Elkar and the music of the Basques

Last week I received an album by the Basque musician and composer Pello Ramirez. He is an accordion player and cellist and the new album, Eskuz lurrari, is an all-instrumental work which has the feel of a film soundtrack. It was the latest in a long list of album releases sent to me by Anjel Valdes, a record producer and music coordinator at the Elkar label based in Donostia-San Sebastian. Anjel has done great work over the years in recording and promoting a wide range of music from the Basque region of northern Spain and south-west France. The Basques have a long history of music-making and an ancient language unique to them which is unrelated to any other in Europe. It is spoken by around one million people. Like the Uchinaguchi language of the Ryukyu Islands, it is also widely used in the people’s songs and the Basques are rightly proud of their music and culture.

The first Basque music I listened to was in the late 1990s when I heard a wonderful track by the trikitixa band Maixa ta Ixia  from their debut album Uhinez uhin and was compelled to find out more. Trikitixa is a glorious accordion and tambourine driven mix of pop-folk and this led to my contacting Anjel Valdes who sent me several other releases for review. These included one by the excellent trikitixa duo Alaitz eta Maider who were later able to do a short tour of Japan, playing dates in Tokyo and Osaka. Inevitably, I finally travelled to Spain to meet up again with Alaitz and Maider and other musicians on their home ground in the Basque Country. It is a great shame that the brilliant music made by some of these musicians is not always economically viable and they often struggle to make a living. Meanwhile much of the dross put out by the major record companies enables some lesser talents to live like royalty. Alaitz eta Maider made three albums but have since split up.

Alaitz eta Maider’s 2nd album Inshala

Apart from the thrilling and energetic trikitixa style there are many other kinds of Basque music. The accordionist Kepa Junkera has achieved the highest profile outside his own country and is a regular at World Music festivals across Europe. A particular favourite of mine is Benito Lertxundi who has been singing and composing songs since the 1970s and has made many albums. His entire back catalogue was re-released by Elkar a few years ago. If there is such a thing as a Basque Leonard Cohen then it’s Lertxundi and he deserves to be much more widely known outside his native land. Others I’ve regularly listened to are the veteran band Oskorri, the duo Tapia eta Leturia, singer-songwriter Mikel Laboa, young triki-punk band Etzakit, and the singer and harpist Olatz Zugasti.

Elkar’s Anjel Valdes and I keep up our long-distance musical friendship though we have still not met in person. On the publication of the second edition of ‘The Power of Okinawa’ he wrote to say: “I’m sure that inside these pages I’ll find a lot of warm legends, sentimental sounds and nice musicians’ stories. It has given me a lot of courage to imitate you. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to write something about Basque music, Basque people, Basque feelings. I wish you a lot of success and happiness and a  long life in Ryukyu too.”

Elkar’s website (in Basque) is at www.elkarargitaletxea.com

Explore posts in the same categories: Basque Music, Book Feedback

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