Category: bertsolaritza (page 2 of 3)

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.


Maialen Lujanbio receives her winning txapela from 80-year-old bertsolari Joxe Agirre or “Oranda” at the 2009 national championship. Photo by, 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:

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


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.


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.


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.

Basque music and dance to feature at University of the Basque Country


Sabin Bikandi of Aiko Taldea and Javier Garaizar, the deputy to the vice-chancellor of the University of the Basque Country’s Araba campus, sign the agreement

Congratulations are due to our good friends at Aiko Taldea, which has just signed a cooperation agreement with the Araba campus of the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) to teach a traditional music and dance workshop as part of the university’s EHUskARABAnda initiative that seeks to encourage Basque-language related activities on the campus.

Aiko will teach the first workshop on December 15, and this will be followed by similar workshops every Thursday in Vitoria-Gasteiz as part of the groups’s touring class schedule through the Spring.

Aiko is fast becoming a key cultural point of reference in the Basque Country with its emphasis on fun and popular participation in traditional Basque music and dance. And we at the Center are proud to have worked with the group. Check out some Aiko videos here.

Check out Sabin Bikandi’s wonderfully evocative Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music in the Basque Country, a book is far more than just a biography of this important figure in the world of traditional Basque music; in effect, this is a complete and thorough introduction to both Basque music and dance in general that includes (among many other things) descriptions of instruments used, dance steps, musical scores for the most popular tunes used to accompany dances, and an accompanying DVD with examples of the dances discussed and clips of different Basque instruments, as well as images of different settings for bertsolaritza performances (all with English subtitles).


See, too, Aiko’s  Urraska: a New Interpretation of the Basque Jauziak Dances as Interpreted by Sagaseta.  This is a complete guide to the famous jauziak dances–in many ways, the quintessential Basque dances–that includes a book in Euskara and English, 2 CDs, a DVD of dance performances, a guide to the dance steps for performing the jauziak dances, and PDF copies of the text in Spanish and French.



What’s in a song? Martin Larralde

“Martin Larralde,” a song on Ruper Ordorika‘s eighth album, Dabilen harria (1998), has become a staple of his repertoire and one of the most evocative tracks by the renowned singer from Oñati, Gipuzkoa. It is actually a poem, written by Joseba Sarrionandia for his collection of poems Hnuy illa nyha majah yahoo (poemak 1985-1995) (1995), set to music by Ordorika.

But what is the song about? Who was Martin Larralde? The true story of Martin Larralde (1782-1821) has almost passed into Basque folklore and reveals a fascinating tale.

A shoemaker by profession, Martin was also a well-known bertsolari or poetic improviser who went by the nickname of “Bordaxuri” (and later “Galerianoa” or “Le poète galérien,” the galley prisoner poet). He lived on the family farm in Hazparne, Lapurdi. Following the death of his mother in 1809, Martin asked his father for his share of the farm, but this led to the two of them arguing and falling out over the issue. Instead, his father gave permission for a tenant, Jean Ospital, to work the land in question. One day, as he was working in the fields, Ospital was shot dead. Martin was arrested and held in Baiona (Bayonne) until he appeared before the courts in Pau. Found guilty, he was subsequently condemned “to the galleys” or “work at the oar,” that is, sentenced to do hard labor as a kind of human chattel assigned to rowing duty while serving his time in Rochefort prison. There he ultimately died after five years, most likely as a consequence of the harsh regime associated with such incarceration. Indeed, Rochefort prison enjoyed a grim reputation at the time as one of the main destinations for convict rowers in France (together with Toulon and Brest).

While in prison, Larralde reputedly wrote a dozen or so poems, many of them in a bitter tone and describing in detail his life of penal servitude, which came to be known as “Galerianoaren kantuak” (Songs of the galley prisoner). These songs, and Larralde’s story, later inspired others to write about him: The priest and writer Piarres Lartzabal (1915-1988), fascinated by the beauty of Larralde’s poetry, composed the play “Bordaxuri” (1952); the musical duet Pantxoa eta Peio—Pantxoa Carrere (1948- ) and Peio Ospital (1948- )—set Larralde’s words to music in “Galerianoaren kantua” (The song of the galley prisoner) on their first eponymously titled album released in 1975; and the song “Martin Larralde,” of course, as noted, represents the collaboration of two major Basque cultural figures: Ordorika (1956- ) and Sarrionandia (1958- ).

Larre berdeak, etxe zuri teila gorriak,          The fields are green, the houses white and red-                                                                                                   roofed,

jendarme auto bat                                                     a police wagon

bidean bildots artean pasatzen.                        goes down the road, among the lambs.

Etxe elizetan otoitzak,                                            Prayers are said in houses and churches,

betiko otoitzak neguko keearen antzera    the same old prayers

lehun igotzen.                                                              ascending softly like winter smoke.

Martin Larralde ez da sekula itzuli,                 Martin Larralde never came back,

baina itzuli balitz                                                        but if he had returned

(arantzak barrurantza itzuliak lituzkeen     (like a hedgehog whose spines

sagarroia bezala)…                                                     had grown back)…

Itzuli izan balitz, zer? Gaur igandea da,         If he had returned, what then? It’s Sunday                                                                                                             today,

larre berdeak,                                                              the fields are green,

etxe zuri teila gorriak,                                             the houses white and red-roofed,

jendarme autoa bidean                                          a police wagon on the road

Bayonne 17 panopetik.                                          beneath a “Bayonne 17” sign.

