Category: bertsolaritza (page 1 of 2)

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

Trout, Trixitixa, and Song: Being Basque in the Big Horns

Harri Mutil high in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming

It was your Basque Book Editor’s absolute honor to be able to attend the 2017 NABO Convention and Basque Festival in Buffalo, Wyoming this. On the Monday following the festival, being a thousand miles from home, I also took advantage of the moment to attend the Basque Sheepherder’s Barbecue held the day after in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. The Big Horn Mountains are absolutely beautiful and it was so great to be able to meet and talk to so many Basques from sheep raising and ranching backgrounds similar to my own but in the lush green of northeastern Wyoming rather than the stark yellow and russets of Nevada.

In the morning carloads of attendees were carted off to local creeks and streams to make the best of the day: cast iron deep fried trout painstakingly prepared along with lukainka sausages by the dozens and side dishes lovingly made and brought to share. Children ran and played and oldsters held down their camp chairs and swapped stories old and new.

Basque performers Errabal, who had been wowing us all weekend, set up on log stumps and started to play and soon Jesus Goñi sang some bertsos for the crowd.

As I would depart straight for Reno early the next morning, I set up my tent and camped at the site and got to the visit with the owners of this little piece of ground. They told me about what they called a “sheepherder’s monument” out on a high ridge a few miles down the road and so I drove down to visit it as the sun set. I climbed up to a giant harri mutil (read another post about these here) on the mountainside and stood and watch the sun set west. It was a lonely life for those early sheepherders whether in the mountains of Wyoming or Nevada, but with communities like the one I had the privilege to visit, it must have made the solitude all that much more bearable for those boys turning into men and men missing families and loved ones in the old country.

A Basque community, like any other immigrant community, changes in the United States, integrates and also makes new traditions all of their own. This post is the first of a series I am planning to write on the events of the Basque festival in Buffalo, so please keep checking back often! Anyone interested in Basques in Buffalo, and the experience of Basques in the West, should definitely check out Buffalotarrak!

Spring 2017 Basque Multidisciplinary Seminar Series

This semester, like almost every semester, the CBS is holding a Seminar Series. Here’s a round-up of the lectures given thus far and a sneak peak of the coming presentations!

Professor Douglass kicked off the series with his paper entitled “Basques in Cuba,” based on his research and the conference held in Havana in 2015 entitled “Euskal Herria Mugaz Gaindi.” Douglass shared many anecdotes and the audience responded with many questions, carrying on the discussion well after the hour had quickly gone by.

Next up, Saranda Frommold, a PhD candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin,  shared her dissertation findings on “The Political Relations between Mexico and Spain regarding Basque Exile to Mexico (1977-2000).” She has spent three weeks at the Center, continuing her research. The presentation was thought-provoking and also ended in a lively question and answer session. Stay tuned for our interview with Saranda. We will miss her at the CBS.

Last week, I presented a paper entitled “Memoirs of Mobility and Place: Portrayals of Basque-American Identity,” written for a literature class, so a little out of my historical comfort zone. I must say, it went well, and I was excited to recommend Mountain City, by Gregory Martin, to most of my audience. It’s definitely a good read! I compared Martin’s portrayal of Basque communities in the West to that in Sweet Promised Land, Robert Laxalt’s famed memoir.

Next week, March 29 from 12:30-1:30, our Basque Librarian, Iñaki Arrieta Baro, will be presenting on “Bertsolaritza: Kultur Artea Network.” This will be a nice addition to our showcase on Bertsolaritza. Be sure to come visit and see the exhibit!

April 5 is sure to be a busy lecture day. Ziortza Gandarias Beldarrain, a PhD candidate here, will present on “Euzko-Gogoa: Gender and Nation,” as a part of her own dissertation research. Mikel Amuriza will then follow, giving a talk about tax systems. Mikel is a visiting scholar from the Diputación de Bizkaia, and will be with us for a few more months. We’ll be sure to post an interview soon!

Professor Ott will present on April 12, giving a talk on “German P.O.W.s in Post-War France,” part of her ongoing research on the topic. I’m sure it will be full of anecdotes and more!

Lastly, we have the pleasure to have Professor Boehm from the Anthropology department, as well as Women’s Studies and GRI, present on her recently published book. Her conference is entitled “Disappearance and Displacement in an Age of Deportation,” and I’m sure it will bring up many current events and a discussion of what is going on in the world around us.

Be sure to stop by from 12:30-1:30 on Wednesdays for our seminar series. Bring your own brown bag, sit back, and enjoy!

