The ‘Tuna’: a medieval vestige in the XXI century

Today, when we talk about the Tuna, the general perception is that it is a musical tradition whose anachronism makes it a rarity within contemporary student customs. Despite this, there are many people who do not hesitate to stand up for the permanence of this picturesque century-old institution in the today’s musical culture of our country, citing as the main argument its long history linked to the birth of the first universities in Spain. Whatever your position on the existence of these brotherhoods of modern troubadours is, we tell you what are its origins and how they have evolved over the years.

First steps

The ‘Tunas’ are one of the most outstanding and distinctive cultural elements of all the university cities of our country. Its beginnings date back to the thirteenth century, when there was no institution as we know it but a willingness to twin with a purely economic order. And the Tuna, originally, was composed by those male students who by their economic condition could not afford the expenses generated by their time at university, and acted on restaurants for money and a plate of soup to be maintained, which is why at first the members of such groups were known as “sopistas”. But the food was not all that musicians earned with their songs because due to their artistic skills they could win women over with their compositions, hence the tradition of the colurful ribbons hanging from the coat, one for each woman, is derived .
Regarding the origin of the name, there are various theories, the most accepted one points that the name of the Tuna comes from the Latin word “tonare” – that means “sound”-, referring to the activity of the musicians who were engaged in traveling and playing singing.


Further processing

The clothing of the ‘tunos’ is an element that has remained almost unchanged throughout the years. This is composed of a layer that shields ribbons and the places where the musician has been playing; a form-fitting doublet; a white shirt; a hose or tights; breeches; black shoes or boots and a scholarship placed on the chest and shoulders which is, without doubt, the most characteristic element of the suit and that identifies each group according to the college or university to which it belongs, except in the Tuna from Compostela which instead of the scholarship has a cross of Santiago sewn into the doublet. The only item that is currently not common on the clothing of the rogues is the cocked hat or bonnet, very popular among students of the Middle Ages.

The basic instruments of the Tuna, guitars, tambourines, basses and mandolins, have barely changed as opposed to their melodies. While they were originally presided by medieval repertoires and school songs, with the passage of time Spanish popular were incorporated.

If anything has changed in the Tuna it is that it has no longer the function of support for students with fewer economic resources. Today, while it is true that there are exceptions, its members do not have to join the Tuna with a purely economic objective, but may do so to enjoy traditional music and travel.

Although unnoticed for some more interested in the latest musical trends young students, the fact is that the Tuna continues to arouse great interest in many sectors of society who see their permanence an important historical relic that keeps awake one of the most outstanding cultural expressions of medieval student life and many references that are in famous literary works of authors such as Quevedo or Alfonso X the Wise.