Category: Basque folklore (page 2 of 3)

Is Halloween Basque?

Halloween is often thought to have Anglo-American origins, but could there be a Basque connection? Although Halloween, in the American sense, has spread round the world, bringing with it costumes and trick-or-treating traditions, pumpkin carving is not unique to our October 31 celebration, as the following video by the EITB (in Spanish and Basque) shows:

As the story goes, it was traditional to empty out pumpkins and carve faces into them in the Basque Country before All Saints Day, November 1, in order to ward off spirits. This practice, known as the Night of the Witches or Nocturnal Festivity, was celebrated to say goodbye to Autumn and the end of the harvesting season, giving light to the dark winter.

For more about the tradition, in the words of those who experienced it, enjoy the following video, in Basque, thanks to the Ahotsak oral history project:

 

 

The flower of the sun in Basque culture

In a previous post we discussed the importance of the solstice festival, St. John’s Eve, and today we’re going to talk about the seemingly humble sunflower–eguzki-lore (flower of the sun) or ekilore (flower of the east) in Basque. This is an important symbol in traditional Basque culture that, like the St.John’s Eve festivities, is rooted in a more general solar mythology that once extended across Europe as a whole.

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Carlina acaulis. Image by Bernd Haynold, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clearly, as its name in English also suggests, the sunflower resembles the sun, but why is it so important in traditional Basque culture? First of all, it is important to comprehend just how important the sun was. Understandably, people venerated the rising sun as a giver of light, and life, the very means to their daily survival. Prehistoric dolmens generally face East, toward the rising sun, as do (where possible) most traditional houses and old tombs in the Basque Country. In the latter case, there is also a practical dimension to this because typically the cold and rain come from the North and West respectively.

So the sun is in general an important symbol, but more particularly, according to the old Basque beliefs, and as José Miguel de Barandiarán notes in his Selected Writings (p.79), “the Sun and the Moon are feminine divinities, daughters of Earth, to whose womb they return every day after their journey through the sky.” So much so, in fact, that people used to greet and bid farewell to the sun every day. In The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja observes that (p. 275):

there seem to exist affinities reflected in the language among the ideas of light, sun, and fire. All of this may have had a religious meaning that is lost today. However, the custom of greeting the sun (and the moon) both at their rising and at their setting has been conserved until the present by children and even by adults in some towns. These greetings are notable because in them the star of the day is treated as a grandmother and is therefore female, which also occurs among many Indo-Germanic peoples. Some old stories (particularly one from Errigoiti [Rigoitia]) seem to suggest that some people believed the earth to be the mother of the sun.

Specifically, in Errigoiti (Bizkaia), Barandiarán tells us, they used to say “Eguzki santa bedeinkatue, zoaz zure amagana” (Holy, blessed sun, go to your mother).

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Dried sunflower nailed to the front door of a farmhouse in Senpere, Lapurdi. Photo by Garuna bor-bor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With the sun being so important, then, it should come as no surprise that the sunflower came to represent this potent natural symbol. It is still not uncommon to see dried sunflowers nailed to the front doors of Basque farmhouses. Barandiarán (p. 112) says that this flower “performs the same mysterious functions attributed to the sun. It is believed, for example, that the sun frightens away evil spirits . . . That is why the flower is nailed above the door: to prevent the intrusion of evil spirits, witches, and the numina of disease, storm, and lightning.” This would bear out Caro Baroja’s words (p. 326), which  suggest that in traditional Basque culture “the sun may be a sort of God’s eye, protector from evils and purifier.”

If you’re interested in traditional Basque mythology, be sure to check out the abovementioned works: Julio Caro Baroja, The Basques, and José Miguel de Barandiarán, Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography.

 

Soka, Euskal Dantza: A New Basque Dance App

In conjunction with the traveling exhibition “Soka, euskal dantzaren uratsetan” (Soka, in the steps of a Basque dance), created by the Basque Cultural Institute, and using content from the Dantzan website, the Azkue Foundation recently presented a new app designed to encourage more interest in Basque dance.

 

You can download the Soka app free for both Android (from Google Play) and iOS (from the Apple Store). For more details on the app see the report by Euskal Kultura on the presentation here.

If you haven’t already done so, check out Sabin Bikandi’s Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country. Described by one reviewer as, “a tour de force that seems destined to become a—if not the—definitive work on the subject and is essential reading for anyone interested in three-hole pipe music, or Iberian folk music and dance at large,” this is a must-read for anyone interested in Basque music and dance.