Veteran bertsolari Jon Azpillaga passes away

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, one of the towering figures–both literally and metaphorically–of contemporary bertsolaritza (Basque poetic oral improvisation) passed away last Thursday, February 2, at the age of 81.

He was born in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, in 1935, where his father Juan–originally from Ondarroa, Bizkaia–worked in the port. His mother, Veronica Urrutia, was originally from the Torre baserri (farmstead) in Berriatu, Bizkaia. After his father was killed in the Spanish Civil War, when he was barely a year and a half, the family moved back to the baserri in Berriatu. Azpillaga grew up on that baserri, which in total provided a home for 16 people, carrying out the obligatory farm chores.  At age 14 he began earning a living for himself away from home, in a boatyard in Ondarroa, cycling to and from work everyday.  After completing the obligatory Spanish military service, he eventually started his own repair business, alongside his brother and some other partners, in his mid-20s. Now living in Ondarroa, he also joined the local choir as a tenor. He married Maria Arrizabalaga Itsasmendi in 1960 and the couple moved to neighboring Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, where she owned a hair salon. And the couple eventually had 6 children.

By this time, too Azpillaga was already an accomplished bertsolari (versifier), making the final of the national championship in 1960 and 1962 and winning the Bizkaia championship in 1961. He had been somewhat of a child prodigy in this respect, reciting popular verses by heart at age 10. And he had performed his first spontaneous bertsoak (verses) in public, at the village fiestas of Amoroto in 1950 alongside another young bertsolari, Joan Mugartegi Iriondo (b. Berriatu, 1933). After winning the 1961 championship, he went on to perform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially in tandem with Jon Lopategi (b. Muxika, Bizkaia, in 1934). These performances, in what has been classified by expert Joxerra Garzia in Voicing the Moment as the “bertsolaritza of resistance” (toward the Franco dictatorship), were framed–where possible–with political references. Indeed, both had on several occasions been detained by the police for the political references they had made when performing bertsolaritza. He continued to take part in championships through the 1980s, reaching the fibal of the national champiosnhips in 1980 and 1982. And in 2000, on the fiftieth anniversary of his first public performance, he appeared once more alongside Mugartegi, just as he had done all those years ago, performing to a crowd of people from the balcony of the Amoroto town hall. Check out the video below of Azpillaga’s last public performance, on July 20, 2013, in Zarautz in honor of the great bertsolari Basarri:

Azpillaga dedicated a lot of his free time in Mutriku to fundraising for the ikastola or Basque-language school and establishing a bertso eskola (a bertso school) there to train young people in the art. The Church was an important part of his life and he even recited the Sermon on the Mount in verse. He also attended the annual July 4 church service and celebration held in honor of Saint Balentin Berriotxoa, one of the two patron saints of Bizkaia (alongside Saint Ignatius Loiola) in Elorrio.  On a personal level, he was always noted as a calm, composed, and fearless bertsolari with a great towering physical presence and a classic exponent of the bertso postura (stance). This all meant that he was invariably asked to begin any bertso session, hence the epithet “Hasi Azpillaga!” (Take it away Azpillaga!), which was also the tile of a free-to-download 2001 biography about him by Mikel Aizpurua.

Goian bego.

Further reading:

Jon Azpillaga Urrutia, at the online Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, free to download here.

January 20, 1935: First National Bertsolaritza Championship held

January 20, 1935 is a key date in Basque cultural history as it marks the first time a national championship was held for bertsolaritza (improvised sung oral poetry) one of the most dynamic and singular forms of Basque cultural expression.

Inazio Eizmendi or “Basarri” (1913-1999) in October 1937. One of the great figures of bertsolaritza who dominated the art form for thirty years. Image by Jesus Elosegui, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Termed at the time the First Bertsolari Day, the event was held in the Poxpolin Theater in Donostia and included the participation of some nineteen competitors. In the collective mindset of the organizers it was hoped that this relatively new format, an organized contest with a panel of judges evaluating the quality of the bertsoak (verses) on their technical features alone (or their degree of difficulty if you will) on a points-based system, would help to propel bertsolaritza into the twentieth century and away from what some at least considered its rather dubious connections with the raucous world of taverns and cider houses. That said, some of the traditional older bertsolariak (oral improvisers) who came from the latter tradition did take part in the championship, most famously of all Txirrita (Jose Manuel Lujanbio), the greatest of all cider house bertsolariak. As Gorka Aulestia observes in Voicing the Moment, “Txirrita, the elderly patriarch of traditional bertsolaritza –at the age of seventy five, weighing 260 pounds and dressed in the customary long black shirt– did not fit the image envisaged by” the more progressive organizers.

