Basque song: a journey to diversity  

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2022-04-04

Diversity is one of the chief characteristics of Basque song. You can listen to almost any style of music in Basque, and in terms of technical quality, better albums are constantly being released. Music expert Jon Eskisabel Urtuzaga has reviewed the historical evolution of Basque song and compiled a selection of biographies in the book ‘Basque songwriting: pop, rock, folk´, which has been republished as part of the ´Basque Culture Collection´. The first edition of the collection, promoted by the Etxepare Basque Institute, was published eight years ago and the whole series is now being updated.

Every year some 200 albums are published in Basque in both physical and digital format, mainly CDs, although the LP is making a strong comeback. This information can be found on badok.eus, the Basque music portal. Basque folk, pop and rock songs have been used for almost everything: to give voice to lyrical, social and political demands, for entertainment, commitment, to preserve centuries-old traditions and to create new ones. As in other cultures, song has played an important role in the creation, modernisation and construction of Basque identity. It is no wonder that words (language) and music are powerful instruments.

In 1961, Mixel Labegerie recorded his songs on a magnetophon tape recorder, which Eskisabel defines as the beginning of modern Basque music. One of Labegerie’s novelties was to incorporate the Spanish guitar. Another major shift was to write protest songs denouncing the suppression of Basque identity. Thirdly, Labegerie wrote all his songs by himself, lyrics and melodies included. In 1965, Ez Dok Amairu followed the path forged by Labegerie, taking it one step further. More a movement than a group, Ez dok Amairu, named by the sculptor Jorge Oteiza, was a collective of singers, musicians, writers, artists and dancers. The performances brought together different artistic disciplines such as song, dance, txalaparta (percussion instrument) and poetry. Between 1965 and 1972, Ez dok Amairu refreshed the popular songbook while borrowing outside influences to create new songs. Among the artists in this collective were Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, Lourdes Iriondo, Xabier Lete, Joxean Artze and Jose Anjel Irigarai. The era of protest song, at the tail end of the dictatorship, have given us some of the most memorable songs in Basque music. Pantxoa eta Peio, Gorka Knorr, Imanol Larzabal, Gonzal Mendibil and Maite Idirin were the most prominent singer-songwriters of the period.

Then came Basque rock and folk, with bands taking the place of singer-songwriters. These groups made up the new popular Basque music of the late 20th century. The 1980s were the decade of radical rock. With the social turbulence of the 80s came a sentiment of nonconformity and anti-system, and the advent of punk, ska, reggae and hardcore bands. Most of the bands sang in Spanish. By that time, musician and researcher Juan Mari Beltran was already working to revive Basque folk music.

Much like the international music scene, the recording business in the Basque Country changed significantly with the onset of the 21st century. Self-production is the most relevant phenomenon of recent years. Far from homogeneous, today´s Basque music scene is diverse and comes in all shapes and sizes.

The biographies selected for this book include Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, Xabier Lete, Imanol, Niko Etxart, Errobi, Itoiz, Beñat Achiary, Ruper Ordorika, Hertzainak, Juan Mari Beltran, Negu Gorriak, Fermin Muguruza, Su Ta Gar, Berri Txarrak, Joseba Tapia, Kepa Junkera, Jabier Muguruza, Anari, Mikel Urdangarin, Glaukoma, Mursego, Izaro Andres, Gatibu, Zea Mays, Willis Drummond, Ken Zazpi, Bide Ertzean and Maddi Oihenart.

About Basque Culture

This project originated in 2012 when the Etxepare Basque Institute first published the twelve monographic books on Basque cultural expression that make up the collection. The idea behind the initiative was to provide up-to-date, engaging, accurate information that would be easily accessible for anyone interested in learning more about Basque creation.

The titles and authors of the books were: ‘A Brief History of the Basque Language’ by Ivan Igartua and Xabier Zabaltza; ‘Basque Literature in the Twentieth Century’ by Estibalitz Ezkerra; ‘Basque Classical Music’ by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza; ‘Basque Song: Pop, Rock, Folk’ by Jon Eskisabel; ‘A Collection of Prints’, dedicated to visual arts, written by Miren Jaio; ‘Basque Cinema’ by Joxean Fernandez; ‘Architecture and Design’ by Peio Aguirre; ‘Basque Dance’ by Oier Araolaza; ‘Bertsolarismo’ by Joxerra Garzia; ‘Traditions’ by Joseba Zulaika; and ‘On Basque Cuisine’ by Hasier Etxeberria.

Most of the books in the collection are being republished in 2021 and 2022 in three bilingual formats: Basque and Spanish, Basque and English, and Basque and French. All of them are available free of charge in digital format.

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