Category: Folk music (page 1 of 2)

Baiona renames street in honor of Estitxu Robles-Aranguiz

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.

What’s in a song? Izarren hautsa

Xabier Lete performing in 1971. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Izarren hautsa” (Stardust) first appeared as track 6 on singer-songwriter Xabier Lete’s 1976 LP Kantatzera noazu (I’m coming to sing for you) but most Basque people will (still hopefully) be familiar with this song today, which counts among the canonical works in the Basque songbook.  Lete (1944-2010) is widely regarded as more than just a singer-songwriter and remains among the most important of modern Basque poets, with a clearly poetic sensibility that few other Basque songwriters have managed to achieve. Indeed, he published poetry throughout his life and his final book of poems, Egunsentiaren esku izotzak (Frozen hands of the dawn, 2008) won the Basque Literature Award in 2009.

“One day stardust became life.” Image by Jean-Lucien Guillaume, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In “Izarren hautsa” Lete reflects on the meaning of life from the starting point that, in the final analysis, we are all just stardust.

Here’s the first and last couple of verses from this Basque starman’s epic “Izarren hautsa”:

Izarren hautsa egun batean bilakatu zen bizigai,

hauts hartatikan uste gabean noizpait ginaden gu ernai.

Eta horrela bizitzen gera sortuz ta sortuz gure aukera

atsedenik hartu gabe: lana eginaz goaz aurrera

kate horretan denok batera gogorki loturik gaude.

One day stardust became life,

from that dust, suddenly, at some point, we awoke.

And that’s how we carry on, relentlessly creating our own fate,

without rest: we keep on through work,

all firmly bound together in that chain.

Gu sortu ginen enbor beretik sortuko dira besteak,

burruka hortan iraungo duten zuhaitz-ardaska gazteak.

Beren aukeren jabe eraikiz ta erortzean berriro jaikiz

ibiltzen joanen direnak: gertakizunen indar ta argiz

gure ametsa arrazoi garbiz egiztatuko dutenak.

From the same trunk we were born, others will emerge,

young branches that will carry on in that struggle.

Becoming masters of their own fate and, having fallen, rising again,

those that will walk: through the power and brilliance of actions,

those that will transform our dreams through pure reason.

Eta ametsa bilakaturik egiaren antziduri

herri zahar batek bide berritik ekingo dio urduri;

guztian lana guztien esku jasoko dute sendo ta prestu,

beren bizitzen edargai; diru zakarrak bihotzik eztu,

lotuko dute gogor ta hestu haz ez dadin gizonen gain.

And transforming dreams into the form of truth,

an old people will, through new ways, face up to its doubts;

through everyone’s toil and support, they will receive, firm and upright,

the water of life; dirty money afflicts the heart,

they will control it, firmly and tightly, so it never overpowers them.

Lyrically, “Izarren hautsa” is an epic song, a tale of human life from its very beginnings to the creation of society, and Lete is profoundly concerned with the kind of society we as humans seek to create. He may, indeed, be interested in underscoring the flimsiness of civilization itself, recalling the warning in Shelley’s famous sonnet “Ozymandias” (1818) to anyone with pretensions to greatness, believing the myth that human power is timeless (And on the pedestal these words appear / ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away). Lete also composed the music for the song although he enlisted the help of fellow musician and singer Antton Valverde to improve his original composition.

Lete sometimes found that his songs enjoyed more success when sung by others, in particular through the distinctive voice of fellow Basque folk icon Mikel Laboa (1934-2008).  Check out Laboa’s rearranged version of the song here:

Check out a faithful interpretation of Laboa’s version by singer-songwriter Anari (with great audience participation) here:

For a contemporary reworking of Laboa’s version check out the version below by the group Ken Zazpi:

Finally, check out a different reinterpretation of the song by the great Ruper Ordorika that relies more on the original Lete version for its inspiration:

Your call. Which version do you prefer?

If you’re interested in contemporary Basque music, be sure to check out Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga’s Basque Songwriting: Pop, Rock, Folk, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.


Errobiko Festibala: Where the global meets the local

Errobiko Festibala image_large

Today, July 21, sees the kick-off of Errobiko Festibala, another great festival of sound and spectacle running through July 24 that, shame on us, we failed to include in our previous post on music festivals this summer in the Basque Country.  So by way of an apology let’s celebrate this great gathering, whose slogan “Izan, Erran, Sortu” (Be, Say, Create) we wholeheartedly endorse!

The festival is held in Itsasu, Lapurdi, and this year’s event includes the specially commissioned performance “Antigone Argia” (The Antigone Light), a blend, of music, dance, and rhythm based on Henry Bauchau’s novel Oedipus on the Road.