In the end, and much to their relief, the event was won by a young twenty-two-year-old from Gipuzkoa, born in Errezil but who had lived in Zarautz from age seven: Inazio Eizmendi, who went by the name “Basarri.” And the runner-up was Matxin Irabola from Senpere, Lapurdi. Basarri was the ideal winner for the modernizers who had encouraged the idea of moving bertsolaritza toward a championship format. He was young, forward-thinking, and would ultimately lead bertsolaritza out of the taverns and into more the neutral public settings of towns and squares. In short, this first national championship served a s a springboard to change the whole face of bertsolaritza, marking not just a generational change among its leading exponents but also a transformation in the very way the art form was conceived and performed.

Further reading

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here. The definitive introductory guide to bertsolaritza in English that not only outlines the history and sociocultural impact of the art form in the Basque Country but also explains how it functions, the changes that have taken place in recent years with the coming of the technological age, and sets all this within a global framework by also discussing other worldwide examples of improvised oral art forms.

Improvisational Poetry from the Basque Country by Gorka Aulestia. An essential history of bertsolaritza to the modern age.

Bertsolaritza: The Reality, Tradition and Future of Basque Oral Improvisation by Joxerra Garzia. Free to download here. History and contemporary analysis of the art form by a leading theoretician of bertsolaritza.

 

December 13, 2009: Maialen Lujanbio crowned first woman bertsolari champ

On December 13, 2009, Maialen Lujanbio, from Hernani (Gipuzkoa), became the first woman to win the coveted national bertsolaritza championship.

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Maialen Lujanbio receives her winning txapela from 80-year-old bertsolari Joxe Agirre or “Oranda” at the 2009 national championship. Photo by Ukberri.net, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lujanbio’s triumph, in front of 14,500 spectators at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre in Barakaldo, Bizkaia, represented a milestone in the development of this key art form that is a pillar of Basque culture. She finished first out of the eight competitors in the final, with a total of 1,630.75 points; followed by runner-up Amets Arzallus, from Hendaia (Lapurdi), with 1,582 points.  After being crowned winner with the championship txapela (beret), Lujanbio stepped up to the microphone to sing the following improvised bertso or verse (with English subtitles):

Bertsolaritza, the art of oral improvisation in Basque, is an amazing phenomenon that is so central to Basque culture. We can’t recommend highly enough Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This is a great introduction to the world of bertsolaritza that explains both how it has developed down the centuries and the multiple forms it takes today, as well as explaining comparative phenomena around the world. This book is also available free to download here.

Be sure to check out, too, the website of the Xenpelar Dokumentazio Zentrua, a great source of information about bertsolaritza:  http://bdb.bertsozale.eus/en/info/7-xenpelar-dokumentazio-zentroa

And if you’re in the Reno area, please stop by the Jon Bilbao Basque Library, which currently features a fascinating window exhibit on bertsolaritza (through April 2017).

New exhibit at the Basque Library

The Jon Bilbao Basque Library now has a new window exhibit!

Basque Culture has been  characterized as an oral culture for a long time, in which orality plays a strong role in cultural transmission. The best known oral cultural activity is Bertsolaritza or Basque improvised poetry.

Bertsolaritza is a form of sung improvised poetry and an important cultural expression for the Basque people. Improvisers (Bertsolari in Basque) are well known by the population and they often perform at all kinds of festivities. Bertsolaritza is the Basque contribution to improvised poetries around the world. Basques have been able to preserve, modernize, and publicize bertsolaritza worldwide.

The exhibit includes explanatory texts, a shortened version of the documentary Bertsolari by the well know Basque director Asier Altuna, photographs of Bertsolariak in the Basque Country and the US, and a selection of our books about Bertsolaritza.

The Basque Library at the University of Nevada, Reno is now part of Kulturartea, a network of academic organizations working together in the field of improvised poetry including Basque Bertsolaritza and other similar activities around the world. This exhibit is our first visible effort to increase awareness about Bertsolaritza in Nevada and beyond.

Bertsolaritza exhibit at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library

The Center for Basque Studies will kindly provide all of our visitors with complimentary copies of the work Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition. This volume brings together contributions by leading scholars in the field of orally improvised poetry. It includes, on the one hand, essays on improvised poetry and, on the other, essays in which leading practitioners of bertsolaritza study their own poetic art and its techniques.

The exhibit was designed by Iñaki Arrieta Baro and Shannon Sisco, and put in place by Shannon and our student workers Vivian Lewis and Annabel Gordon. It will be on display until April 2017.

