If you ask most people where they can hear Celtic music they would likely answer Scotland and Ireland. An increasing number of folks would also think of Cape Breton because of our living Gaelic culture.
It would surprise some people that the areas of north western Spain, Galicia and Asturias, are also widely recognized as Celtic nations. Both of these regions also have a very active bagpipe tradition. (Their version of the instrument is called the gaita.)
Many Spanish settlers from these regions immigrated to Cuba in the 19th and early 20 centuries. (Fidel Castro’s father was from Galicia.) The Galician and Asturian cultures were nearly lost until a new generation of descendants, like Arturo Perez pictured below teaching children in Havana, began to revive their cultural traditions.
I recently visited the Asturian Centre in Havana and renewed my friendship with the pipers of the band Gaiteros de La Habana. I first met them when they came to Cape Breton in 2008 to perform at the Celtic Colours International Festival.
It is heartwarming to see the dedication of these talented musicians who are making do with instruments that are patched together and shared. However, this does not negatively affect their enthusiasm or keep them from playing at a very high level. Arturo and Sorah Rionda are pictured below practicing on a Saturday morning in Havana.
The lineup for this year’s Celtic Colours Festival will be released on June 25. While we don’t know who will perform this year, the festival always has interesting twists and cultural story lines that are outside the experience you usually have at most other events. If you are anything like me, stories like the Cuban pipers will stay with you and grow over a lifetime. What will your story be this year?