Tag: Basque dialects

June 11, 1967: Xalbador jeered at national bertsolaritza championship in Donostia

On June 11, 1967, one of the most controversial incidents to ever take place in the history of berstolaritza–Basque oral improvised verse–occurred during the national championship in the main fronton or pelota court of Donostia-San Sebastián: on hearing that the bertsolari (improviser) Xalbador had been selected by the judges over a more popular opponent, Joxe Migel Iztueta aka Lazkao Txiki, to advance to the head-to-head final to compete against Uztapide, a section of the audience began to jeer. The reason for this? He was from Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country in France, and they did not understand his dialect of Basque so well.

Xalbador (1920-1976)

Born in 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Fernando Aire, aka Xalbador, was arguably the most renowned bertsolari in modern times from Iparralde. He began to perform in public after World War II, and by the 1960s was regarded, together with Manuel Olaizola, aka Uztapide, as one of the leading exponents of the art form. However, Xalbador stood out from most of his contemporaries for a number of reasons: first and foremost, he used his natal dialect of Basque from Lower Navarre; besides that, though, he also incorporated melodies that many people in Hegoalde (the Southern Basque Country) were unfamiliar with; and finally, he also stood apart from many of his rival bertsolaris for the sheer lyrical quality of his verses as well as his ability to draw profound reflections from seemingly inconsequential things. Indeed, his poetic sensibility was such that, following his death in 1976, the famous Basque singer-songwriter Xabier Lete dedicated a song to him, “Xalbadorren heriotzean” (On Xalbador’s death), which subsequently became one of the most famous and repeated Basque songs, still sung to this day. And the 1989 national champion bertsolari, Jon Lopategi, also dedicated his winning verse to Xalbador. That all said, he never won a major championship, finishing fourth in 1960, third in 1962 and 1965, and, ultimately, second in 1967.

In the infamous 1967 championship, as mentioned, some members of the audience jeered on hearing the judges’ decision to advance Xalbador to the final head-to-head contest against Uztapide (it should be noted that it remains unclear whether they were jeering the bertsolari or the judges, or both). As per the rules of the competition, Xalbador was obliged to step up to the microphone and compose a verse in response to the decision. As he began his strophe, he found it difficult to make his voice heard, but, gradually, the power and beauty of his words turned the audience around. He sung:

Anai-arrebok, ez, otoi, pentsa
neu’re gustora nagonik,
poz gehiago izango nuen
albotik beha egonik.

Brothers and sisters, do not think
that I am happy;
how much better would I feel
looking on from some corner.

Zuek ezpazerate kontentu
errua ez daukat ez nik…

If you are not happy
it is not my fault…

At this point, the jeers subsided and, incredibly, the audience began to cheer. Xalbador, in turn, his voice barely able to continue with emotion, repeated and concluded the verse:

Zuek ezpazerate kontentu
errua ez daukat ez nik,
txistuak jo dituzute bainan
maite zaituztet orainik.

If you are not happy
it is not my fault:
in spite of your whistles
I still love you.

By the end of the verse the audience had risen to its feet and was applauding the bertsolari from Urepele. The story remains one of the great moving moments in the history of berstolaritza and in Basque culture more generally. This moment was, remarkably, captured on film:

To learn more about bertsolaritza, check out Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.

Another great resource is Bertsolaritza, El bertsolarismo, Bertsolaritza by Joxerra Garzia, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute, free to download here.

On the rich Basque dialects, see The Dialects of Basque by Koldo Zuazo.

 

January 9, 1844: Opera singer Julián Gayarre born

Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the great Basque tenor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 9, 1844 Sebastián Julián Gayarre Garjón, known more popularly as just Julián Gayarre, was born into a humble family in Erronkari (Roncal), the principal nucleus of the remote valley of the same name in the far northeast of Navarre. From these humble beginnings he would go on to a have a successful career as an opera singer, gaining international renown as the greatest Italianate tenor of his generation and one of the most famous tenors of all time in the history of opera.