June 19, 1960: Microphone power outage leads to creation of San Francisco Basque Club

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It’s one of those anecdotes that makes one wonder whether truth really is stranger than fiction, and the lack of any clarification over or proof of what actually happened only adds to its mystique, but for those of you out there who didn’t know how the San Francisco Basque Club got started in the first place, let Pedro J. Oiarzabal, in his Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area,  pick up the story:

Two Basque homeland bertsolariak or verse improvisers, “Xalbador” and Mattin, accompanied by Charles Iriart, came to the U.S. in June of 1960 for a month to perform at the annual picnics of the Basque communities of La Puente, Reno, and Bakersfield as well as at the picnic of the San Francisco French association, Les Jardiniers, whose membership was also made up of a considerable amount of Basques. Les Jardiniers’ picnic took place at Saratoga Wild Wood Park (today’s Saratoga Springs) on June 19th and was attended by approximately 2,500 people. To the dismay of both performers and Basques attending the Les Jardiniers’ event, power to their microphone was cut off—intentionally according to some and unintentionally according to others.

The reaction of some young Basques was to establish their own organization under the leadership of Claude Berhouet, owner of Hotel de France, in order to protect and promote the culture of their homeland in San Francisco. Michel Marticorena, one of the first members of the club, and Claude sat next to each other in school during World War II in France, during the German occupation, and recalls that “Mr. Berhouet was a very generous and helpful person back at that time as he was in San Francisco.”

Paul Castech and Jean Acheritogaray were present at the meeting that ignited the creation of the Basque Club: “Claude said, ‘Why don’t we organize a Basque club?” Castech, born in 1938 in Ortzaize, came to the U.S. in 1956, and became one of the founding directors of the Basque Club. The Basque Club of California was born in June 1960.

Whatever the case, whether intentionally or not, this just all goes to show how much history can turn on a seemingly inconsequential event. Check out the history of the San Francisco Basque Club here.

June 3, 1936: Death of famous bertsolari Txirrita

Jose Manuel Lujanbio Retegi, better known as “Txirrita,” remains one of the most renowned bertsolariak (improvising oral poets) of all time and the principal exponent of so-called cider house bertsolaritza (improvised oral poetry), in which humor and mockery take center stage in a general atmosphere of revelry that one would associate with the Basque cider houses.

He was born in the Ereñotzu neighborhood of Hernani, Gipuzkoa, on August 14, 1860 on the Latze (or Latze-Zar) baserri (farmstead). At age 13, though, he moved with his family to the Txirrita baserri, from which he would ultimately take his nickname, in nearby Errenteria. He began work as a stonemason while still an adolescent, but was already moving in bertsolaritza circles and word soon spread about his quick wit and sharp tongue. He didn’t enjoy his work and took any opportunity he could find to earn a little extra money or some free drinks by taking part in bertso challenges.

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Txirrita, together with fellow bertsolariak Olegario (sampling a wee tipple) and Juan Bautista Urkia “Gaztelu,” in Arrate, Eibar. Gipuzkoa, 1915. As you can see from the photo, these guys were major celebrities in the day. Photo by Ignacio Ojanguren. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This, together with his natural skill and aptitude for the art form, is how he came to define cider house bertsolaritza. And as he grew older his reputation as a roguish partying lifelong bachelor (or mutilzaharra, literally “old boy,” in Basque) clashed with newer generations of bertsolariak who wanted to take bertsolaritza further, out of the taverns and cider houses and away from its association with partying, and into the more formal settings of organized contests and championships. In such settings, they believed, one could truly see it as a cultivated art form.

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An older Txirrita and Saiburu. Photo by Ignacio Ojanguren. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Despite all this, toward the end of his life, the huge, bearlike 260-pound Txirrita remained one of the major bertsolariak, finishing runner-up at the inaugural national bertsolaritza championships held in 1935 and winning the same event a year later, in January 1936. That this semi-literate cider-house bertsolari could compete with younger, more educated, and “modern” opponents just bears witness to his tremendous skill with words. Txirrita died that same year, on June 3, 1936.

In the prologue to the Center publication Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, Antonio Zavala (1928-2009), one of the foremost authorities on bertsolaritza and a key figure in documenting and transcribing numerous bertsos created before the advent of sound and image recording, observes the following:

In our homes, the names Xenpelar, Txirrita, or Pedro María Otaño have the same resonance as world famous authors have elsewhere. What the skill of those authors represents for the educated person was what that of the bertsolariak meant to our people, who regarded them not only as teachers but almost as prophets. That’s the way it was for generations.

You can download this book for free by clicking here.

There’s a brief recording of Txirrita in action here:

And check out this cartoon about Txirrita’s life (in Basque):

 

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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