No, this is not a post about the delicious Spanish canned tuna but about one of the oldest musical traditions in Spain, dating back to the 13th century. A Tuna is an all-male musical group made up of university students from different faculties, playing string instruments and singing Spanish folk songs. The members of a Tuna are known as tunos. The name Tuna comes from the French name given to the leader of the vagabonds: Roi de Thunes (King of Tunis).
The origin of this organization has not clearly been determined but troubadour, minstrel and goliard are words that come to mind when talking about the Tuna. Students who could not afford their living expenses while attending the university would go to inns and cafes singing in exchange for a small tip and a bowl of soup. For this reason, the first tunos were known as sopistas, from sopa (soup) and the soup they ate was called sopa boba (silly soup) because it was made with the leftovers from the day’s menu.
The Tuna became very popular in the last century and due to the traveling nature of the group, it was eventually exported to Latin America. Well before traveling to Spain I had seen Tunas performing in Mexico, specifically in Guanajuato where the Tuna tradition is strong and very popular. There are also Tunas in Puerto Rico, and my alma mater has one — a hybrid Tuna — since its members are not current students but alumni of the university.
The attire of a tuno is composed of a shirt, tights, bombachos (baggy breeches), shoes or boots, a jubo (doublet), and a cloak. Each clothing item is black except for the shirt. Over the cape there’s the beca, a sash that identifies the faculty or university the tuno belongs to. Sewn on the cloak are coat of arms of the countries and cities the tuno has visited on his travels with the Tuna. Also, pinned to the cloaks are colorful ribbons given by friends, family and girlfriends as signs of affection and love.
The photos below are from the Tuna of the University of Seville. We met them one night at one of our favorite cafes in Seville where they were gathered prior to their warm-up session in a nearby square. We had a very interesting conversation with a couple of their members about their organization and their travels. They told us that they were the Tuna from the Law Faculty and that they had recently been to Puerto Rico performing with other Tunas (I’m sure they left a few broken hearts there). They invited us to meet them at midnight on a nearby square where they would be playing a few songs before heading to serenade a (lucky) girl.
This was at the bar where we met the Tuna.
Singing in the square at midnight. The tuno in the front is doing some flag work. He can be seen in the video below playing a bandurria, an instrument similar to the mandolin.