Tag: Folk music

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

March 27, 1937: Singer Lourdes Iriondo born

Lourdes Iriondo (1937-2005).

Lourdes Iriondo Mujika was born in Donostia on March 27, 1937. She rose to prominence in the 1960s as part of the New Basque Folk movement and was widely considered the principal female voice of Basque popular music in the 1960s and 1970s.

The second of eleven sisters and brothers, at age seven she moved with her family from Donostia to nearby Urnieta, Gipuzkoa. She went to Catholic school, first in Urnieta and later in Donostia, where she was taught by French nuns and schooled in French. From an early age she had a calling to help the poor and consequently enrolled in a secular missionary school in Vitoria-Gasteiz. She could not complete her studies, however, because barely a year later she was diagnosed with a heart defect that would require her to be especially vigilant about her health. She was ordered to undertale a lengthy period of rest at home, and she made the most of this time by studying another of her passions: music.

She had grown up in a family environment in which music played an important role, with family gatherings invariably involving singing traditional Basque songs. She was a member of the Urnieta txistulari (Basque pipe and tabor player) group and had studied singing and opera at a Donostia music school. In 1964 she took up the guitar, by which time she had already started to compose songs, many of them infused with religious themes. That same year, 1964, she performed for the first time in public in a fundraising concert for the ikastola or Basque-language school of nearby Andoain. Her performance was a hit with the audience and she was invited to perform again at several concerts through 1964 and 1965. Word spread of her talent and an important local radio station, Herri Irratia, recorded her performing and began broadcasting the recordings. She was a new voice in many ways, not just because she was a woman but because she sang in Basque with the single accompaniment of a classical guitar. This was completely unheard of in the Basque Country at the time and people responded enthusiastically.

It was in 1965, too, that the artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu was established. This was intended as an all-embracing group of artists in different fields, with a special emphasis on music. It was a vanguard collective that sought to reinvigorate the Basque language and culture particularly through the medium of song, and followed in many ways the folk revival in the United States and elsewhere linked to themes of protest at the state of society at the time (in the Basque context, this obviously meant protest, where possible, against the Franco dictatorship). Iriondo was one of the founding members of Ez Dok Amairu yet unlike most of the others–which included Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, and her future husband Xabier Lete–she was already widely known in the Basque cultural world at that time. Within this context, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, her songwriting became more overtly political in nature with titles like   “Askatasuna zertarako” (Why freedom?), “Nire erria” (My homeland), and, most popular of all, “Ez gaude konforme” (We don’t agree).

Basque musicians in the show “Zazpiribai” (1972). Standing (L to R): Iñaki Urtizberea , Xabier Lete, Patxika Erramuzpe, Peio Ospital, Pantxoa Carrere, and Manex Pagola. Seated (L to R): Ugutz Robles-Aranguiz, Lourdes Iriondo, and Benito Lertxundi. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She married Xabier Lete in 1968 and the couple released several mini LPs together in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, Iriondo took up writing children’s literature, publishing several Basque-language books for children through the 1970s and early 1980s.  She also recorded traditional Basque songs and children’s songs but performed for the last time in 1978. She was physically and mentally exhausted by the demands of performing live, with her health suffering, and increasingly preoccupied by politically charged internal divisions within the Basque cultural world.  Thereafter, she dedicated herself to working for the ikastola movement and parish duties in Urnieta, including organizing children’s theater groups.

She died, aged 68, in December 2005. There is a park and a sculpture in her honor in her home town of Urnieta.

 

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.

 

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

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.

getxo_jazz_2016_cartel_560

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.

hondarribia-cartel-2016

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.

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

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!