always deemed it worth preserving. In Spain, during Franco’s dictatorship, there were attempts to enforce homogeneity upon the country; in Britain, Celts were exported to populate the colonies and their culture held up to ridicule. The tradition has remained unbowed only in Ireland, inspiring others to do the same. Fortunately, they succeeded: in the twenty-first century, Celtic music is the healthiest European roots music.

Keeping Culture And Language Alive

Northwestern Spain is home to a thriving Celtic music scene, strengthened by years of resistance to attempts to subordinate the Basques. Rather than submit, the musicians of Euskadi (the Basque country) dug deep. Today, music and poetry are vital to keeping culture and language alive. Kepa Junkera is among the best-known exponents of trikitrixa, Spanish bagpipe music that has been adapted for the accordion. In Galicia, it is the piper Carlos Núñez who leads the roots revival. His affinity with other Celts is clear: his piping style came about through studying Scottish pipers, while he served his apprenticeship with the Irish icons The Chieftains. After learning that many Galicians emigrated to the Caribbean, he travelled to Havana and established a Celtic-Cuban connection.

In France, the Celts inhabit Brittany, where pipe-and-drum ensembles are known as bagad. The most important development in the revival of Celtic music was the success of Alan Stivell, a harpist and piper who mixed folk and rock in the late-1960s, partly as a response to British folk rock groups such as The Incredible String Band.

England is not often thought of as a Celtic nation, but the music of the Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell reflects the proximity of north-east England to Celtic Scotland. Further south, The Afro Celt Sound System could only have come about in London: an Irish-Senegalese collaboration that searches for the musical links between West Africa and Europe’s western coasts, and then adds cutting-edge dance beats.

Wales is home to the outstanding feature of the rebirth of Celtic culture: where once the...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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