“It all comes from the roots, from something ancient and real. People also pick up on this positive energy.”
That’s how multi-instrumentalist Carlos Núñez, nicknamed “The Seventh Chieftain,” describes the sound on Inter-Celtic, his new album.
Núñez is the world’s most famous player of the gaita, the bagpipes of Galicia, Spain’s northwest, Atlantic Ocean-abutting region rich in vibrant, uniquely expressive Celtic traditional music.
An international spotlight shone on this little known region when Chieftain Paddy Moloney decided to explore what he would call “the unknown Celtic country” in his groundbreaking Santiago album.
“Ireland especially has helped discovered our own Celtic roots, especially with Santiago,” Núñez says. “Ireland has preserved their own history very well. We are like the Irish of Spain. This Celtic connection of Galicia is powerful.”
This musical brotherhood was fortified by the Chieftains, whom Núñez had initially met at Lorient’s Inter-Celtic Festival. In 1994, the band invited him to perform with them at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. That led to Núñez recording two Grammy Award winning albums; as a solo artist he received Latin Grammy nominations for two solo works as well.
On Inter-Celtic, Núñez serves an international buffet of sounds that defies genre. Jazzy twists and turns on “Tro Breizh” soon give way to frantic Indian chanting before the song concludes into a club ready dance jam. He can veer from a mellow springtime instrumental like “Gavotenn” to “The Flight of the Earls,” an exhuberant piece that shows off his mastery of the pipes.
“Our pipes have a history and tradition that goes back thousands of years,” Núñez says. “So few people in the world know that. I think its a mission of mine to promote this region of my country with our deep Irish and Celtic roots as much as I can.”
Núñez’s instrumental arsenal also includes the ocarina, assorted whistles, Scottish highland pipes, uilleann pipes, bombarde (a kind of Breton oboe), biniou koz (Breton bagpipes), and pastoral pipes (18th-century precursor of the uilleann pipes). The instruments working in concert with one another create textures that are jaw-dropping in their otherworldliness.
Inter-Celtic comes with a companion DVD of a high energy performance shot in a full stadium with an army of musicians, dancers, and performers.
A highlight on Inter-Celtic is “Vento das Cies,” a muiñeira, or Galician traditional jig, that features the button accordionist Sharon Shannon and trad legend Donal Lunny on bouzouki and bodhran. “Is the Big Man Within?” is a lively Irish traditional jig played by Núñez with Altan.
“I love collaborations especially with Irish musicians,” he enthuses. “TRUE Celts know that music is a common creation and a team sport, so to speak. In the Celtic world, one melody, one tune, one song, is at the heart of many generations and cultures working together to perfect music. I love to play with masters like Altan and Sharon Shannon. I learn so much from the experience.”
He particularly loves gigging in Ireland. “The Irish feel the music in a big way when we play in their country,” he says. “They have this thirst to enjoy good music.
“A few weeks ago, we played in the Cathedral in Dublin. This is the third president of Ireland to come to my concert and yet nobody that high up in Spanish government has ever come to see one of my shows!”
Núñez is touring the U.S. this month with a stop at Manhattan’s City Winery on March 12. He sees it as his mission to make music that is unclassifiable yet decidedly Celtic at the same time.
“In Mexico you are Mariachi, Brazil you are bossa nova, Spain is flamenco. The first people say when they see our show is, ‘Wow, guys! You bring everyone together! How do you do that? How do Scottish and Mexicans meet in this music?’ That’s the kind of response to our music that is really gratifying.”
The top 300 Irish family names explained