Soinulariak: Leon Bilbao (alboka), Maurizia Aldeiturriaga (panderoa) eta Basilio Undagoitia (kriskitinak)

Dantzariak: Basilio Undagoitia eta Kontxi Bilbao

Arteako Presalde baserrian, 1984

Martxa. Leon Bilbao (alboka) Maurizia Aldeiturriaga (panderoa). Donostia, 1984 (Euskal Herriko Soinu-Tresnak. IZ 217. 2017, Elkar KD DVD-E 968)


The alboka is a single reed aerophone.

Description of the instrument

The alboka is an aerophone with two tubes with a single reed, or in other words, a double clarinet.

These are the parts of the alboka and the role of each of them:

  1. Pitas. It has two, one per tube. These are pieces of cane approximately 6 cm long and 7.5 mm thick. The reed is cut on the outside of the eye, leaving this end closed and the other open. At 6 mm from this closed end a cut is made, and carefully with a knife a strip of cane (the reed that must vibrate) is cut and lifted. The sound is produced by the vibration of this reed. Each fita enters one of the two canes that the alboka has, as an extension of them.
  2. Reeds. There are two, approximately 13cm long and 1cm thick. The tube left on the left side (looking from the embouchure side) has five 4-5mm diameter holes for giving notes, and the tube on the right has three.
  3. Small horn. It fulfills the function of mouthpiece. The tips of the canes and the end of the yoke enter the bottom and protect the two pitas that remain inside. The lips are placed on this horn to play the instrument.

To the East of Gipuzkoa and in the Navarran area of Urbasa, this mouthpiece is made of wood, the same piece of wood as the yoke.

The gaps the yoke, the cane and the little horn are closed with wax so that they do not lose air.

  1. Big horn. Just as many wind instruments have a bell, the alboka has a large horn to increase the sound. They often have wind-like holes on the upper sides. It usually has the entire edge in the shape of saw teeth.

In some ancient albokas, the small and large horns are decorated with engraved geometric designs.

  1. The yoke. It is usually made of wood and semi-circular, and acts as a support for the instrument. It joins all the parts and shapes the alboka, while acting as a point of attachment. Often, the albokaris try to work and decorate the yoke, carve it and give it different shapes also on the inside. Sometimes for decoration they drive nails with brass heads on both sides.
  2. Chain. In the ancient albokas the large horn was fitted into the rear end of the yoke, and when finished playing, the albokari extracted the horn to store the instrument. When playing there was a risk that it would come loose, and to prevent it from falling to the ground, a chain was attached to it that joined the yoke and the great horn.

(Beltran, 2013)

Tuning and scale

Albokas of different sizes were made and neither the tuning nor the scale they provided were fully fixed. The albokas made by León Bilbao from Artea and Silbestre Elezkano "Txilibrin" from Igorre, old alboka builders in Arratia, give with all the holes covered a note Lab-La, and those made by Gorrotxategi from Zegama La #.

Way of playing

All the old albokaris that we have known used a closed fingering and the scales that they gave with their albokas, although they were not the same, had the same tendency: if we take as an LA, the note that it gives closing all the holes, from below opening the first hole gives the note SIb-SI, the second hole open DO-DO #, third hole open Re, the fourth hole open MI and the fifth (the first hole from above) open gives FA #. As we can see, this old scale is not like the one we hear today, so everything that is played with those old albokas is very special to our ears.

In this sense, according to the desire of the albokaris, the new builders make two types of alboka: those that give the tempered scale and the albokas that provide the old scale.

The albokaris give the melody of the song with the reed (tube) with five holes and accompany it with the one with three holes, generally giving the pedal note LA, and sometimes using the SI, which exercises the dominant function. They can also play DO and RE, which duet to the MI and FA notes of the other melodic tube. With all these resources they can achieve a rich harmonic game in their performances.

The traditional repertoire is made up especially of jota-fandango, porrusalda-arin-arin and marches. Despite playing well-known melodies, the albokaris have had a very free way of interpreting, so that each one gave a special touch to each piece according to their taste; that is why today we know many variants of each melody.