Jendea familia erretratuetan bezala              People as if in a family portrait

larritasuneraino                                                         almost embarrassed

perfumaturiko arima erakutsiz                         showing off their perfumed souls

doa mezara.                                                                   go to mass.

Inork ere ez du                                                            No one

(dena ohitura, dena errua,                                    (all is custom, all blame,

dena barkamena)                                                       all forgiveness)

oroimenaren                                                                 unties the knot

korapiloa deslotzen. Inork ere ez du              of memory. No one

koblakaririk behar…                                                 needs a bard…


Martin Larralde honelako                                     Martin Larralde died

egun batez hil zen                                                      one day like this

galeretan,                                                                        in the galleys,

begiak zabalik etzanda, agian, zerua,             laying down, his eyes wide open,

itsaso ziki bat dela esanez.                                   saying, perhaps, that heaven is a murky ocean.






How to create a bertso

Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, is, to date, the most detailed study in English of the specifically Basque phenomenon of bertsolaritza–“versifying” or improvised oral poetry that is sung in different formal and informal contexts–and how this art form is part of the global oral tradition of verse. One of chapters, “The Process of Creating Improvised Bertsoak,”  by one of the greatest bertsolariak (versifiers) of all time, Andoni Egaña, takes readers through the intimate mental process of creating bertsoak (verses) on the spot. Below is an abridged account of this chapter.


For those unfamiliar with bertsolaritza, a typical scenario involves a gaijartzaile (theme prompter) suggesting a topic to the bertsolari (versifier), who must then, within the space of less than a minute, come up with a verse on that topic that must obey certain rules; in other words, it must fit in with an established melody, meter, and rhyme (of which there are options in each case); and of course perform that verse, before an audience and without any musical accompaniment. The main strategy of the bertsolari is to provide a “sting in the tail,” a snappy ending that brings the whole bertso together. To this end, the bertsolari must actually think up this final line first, and construct the bertso toward that goal.


Aitor Mendiluze (2009). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In his chapter, Egaña cites the example of the bertsolari Aitor Mendiluze, who was given the topic:  “A good friend of yours has offered you some pills which will guarantee you a better performance on many fronts. You are hesitating about taking them.” Bear in mind that Aitor had no idea what the topic would be, and he was expected to improvise a bertso on that topic, within a matter of seconds, in accordance with the abovementioned structure.

On hearing the proposed theme, Aitor looked for an argument that reflected his own opinion about designer drugs. The first argument to enter his head was the following: “hobetuko naiz, baina neu izan gabe” (“I would be better, but I would not be me”). He then mentally fitted this idea and sentence around a meter of 10/8 syllables:

Hobetuko naiz, baina orduan             10                    I would be better,

ni izan gabe, ordea.                                    8 A.                 but I would not be me.

Half a second before starting to sing and in a moment of inspirational lucidity, Aitor remembered the word hobea (“better”). This would serve him well in maintaining the common thread of the argument in the final sentence. And then he started to sing, “Ene laguna …” (“My friend …”). From this moment on, all his discourse, until reaching the previously worked out end-part, would be pure improvisation:

Ene laguna- – – -10

– – – – – – – –              8 A

– – – – – – – – –         10

– – – – – – – –              8 A

– – – – – – – – — –     10

– – – – – – – – –            8 A

– – – – – – – –              8 A

– – – – – – – –              8 A

– – – – – – – – – –       10

– – – – –  hobea         8 A

hobetuko naiz baina orduan 10

ni izan gabe ordea.  8 A

Here, the part of the discourse constructed by Aitor before starting to sing approximates to the words that appear; while that part of the bertso constructed while he was actually singing corresponds to those sections marked with discontinuous lines.

Aitor knew what he was going to sing at the end. However, to arrive at that point he had to construct the greater part of the discourse in such a way that the final puntu made sense and had the maximum impact. In order to do this, he searched his mental storage-retrieval system or “daisy” of rhyming words (in this case, a group of words end-rhyming in –ea) to sing the following:

Ene laguna uste zintudan                    My friend, I believed you

jatorra eta noblea.                                   to be faithful and honest.

Zuk ere alde ilun triste bat                  Apparently you, too,

nonbait zeneukan gordea.                   have a hidden, sad side.

Egin didazun eskeintza ez da             What you’re offering me

 uste bezain dotorea.                              is not as nice as it might appear.

Emango dit umorea                                 It will improve my mood

ta abildade doblea.                                  and double my skills.

Hartu ezkero izan naiteke                   Once taken, I would be

naizena baino hobea.                              better than I am.

Hobetuko naiz, baina orduan             I would be better,

ni izan gabe, ordea.                                   but I would not be me.

As Egaña explains, the audience do not know where the bertso is going. They follow it, from exposition to resolution, as if listening to a story for the first time. Aitor had opted to talk directly to an imaginary friend of his who had suggested taking the tablets, but this friend had a dark side. And in the end, Aitor told him that in no uncertain terms.

It is worth underscoring the fact that most of the lines in this verse were improvised during the actual performance of the bertso, but at the same time, this improvisation took place within a specific structure established, as noted above, by a melody, meter, and rhyme, as well as the key moment of thinking up the final “sting in the tail” first.

To download a free copy of Voicing the Moment, click here.

For more information on bertsolaritza, check out the Association of the Friends of Bertsolaritza.

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