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txalaparta

struck idiophone

The txalaparta (pronounced 'chalapárta') is one of Europe's most remarkable folk instruments. Its origins are bound up with artisanal cider-making in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa in Spain. After long days spent crushing the apples and reducing them to pulp and then extracting the juice, the farm workers and their neighbours would party into the early hours to the rhythms of the txalaparta in the press house or farmyard. The txalaparta was a thick plank some two metres long, the same one that had been used for pressing the apples. The plank was placed horizontally on two supports such as stools, chairs, benches, boxes or large baskets turned upside-down. Soft, insulating material like hay, old sacks or dry maize leaves was placed between the plank and the supports to maximize vibration.

As a rule there were two players, known as txalapartaris. They would hold a thick stick of similar weight in each hand which they beat vertically against the plank. The players divided the rhythms between them. They would begin with a simple basic rhythm at a fairly slow tempo, but gradually the rhythms became more complex and they would strike the boards with ever greater speed. The players knew how they had begun and also more or less where they would end up, but what happened in-between depended on the atmosphere and on the inspiration of the moment. The players varied not only the rhythms, but also the intensity of the sound. Moreover, by striking different parts of the plank they could play with the pitch.

By the 1950s there were no more than a few older duos left, so for a while it looked as if this extraordinary tradition would die a quiet death. But in the mid-sixties the txalaparta was rediscovered and given a new lease of life by young Basque cultural activists. However, rather than restrict themselves to the old, traditional instrument used on the cider farms, the new generation of players sought to widen its musical possibilities. They developed a new sort of txalaparta with at least three planks tuned to pitch, which rarely measure more than one-and-a-half metres in length. The sound palette and range of sound can be enriched by adding one or more stone or metal tubes to the wooden planks. Today's txalaparta is placed on trestles so that it is higher than the original version, and it is played with shorter sticks, which allows the txalapartari to display greater virtuosity. Now that the txalaparta can be used as a melody instrument, it is also played as such together with other melody instruments like the diatonic or chromatic harmonica or the keyboard.  

This model is a very recent acquisition. It was gifted to the mim by the Basque Cultural Institute (Etxepare) at the end of November 2013. It is an example of the old type of instrument and it was specially assembled for the museum by musician and researcher Juan Mari Beltran (°1947), a figurehead of the revival of the txalaparta in the 1960s. Beltran is also the driving force behind  Soinuenea, a documentation centre and instruments museum in Oiartzun (Gipuzkoa), which houses his private collection and from where he also organizes Basque music lessons.   

In the case of this traditional model the supports are two upside-down baskets woven from strips of hazelnut wood. On top of each basket is a jute sack filled with foam rubber and on top of that is a two-metre-long, 5-cm-thick and13-cm-wide ash-wood plank. The acacia wood sticks are 48 cm long and somewhat conical in shape, tapering from approximately 4 cm in diameter at the bottom to 3 cm at the top.

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