Slovaks Have Bagpipes Too


March 17, 2013

Allan Stevo

As a child growing up on the south side of Chicago, at this time of year I watched practically everyone take any, even minuscule (1/256), Irish ancestry and parade it around like it was the coolest thing on earth. They would tell colourful jokes with brogues, discuss what it really meant for St Patrick to chase the snakes from Ireland, and would shout over green beers and green rivers about the potato famine.

The drone of bagpipes, a rebel instrument, was always my favorite part of the day. The drone of banned bagpipes. The drone resonates deep inside. It builds the soul, it solidifies the fortitude , it enlivens the spirit, it makes the brave braver.

The instrument is beautiful and evokes the emotion in me that rebellions are made of.

In this environment, I asked my family if we had any Irish blood. The answer I heard went something like this: “In the 6th century Celtic tribes invaded the land of our ancestors (Slovakia), raping and pillaging everything in their path. We may not have Irish blood in us, but somewhere, far enough back we surely have Celtic blood in us.”

That answer I could appreciate for its braininess and humor. I knew it wasn’t necessarily fact, but I raised a good question in me – “What really is nation?” What really is ethnicity, especially in the polyglot Central European context? It’s a question I’ve yet to answer very definitively.

A small group of people in Europe devote a great deal of time to the study of musical instruments. One of those instruments is the bagpipe – often imagined by Americans to be the instrument of the Scots and the Irish exclusively. The bagpipe is much more these European students of instruments can tell you. In fact where I am constantly stuck for a true definition of nation, they very clearly have one.

They are able to spot a musician’s nationality from the bagpipes he plays. Is there a chanter? What is the size if the chanter? (Slovak bagpipe players are very proud of their long chanters) Is the chanter keyed? Are the drones keyed? Are there drones? What kind of bore is there? How many reeds does it have? What animal is it made from? What decorations are adorning the pipes? By what mechanism is it pumped? Are there bellows? Is the air fed by the mouth? Is the animal’s fur left on the instrument? Somehow the tradition of bagpipes is a tradition known practically across the European continent.

In Slovakia they are known as “gajdy.”

Today as you come across St. Pat’s day celebrations, in whatever land you are in, keep in mind that other cultures have beautiful traditions related to bagpipes. The Irish and Scottish traditions remain my favorite. The tradition of bagpipes is not unique to those lands of the North Atlantic.

The Slovaks have bagpipes too.

Is there a folk instrument that you’ve played and loved more than other folk instruments? Is there one that reminds you of something special? Is there an aspect of culture that a specific instrument evokes more than any other?  The Irish/Scottish bagpipes and the Slovak fujara evoke unique emotions for me.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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  • Pauline Mably

    Mar 18th, 2013

    There is no instrument more evocative for a Welsh person than the harp. Possessing no musical ability other than appreciation I have never played it but just one note transports me back to my homeland.

  • Pauline,
    Wow. Thank you. That is so beautifully written. I wonder if I will look at the harp the same way again. I never gave that instrument much thought before. I appreciate knowing the power it has to transport you (and probably many others as well). Thank you for your comment.

  • Hey Allan ,
    shortly again, I just cannot refuse anymore to comment a bit on those traditions, especially musical ones and dancing ones,which usually go together.
    Slovakian most famous area with celtic tradition is central Slovakia,in the mountains around town ” Bánská Štiavnica”,if you familiar with that where is to be known tribe of Kotini was mostly located,mining are,beautiful mountains and gorgeous place anyhow.All the tribes were having a music traditions,especially those with pipes and horns and obviously rhytmical instruments,such as all kinds of drums,lady before mentioned harp,they used them for war and peace purposes,to ignite the spirit of war or to do a lullabies for time of sadness,very emotional and spiritual peoples.Especially why,because they were great orators and poets and chroniclalists,they were not using a written language,therefore all memories were in songs,poems and stories,thus spoken word was the magic to them and words captured in the melodies and songs were of utmost importance and bards and druids were guards of these ,so it was their job to take care of this.

    My favourite instrument is accordion, and they had a similar ones like that ,only less developed then today,these days .
    Just to mention one famous location in Czech part of country is ” Chodsko ” and ” Strakonicko “,where is a tradition of using bagpipes almost that strong as in Scotland and Ireland , it is very local ,but strong – from generation to new generation,from father to son and so on.
    There is even famous piece of drama called ” Strakonický dudák ” ,which is the play with music in it about one of the bagpipers from that area,quite impressive,too.
    I know,that you are busy,so I am going to let you go and maybe next time.

    I wanna also thank you so much for bringing those items of culture and history up to ours modern views and thinking,because I believe ,that we should cherish our past and learn from our own history,Na zdraví.

  • Stan,
    Na zdravi back to you! I appreciate the beautiful insight you’ve offered here about the impressive regional traditions in the area. It’s interesting how former Czechoslovakia compared to the rest of the world looks like such a small corner of the earth, yet it has such a variety of powerful traditions. Thank you for so eloquently pointing some of these musical traditions out, Stan.


  • Definitely fiddle tunes define who I am…Especially gypsy tunes or any Slovak folk songs that will touch that part of your soul you didn’t even know existed…and even if you are lacking in dancing talent every single cell in our body wants to DANCE! Never played the instrument myself but still “feel” it…so definitely fiddle! : )

  • Yes, Katka,
    I know what you mean about the fiddle. Great point.

  • One little remark: Celts invaded the territory of Slovakia in 6th century BC, in the 6th century Slovakia was definitely settled by various Slavic tribes and Celts were long time gone…

  • Andrej,
    Really, what’s 1200 years in the grand scheme of things? Thank you for putting a time line to this ridiculous joke from my family. It’s definitely a valid remark.

  • Allan,
    Fujara is very unique and special music instrument and I am
    happy that evokes special emotions for you – that is an evidence that you are of Slovak descent. Its sound opens the genetic memory, because fujara is an archaic piece.
    Here is the description (not mine):
    “From far away, a gentle wind seems to carry sounds as distant and dreamy as a landscape lost in the mists of time. With the breaking of dawn, color upon color emerges from the blue of the night. Silk-soft waves and pearl-like tones ripple above the deep basic tone. That is the Fujara, the strangest, biggest and most majestic flute of Europe.”
    Fujara with simple melancholic singing is beautiful. And fujara with cimbalom and fiddle orchestra is for me an essence of beauty.
    Thank you for your new article. Nice example of using of irish bagpips in Slovak music is in “Loď do neznáma”, song by Tublatanka.

  • The Romans in their Latin alphabet had no “U” so that they would write (the tree worshiping folks) DrUid(s) as DrVid(s).  To me it is compelling that the word is a derivation of the Slavic word for WOOD or TREE ==  DRVO or DREVO.  For more  see   Also consider that south-east of the POLES (Polyanye) (Field Dwellers) lived the DREVLYANYE (Forest Dwellers).  Thus the DRUIDS-DRVIDS-DRVOids are “The WOODIES” in Slavic.

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