In Portugal we can find at least two main types of pipes: the pipe from the
West Atlantic coast, named "Gaita" (or "Gaita-de-fole") and the one
from Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro "Gaita de-fole" or
"Gaita Transmontana" or "Gaita Mirandesa" (the denominations vary, although they refer to the same
instrument). While the pipes from the West coast and from Trás-os-Montes
can be called by the same name ("Gaita-de-fole"), they are instruments with
clear differences between them, although they belong to the same range of
musical instruments (from an organological point of view).
The bagpipe in Portugal dates from quite a while back and is it not possible
to date and localize with precision what instruments of this type existed in
the entire national territory; (there are reports and iconographies that
document the use of the instrument in the Alentejo and in the Algarve inclusively) and there are reports of its presence in Portugal practically
since the founding of the nationality, in the XII century, hence the reason
why the hypothesis of its recent importation does not explain it all.
Despite the existing interchange of instruments and repertoire along the
bordering regions, as it always happens with these popular music phenomena,
it is fair to consider that Portugal has its own culture of this instrument.
If today, in the XXI century, the pipe seems to be an ethnographic patrimony
circumscribed to the Minho, to the Northeast, to the Center coastal regions,
Torres Vedras and to the Setúbal Peninsula, there are still written testimonies that describe its presence, not so long ago, in the North
Alentejo, in the XIX century. This bearing in mind that popular festivities
such as the Festa dos Tabuleiros, in Tomar, and the annual festival on
Caneças, ,for instance, do not go without the bagpipe player - the
Minho, with group of "Zés-Pereiras".
The most common formation is the Zés-Pereiras group, which is composed by
drums and bass drums in large number. Occasionally it is possible to find
formations that include three or more pipers, sometimes accompanied by
Corridinho" - Gaita: António Ribeiro "Toni das Gaitas".
Recording made in the I Encontro de Tocadores, (I Meeting of
Tradicional Players) Nisa, 2002.
At least until the 60s of the XX century, there still existed in
this regions bagpipe constructors who made them very similar to the models
of the neighboring Galiza (pipes tuned in C, with only one drone, chanter
and blowpipe) Due to the closeness of Galiza, this was perhaps the region
where the substitution of the skin bags by rubber ones occurred earlier, and
that are now being abandoned in favor of the skin ones. One of the factors
for the pronounced decline of the instrument, mainly from the XX century
onwards, was the increasing popularity of the concertina, which replaced the
pipe as the central instrument of the popular music. Despite that, a vast
majority of the original repertoire was transferred to the concertina and
the pipe still has some visibility, although nothing like the one it had
and Setúbal peninsula
of the oldest pipers from Estremadura, in the procession of the Senhora dos Remédios,
in 1989 (from left to right: António Malaquias, Chico da
Atalaia and Joaquim Roque).
The Gaita has a very strong implantation and tradition in the South of the
Tagus river and in the Estremadura, North of Lisbon, denying the common
belief that the instrument was only played in the North of the country. In
the Setúbal peninsula is frequent to find the bagpipe player ("gaiteiro")
accompanied by the drum and the bass drum. Some time ago, this seems to also have been the
most common formation in this side of the Tagus river. However, already in
the 60s of the XX century the most common was to hear the piper playing
alone, unaccompanied by the percussions.
One aspect that distinguishes the Estremadura from the south side of the
Tagus river, at least from the second half of the last century, is the
accompaniment of the pipe, drum and bass drum by the clarinet. The instruments observed at present in this region are Galician built, there
being no knowledge about the existence of any builders for the last four
decades. There were, however, turners that built copies of parts, at the
request of a piper. The bags, that were still made of skin up to middle of
the XX century, were replaced by rubber ones, while now the inverse can be
The most common formation is that of the individual player accompanied by the drum and bass drum (in the entire west coast and Coimbra
Almeida, "gaiteiro" from Casal da Misarela (Coimbra).
In the villages around Coimbra some pipes exhibit peculiar shapes and turnings, being unique characteristics that are markedly from
Coimbra, in the shape of the instruments and in the intervals between the tones. They
emit an almost diatonic scale, with some regional disparities, and the
themes played reveal a repertoire which is characteristic of the region.
It is common to find in iconographic documents (photos and illustrations) from
the beginning of the XX century, innumerable images of Coimbra pipers with
some very interesting specimens. Additionally, it is still possible to
find today some players of the region that continue to play them with great
Recent investigations carried out by the Associação Gaita de Foles
(Portuguese Bagpipe Society) revealed very antique instruments very well preserved, which confirms the
observations made in this respect by the ethnographer Ernesto Veiga de
Oliveira about the presence of local artisans bagpipe players in
Coimbra, already in the 60s.
Gil do Cubo, São Julião Piper (photo: Anne Caufriez, 1998)
In Trás-os-Montes there is a type of bagpipe built by artisans,
morphologically similar to the sanabresa or alistana pipe (from Sanabria and
Aliste, bordering Spanish counties). It has a wide-bored chanter with open
digitations, and the drone is solid and heavy, with the elements tied to a
bag made of an entire ram.
Rio de Onor" (Rio de Onor, Bragança). Gaita: João Prieto Ximeno -
Drums: João Manuel Fernandes. Recording by Ernesto Veiga de
Its tonality varies between B, B flat and A, depending on the artisans.
The instrument still has a natural scale that has raised the attention of
many ethnomusicologists given its apparent antiquity. Most of this type of
pipes seems to follow this scale which is similar to those used by the
pastoral flute and in the vocal tonalities used in the region.
The musical practices and the instruments' building materials themselves are
deeply inserted in the agro-pastoral context of the region. Here also, the
most usual formation is the group made up by the piper, drum and bass drum.
The bagpipe is becoming quite popular, there being increasing numbers of
young players being interested in the specific characteristics of the instrument and wanting to preserve them intact.
Gaita de Foles (Portuguese Bagpipe Society) - all rights reserved