Before the advent of the modern recording industry live music reigned in the popular imagination of people in the Basque Country. One of the great “stars” of this age was Felisa Arribalzaga, born in Muxika, Bizkaia, on February 3, 1922. To say that she was just a panderojole (Basque tambourine player) is to do her a tremendous disservice because she was also an accomplished dancer, singer, and irrintzilari (a performer of the irrintzi, the Basque yell).
Although born in Muxika, on marrying her husband, Eduardo Egiarte, she moved to his home town of Amorebieta-Etxano (also known as Zornotza). The couple had met as teenagers on Mount Bizkargi, between Muxika and Amorebieta, while they were tending their respective flocks of sheep. Egiarte was an accordion player and the couple began performing in Bizkaia under the name the Zornotzako trikitilariak (Zornotza two-row diatonic accordionists). During the Franco years, they continued to perform their Basque music, often clandestinely as it was banned by the regime.
Arribalzaga died in her adopted home town on June 30, 2015.
She remains a great example of how music and dance in traditional Basque culture, according to CBS author Sabin Bikandi, form in many ways a single entity, given that it is impossible to truly understand one without the other. See Sabin Bikandi, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country.
For anyone interested in practicing their Western Basque dialect, check out the following 1997 radio interview (with Spanish subtitles) with Egiarte and Arribalzaga:
The November 2015 Akademia Music Award for best album in the dance/electronica category has gone to Gose (Hunger), a three-piece trikitixa/techno/punk group from Arrasate-Mondragón, Gipuzkoa, with Ines Osinaga on vocals and trikitixa (the two-row diatonic accordion, also spelled trikitia or trikitrixa), Iñaki Bengoa on percussion and programming, and Osoron on guitar and bass. The award is for the album, Gose IIIII, and in the words of Akademia,”Demonstrating uncommon compositional skill and versatility, Gose has created an impressive collection of diverse and original dance electronica grooves.”
Gose in action. Photo by Saioa Cabañas, at Flickr.
Since its formation in 2004, Gose has been pushing the boundaries of the traditional trikitixa sound in Basque music. The group also incorporates elements of electro-jazz, Argentinian tango, and Brazilian percussion into its repertoire and is a firm favorite on the live Basque music scene with its highly charged performances. Check out videos by the band for the songs “Naizena izateko” (To be who I am) and “Hey Boy!!”
Recently I was invited out to the Mendeguia sheep camp for a picnic with some of the visiting USAC scholars. The Mendeguia sheep camp is the Sierra Nevada, north of Truckee, California. Although the Mendeguia’s retired many years ago, they continue to consider this a very special home away from home and it was treat to spend time there with them.
As is often the case at a Basque get together, an instrument appeared (in this case a trikitixa), and everyone enjoyed the songs, especially the daughter of one of the USAC visiting scholars, who decided to accompany the accordionist with an improvised txalaparta!
The old dining house, once the heart of the sheep camp, falling into disrepair.
The bread oven. Wednesday was bread baking day, they used 50 lbs of flour at a time. The following day the camptender would deliver fresh bread to the bands spread through the summer range.
Abel Mendeguia, originally from Lesaka, making his world-famous sheep camp fried potatoes to the absolute delight of the crowd.
Here is another video, of the txalaparta, that is included as an extra on the accompanying DVD to our great ethnomusicography, Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Dance Music in the Basque Country. The video originally aired on Basque television in the 1980s.