Root Menu

Mauro Sanin

In conversation with Sunny Kotecha

Hear Mauro play a Galican folk song on the hurdy-gurdy. See below for a translation of the song.


So, my name is Mauro – nobody pronounces it right the first time! And I come from Galicia, a small country just North West in the Iberian Peninsula where the oil ship “Prestige” sank a while ago. Galician people have their own culture, language, you can see also in behaviour. It is a similar idea to all populations in the periphery of a “central” political  power. We have our own government system, our own education but not a state. So it is like the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish states within the UK. The important thing for me is that there are differences; Southern Europe is not just always sun, and beach, and bull-fighters. Galicia is not typical; it is not a hot place, like everybody thinks when they hear “South”. We have wet, rainy weather so the landscape is quite green and there are hills and grey skies like here! I grew up there but I wanted to move to other places as well. I lived there for 21 years before moving to Madrid. I studied.

I decided to change my life while I was studying – to explore music, traditional Galician music. Travelling around. The music is part of my culture. Galicia is a culture that nobody knows exists, so the music is a way of spreading the culture. The instrument I play is called “zanfona” (hurdy-gurdy) – the old English model is called a “symphonia”. It is a very harmonic instrument, with a sound similar to that made by a mixture of a bagpipe and a violin. In Galicia, one of the social groups that mainly used it, since it was invented in the 13th century, was those who enjoy a nomadic way of life, people trying to tell a story around villages and fairs. It is specially remembered in the character of “o cego da zanfona”, a blind person singing dramatic poems to entertain audiences for “esmola” (some small change).  I took this instrument because it was suitable for travelling around and busking. I never studied music, I’m self-taught, taking influences here and there. A lot of people know about the hurdy-gurdy but not many people have a chance to see it performed. When people see me playing the hurdy-gurdy I reckon a lot of them think, “Wow! it’s such a weird thing, I haven’t seen anything like this in my life”. I guess for some it is a new instrument, a new invention, a mixture. That is quite funny for me because there is 800 years of history to this instrument, so an instrument which is so unusual to see is at the same time one of the oldest in modern Europe’s music history.

I am not an academic nor musicology specialist so I can’t play as somebody played centuries ago. What I play is a set of Galician melodies, medieval songs, traditional dancing tunes and other stuff. I am also not a professional good musician, so I can’t play like I would like to. I just play because I like taking it to other people, because it’s interesting and it’s different. It helps me to meet people and to have a better social life. That’s why I enjoy playing, I am enjoying busking not because of the money but just because it is nice on a spring day to be playing in town. So I don’t have high aspirations. Just spreading my culture to contact the others.

The purpose of music is to be alive, be alive, and to play it live and loud. It’s to remind people that they are not just a person in a cage.  That is the real way to express, and to perform, and to feel music. It is going to be so easy to get recordings and different sounds and music through the Internet, and through CD copiers. But live music, I think, is going to have more value for that. To bring people together, audience and performer, to have people sharing discussions and conversation and feelings together in the audience, I think that is the meaning of music. I think it should be like in old, ancient Greek theatre, people knew the story but they were there to just cry and to shout with the actors. That is going to be the goal for non-professional and for professional musicians, to earn the money by playing live not by selling CDs because otherwise other people are going to take the money, not the performer.

I was studying. Then, when one finishes, you realise there is something else beyond. My dark side was just to be on the cliff and to not know what to do next. I had no real feelings, no security about what was going to be the next step. That’s why I took my hurdy-gurdy and ran away from where I was. I decided to break free and follow the music. It was after that I decided to busk on the streets. That is what I like; it is the best place, the best audience, the best theatre – for music especially.

I arrived in the London Tube in the year 2003. But I heard that Oxford had more – more than just students and an underground world. I came here and I stayed. At first I spent one horrible week in the youth hostel. I moved to Iffley quite recently. East Oxford is cool, a nice area, by the river, by the park – a very rich multicultural area. That’s what I like about Oxford. It’s like London but in a smaller size. Great to meet people – people to share my experiences with.

Of course I don’t earn enough from busking to earn a living. Oxford is great, but I can’t make much from busking. I had some savings, but when my money ran out I needed a job so I had to work.

I do feel limited sometimes, by my background. By being, as you say, a “foreigner”, but it makes me broad-minded. It is interesting. Meeting with people is easier because I am different. People come up and talk to me in the street when I am busking. In Oxford particularly, I am surprised that they know the hurdy-gurdy. Children and old people are the friendliest; they ask questions and are happy to talk. Sometimes shopkeepers can give you a hard time, they don’t like your music. Not all of them but some. There isn’t much rivalry amongst buskers, we all know each other and get on. If buskers have enemies, the police can be ones. Buskers always have their eyes on the crowd, looking to see. It’s interesting to watch passers by when you are standing, different pace, faces, thoughts.

Some of your questions are tough. Compassion to others? I don’t know. Am I ready to settle down? I’m not sure, see what the future brings. It is good to be flexible, sometimes I will know what I want, and other times I will see what happens.


Preso vai o conde preso
Preso vai aprisonado
Non vai preso por ladrone
Nen por matar vai atado

Deshonrou a unha neniña
No camiño de Santiago
A nena como discreta
Foi ó rei de contado

A sentencia correu dela
Non a dera una gran letrado:
-Ou  has de casar con ela
ou has de morrer ahorcado.

-Nin hei de casar con ela
nin hei de morrer ahorcado,
con lle paga-la súa dote
hei de vivir sen coidado.



Convicted goes the convicted count,
Convicted goes condemned
Not convicted for being a thief
Nor for killing, he goes tied[1]

He dishonoured[2] a little girl[3]
In Santiago´s road.
By the discreet girl
the king soon was called.
The sentence was in her favour
As if by a great barrister
-Either you get married to her
or you´ll die hanged.

-I won´t be married
nor die hanged.
I´ll live without worries
If I pay her dowry.[4]

[1] Hands tied with a rope.

[2] He was indecent with her, maybe raped her.

[3] Neniña: Galician term of endearment for a girl between 12 and 17 years old.

[4] In traditional Galician society the man should pay the bride’s family for marriage and her “freedom”. Dote is that payment, not always money, usually farm animals.