These pieces are accompanied by the tambourine and couplets. The tambourine helps to set the rhythm in these dances and most of the melodies have a part for singing couplets.

To play the alboka, one must blow incessantly, as if it were a bagpipe. But the alboka does not have wineskins or bags to store the air reserve, and the albokari achieves this effect through the technique of turning the air (circular breathing), that is, it takes air through the nose while blowing it through the mouth. To learn this technique, several s or exercises have been used: in the most common, you put the tip of a straw or a fine reed in a glass of water and blow on the other end, creating bubbles in the water without stopping. Another exercise to learn the technique of continuous breathing was to cover the little horn with the txapela and blow the wind through the filter of the txapela.


It is very difficult to ascertain which is the origin of alboka, when, where and how it arises in Euskal Herria. Father Donostia collected the oldest news we have about the alboka in his book on Basque instruments (1952):

  • In the year 1443 in Mondragón "tambourines, albokas and tambourines were used for dances and songs" (p. 281).
  • In 1777 in Duranguesado: “[…] the tambourine and alboka performances are cut off in summer at five o'clock and in winter at two-thirty, considering that they can be harmful […]” (p. 280).
  • In some old Christmas verses from Bizkaia in 1826 the word “albokia” appears (p. 280).

Iñaki Irigoien (1994) in his work Dultzaina-Gaita Bizkaian, collected more old data on the use of alboka:

“In the payments of the parish of Portugalete. In the accounts 1670 and 1673 […] also payments made to albokaris. These are two payments from different years; one of them goes like this: to an alboquero who attended bispera and Our Lady's day.

The following year, in 1675 and 1682, other settlements appear: alboqueros and drummers who attended the usual festivals.

In Artzentales' accounts from 1679 to 1713, a year appeared on the list of expenses: that Çabala did the boguero (p. 25).

In a small square that was the tower house of the solar of Larrea and the Carmelite convent, there was a cause for dances with tambourine, alboque, flute and other instruments. The conflict was caused by the owner of the tower house, because the people who got together created inconveniences and unbearable noises. This happened around 1730 (p.16).

Taken from Zárate (Barcelona, ​​1884), it talks about the sacrifices they made in the high mountains in Gipuzkoa, and says: also in old fashion their biguirias, dancing to the sound of rabeles, albocas and tambourines. In the archives of Durango there is news of the payments made, and as mentioned in several archives, the alboqueros who were there during the SS stay. MM. (1828)” (p.28).

To clarify that alboka has been used since ancient times, we will not elaborate on presenting old documents. It seems to us that what has been said so far is enough.

As we can see, the alboka has been among us for a long time. It suffered a great setback from the beginning of the 20th century, but as we see in the field work carried out and, in the writings, (here the two books by JM Barrenetxea on alboka are obligatory), the alboka has been heard until the middle of the 20th century. 20th century in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Navarra. In the vicinity of Mount Gorbea in Arratia and in Duranguesado, on the slope of Aizkorri from Oñati to Otzaurte, in Arrasate and Urbasa. We have also compiled news of albokaris on the Gipuzkoan coast, Deba and Aia.

The one who plays the alboka is called albokari and albokerue. The instrument was also known by the of Zinburruna (Donostia, 1952, p. 280).

To finish, let's look at an account taken from popular literature regarding the special breathing technique used to play the alboka.

Here is the anecdote that the elders of Arratia related, compiled by R. M. Azkue (Azkue, 1942):

About four hundred years ago, the most famous of the albogueros lived in Zeanuri. In three generations that followed his death, it was said: "Chest like his!" His has not reached us. While on one occasion in a tavern (in the opinion of some, this happened in a small town in Urrunaga in Alava), after drinking a regular thing, the Zeanurian said:

"Who (has) lungs like mine?" I would pass the longest street in Paris on a mule, from one end to the other, playing albogue, without opening my mouth once and without interruption, without shutting up.

"To see that, I would also go to that Paris." And what do we bet, Arrati?

—If you want, a reddish mule, beautiful, will bet each one.

