Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti, the first woman to win the national bertsolari championship in 2009, was born in Hernani, Gipuzkoa, on November 26, 1976.
Lujanbio first took an interest in bertsolaritza (improvised oral verse) at her ikastola (Basque-medium high school), and began attending an extracurricular bertso eskola, a school dedicated specifically to imparting the art. By the age of fifteen she was competing in junior competitions. She then went on to study Fine Arts at the University of the Basque Country and qualified for her first national championship in 1997. In 2001 she was runner-up at the same championship and finished fourth at the subsequent context in 2005.
In 2009, though, she finally achieved the most prestigious award for a bertsolari, winning the coveted champion’s txapela (beret) in front of 14,500 spectators at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre. Her agurra (the farewell verse improvised by the champion bertsolari) remains one of the most memorable in the history of the competition.
Lujanbio also went on to teach bertsolaritza and shares her profession as a bertsolari with various roles in the world of artistic and literary creation: she has written song lyrics for Basque musicians like Maixa eta Ixiar, Alaitz eta Maider, Anje Duhalde, Mikel Errazkin, Mikel Markez, and the group Oskorri. She has also written articles for the Basque press and helped out with coordinating the bertsolaritza association. And in 2010 she published Hau cuaderno bat zen (This was a notebook), a compilation of the notes she took while taking a graduate studies in the transmission of Basque culture.
If you’re in the West, Lujanbio will perform at next year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, along with other bertsolaris, both from the Basque Country and from the West. It’s sure to be a fun event!