Heard bagpipes in Dubai Marina? They're Asturian, and the piper 'just wants to make people smile'

'I appreciate the people who go out and clap. I am playing for them,' Presno tells us

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The first night Carlos Presno stepped out onto his balcony to join a countrywide call to clap for the frontline Covid-19 workers, he took his pipes with him on a whim.

He was only going to play one song, just that once, but then it took off.

Carlos Presno now plays the Spanish pipes from his balcony every evening. Courtesy Carlos Presno.

And now, hearing the blaring from Presno's balcony waft across the waters of Dubai Marina every night at 8pm, has become a staple for the many people in the surrounding towers who are cooped up indoors.

"We are all here, this is the situation," Presno tells The National, "and I just popped out on the balcony to play one song that night and then people liked it."

A video taken of his first balcony performance last Wednesday shows a visibly touched Presno taking in the applause, and fist-pumping out to his new fans.

In fact, every night he now commands his own round of applause, separate to those that ring out for the medical workers.

I appreciate the people who go out and clap, I am playing for them. I just want to make people smile

Presno plays the Asturian Pipes, a type of pipe or "gaita" from his region, Asturias, in northern Spain.

He plays, as others cheer: the one-off call to arms to applaud the work of the frontline workers keeping us all safe amid the coronavirus outbreak on March 25 has now become a nightly occurrence.

It follows a trend that has also swept the globe, from India to Italy.

Each night since then at 8pm, people cheer, sing and clap, kitchen utensils are banged loudly, and lights are flicked on and off across the country.
And Presno plays his pipes.

So what exactly are the Spanish pipes?

Presno learnt to play the Asturian pipes when he was six years old, in his hometown of Boal. He spent 13 years studying traditional Asturias music, and was later part of La Reina del Truebano marching band for nine years before he put down the pipes for good. He left town in search of a career in sound engineering.

It wasn't until he arrived in Dubai, pipes in hand, that he picked them back up again. "I found here that the Dubai Police has a pipes band. I met them and I did one event.... we played very well."

And don't confuse them with the perhaps more commonly known Scottish equivalent, the bagpipes, either. They're very different, he says, in the way they are tuned.

He says that even pipes from region to region in Spain are tuned differently, to give them a unique sound.

In Dubai, he and a fellow Asturian both play the pipes, and often play together at get-togethers or small events, but as you can probably guess, it's not exactly a nightly occurrence.

"The pipe is something you cannot play at home because it is very loud," Presno laughs.  "Now we just play for fun and community."

Presno is now taking song requests

If you're in the Marina, you might have heard Presno play Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He says it's this one, and a couple of traditional tracks from Asturias, that are the most commonly played in his repertoire.

"It's difficult, on the pipes, to play Despacito or something," he laughs.

But on Saturday night, he played something a little more "special". He had heard people chanting from their balconies, asking for a rendition of Bella Ciao, the Italian folk tune featured on Netflix's La Casa de Papel, otherwise known as Money Heist.

And so, he gave that a go. After all, he says, he now has plenty of time to decide on his tracklist for his newfound audience.

Presno's work, as an events technical manager and sound engineer, has ground to a standstill amid the pandemic, as the events have been cancelled.

"I have all day to think about what I will play because there is nothing to do."

As for his homeland, he admits he is glad that he is in Dubai, rather than bearing witness to the Spanish health system's battle first-hand. He says that while the virus has not yet reached Boal, his sister and brother-in-law are living in Madrid, and have come to terms with the fact they will probably be infected.

"The people are not protected, because the medical staff have the virus," he says.

"It's a crazy thing. I'm feeling good that we are here. We are safe. My friends are family are telling me not to come to Spain."

So does he worry that his very captive audience will tire of his incessant blasting each night? Not necessarily, but he is very conscious of only continuing as long as people want him to.

"Yesterday, the people were not clapping until I played the pipes," he says.

"Maybe someone will knock on my door and tell me 'Carlos please, stop it'. And I will do that.

"I appreciate the people who go out and clap, I am playing for them. In my country, they can't do that. I'm not looking for any kind of support or anything I just want to make people smile."