Be sure to also check out Oier Araolaza’s Basque Dance, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

Reno Basque Festival This Weekend

 

The Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club will be hzazpiak bat logoosting its 49th–yes 49th!–Basque Festival this weekend.

The festival kicks off on Friday evening, July 15, at 7pm at Louis’ Basque Corner, with the main events taking place on Saturday, July 16 at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno from 10am-10pm. There will be Basque dancing by the local Zazpiak Bat dancers as well as the Irrintzi Dancers from Winnemucca, NV, a bota contest for the kids, rural sports exhibitions, and a txinga (weight carrying) contest that is open to the public. Live music will be provided by Mercedes Mendive, from Elko, NV, at the public dance from 6-9pm.

Food and drink will be available for purchase all day, along with items from various vendors. Everyone is welcomed to join in the fun. For more information check out Zazpiak Bat at Facebook.

 

BANDtzaldia… a new initiative from Aiko

Many of you will have read several posts we’ve done in the past about Aiko Taldea, a groundbreaking ensemble in the Basque Country that in recent years has come to redefine traditional music and dance by emphasizing, among other things, less spectacle and more participation. A key part of Aiko’s philosophy is that music and dance–and the two should really be considered one and the same–should be experienced first-hand, with people joining in rather than just watching.

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This coming Friday, June 24, Aiko will embark on yet another groundbreaking initiative: BANDtzaldia, a collaboration between Aiko and municipal bands in the Basque Country to offer open-air performances at which people are encouraged to get up an dance; yet another attempt by Aiko to revive the traditional spirit of the erromeria or open-air public dance that was once so typical throughout the Basque Country.  The first of these dances will take in one of Bilbao’s emblematic central squares, the Plaza Barria, and will feature a collaboration with the Bilbao Municipal Band. The music for the event has been composed by Sabin Bikandi and arranged by the composer Joserra Gutiérrez.

Check out a trailer for the show here, in which we see rehearsals taking place for Friday’s event:

To really appreciate what Aiko are all about, and what popular participation really means, check out the following video shot in the “seven streets” or Old Quarter of Bilbao, one hour of pure unrestrained joy!

We at the Center are honored to have collaborated ourselves on a couple of occasions with Aiko.

See in particular Sabin Bikandi’s  Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor in the Basque Country, a wonderfully in formative work that besides recounting the life of one of the great Basque musicians, also functions as a general introduction to Basque music and dance. The work includes music scores and an accompanying DVD explaining various Basque instruments and dances.

Check out too Urraska: A New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak as Interpreted by Sagaseta. This is a complete guide to the one of the most representative of all Basque dances, the jauziak, collective circular dances that involve short hops and jumps. It includes a book in Euskara and English, 2 CDs, a DVD of dance performances, a guide to the dance steps for performing the dances, and PDF copies of the text in Spanish and French.

Katalina de Erauso pastorala premieres in Baiona

Sunday, June 5, saw the premiere of the new pastorala, “Katalina de Erauso,” in Baiona.  The pastorala is a traditional form of outdoor theater in Zuberoa performed by amateurs, usually from the same town or area, in which the action is played out in repetitive sung verse. It harks back to the mystery and morality plays of the medieval era and frequently involves a tragic theme. Some modern interpretations of the pastorala, such as “Katalina de Erauso,” are also performed in theaters and outside Zuberoa.

The eponymously titled “Katalina de Erauso” tells the dashing story of the famed Lieutenant Nun, a women who fled a convent life in Donostia, Gipuzkoa, to embark on a series of swashbuckling adventures in the guise of a man in the Americas.

For more details about this spectacle, check out its website (in Basque, French, and Spanish) here.

If you’re interested in this major figure in Basque history, we cannot recommend highly enough the enthralling account of her life in Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso, which we discussed in detail in a previous post. What’s more, if you’re interested in different aspects of traditional Basque performance, check out Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here

May 22, 1920: Guridi’s opera Amaya performed for first time

On May 22, 1920, Basque composer Jesús Guridi‘s opera Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII (Amaya or the Basques in the eighth century) was performed for the first time at the Coliseo Alba opera house in Bilbao. The premiere starred Spanish soprano Ofelia Nieto in the title role, Polish soprano/mezzo-soprano Aga Lahowska, Basque tenor Isidoro Fagoaga, Italian bass-baritone Giulio Cirino, and Basque bass Gabriel Olaizola as well as the Bilbao Choral Society (conducted by Guridi himself), with music by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ricard Lamote de Grignon. It is an opera in three acts and an epilogue. The Spanish libretto was written by José María Arroita Jauregui, with a Basque version by Brother José de Arrúe.