On the music side, there will be the Greek-inspired folk of Anatoli, formed by Angélique Ionatos and Katerina Fotinaki, some Basque blues and melodic rock courtesy of Joseba Irazoki and Beñat Achiary, the jazz sounds of two trios, one formed by Andy Emler, Claude Tchamitchian, and Eric Echampard, and the other by Sylvain Darrifourcq, Manuel Hermia, and Valentin Ceccaldi, and the headliner of this year’s festival, the singer-songwriter and poet Danyel Waro, from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion. 

The festival closes on Sunday with the singular opportunity to take part in a poetic hike to nearby Mount Mondarrain, a multi-sensory experience that will include improvised music along the way on the part of the artists taking part in the festival.




Basque Country chills and boogies to the sounds of jazz, blues, and folk this summer

In an earlier post we mentioned how rock, pop, and techno festivals are a big part of the Basque summer music scene. And this week sees the start of the jazz, blues, and folk festival season. Here’s a roundup of some of the main events taking place this summer.

Just a quick note, though, in case you are visiting the Basque Country and can’t make it to one of the events mentioned below: Many other smaller towns organize their own eclectic festivals, incorporating all kinds of music, dance, and street theater. These are usually free to the general public, such as, to cite one example, the wonderful Musikaire festival in Elorrio, Bizkaia.


Tolosandblues is a great start to the season, taking place June 30-July 3 in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, with a high-energy line-up including Canadian blues and jazz vocalist Shakura S’Aida as well as the Basque Country’s very own Elkano Browning Cream.


The first of the major jazz encounters, meanwhile, is the fortieth edition of the Getxo Jazz festival in Getxo, Bizkaia, from July 1-5, with headlining acts including Hermeto Pascoal, the Dee Dee Bridgewater Quintet, and Esperanza Spalding’s latest project, Emily’s D+Evolution.

The Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival, held in the capital of Araba, takes place July 12-16, and has been described by The Guardian newspaper as among the ten best jazz festivals in Europe. This year’s artists include the Taj Mahal Trio,  Pat Metheney and Ron Carter, Jamie Cullum, and the Joshua Redman Quartet.


From July 14-17, Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa will host the Hondarribia Blues Festival, featuring (among many others) Junior Watson, Henry Gray, and the Etta James Experience.

Closing up the main jazz festivals is Jazzaldia, in Donostia-San Senbastián, from July 20-25. This year’s line-up includes Diana Krall, Gloria Gaynor, and Ellis Marsalis Jr. as well as his son Branford Marsalis, who will feature alongside special guest Kurt Elling.

The last of the major festivals takes place once more in Getxo, with a celebration of folk traditions from both the Basque Country and beyond. The Getxo International Folk Festival will be held September 1-4, with this year’s final line-up still to be announced.

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.


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.

March 7, 1875: Composer Maurice Ravel born

On March 7, 1875, renowned Basque composer Maurive Ravel was born in Ziburu, Lapurdi. Regarded by many at the height of his fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, as the greatest living composer in France, he died in 1937.


Maurice Ravel in 1925. Photo in the Bibliothèque national de France, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ravel is discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (pp. 250-51), available free to download here:

      Maurice Ravel Delouart was born in Ziburu (Ciboure), Lapurdi, to a Swiss father and Basque mother (“Delouart” is the Gallicized version of the Basque “Eluarte” or “Deluarte”), and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most famous composers and the clearest exponent of Impressionist music. Classically trained in Paris, he blended classical forms with both Basque and Spanish folk elements–the Basque zortziko rhythm, in particular–to produce some of his most memorable work. (Perhaps the most recognizable of his compositions, by the end of the twentieth century, was Bolero.) He was not a folklorist in the proper sense, however.

While Ravel unquestionably represents modern French culture, he never forgot his Basque identity. This was increasingly the case after the death of his mother in 1917. H. H. Stuckenschmidt observes: “of the two heritages given to Maurice Ravel, the Swiss-Savoyard of his father, the Basque of his mother, the latter prevailed throughout his life. … Ravel was a Basque in all that directly affected his work and his person. He consciously cultivated his Basque reactions.”

Interestingly, as the Wikipedia entry notes here, Ravel declined not only the prestigious Légion d’honneur but all state honors from France, refusing to let his name go forward for election to the Institu de France. He did, however, accept foreign awards.

See a performance of Ravel’s Bolero here. The opening movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio is, as he noted himself, “Basque in coloring.” Listen to the trio here.

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


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.



Agur Oskorri!

On Sunday, November 22, Oskorri, one of the great Basque folk bands, played its final concert at the Arriaga Theater in Bilbao. The concert marked the climax of a farewell tour this fall that has taken in Getxo, Baiona, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Donostia-San Sebastián, Pamplona-Iruñea, and Maule. and coincided with the patron saint’s day of Saint Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.


