Part of choosing to write a story set in Spain was my love for the work of classical Spanish guitarists (Andres Segovia, Paco Peña, and many more). Turns out that was NOT the popular music of Galicia, where The Spanish Patriot is set. In addition to the dulcet tones of the acoustic guitar and intimate songs steeped in saudade (see below), people in Corunna in 1808 were likely to hear whistle-sharp flutes—and bagpipes!
Northwest Spain (Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria) has a distinct musical tradition that is said to stretch back to the middle ages. The main instrument in this style is the gaita, a type of bagpipe, often paired with a snare drum and perhaps fifes, fiddles, harps and other instruments. Galician music also includes chanted songs known as alalas, some of which are quite old. In this clip, the singing starts at :43.
This tradition continues, made popular by recent resurgence of “Celtic” music styles from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. I found a Gallego radio station online that programs traditional music, along with pop and talk-radio. There are three channels here: Son Galicia (traditional), RG Música (pop, incl English and Castilian), Radio Galega (news, talk, music). Try a bit of Son Galicia, for sure. Wikipedia has a good description of the instruments, as well as the revival of this style starting in the 1970s.
Is Galicia Celtic? The music shares many properties, and Celts did travel throughout Spain. But a current “Celtic” designation is a matter of serious debate, and of course it depends on your definition of Celtic. Here’s one argument, from the local Galicia Guide; at the end of the page are links to other arguments. For more, you can see the discussion at World Historia.
Sadly, I can’t listen to this music for long stretches; bagpipes just don’t sing for me. I retreated, and wrote most of the first draft listening to my Spanish guitar playlist, and then did most of the editing listening to “white noise” recordings of waves lapping a beach, dreaming I was in Spain.
More to my liking (especially for the sad scenes), is music expressing saudade, a word in Portuguese and Galician that is tricky to explain in English. Roughly it translates to a form of melancholy, grieving, and resignation, such as when you have lost your perfect lover forever or when you think about your homeland that you had to leave and expect never to return to. A beautiful modern expression is Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora’s “Sodade” (saudade in Cape Verdean creole.)