Tag: txoria txori

What’s in a song? Txoria txori

“Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird) is a key song in the Basque musical canon. With lyrics by Joxean Artze and music by Mikel Laboa, it first appeared on Laboa’s seminal double album Bat hiru (One three) in 1974. To listen to this version, click here, with accompanying lyrics (and my translation into English) below.

Hegoak ebaki banizkion                    If I had clipped its wings
neria izango zen,                                    it would have been mine,
ez zuen alde egingo.                             it would never have flown away.
Hegoak ebaki banizkion                    If I had clipped its wings
neria izango zen,                                    it would have been mine,
ez zuen alde egingo.                             it would never have flown away.

Baina honela                                            But this way
ez zen gehiago txoria izango.         it would no longer have been a bird.
Baina honela                                            But this way
ez zen gehiago txoria izango.         it would no longer have been a bird.

Eta nik txoria nuen maite.                And I loved that bird.
Eta nik txoria nuen maite.                And I loved that bird.

La la la ra la…                                            La la la ra la…

640px-European_Robin_(erithacus_rubecula)_singing

European Robin (erithacus rubecula) singing, Cumnor Hill, Oxford, UK. Photo by Charlesjsharp,  own work from Sharp Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

The song sounds like a 60s-era protest song and, sure enough, it was actually written in 1968. So the story goes, the words came to Artze during dinner one night in a Donostia restaurant and he hurriedly wrote them down on a napkin in the form of a poem. Artze had in mind the severe restrictions on freedom maintained by the Franco regime in Spain at the time. Marisol Bastida, Laboa’s wife, noticed Artze doing this, read the poem, liked it, and told her husband he should read it too. He liked it as well, took the napkin home with him that night, and composed the music there and then. The rest, as they say, is history.

Among many cover versions of the song, that of Joan Baez here on her live album Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring, recorded in Bilbao in 1988, is perhaps the most famous. But there are others, such as that of Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, the Mexican-infused version by Puro Relajo from Nafarroa, and that of Basque chanteuse Anne Etchegoyen, in collaboration with the Aizkoa male-voice choir (not to mention a punk and hard rock version by Etsaiak and Flitter respectively). The song is even sung by fans of soccer’s Athletic Bilbao and rugby’s Aviron Bayonnais (at approx. 0m 37s and 1m 55s). In short, it has become a Basque anthem.

And Laboa’s own orchestral reworking of the tune, with the collaboration of the Orfeón Donostiarra and the Basque Youth Orchestra,  is a fitting testament to one of the most emblematic of all Basque songs.

“Txoria txori” is cited in Zelestina Urza in Outer Space, the new novel by David Romtvedt, the Pushcart Prize-award winning author of Flower Whose Name I Do Not Know and Wyoming poet laureate.

Alan Lomax’s recordings of traditional Basque music and bertsos

Alan Lomax (1915-2002) was one of the great American collectors of twentieth-century folk music. A scholar, writer, and activist, he was one of the main architects behind the folk revivals of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, blazing the trail for the likes of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez (who of course sings a memorable version of the traditional Basque song Txoria txori), and many others.

Alan Lomax in front of American Patchwork video, c. 1984. From the Cultural Equity website.

Together with his father, the folklorist and collector, John A. Lomax, he also recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Today, the Lomax Family Collections are housed at the American Folklife Center. To get some idea of the range of his activity, see the Alan Lomax Archive here.

In 1952-53, Lomax spent some time in the Basque Country, where he recorded many traditional songs as well as bertsos (improvised oral poems). The Association for Cultural Equity was founded by Lomax to explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions with humanistic commitment and scientific engagement, and it generously posts Lomax’s Basque recordings here.

As well as making up a historical archive of incalculable value, these recordings serve to capture a time and place in Basque history in which public cultural expression in the Basque language was strictly limited by the Franco dictatorship.

Lomax’s Basque recordings include work songs (sung by both women and men), religious songs, sea shanties, and bertsos, including  some by two of the great bertsolaris of their day, Basarri (Inazio Eizmendi) and Uztapide (Manuel Olaizola),

Basarri and Uztapide. Photo by Indalezio Ojanguren. Image at the Department of Culture and Euskara, Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa

 

This is a truly invaluable resource for anyone interested in Basque culture in general or, more specifically, traditional Basque music and bertsolaritza. It is a fitting tribute to the life and work of Alan Lomax, and the Association for Cultural Equity is to be applauded for its efforts in posting these recordings online.

If you’re interested in these topics, the CBS publishes Alejandro Aldekoa: Master of Pipe and Tabor Music in the Basque Country, by Sabin Bikandi. Ostensibly a biography of one of the most renowned Basque taborers and dance masters, this work actually involves a wider description and discussion of the relationship between music and dance in the Basque tradition. What’s more, it is accompanied by a DVD that includes, among many other things, historic footage of Basque ritual dances in the 1920s, archive images of traditional Basque instrument makers and performers, and recordings of two different types of bertso performances (in both a formal championship and a less formal “bertso dinner” setting).

On bertsolaritza, more specifically, although the work that also includes a chapter on the musical  foundations of the genre, see Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here.