Musician Carlos Núñez remembers his last visit to New Mexico warmly. “Ah, yes, New Mexico ... I had a deep feeling of coming home. ... New Mexico has a secret Celtic heart.”
Núñez, a native of Galicia on the northern Spanish coast, returns to New Mexico to close out February with concerts in Albuquerque, Farmington and Socorro. Núñez is well qualified in the business of calling out secret Celtic hearts. His mission in life is to share the lilting, fluid music of Galicia in concert with all the other regional Celtic traditions, and he’s been working on it since he first picked up a gaita 35 years ago.
The gaita is one member of a large family of breath-powered instruments more commonly known as bagpipes. Those of you thinking of a lone piper playing “Amazing Grace” at a funeral really need to keep reading because that is a decidedly Irish or Scottish piping style. The Galician Celtic sound is far lighter and more delicate, being more flute-like than many other piping traditions. Like most flavors of Celtic music, gaita goes nicely with fiddles, guitars and drums, and generates a convivial atmosphere more or less instantaneously. However, what Núñez plays is not strictly traditional, nor is it strictly gaita. Núñez is a multi-instrumental master with real talent for fusion and a phenomenal mastery of his assorted wind instruments, particularly the recorder. His sound weaves tightly with popular flavors from all over and shows an abiding love of rock and roll.
I spoke with the well-traveled piper and flautist as he prepared to kick off this spring’s US tour in Miami, Fla. This is the third consecutive year that Núñez has toured in America. This tour, in support of the new album Inter-Celtic, started on Feb. 5 with a visit to the mayor of Miami (and receiving a key to the city!) and continues on for six weeks, hitting 30 US cities in that time. His voice revealed a mixture of pride and amazement as he told me, “This is the first Celtic concert in the history of Miami!” Just the previous week, he’d played a concert in that best-known heart of Celtic music—Dublin, Ireland, in St. Patrick’s cathedral—which was attended by Irish President Michael Higgins himself.
The Inter-Celtic tour features Núñez playing a variety of wind instruments, including, of course, gaita, but also flutes, recorders and ocarina. Supporting Núñez are Stephanie Cadman on fiddle, vocals and step-dancing; Pancho Alvarez on Atlantic guitar; and Xurxo Núñez on percussion. Núñez’ studio work is notoriously collaborative, his albums hosting as many as 50 musicians in addition to his core band group. The road show is tiny by comparison, perfectly suited to intimate venues such as the one he’ll play here in Albuquerque.
Like most of Núñez’ work, Inter-Celtic is a masterwork of collaboration. He describes the new album as the opus of 15 years’ musical journey. Núñez explained that he draws on the Celtic connections of the entire world, from Spain, France and the British Isles, down to South America and back up to Canada. When he talks about Celtic connections in Latin America, he is talking about Galicians who long ago brought their culture and music to the New World. Núñez travels the world for the explicit purpose of reawakening this thread of musical and cultural continuity through live performance and emphasizes that each performance is a new creation. “Invite everyone!” he says. “We will discover a new Celtic music. It is a celebration, a party, a fiesta. It will be fun.”
In celebration of the upcoming visit by Carlos Núñez, Amp Concerts declared February Galician appreciation month and partnered with several local organizations to orchestrate a series of cultural and culinary visits to Galicia on the north coast of Spain. On Feb. 15, KUNM hosted an audio exploration of Galicia, and on Feb. 19, MÁS Tapas y Vino offered a special five-course dinner of classic Galician delights accompanied by a presentation on Galician culture and history. Upcoming on Friday, Feb. 21, Instituto Cervantes at the NHCC campus devotes this month’s cooking class to the octopus-, fish- and crepe-oriented specialties of the region.
On Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7:30pm, Carlos Núñez plays Bank of America Theatre in the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). Tickets for this all-ages show are $27 from the NHCC box office. Call them at 724-4771, or visit the NHCC website at nhccnm.org.