The opera was based on a Romantic historical novel of the same title by Francisco Navarro Villoslada, originally published in journal installments from 1877 onward, which combined elements of Basque folklore, mythology, and historical fact. The setting is Navarre in the eight century and the plot surrounds a twofold power struggle: on the one hand that of Basque pagans and Christians, and, on the other, a more earthly conflict among Basques, Visigoths, and Muslims, in which the noblewoman Amaya, the descendant of the Basque ancestral patriarch Aitor, is the central character. She ultimately marries the Basque resistance leader García/Gartzea and together they establish the royal house of Navarre.

Listen here to Parts I, II, and III of the Epilogue (with score).  And see the famed Ezpatadantza or sword-dance, also part of the opera, in a 1992 performance here:

 

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Jesús Guridi in 1915. on the occasion of a performamce of his opera Mirentxu in Madrid. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Embracing a Wagnerian aesthetic and clearly rooted in Basque folklore, Guridi gave each character in the opera their own melody, rhythm, and instrumentation. Thought and structure coincide completely in the work, which proved a triumph for the composer from Araba, earning him a great reputation for his attention to dramatic composition.

His other Basque-themed works include Mirentxu (1910), El caserío (The farmstead, 1926), and Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque melodies, 1940). Curiously, he was also the author of Homenaje a Walt Disney (Homage to Walt Disney, 1956). He died at the age of seventy-four in 1961.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, free to download here, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Be sure to also take a look at the website of the marvelous Basque music archive, Eresbil, which features a comprehensive record of all kinds of Basque music, musicians, and composers, and at which  you can listen to original recordings, download scores, and so on.

 

 

Bizkaia band blends Basque and English in cool electro fusion

Like getting on down to a bit of electro dance music? Like Basque? Then check out Gau Ama (Mother Night), the latest album by Getxo (Bizkaia) band WAS (formerly We Are Standard), a cool blend of catchy house- and rave-inspired tunes just right for the summer that combine English and Basque lyrics and that invoke traditional Basque folkloric airs. Check out the teaser for “Upside Down” below…

… and the full video for “Irrintzi,” a title inspired by the traditional Basque shout. Shout out to WAS!

For more info take a look at the band’s website here.

If you want to learn more about contemporary Basque music, Basque Songwriting: Pop, Rock, Folk by Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga is a great place to start. You can download the book for free, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute, here.

Electronic Laboa

The group Delorean, from Zarautz (Gipuzkoa), recently reinterpreted the music of Mikel Laboa with an electronic touch at a one-off concert in Bilbao’s Arriaga Theater. Check out this teaser.

According to the band’s Facebook page, while this was just a one-off gig, it is considering doing a whole album covering Laboa songs at some time in the future.

If you’re interested in popular music, check out Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga’s Basque Songwriting: Pop, Rock, Folk, available free to download here, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Saint Agatha’s Eve: A Key Date in the Basque Cultural Calendar

On February 4, Santa Ageda bezpera, Saint Agatha’s Eve, communities across the Basque Country take to the streets of their towns and villages, or go from farm to farm in rural areas, singing and collecting money for charitable causes. People carry sticks and beat them slowly on the ground to the rhythm of the more solemn tunes they sing, as well as singing more lively koplak (verses). In some cases, bertsolariak (poetic oral improvisers) are on hand to create spontaneous verses.  While this is the eve of a Christian festival, the act of communally beating the sticks against the ground is commonly interpreted as an older rite commemorating the end of Winter, a group effort to physically wake up the earth from its Winter rest.

Nowadays, kids are encouraged to learn the tradition and, as a bonus, they get to skip a few hours of school, as the following video, taken in Lesaka, Navarre, shows:

The celebration is also performed by organized groups, like the Uribarri Choir, here performing in the heart of Bilbao, in the Santutxu neighborhood:

And for a great video showing the tradition of going from baserri to baserri, signing koplak, check out the following, taken in Zestoa, Gipuzkoa (note the generous refreshments on offer in the farms, as well as the protagonism of bertsolariak):

In the classic work The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja discusses the importance of Saint Agatha’s Day itself in Basque culture, with this saint being venerated as especially important to women.

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