Bertsolaritza (improvisation sung in Euskara) is a complex reality of a social and cultural phenomenon.
The current reality of bertsolaritza has nothing to do with the clichéd perspective of the dimensions of oral tradition. Far from being a folkloric or marginal activity, today bertsolaritza has become one of the most powerful expressions of culture in Euskara. It is enough to point out, by means of a demonstration, a pair of significant data. On the one hand, every year over a thousand performances by bertsolaris (those who improvise in front of an audience) are organised and held, within which there is a huge diversity of formats. On the other, in the last few national championships of bertsolaris, held every four years, over fifteen thousand people have attended the final. Moreover, there is a programme dedicated exclusively to bertsolaritza on Basque public television and bertsolaritza is being incorporated more and more into the school curriculum.
Following a detailed account of the current state of bertsolaritza, I analyse the reasons that, in my opinion, explain its social relevance. In first place, there is an overview of the history of bertsolaritza from its origins to the present, paying special attention to the social movement (bertsolaritza) that emerged in the 1980s and beyond, articulated around the Association of Bertsolaritza Enthusiasts.
Finally, I try to elucidate the place and status of bertsolaritza in the global panorama of oral improvisation throughout the world, and propose, however briefly, a new form of understanding the phenomenon of oral improvisation.
Writer, journalist and professor at the University of the Basque Country
This is the introduction to the “Bertsolaritza” book; you can find the complete book here:
Garzia, Joxerra, Bertsolaritza, El bertsolarismo, Bertsolaritza, Donostia - San Sebastián: Etxepare Basque Institute, 2012.