The Irish Bouzouki

DUBLIN - ATHENS - DUBLIN

Our stop in Ireland is the ideal opportunity to talk about the Irish Bouzouki, a handy little instrument for any guitarist to have around and a living specimen of what is known as a successfull musical mixture.

Celtic music was often played in bands, whether in Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Brittany, traditionally with a violin, accordion, harp, flutes, percussions & bagpipes.

The Renaissance of Irish music has been simultaneous with the arrival of the guitar as used now as the banjo and even as the bouzouki whose Greek origin has been lost by many an Irishman. When one thinks of musical mixtures, one often pictures people travelling along with their traditional instruments, meeting other people along the way, influencing and being influenced by their different musical cultures.

The Irish Bouzouki is the most recent example of successfull musical integration. It is all the more interesting & supprising as it has taken place in just a few recent decades and is neither the consequence of military invasions or of any economical warfare. As a matter of fact, it has often been noted that the defeated nation often gets back at the victorious nation by invading their cultural environment. Just one example to be convinced of this theory would be the Afro-American culture taking over the hit-parades of the western world.

In the Irish Bouzouki case, two essential elements have created this modern mix : travels & the power of the media. At the end of the 60's, two Irish musicians, Johnny Moynihan & Alec Finn (whose paternity in the matter has been very contreversed) integrated the bouzouki in their music further to a trip to Greece.
Little by little, other musicians were inspired by this new sound, made popular through the media (radio). The type of sound it produces, gives more precision than a 12-string (the Bouzouki has 8) and isn't as sharp as a mandolin. It very naturally took it's place in the traditional Celtic environment

To have an 'imported' instrument set such a standard, requires certain technical qualities that were present in this particular situation. Johnny & Alec had certainly struck a winner. The trial attempts they made have survived musical trends since, further to certain alterations in shape and chords, local stringed-instrument manufacturers have begun to supply a demanding market of Irish musicians, and a young Dubliner may now very well believe he is purchasing and playing an instrument passed down from generation to generation, as a national heritage, when he's really perpetrating a Central-Asian chain that began centuries ago with the Saz, which is a turkish instrument from which the Bouzouki orginated at the turn of this century.

This is the instrument that is our Celtic's cousin. The two most popular tunings are the : GDAD & ADAD with double strings. If you travel to Greece on your next vacation, you might want to buy one there.

Here are a few ideas that could be useful in one of your future musical productions. The Bouzouki's main quality is that it fits well into any musical environment, certainly when the tracks are getting quite full. It's always good to have an accoustic instrument with cutting edge precision, to accompany themes, or to play an arpeggio, or even to have some rhythmic effect without becoming overbearing.

So while August is just a few weeks away, you can treat yourself to a little experiment with your 12-string by removing the 6th & 5th strings to avoid bass interference, changing the tension on your strings, using a capo and trying the Bouzouki tunings, to double the guitar themes and even play in some rhythmic touches.

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