The music of the Ryukyu Islands and the Basque Country may have little in common at first glance but the themes and concerns of the people who produce it have many similarities. Not least are an independent spirit and pride in local traditions, music and culture. They have also the shared, sometimes uncomfortable, experience of being smaller groups subsumed within much larger nations. The Basques also have a language of their own which is apparently unrelated to any other and is thought to be the oldest in Europe.
For almost twenty years I have been fascinated by the music of this land known to its people as Euskal Herria and located in northern Spain and south-western France. This interest began when I requested an album for review from Anjel Valdes the record producer and coordinator for Elkar Records which is the leading company for Basque music. Since that time Anjel and I have kept up a long-running email correspondence and he has regularly sent me important album releases. Finally after all these years I was able to meet him in person when I travelled to the Spanish Basque Country last week.
The main Elkar offices in Donostia-San Sebastian
Anjel Valdes shows me around the Elkar studio
Elkar is both a record company and a book publisher with many shops selling CDs and books – a large number of them in Euskara (the Basque language). Thanks to Anjel I was given a tour of the Elkar offices and recording studio in Donostia-San Sebastian and was also introduced to two of the most important Basque singers and composers. First I met the near legendary Benito Lertxundi and sat with him outside a café in the small town of Orio. The next day I met another important musician Ruper Ordorika and had lunch with him in his hometown Vitoria-Gasteiz in the inland region of Alava.
Meeting the great Basque singer Benito Lertxundi
One of the Elkar shops in Bilbao
With Ruper Ordorika in Vitoria-Gasteiz
I was also introduced to Aizpea Goenaga who is the Director of the Etxepare Basque Institute, and saw a television programme being recorded at EITB (Euskal Irrati Telebista). Anjel’s remarkable friendliness and hospitality even extended to taking us on tours of the coastal and mountain areas and a trip to his home of Durango.
The coast at Donostia-San Sebastian
No trip to Bilbao would be complete without a visit to the Guggenheim Museum
In the town of Durango with Elkar’s Anjel Valdes
I have already introduced Anjel to the music of Shoukichi Kina and Yasukatsu Oshima. Now it just remains to entice him to Okinawa and to further cement relations between the two cultures.