The Timple Maker: Interview with Alberto Ortega Chirino

Alberto Ortega Chirino
Alberto Ortega Chirino. Picture | Karen Liu, HARKII

This is a short interview with Alberto Ortega Chirino, a timple maker in Lanzarote, talking about the instrument that represents the Canarian music culture.


HARKII: How did you start making timples, and why did you choose this instrument?

Alberto Ortega Chirino: Well, I started making a guitar, to copy an acoustic guitar that I had. That was a bit back in oblivion – I was young at 18 years old. Then I kept working, and I parked all that. Then at 50 years old, here in Lanzarote, in the town hall of my municipality Teguise, I started some lutherie courses, of crafting timples. And I like it! I did that for six months. This was in the year 2004/2005, so I’ve been around 13 years approximately, making timples. And so, until now. A thing that I liked, and I keep doing. I want to retire to it – when I retire from work, I want to continue with the timple.

HARKII: For people who don’t know the timple, what is the biggest difference between it and other similar instruments like the ukulele?

Alberto Ortega Chirino: Well, that’s a question that would almost be answered by a musician, right? But from my point of view,  for the people who come to see the timple, they love it – they know the ukulele – and they love it. It has five strings and you can play all kinds of music with it. Then there are differences – the first is that of the five strings that the timple has, but as I already said, it would be better to get an answer from that one musician. But what I can tell you is that people who meet it for the first time and play the timple, love it. They it differently to the ukulele.

HARKII: The timple is an important part of Canarian musical culture, but some people describe it as ‘a forgotten instrument’. What do you think? Is it still popular amongst people in Lanzarote and what future do you see for the timple?

Alberto Ortega Chirino: On the islands, the timple is part of the culture. Everyone touches it. It is in schools. As of this year, I believe it’s mandatory to have it in schools, in the music classrooms. There is a lot of support – many people play the timple. There are many folk groups in the Canaries where the timple is always in the front row. So the future of the timple here in the islands is very good. There is a great future for the timple, for boys, for those who play, for everyone.

In fact, they take as examples players like Benito Cabrera and Domingo el Colorao. They carry it all over the world, to the United States, England, and in short, all throughout Europe. So the forgotten timple? Not at all. It is the order of the day. Wherever you go, any party, anything there is always a timple, so I see a great future for the timple, as a great instrument.

They want to introduce it to the music conservatory, and there is a Timple Association formed not that long ago, and they are fighting well, because they introduced it to the music conservatory, and it is a career now, as an instrument, just like the guitar or piano or whatever. And they are fighting for it, right? But forgotten, the timple? You just have to go around the island and where you want to go there are always people playing the timple. Many parties, many folk groups, dance groups.

The folklore here on the islands is up.

HARKII: What does the timple mean to you?

Alberto Ortega Chirino:  For me right now it means something very important. Because it’s a thing that is a passion, I love doing it. I have a lot of passion for what I do, and that is necessary. If you do not have a passion to do this kind of work…To make an instrument, which in the end has to sound like people like it – that makes people happy. Because when an instrument sounds good, then people are happy and touch it, and that fills you with pride.

So it’s a thing that to do it, you have to like. And to me right now, it means a lot, because I’m 61 years old and I have 4 left to work let’s say as a carpenter, to just dedicate myself to the timple. And it’s a way out, an escape route to work and make a living with this, right? But apart from all this… that I like, and have to like is what I think, to dedicate yourself to do this kind of work with great pleasure and passion for what you do.