Leaving school at 13 he was immediately put to work as a shepherd, one of the principal means of earning a living in his natal Pyrenean surroundings. A couple of year’s later his father found him work in a notions store in Pamplona-Iruñea. It was in the capital city of Navarre that he first came across professional musicians, and he was even fired from his job for leaving the store one day to follow a band parading in the street outside. He then moved back to his native Erronkari Valley to work in a blacksmith shop in Irunberri (Urunberri in the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque,  Lumbier in Spanish). Sticking with the blacksmith trade he found work once more in Pamplona-Iruñea, where he relocated in 1863. Hearing him singing one day, a coworker encouraged him to apply to join the newly founded Orfeón Pamplonés, the city choir, a decision that changed his life.

His rise to fame was in many ways meteoric. Making an immediate impact on the city’s musical elite with the beautiful natural timbre of his voice, a scholarship was arranged to send him to Madrid Royal Conservatory and train properly for a career in professional music. He finished his studies in Madrid in 1868 and was awarded a grant by the Provincial Council of Navarre to continue studying his craft in Milan. Shortly after beginning his studies in Milan, he made his operatic debut in 1869 and thrilled critics with both his voice and commanding stage presence. As a result of his performances throughout Italy in the 1870s he was soon in demand in the great opera capitals of Europe, Paris and London, traveling widely across the continent as a whole as well as to Brazil and Argentina, although his home stage remained the legendary La Scala opera house in Milan.

Gayarre on his debut performance at La Scala, Milan, in 1876. Image from Mundo Gráfico 38 (July 17, 1912), page 5. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gayarre continued to enthrall audiences across Europe with his wide repertoire, ranging from bel canto works to Wagner’s earlier music-dramas. In the words of Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, in his Basque Classical Music (free to download here): “He was noted for his intense recitals, with a voice capable of incredible range in colour and intensity, all in a clarity of textual performance and perfect diction.” Between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s he consolidated his reputation as the greatest tenor of the age., but thereafter he began to suffer a serious respiratory illness that caused his voice to deteriorate. At what would turn out to be his final performance, at the Royal Theater in Madrid on December 8, 1889, he broke down mid-performance, retiring from the stage claiming he could sing no more. Just a few weeks later, on January 2, 1890, he died in Madrid. His body was thereafter taken back to his beloved Erronkari, to be buried near the very house in which he was born.

Today the principal theater in Pamplona-Iruñea, the Gayarre Theater, bears his name, as does a prestigious biennial international competition in the city, the Julián Gayarre Singing Competition. Moreover, the house where he was born is now the Julián Gayarre Museum-House, and well worth a visit to this beautiful part of Navarre.

Just an additional point of interest to the short but intense life of Julián Gayarre, it is worth underscoring the fact that his first language was Basque, and specifically the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque (a dialect that was sadly lost in the twentieth century but for which efforts are being made to revive). Gayarre is reputed to have often closed his solo performances, whether in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, or any of the numerous Italian cities he toured in, with a performance of the great Basque anthem “Gernikako arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), on which see previous post here and here. Interestingly, too, from his global travels he would write home to his family in Basque, in the Eastern Navarrese dialect, and his letters are preserved to this day as an eloquent testimony to this beautiful, but lost, dialect. The following (somewhat rakish in places) letter, written in 1884, is one such example:

Barcelona 19 Diciembre 1884

        Ene tia Juana maitia

        Eugenia sin da [etorri da] arro[nt] ongui. Quemen gaude anisco ongui guciac eta ori [berori] nola dago?

        Nain din [nahi dun] sin [rin, jin, etorri] [xin]cona [honat, hona] ichasoaren ecustra? Anisco andia da, tia Juana.

        Nai badu nic dud anisco deiru orentaco vidagearen pagateco quemengo ostatiaren pagateco. Eztu eguiten quemen ozic batrere, chaten [xaten, jaten] dugu quemen anisco ongui eta güero artan [artzen, hartzen] dugu iror nescache postretaco eta gazte eta pollit.