-Very well. We will leave here on Monday morning for Vitoria and someone will surely tell us which way to go to Paris.

Our men finally arrived in that beautiful city in France. Asking questions, they found out which was the longest street, and one morning the two of them began to walk, together with the sun, from one end of that very long street. Starting in the morning he kept playing at dusk, without interruption, without shutting up or opening his mouth! It's already playing! The muleteer, seeing that he had to lose the bet, made his male take the lead, closed with one hand the salient opening of the albogue and with the other prevented the poor artist from encouraging, which, drowned and now dead, fell from his male.

While playing the alboguero he had a thought that someone, we don't know who, made it known in these verses:

In the morning, in Paris; in Paris at night.

How long the streets of Paris!

If I had walked this street,

mine was the red mule that comes behind.


Sweaty, playing the albogue,

on a street that is seven leagues long!

If I had seven o'clock,

Arrati would return home owner of the mule.


Of these eight verses, the fifth, seventh and eighth are from the folklorist. He couldn't rip them from the town. The corresponding music was published on page 977 of Azkue's Basque popular songbook; and on page 22 of the same work the reader can find out about this story. I learned both the story and its music from Juan Martín Ibarreche, Bedia's son. I learned that circumstance of what happened in Urrunaga from a friend of Ochandiano ” (p.24-26).



AZKUE, R. M. (1942). Euskalerriaren Yakintza. Bigarren-liburua. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.

BARRENETXEA, José Mariano. (1976). Alboka - Entorno Folklórico. Lekaroz (Nafarroa): Archivo P. Donostia. 

(1986). La Alboka y su Música Popular Vasca. Nafarroako Jaialdiak-en barnean, Zangotzan emandako hitzaldia. Galdakao-Bizkaia.

BELTRAN ARGIÑENA, Juan Mari. (1996). Soinutresnak euskal herri musikan. Hernani: Orain.

(2013). ALBOKA. Inguru folklorikotik eskolara. ALBOKA. Del entorno folklórico a la escuela. Oiartzun: Euskal Herria.

BIKANDI, Sabin. Jabi SANTAMARIA. (1997). UZTARRI. Alboka doinuen bilduma. Gasteiz: Gasteizko Udala.

DONOSTIA, Aita. (1952). Instrumentos Musicales Populares Vascos. Obras Completas del P. Donostia. (Tomo II, 257-309). Bilbo: Ed. La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca.

GOJENOLA ONAINDIA, Manu (2004): Albokaren alde batzuk. H. M. Bilduma, 2. Herri Musikaren Txokoa. Oiartzun.

(2009) Manu Gojenola-Juan Mari Beltran: Eugenio Etxebarria Albokaria. H. M. Bilduma, 7. Herri Musikaren Txokoa. Oiartzun.

IRIGOIEN, Iñaki. (1994). Dultzaina-gaita Bizkaian. Bizkaiko Dultzaina-La dulzaina en Bizkaia. Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia.


BARRENETXEA, Mariano. (1967). Alboka. Bailables vascos. Cinsa. Cin 126.

BELTRAN ARGIÑENA, Juan Mari. (2017). Soinu-tresnak Euskal Herri Musikan. 1985-2010. Elkar-Soinuenea Fundazioa. KD DVD-E 968.

BILBAO, Leon. (1979). LEON, MAURIZIA, FAXIO. Alboka eta trikitixa. Xoxoa. X-11.115.

(1992). MAURIZIA, LEON eta BASILIO. Elkar. ELK-165.

ELEZKANO, Silbestre 'Txilibrin'. (1975). Antología de instrumentos vascos. Columbia. BC 3896.

(1981). Txilibrin y Balbino. Trikitixa. Discosa. Columbia. CDC-1014. xxx

COTERON, Ibon. (1996). Leonen Orroak. Elkar. 449.


BELTRAN ARGIÑENA, Juan Mari. (2017). Soinu-tresnak Euskal Herri Musikan. 1985-2010. Elkar-Soinuenea Fundazioa. KD DVD-E 968.

LARRUKERT, Fernando. (1978). Euskal herri-musika. Euskadiko Filmategia.

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