The pipes, the pipes are calling: Highland skirl now has global appeal


They are perceived as being more Scottish than whisky, kilts and haggis, not to mention midges and driving rain. But much further afield from the majestic Highlands the popularity of bagpipes has raised an eyebrow or two. When hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Gaza last week to celebrate the freeing of 26 prisoners from Israeli detention, the music that accompanied their celebration was provided by bagpipes.

The exact origins of what players refer to as "the pipes" are unclear. They are mentioned in the Book of Daniel, referred to by the ancient Greeks – who apparently played pipes made of dog skin – and were said to have been expertly played by the Roman emperor Nero.

What is certain is that while some claim their popularity may be on the wane in western Europe, in the arid deserts of the Middle East and elsewhere, bagpipes are booming.

According to some commentators, the pipes are now all that remains of the British Empire in the Middle East. But unlike many now despised remnants of imperial rule, bagpipes, the calling card of Highland regiments, have flourished.

Sherri Muzher, a journalist and Palestinian activist, has written about the pipes' popularity in her home country, where she said they were one of the many "surprises" to be found in the region.

"When Britain colonised Palestine in the early 20th century, the bagpipes were a positive feature left behind," she said. "The Scottish Highland bagpipe became well-known worldwide and Palestine was no exception."

Ms Muzher said the pipes had become incorporated into Palestinian culture and celebrations. "Bagpipes have come full circle," she said. There is even a bagpipe band, called Guirab, that was formed in 1989 at the Burj al-Shemali refugee camp in Lebanon, and now tours across Europe.

It's not just the Middle East; the heart of Pakistan's Punjab province is the last place many people might expect to hear the pipes' haunting wail.

But Sialkot, a city of three million people, now exports more than 100,000 sets of bagpipes a year. MH Geoffrey and Co is the oldest-established bagpipe maker in Sialkot. The company was founded in the 19th century when a British army officer approached a local tradesman and asked him to repair his bagpipes.

Today, the company exports more than 3,000 instruments a year, with deliveries to the US and even Scotland. Each set is handcrafted and can cost up to £1,000.

"My sons are now learning the business and helping me to run it," said Zafar Geoffrey, whose grandfather started the company. "One day, this whole business will be given to the next generation – the fourth generation to run it."

Rashid Akhtar, president of the Pakistan Cultural Society in London, said flutes and pipes were prominent in traditional music. "Together with the drums they are among the most popular forms of music in Pakistan," he said.

He added: "Bagpipes have been travelling here and there for hundreds of years with the British and in particular Scottish people. Some brought these interesting and unusual items to Pakistan, where they are now very important to people."

In Glasgow this weekend, the universal appeal of the bagpipes has been evident at the World Pipe Band Championships, one of the world's largest gatherings of pipe bands, which ends today. Dozens of bands from across the British Isles have been joined by several from countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Oman and Zimbabwe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power