Galician Music: The Soundtrack to the St. James Way

A selection of contemporary suggestions through which to explore the different reinterpretations of Galicia's music, from traditional music right through to folk, jazz, electronic, trap, and rock.

By Regional Government of Galicia

Music has been part of the St. James Way since its earliest days: the Codex Calixtinus includes musical notations of 22 polyphonic liturgical pieces of music from the 12th century. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the musical movement known as the Galician-Portuguese lyric appeared in the north east of the Iberian Peninsula, with its satirical and love-themed compositions.  

Numerous troubadours (as the composers of this music were known) wrote poems to be sung in the language that eventually evolved into Galician and Portuguese. The origins of Galician music have an extraordinarily long history. Its roots lie in the traditional Galician-Portuguese lyric, as well as in medieval compositions found in songbooks of the time.

Parchment Vindel: manuscript of the cantigas de amigo by Martín Códax, 13th Century, Original Source: The Morgan Library & Museum
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Let's jump forward in time and take a look at the Galician music of today. A range of genres and styles are rooted in traditional music, while always looking to the past, the present, and the future. Why not put together your own St. James Way soundtrack?

Medieval cantigas with swing ...

The Canticles of Holy Mary (Cantigas de Santa María) were written in the medieval Galician-Portuguese language during the late 13th century, in the court of Alfonso X (king of Castile and León, also known as The Wise). They are among Europe's most important collections of medieval lyrical poetry. The record Ben vennas maio by Pablo Sanmamed reinterprets them through the rhythms of jazz. 

Santa Maria, strela do dia,
mostra-nos via
pera Deus e nos guia.

(Holy Mary, star of day,
show us the path
of God and guide us).  

... and with beats

The Vindel Parchment (Pergamino Vindel) is a medieval document containing seven friend songs (cantigas de amigo). They are love songs written from the perspective of a woman, and composed by the Galician troubadour, Martin Códax. The songs' continued relevance has led to them being reinterpreted in a number of different musical styles. Laura Lamontagne & Pico Amperio play an electronic version of the song, Banharemonos nas ondas:

Quantas sabedes amar amigo
treydes comig' a lo mar de Vigo:
E banhar-nos-emos nas ondas! 

(Those of you who know how to love a friend,
come with me to the sea of Vigo.
And let us bathe in the waves!)

Religious lyrical poetry aside, Galicia's music has a longstanding oral tradition. It has been passed down and altered over the centuries. Baiuca is a group that has successfully blended electronic music with pieces such as Caroi. The different layers of sound work together with the beat played on the pandeiras (a type of hand frame drum), bass drums, frying pans, and Xosé Luis Romero e Aliboria's musical instrument made out of a hoe.

Baila aqui, baila aqui, minha nena
Baila que não há pó nem areia

(Dance here, dance here, my girl Dance,
there is no dust or sand.)

Folk music with an industrial sound

If there is one person associated with the reinterpretation of folk music with an electronic twist in Galicia, it is Mercedes Peón. She started out having spent several years collating traditional songs from the region's villages. Her innovative style evolves with every recording, such as in this one, called Déixaas.

E agora que me collestes
e agora que xa o sabedes,
agora que me faredes?

(And now that you have me,
and now that you know,
what will you do to me?).

Timeless music ...

Xabier Díaz is a contemporary of Mercedes Peón. He is also a composer and researcher, and was a member of Berrogüetto, a well-known Galician folk band. His expressive voice can now be heard with the group Adufeiras de Salitre. They have brought back traditional songs and given them a contemporary vibe, without the addition of electronic sounds.

Bailade nenas, bailade/Que o voso bailar me alegra.
Se o voso bailar non fora/Non estaba nesta terra.

(Dance, girls, dance/For your dancing brings me joy
If it weren't for your dancing/I would not be on this earth.)

... that never goes out of fashion

Every year, thousands of seráns are held across Galicia. These are folk festivals of traditional music and dance, held at night. They are organized by groups and associations who work to keep traditional music alive, while avoiding its folklorization. A good example of this vibe is the group Carapaus in their song, Muiñeira e Xota do Viqueira.  

Other sounds

The gaitas (traditional Galician bagpipes) and percussion instruments (especially pandereitas, a kind of tambourine) are fundamental in traditional Galician music. However, a range of other instruments also feature, such as the chromatic button accordion and the violin, which are played by Caamaño & Ameixeiras. This song is a homage to Florencio, known as the Blind Man of Os Vilares (O Cego dos Vilares), who was Galicia's last itinerant violinist. This blind musician took people on a journey around Galicia through his folk songs and poems, until his death in the 1980s.

Words and voices

A new generation of artists is exploring collective memory and family archives to find inspiration for their music.  Faia focuses on words and voices, exploring their sounds and the way that they blend into ambient sounds. This can be seen in this performance in the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Oia, located on the Portuguese Coastal Way.

Aluméame luniña,/aluméame lunare
Aluméame luniña,/que me van a paseare. 

(Light me up, little moon/light me up,
light me up, little moon/I'm going to be taken out (executed).

Liquid tradition

The voice is also the main instrument for Tanxugueiras, a trio of cantareiras (traditional Galician singers) who are dominating the traditional music scene, and are not afraid to experiment with new sounds. In their track Midas, folk music blends with pop and r'n'b, with timeless lyrics on the theme of female empowerment.

Vai de aí home pequeno/esterco do meu corral
que te poñen a vender/aínda non das un real. 

(Get away from there, little man/they're selling you manure
from my farmyard/and not paying a penny).

Muiñeira rock ...

Hard rock, ska, indie rock, rock’n’roll, metal, punk …rock in all its guises is in full swing in Galicia. Veteran and young groups alike tune their guitars and often throw gaitas (Galician bagpipes), pandeiretas (Galician tambourines), and hurdy-gurdies into the mix, or they compose songs to the rhythm of a muiñeira (traditional Galician music), such as this one by Terbutalina.

Cántolle ao demo, cántolle ao espírito santo
se non tes ninguén que che cante
eu cántoche encantado

(I sing to the devil, I sing to the holy spirit,
if you have no-one to sing to you
I'll gladly sing to you.)

... and Muiñeira trap

Muiñeira is one of the classic Spanish traditional dances. It comes in many forms: the group Boyanka Kostova combines gaitas, auto-tune, and their own sense of humor in this irreverent, trap-based song, Muinheira de interior.

Unha noite no muiño/Unha noite non é nada,
Unha semaniña enteira/Eso si que é muiñada.

(One night in the mill/One night is nothing,
A whole week/Now that's what I call milling). 

Let's go to the fair

Since the 19th century, Galician music has incorporated rhythms from Europe and the Americas, such as pasodobles, polkas, and rumbas, which were popular during particular periods on pilgrimages known as romerías. Cumbia (a type of Colombian folk music) is popular at the moment. The group Malandrómeda incorporates the newest forms of hip hop in its own tribute to the verbenas (traditional fairs held at night).

As chavalas están bonitas,
os rapaces van trelegantes
Esta noite está doente
Bótalle un baile, mételle o dente! 

(The girls look lovely, the boys are all dressed up.
Tonight's going to be wild.
Dance! Jump in!).  

The list of artists and styles is endless and, of course, not all of them are based on traditional music. Folk, pop, rock, electronic, chamber music. Links to Celtic music, Anglo Saxon music, and music from Portuguese-speaking countries. Introspective visions and popular songs. "Porque ti es todas as posibilidades" (Because you are all the possibilities), in the words of Chicharrón. 

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