The family of the lute has a multitude of relatives, the guitar being the most prevalent right now. But there are a number of more diminutive nieces and nephews who have shaped the music of various island cultures. The ukulele is synonymous with Hawaii, the cavaqhinho with Cabo Verde, and the cuatro with Puerto Rico; now meet the timple, the sound of the Canary Islands.
My first encounter with this instrument came in 2014, at WOMEX, the world music Expo. It is held in October every year in a different European city. 2014 saw it debuting in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The Opening Concert at WOMEX is a gala affair, and is a way for the host country to show off its music to a receptive, knowledgeable –and critical– crowd.
The program was adventurously curated by the celeb bagpiper Budiño (yes, bagpipes abound in Galicia!) and one of the best openings in years. Starting with the powerhouse vocalist/instrumentalist Mercedes Péon, whose blend of tradition and electronica was bracing to say the least, the dynamics came way down for German Lopez on timple, and Antonio Toledo on guitar. I was immediately taken with the sheer beauty of the sound of the tiny instrument. And of course, this was due in large part to Lopez’s touch, which is subtle and expressive. The rapport between Lopez and Toledo was also a joy to witness; musical camaraderie as it should be.
Lopez’s performance that night made enough waves to get him a showcase in Budapest two years later, where I got the opportunity to snag him for a brief interview, excerpted here.
Fast forward to 2017 and I got an invite to see him in my ‘hood at Joe’s Pub, where he and Toledo were winding up a US tour, and playing an eclectic mix of traditional and original music, plus interpretations of Sting’s “An Englishman in New York” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Knowing the tuning limitations of the timple (which Mr. Lopez explains in the video) it is remarkable that he played these well-known pop tunes so very effortlessly.
My thanks to Budiño for supplying me with board audio from WOMEX Opening Night at Santiago de Compostela.
Highly recommended: For the total Opening Night performance at WOMEX 2014 go to:
it is a terrifically varied presentation that showcases the best in traditionally based Iberian music – and that includes some fascinating fusions.