Danbolina (small drum)
A txistu player or txistulari forms a musical group all by his or herself, setting both the melody and the rhythm. The txistu is played with the left hand. The right hand holds a drumstick with which to strike the tamboril or drum, suspended from the left arm.
The importance of this instrument can be clearly seen in the presence of the name danboliterua (danbolina player), which has appeared throughout history. In certain regions this drum is called a ttun-ttun, and the txistulari, a "ttunttunerua". The danbolina adds rhythm to the melody of the txistu, and in fact there were very few txistularis who did not also play the danbolina.
Atabal (snare drum)
Drums of this type, known by different names, have accompanied txistularis and flute players since time immemorial, adding rhythm to their melodies. Atabal players in txistulari groups play with great elegance, adorning and enriching the sound of the txistu (often together with the danbolina) with drum rolls and highly complex rhythmic games.
This instrument is made of an elongated soundbox, generally with six strings tautly strung along the length of the box. The front of the box has openings of different sizes and shapes. The strings are activated by means of a stick.
The stick is used to set the rhythm, the bass strings adding the drone. Therefore, the instrument performs two functions, providing the txirula melodies with rhythm and establishing a continual, two-note bass harmony. This continual bass generally sets the tonic and the melody's predominant tonality. The tonality can be changed by means of a movable bridge, changing the tone of all of the strings at the same time.
This stringed drum has taken on a number of names in Euskal Herria, including : danburi, ttun ttun, soinu, rabete, salterio, tambourin (Donostia, 1952; Ramos, 1990)
A piece of news dating back to the sixteenth century informs us that when Carlos IX arrived in San Jean de Luz he entertained himself by watching the local girls dance. All of the dancers held a "tamborcillo" or little drum much like a sieve decorated with several bells. Another document which makes reference to the pandero, this time dating to the seventh century, speaks of a voyage taken by a Mrs Aulnoy. When she docked in Pasajes, "a boatwoman accompanied by fifty companions came to meet her, each woman carrying an oar over her shoulder. They marched in two columns and leading the entourage were three boatwomen skilfully playing tambourines. After greeting Mrs Aulnoy they began to play even louder, adding calls, and jumping and dancing with the utmost grace. They bid the traveller farewell with their tambourines as they continued to dance and sing." (Padre Donostia, 1952)
On the list of musicians who came to the Pamplona festivities in the 17th century appear nine "pandereteros" or tambourine players. Six of them were from Pamplona, two from Aoiz and one from Laguardia. Eight of these musicians played solo and one as guitar accompaniment. (Ramos, 1990).
In the nineteenth century a book entitled "Viaje por España" (Journey through Spain), written by Baron Charles Davilier in 1862, stated that "In addition to the tambourine, the Basque people also dance to the sound of bagpipes, just like the Asturians and the Galicians, with the help of the tamboril and the flute."
In his article "Erregiñetan, o las fiestas de las Mayas", Padre Donostia wrote that :"young men and women sing to the sound of the tambourine."
These documents clearly illustrate the age-old and ubiquitous presence of the tambourine in the Basque Country; even today versions of dances dating back to earlier periods are still danced to the rhythm of the tambourine. And we should point out here that in a number of places outside of the Basque Country this instrument is known as the "tambour de basque" (see GROVE Dictionary of Musical Instruments).