Susana Seivane,
Susana Seivane
(Green Linnet, 2000)

Traditional folk music lovers, prepare to swoon, to feel your eyes fill up, your heart brimming. Susana Seivane is playing the gaeta, the Galician bagpipe of her native Northern Spain.

Northern Spain is an area heavily influenced by Celtic settlers, and it is perhaps the most neglected region in the Celtic revival in folk music. We tend to think of Celtic music as coming from Ireland and Great Britain; if savvy, we include the Breton region of France, Brittany with its lovely bagpipes. It amazes me to think that so many years of folk revival have gone by and people are still unaware of the German dudelsack, the Belgian moezelsack, the Finnish pilia, the Bulgarian gaida, the Sicilian zampogna, even the Northumbrian smallpipes, the cornemeuse of the French courts, the biniou kozh of Bretagne. Yet, the bagpipe is found in many more cultures, too. Its tones move from earthy, howling, wild and bestial to courtly, stately, dignified and dainty.

I remember being 9 and telling my mother I wanted bagpipes. She said that I should take piano lessons, then if I still wanted bagpipes, I could have them. I was more than 25 years old when, the piano finally abandoned after nine years of classical training, I got my first set of pipes. This was not the case with little Susana, who is shown in a photograph at age 3 with her father, a pipemaker and uncle in Spain, even at that young age, filling the bag, playing the pipes in grand style.

This music is glorious! There is the quaintness of folk waltzes, the dignity of the peasant, the people in every note. In its sound, it resembles the Scottish piob mor, the great warpipe, we are all familiar with. It has that "throat," as pipers call it. At the same time, it has a bit of a warble like the uilleann (elbow) pipes of Ireland, but not the honking and squealing qualities that the uilleann pipes have.

The melodies are generally recognizably Western: jigs and reels, hornpipes, waltzes and marches, slow airs and merry dances. This is not so of all pipes. The Hungarian and Bulgarian pipes can sound like the lonesome wail of a mountain wolf or of the prayer call of the Muslim muezzin in a Turkish tower.

The selections include a charming little waltz that, much like a Cajun tune, will have helpless romantics like myself swooning. Her grandfather, she tells, picked up this waltz in 1956 at Taramundi. It is followed by "Alen," a tune by Melo Suarez in 1997; hence, the complete track title is "Taramundi e Alen."

"Sabeli–a," a tune written by Susana for a friend, is a dance tune. "Xota de Ni–odaguia," "Mui–eira do Mui–o de Peizas" and "Polca para Erica (Polka for Erica)" feature the pipes tuned in B, drum, tambourine, diatonic accordion, small drum, accoustic guitar and violin. The polka features a fast-paced minor melody, something like a Sicilian tarantella, followed by a major melody like an uillean pipe jig. Oh, these pipes! Go ahead, Susana, take my breath away!

OK, I've regained composure. I am listening to ... whoops! I've lost it again. Her comes "A Cotula," a tune akin to a Klondike fiddle tune or a Manitoban dance tune from a Gold Rush bar. Susana learned it from Xurxo Souto, a friend of the family, who in turn learned it from Brais accordionist Xuan nei Exposito Prado. This music is a traditional folk musician's orgy of movement, color, dance, romance, festivity and sheer joy.

This album is a prime example of the unfathomable depths of feeling, the richness and festivity of emotion which can be conveyed on the pipes. Susana takes her place now in the world amongst a new generation of musicians of northwestern Spain's Celtic region. Her influences include not merely her own grandfather XosŽ and father, Alvaro, but also Toxos e Xestas, the band she played in with the special pipes her father made for her while just a young girl. Four members of Milladoiro, a well-known and artful ensemble who helped lead the Galician revival in the 1970s, appear on Susana's debut recording, playing guitar, accordion , keyboards, oboe, clarinet and violin.

[ by John Cross ]

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