Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz in 1970. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the City of Baiona yesterday unveiled a plaque commemorating the life and work of singer Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz Bernaola, known simply as Estitxu or “Beskoitzeko urretxindorra” (the nightingale of Beskoitze), and in doing so named a street in her honor in the city.

She was born in Beskoitze (Briscous), Lapurdi, in 1944 to a family of political refugees from Bizkaia fleeing the Franco dictatorship. Her father, Manu Robles-Aranguiz, was one of the founders of the Basque nationalist labor union ELA, and had himself already been forced into exile during the previous Spanish dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera in the 1920s. Born into a naturally musical family made up of ten siblings, she studied classical guitar and at an early age Estitxu formed the Ainarak (The Swallows) group together with her sisters Edurne, Garbiñe, Gizane, and Maitane; while four of their brothers–Alatz, Irkus, Ugutz, and Iker–created the Soroak quartet. In 1967, at the age of twenty-three she began appearing solo in festivals, performing for the first time in public in Bilbao. A year later she released her first single, and this in turn led to more public performances in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Iparralde, with her rendering of American spiritual, gospel, country, and folk-inspired music in Basque. This early success as a pioneer of the New Basque Folk movement even led to an overseas tour in 1969 when, at the invitation of exiled Basque communities in Latin America, she performed in Mexico and Venezuela. Indeed, her first album was produced in Caracas, and went by the title Una voz increíble (Promus, 1970).

All of this coincided with the waning years of the Franco regime, and her performances in Basque were on more than one occasion subject to strict censorship controls. Still, in the 1970s her recording career really took off as she released a number of singles, albums, and children’s music collections. In the late 1970s and early 1980s she moved away from Basque reworkings of American Folk music toward more traditional Basque music, performing in the United States in 1983. After recording the album Zortzikoak (Xoxoa, 1986), however, she fell ill and was unable to perform for several years. She reappeared in public in 1993, performing a concert in Irun, Gipuzkoa, and signing off by saying “Laster artio, Euskal Herria!” (See you soon, Basque Country!), but three weeks later she was taken ill with cancer once more an died in a Bilbao hospital. A tribute album titled simply Estitxu (Agorila, 1994) was subsequently released in her memory.