Tag: Bertsos

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):

 

“Bertshow,” the Gipuzkoan reconquest of the United States

Get prepared euskaldunak, for an eventful Summer 2015! Incredibly cool events are taking shape to save us from the summer heat. The Atlantic Ocean is going to become the bridge between the Basque Country and the United States. The Basque “exodus” is about to start… Are you ready?

“Bertshow,” the Gipuzkoan reconquest of the United States, consists of a nine-member delegation that will be performing in American Basque Centers during July and August.  This will be a very interesting transcultural experience based on the Basque oral tradition of Bertsos.

The main goal of this project is to bring Basque culture to the diaspora. The project consists of:  music, bertsolaritza, and Basque knowledge transmission. The group is going to speak about topics that should be of great interest to the Basque diaspora.

Bertshow will be a truly unique two-part performance aimed at building a cross-cultural bridge.  The first part will be a review of Basque music, the famous songs that are part of the Basque history, incorporating a performance made up of both singing and speech. The second part, meanwhile, will consist of the traditional bertso-saio musikatua (bertsos set to music) combined with familiar melodies to an American audience from songs such as “Let it Be,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and others in order to create a unique transcultural experience.

After its trip to the American Wild West, the group will compile their experiences in order to tour the Basque Country and share their new found perspective of the Basque diaspora.

They are going to be here, in Reno,  between the August 3 and 6.  

Basic concepts to understand the goals of this team.

1. Bertsoalaritza.

National sport of words.

2. Musika

Music is a universal language able to demolish the boundaries between cultures. A feature connected with Basque identity is knowledge of oral popular songs.  They want to get to know the Basque heritage in the United States. Combining Basque classical music with its newer counterparts.

  • Maite ditut maite (Mikel Laboa)
  • Eperra (Herrikoia -Zuberoa-)
  • Maiteak galde egin zautan (Imanol Larzabal)
  • Nire herriko neskatxa maite (Benito Lertxundi)
  • Martin larralde (Ruper Ordorika)
  • Lau teilatu (Itoiz)
  • Marinelaren zai (Sorotan Bele)
  • Mendigoxaliarena (Ken 7 –Lauaxeta-)
  • Betazalak erauztean (Katamalo)
  • Txoria txori (Mikel Laboa)
  • Xalbadorren heriotzean (Xabier Lete)
  • Izarren hautsa (Mikel Laboa)

3. Talks

The talks are going to be in Basque, with a simultaneous translation to English.  The talk is going to be divided into three topics: culture (what bertsolaritza is, the history of bertsolaritza from Profazadora’s until Maialen Lujanbio, and the tools needed  to create a bertso); the Basque language (The transmission of Basque and bertsolaritza in diglosic areas and the state of the Basque language over the course of the last two centuries); and finally music (the different melodies used in bertsos, a little history about Basque music).

The Bertsolaris:

Jon Martin

Inigo Mantzisidor ‘Mantxi’

Arkaitz Oiartzabal ‘Xamoa’

Jokin Labayen

Manex Mujika

Trasnlator:

Haritz Casabal

Musicians:

Ixak Arruti

Urtzi Olaziregi

Eneko Sierra

Functions:

Boise, Reno, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston.

Anyone interested in bertsolaritza should check out Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This is a collection of essays on both bertsolaritza and other oral traditions from all over the world. These articles include chapters on how bertsos are created, bertsolaris in the American West, and the musical foundations of bertsolaritza. The book is available free to download here.