TUNA GROUPS: KEEPING AN ANCIENT MUSIC TRADITION ALIVE
In 13th century Spain, street musicians known as Sopistas (soup beggars) would use their musical talents to entertain people in exchange for a bowl of soup and perhaps some coins. By the sixteenth century groups of street musicians began to emerge although, by this time, they were playing music for entertainment rather than survival. These groups became known as 'Tunas', a term thought to have derived from an old troubadour known as the 'King of Tunis' who was famous for his love of partying and his habit of walking around the streets at night playing music and singing songs.
Tunas first appeared in Portugal in the mid-to late-nineteenth century after students at Coimbra University were inspired by the groups they had seen in Spain. The concept of these musical groups spread throughout academic institutions and now Tuna groups are a feature of many Universities all over the country. Identifiable by their dark clothes, Tunas can often be seen in the streets of the main cities of Portugal performing a mixture of romantic, sad and upbeat songs accompanied by a range of instruments including guitar, mandolin, cavaquinho and tambourine. The instruments usually have ribbons tied to them which represent the faculty of their University, and some members of the group will also perform energetic dance routines as part of the performance.
Inspired by Iberian students of the 16th and 17th centuries, the standard attire of Portuguese Tunas include: black trousers, black jacket or cape, white shirt and black tie, although some universities put their own spin on the costume. For example, members of the University of Algarve Tuna wear blue instead of black, along with a distinct hat (which is a nod to Henry the Navigator), while the University of Minho and University of Madeira wear a cloak, doublet, beca, shirt, stockings, and baggy trousers which is similar to the dress of Spanish Tunas. These days students tend to belong to a Tuna as a way of representing their educational institution while also keeping the old tradition alive. In fact, many Tuna groups still carry a wooden spoon as a symbol of the original Sopistas.
I got to see this old music tradition in person when I wandered upon a Tuna group in Porto city centre who were putting on a great show for the crowd. You can see a snippet from their performance below.