Re-issue of ‘Basque. Bertsolaritza, from the collection on Basque culture

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


The improvisational form of Basque verse singing known as bertsolaritza is a combination of emotion, improvisation, tradition and diversity. ‘Basque. Bertsolaritza’, written by Joxerra Garzia, explores this unique art form. This is the second in a twelve-part collection dedicated to Basque culture to be re-published by the Etxepare Basque Institute. First released eight years ago, this new edition has been updated. The complete series is slated for release this year.

The book covers various aspects of the bertsolaritza. Garzia starts out by explaining the current status of this form of improvisation in all its complexity. He then moves on to the history of bertsolaritza from its beginnings to the present, and comments on some of the leading figures in this oral tradition.

The book´s main objective is to help readers understand bertsolaritza. Garzia explains the figure of the bertsolari and the many types of bertso sessions. The most important competition is the National Bertsolari Championship, held every four years before thousands of spectators at the BEC (Bilbao Exhibition Centre) in Barakaldo, Bizkaia. Garzia groups the bertsolari performances into festivals and recitals, contests and competitions, free sessions, post-prandial performances, and new performance formats.

Garzia points out that what keeps the art form alive today is a combination of ‘bertso eskolak’ (school workshops), the formal education system, and printed, audiovisual and digital media.

The author then proceeds to break down the craft itself, as well as the subject matter, forms of improvisation and the bertsolari’s ability to move the audience.

From marginal to mainstream

After defining bertsolaritza and its place in society today, the author analyses the process of professionalization of the art form. Garzia lists eleven key names in the evolution of this form of oral improvisation. He begins by highlighting the work of a priest from Oiartzun, Manuel Lekuona, as the driving force behind the discipline.

He then mentions José Manuel Lujanbio, ´Txirrita´, from Hernani, one of the main reference-points of classic bertsolaritza in the first third of the twentieth century.

Garzia explains that in the 1970s two bertsolaris were the most prominent: Jon Lopategi and Jon Azpillaga. Over the following decades, the work of Xabier Amuriza and Andoni Egaña took front stage.

The next generation of bertsolaris included Maialen Lujanbio, Unai Iturriaga, Igor Elortza, Jesus Mari Irazu, Jon Maia, Aitor Mendiluze, Iratxe Ibarra, Arkaitz Estiballes, Onintza Enbeita, Etxahun Lekue, Xabier Silbeira, Estitxu Arozena, Oihane Perea, Fredi Paia, Jon Martin and Nerea Elustondo.

Garzia believes we are now in the era of ‘multi-polar’ bertsolaritza and that in addition to the names listed above is a new generation of gifted bertsolaris, who are not only winning competitions, but also taking part in other formats. Together with Maialen Lujanbio and Amets Arzallus, Garzia mentions Sustrai Colina, Beñat Gaztelumendi, Xabier Paya, Julio Soto, Agin Laburu, Miren Artetxe, Alaia Martin, as well as bertsolaris born in the last decade of the twentieth century, including Miren Amuriza, Jone Uria, Oihana Iguaran, Ane Labaka and Nerea Ibarzabal.

How it all started

The re-publication of these twelve books or monographs on Basque cultural expressions originated in 2012. It was then that the ´Basque Culture Collection´ was published in Basque, Spanish and English. The books focused on Basque language, literature, classical music, composition, dance, cuisine, visual arts, traditions and cinema.

The titles and authors of the books were as follows: ‘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.

The complete collection will be reprinted in 2021 in three bilingual formats: Basque and Spanish, Basque and English, and Basque and French. The topics will cover bertsolarismo, Basque traditions, gastronomy, composition, classical music, theatre, plastic and visual arts, dance, literature and film. Now available in digital format.

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