Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Canarian Folk Music - the Timple

I'm writing this post on the Timple with two thoughts in mind.  Firstly to show the sort of  instrument  almost certainly played by Canarian musicians when the 16 families left to found San Antonio Texas.  Secondly in response to this week's photo in Sepia Saturday, of the Swedish Lighthouse Workers' Band taken in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The timple is, in essence a small Iberian guitar found in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura - but not El Hierro or La Gomera.  Experts think it developed in Lanzarote.  It's known that there were no stringed instruments in the pre-Spanish Lanzarote, but after 1600, lutes and guitars had arrived.  One small such guitar was called the tiple, which is a word still used in Spain for the treble, or soprano voice, and which is still a major instrument in several South American countries. Over time, different styles of the basic instrument arose, and the Canarian version became called a timple (the final "e" is sounded - timplay) perhaps as an easier word to say.

As an aside, whilst the timple can have four or five strings, its close relative, the Hawaiian ukelele always has four.  The other distinguishing feature is the timple's curved, narrow back, - the ukelele's is flat.

It's thought that the ukelele was developed from Portuguese instruments in the 1880s by two cabinet makers from Madeira, and its name mean "jumping flea" because of the player's rapid fingering. 

This year, a museum dedicated to the timple opened in La Casa SpĂ­nola in Teguise.  The web site is in Spanish, but Google translate is a wonderful tool for those who don't speak the language.  It's worth a look around the site for the old photos.  A teaching manual from the mid 18th century shows that today's timple still has the same strings and tuning, and it is still played in the same style. That gives me the opportunity to use a couple of clips from Youtube to illustrate both the instrument, and the music and dance with which it is associated.  This first clip is from a group called Los Gofiones based in Gran Canaria, and who are often on local TV. The piece "Tres Timples" is not traditional Canarian, in fact it has many Celtic strains, especially the penny whistle, but when the timple comes in after about 40 seconds, it's a virtuoso display of its range, and a lovely piece of music.  

The second, although an amateur recording of lower quality, shows the timple in its natural setting as part of a band accompanying a traditional dance in the square of Teguise, the birthplace of San Antonio's first mayor.

This is probably as close as we'll get to the musical sights and sounds of the founding families' Lanzarote.