What’s in a horse’s gallop?
The txalaparta is a unique percussion instrument played in the Basque Country. For years its use was forbidden by General Franco and the Spanish State that found it inextricably attached to the Basque identity. As a result the txalaparta almost disappeared and so, when Juan Mari Beltran, a renowned Basque musician and researcher, started his project for the recovery of the txalaparta in the 1960’s the instrument was practically forgotten.
It is probably one of the simplest instruments to build that you will ever find. Four horizontal wooden boards (the number is variable) held up on the ends. Traditionally corn husks were placed between the wooden boards and the supports to allow the vibration but today the husks are being replaced by all sorts of materials like pieces of cloth for instance.
Its name derives from the sound it produces that resembles a galloping horse and there are several theories that try to explain the origins of this instrument. Was it a way to communicate between villages? Or was it a musical instrument tout court? There seems to be no doubt that it was born as a result of the cider production. When apples were finally grinded men would use the same wooden boards and sticks that they had used in the process as a percussion instrument. That would obviously allow them to not only communicate with other villages but also to produce music.
To be played txalaparta needs at least two players. Players will perform consecutively and the beats of one another should not overlap. To say that someone is playing txalaparta means that more than playing a specific instrument someone is playing in a very specific way. Txalaparta is in fact a relation that is established between two players no matter what materials they are using.
Over the years the txalaparta has suffered some changes. Long sticks are no longer used to beat on the wooden boards and the modern makilak (the sticks) are much more suited for the fast paced compositions that txalapartaris now play. Still most txalapartaris continue to incorporate in their repertoire old rhythms so that these are not forgotten.
But txalaparta is not only about rhythm. Using different types of wood and boards with different sizes some players manage to achieve different tones and basic scales which means that they will simultaneously play rhythm and basic melodic lines.
As a conclusion let’s just say that if you ever find yourself in doubt about the potentialities of music please check out nomadak tx. The documentary shows the journey of Oreka Tx, probably the most famous txalaparta band, and their txalaparta around the world. As they arrive to new places - India, Sahara or Mongolia – they construct different txalapartas with the raw materials they find like ice, stone or metal, and meet with local musicians to prove just one more time that no matter how many dialects there are there is always one common language: music.