Oskorri performing at the opening of the 2011 Donostia fiestas. Photo by Darío Garrido, under CC license, at Flickr

Oskorri has enjoyed a 45-year long career, releasing 25 albums and playing over 3,000 concerts. And among its repertoire of songs, this Bilbao group includes several classic popular singalong tunes for Basques.

Check out this 1991 performance of  “Euskal Herrian euskaraz” (In the Basque Country, in Basque), written by the champion bertsolari Xabier Amuriza; and “Gora ta gora beti” (Onward and upward), written by the great poet Gabriel Aresti. See also “Furra furra,” from the group’s 35th anniversary concert, and a video montage with accompanying lyrics for the song “Aita-semeak” (The father and son).

Eskerrik asko eta agur Oskorri!

On the Road to Santiago with Anne Etchegoyen

Yesterday, September 21, Basque singer Anne Etchegoyen set out from her home in Donapaleu (Saint-Palais) in Lower Navarre on an 814 kilometer (505 mile) walk to Santiago de Compostela (Galicia), on the so-called Camino de Santiago. There is a short introductory video explaining the idea behind the walk here (in French).


Anne Etchegoyen in concert, Morcenx, November 15, 2014. Photo by Cptcv, via Wikimedia Commons

In Etchegoyen’s own words, quoted in Sud Ouest,  “I need this introspection . . . I felt like leaving, making a break with everyday life, and recharging my batteries, meeting other people, and also crossing paths with artists.” She also hopes to release an album and a film documenting her experiences along the way. “I’m heading off into the unknown, this documentary will allow me to keep track of this experience.” And she is fueling the venture by means of a crowdfunding campaign, funds from which will also go to the Association Landes Madagascar, which promotes developing education, agriculture, and health care in Madagascar and the Projet Vénus, which educates women about screening for breast cancer. For more information on this crowdfunding campaign, click here.

Etchegoyen’s 2013 album Les Voix Basques (Basque voices), in conjunction with the Aizkoa Choir, sold over 60,000 copies in France alone, earning her a gold record there. For a great version of Xabier Lete’s “Xalbadorren heriotzean” (On Xalbador’s death), check out this clip here.

And you can follow her journey at her Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as checking out her photos on Instagram.


A Basque reworking of American folk classic of “Old Joe Clark”

The westward transatlantic flow of culture from the Basque Country to the United States was much on show at this year’s Jaialdi in Boise, where Old World Basque traditions took center-stage, but this cultural exchange works both ways. The Basque Country has also embraced major American cultural iconography, of course, from fast-food chains and rock n roll to Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the Guggenheim Museum (on the latter, see Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here).

Yet there are more humble, although equally fascinating, examples of this transatlantic cultural exchange.  Take the song “Old Joe Clark,” for example. This is a traditional American mountain ballad that, according to Roger McGuinn’s Folk Den, “originated in Irish Creek, on the Blue Ridge Parkway near South River Virginia in the early 1800s. Joe Clark had a daughter who jilted her lover. The young man is said to have written the song out of spite and jealousy.” Others, though, claim that Joe Clark may have been a moonshiner in the Virginia hills, a veteran of the War of 1812, or a banjo player from Clay County, Kentucky. It is, indeed, true that different lyrics have accompanied the song over time and it has been performed equally without any lyrics at all as an instrumental piece. Check out the versions by Cowan “Fiddlin'” Powers and his Family Band in 1924, Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, the Kingston Trio in 1962, and David “Stringbean” Akeman in the 1960s.


Mugaldekoak, from Bera, Navarre

So what has all this got to do with the Basque Country? Well, in 2012 the group Mugaldekoak from Bera, Navarre released a fine album titled Begiak lekuko (As the eyes are witness). The album is made up of cover versions in Basque of various songs in the form of an homage to writers and songwriters from diverse cultural backgrounds. As regards the North American repertoire, these songs include versions of “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” by Bob Dylan, “Bird on a Wireby Leonard Cohen, “Blues on a Ukulele” by Jumpin’ Jim Beloff, and a rollicking rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. Moreover, the album also pays tribute to other musical traditions such as English and Portuguese folk, the exuberant fusion of the ‘Marseilles sound’,  and Mexican rancheras. The album also includes renditions of poems translated into Basque by Wislawa Szymborska, Margarita Robleda, and Nazim Hikmet as well as by the group’s own Edu Zelaieta.

And another of the songs covered on the album is a sublime version of “Old Joe Clark,” rendered here as “Zaku arra eta ehunzangoa” (The dog and the centipede). Just watching the accompanying video, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea of the story in this Basque version. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty quirky take on this most traditional of American folk songs. So, in short, this is a group that has fully embraced the American folk tradition and expresses its love of that tradition in Basque — a good example of how culture is created, recreated, reinterpreted, and passed on.


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