        Ha cer vizia! tia Juana maitia, amar urte chiquiago bagunu…

        Gorainzi guzientaco eta piyco bat nescachi pollit erroncarico guziat.

Julian.

In English:

Barcelona, December 19, 1884

My dear aunt Juana,

Eugenia arrived safely. We’re all well here, and you?

Would you like to come and see the sea? It’s enormous, aunt Juana.

If you like, I have enough money to pay for your journey and pay for your hotel here. It’s not cold at all here, we eat very well and three pretty young girls for dessert.

Heavens, what a life!  Dear aunt Juana, if we were ten years younger…

Regards to everyone and a pinch for all the pretty Erronkari girls.

Julian

For more information check out the foundation in his name here.

CBS author Koldo Zuazo interviewed in Berria

CBS author Koldo Zuazo was interviewed in Berria on January 5 about the current state of Basque dialect use. While the interview starts off on a positive note, with Zuazo noting that if a language is changing, it’s a sign that it’s alive and kicking, he also shows some preoccupation for the gradual loss of Basque dialect use. This is one of the reasons he has set up a new website, www.euskalkiak.eus, as a means of recording and celebrating the richness of the Basque language through its dialects. As Zuazo argues, if it loses its dialects, then ultimately it is Basque that loses.

Dialects_of_Basque_cover_1024x1024

 

This is not to suggest that Euskara Batua, Unified or Standard Basque, is not important as a means of common expression among Basque-speakers, but Zuazo calls for a more balanced approach to promoting Basque in general, with time and space given over to transmitting Basque dialects as well.

Read the full interview (in Basque) here.

See Koldo Zuazo’s informative and accessible introduction to Basque dialect variety, The Dialects of Basque.  Here, Zuazo outlines how Basque dialects differ from one another, but also contends that mutual comprehension is not as difficult as has previously been assumed. He also offers a new classification scheme for the different Basque dialects, categorizing them as Zuberoan, Western, Navarrese, Central, and Navarrese-Lapurdian, while also offering some observations on Basque-language use in the Americas.

And, as a great companion to this work on Basque dialects, check out Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque, which charts the remarkable story of how a standard form of Basque was envisaged, hotly debated, eventually agreed on, implemented, and accepted by Basque society as a whole, all within the space of a generation.

On the same subject, see also The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country and Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture (the latter also available free to download here).

 

Ahotsak: A Basque Oral Archive

Ahotsak is an initiative of the Badihardugu Association to collect and diffuse the Basque oral heritage and the Basque dialects. It is an archive of transcribed, recorded, and/or filmed interviews with Basque seniors about the lives and experiences.

Ahotsak hizlariak

Some of the people interviewed, from Ahotsak.eus

The archive serves as a testimony to both the rich variety of dialects in the Basque language, and as a historical record of life and customs in the Basque Country during the early and mid-twentieth century.

To read, listen to, and/or watch the archived interviews, at the top of the Ahotsak homepage click on Grabazioak (Recordings). This will give you four options: Herriak (Towns), Gaiak (Subjects), Priektuak (Projects), and Hizlariak (Speakers).

For example, clicking on Herriak,  you will see a list of towns in the Basque Country in which interviews were recorded with people. The icons on the far right of the table indicate whether the interviews are available in video, audio, or transcription format. Do you have any family ties with the Basque Country? If so, why not see if your family’s home town is listed? You may even see some relatives or family acquaintances!

By clicking on Euskalkiak (Basque dialects) at the top of the homepage, you can access the interviews according to the dialect in question. The Euskalkiak page also includes maps that geographically locate these dialects.

640px-Euskalkiak_gaur

The Current Panorama of basque Dialects, according to Koldo Zuazo. “Euskalkiak gaur” from the Azkue Fundazioa

To see some examples, check out the interviews with people from Lekeitio (Bizkaia), Baztan (Navarre), or  Urepele (Lower Navarre).

If you’re interested in Basque dialects, check out Koldo Zuazo’s The Dialects of Basque, an excellent general introduction to dialectical variation in the Basque language.