Up in the highlands in Northwest Murcia is a small village called Barranda. Historically isolated, this is an area traditionally of smallholdings and self-sufficiency. It is an area of hills and even occasional water courses such as the Rio Argos, although these tend normally to be less than impressive.
Today, of course, isolation has changed to some extent and you can now quite easily reach Barranda from Caravaca de la Cruz, with the village being a few miles south-west of that town and just off the C330 road.
What then makes this small village, some 840 metres (over 2750 feet) above sea level and with a population of around 800 people, so distinctive? In a word – music! There are two main aspects to this – the Music Museum and the Cuadrillas.
El Museo de la Música Étnica
It came as something of a surprise to us to find in such a small place, a large and modern museum devoted to ethnic music. It houses a small part of a unique world renowned collection of around 4,000 instruments which can be displayed at any one time. The whole thing is the work of one individual, Carlos Blanco Fadol, whose expertise in musical instruments and ethnic music is again known around the world. When we visited the museum, (September 2013), entry was 3€ (2€ for concessions) and it was open Tuesdays to Sunday from 10am-2pm and 4pm-6pm (mid-September to mid-June) or 5pm-8pm (mid-June to mid-September).
The entrance area to the museum contained an illuminated display of a typical local form of musical celebration by small groups of musicians who have normally learnt to play by ear – The Cuadrillas. Otherwise, the ground floor of the museum by the entrance had a strange but exceptionally intriguing mixture of instruments; all invented by the museum’s founder himself. There was a 1980’s pipe organ which he had constructed totally out of bamboo, but nevertheless sounded excellent when played. There was an anchor chain hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room which conducted drops of water, creating musical notes. Not surprisingly, the chain looked a little rusty! Then there was an instrument directed particularly at children, which looked a little like a hamster wheel and which operated pins as it rotated to create music. Particularly intriguing was a series of crystalline rocks, which were hit by pebbles to create music like a xylophone. A rotating wheel with cups into which water fell, operated hammers to play a tune. The construction looked somewhat like a miniature water wheel, or ‘noria’, found in nearby parts of Murcia. Quite how the museum’s founder thought up these ideas is a wonder in itself!
The remainder of the ground floor contains a variety of instruments, whether percussion, string or wind, from around the world. The display cases with examples of instruments from the five continents have interactive screens on which you can touch a picture to hear the typical sound created.
Further exhibitions upstairs show instruments related to various cultural environments around the world. Some instruments would be quite familiar to most people – the harp, an accordion from the Czech Republic, bagpipes from Scotland, various guitars, castanets etc. Other instruments created out of bone from Africa appeared rather less familiar, including one which appeared to be formed from part of a human skull and the antlers of some animal or other!
No doubt some of these displays will be changed from time to time given the museum’s richness of instruments, but it seems likely that whatever is on show, it will be very interesting.
As you leave the museum, you go through a display which brings home one of the practical purposes it serves. You pass a display of photographs showing a region of the Amazonian Rain Forest where there has been considerable clearing and the gradual disappearance of the native peoples. Today, only a few thousand of one tribe, the Yagua, still survive. The museum’s founder had spent a considerable time with these people and in 2008, returned to them two of their traditional instruments which he had in the museum, but which had otherwise completely disappeared from the tribe. He was able successfully to reintegrate the instruments into their native environment and ensure that the members of the tribe were able to play, maintain and make them, to keep the tradition alive into the future. Copies of the instruments can be seen in the museum.
These local musical groups are normally composed of between 6 and 15 individuals who play stringed instruments including various types of guitar, violins, lutes and similar. The music played by the groups is normally dance music (the Spanish terms for what is played – difficult to translate! – include pardicas, manchegas, seguidillas, malagueñas and jotas) as well as Christmas tunes.
Today, the big event associated with The Cuadrillas is the fiesta which takes place in Barranda at the end of January. It developed as an element of the celebrations of the Virgen de la Candelaria (Candlemas), who is the patron saint of Barranda. The fiesta lasts for several days and is aimed at celebrating traditional music, but The Cuadrillas are the total focus on the Sunday. Surprisingly, the fiesta began only in 1979, but it has gone from strength to strength and has itself helped to revitalise the whole Cuadrilla tradition which was previously declining quite seriously. Since 1999, the fiesta has had the official designation of being of Tourist Interest and there can be over 20,000 people thronging the small village of Barranda during it! It is now one of the oldest of the traditional music festivals which have developed in Spain over recent years. Around 15 Cuadrillas have recently taken part, with some even coming from outside the region of Murcia. On the Sunday morning, after various welcome ceremonies, they perform in the streets and squares of the village with the whole idea being for the spectators to join in. In the afternoon, in perhaps the major spectacle of the fiesta, the groups ‘compete’ with each other, coming together in the streets in twos. In the evening, they play in the local hall going well into the night!
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. Their book, Exploring Murcia, Days Out is available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 968 433 978. All their books can be viewed at and obtained from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.