Olatz Zugasti and new Basque albums

The pick of several new releases from the Spain-based Basque music label Elkar is the album Gau Hotzenean Ere by Olatz Zugasti. The album’s English title is ‘Even on the coldest night’ and on this – Zugasti’s first release for eight years – she sings and plays harp and teklatuak (keyboards) on an excellent set of songs accompanied by a small group of musicians. It’s a quiet, subtle album which is graceful and understated but also full of emotion. Most of the songs are concerned with Zugasti’s roots and with the landscape of her homeland. She is from the town of Hernani in the Spanish Basque Country. The fact that all the lyrics are in Euskara – the unique language of the Basques – might cause potential problems for speakers of other languages (there are Spanish translations included in the CD booklet) but the sheer artistry and the melodies on display ensure that this is a moving album.

The fourteen tracks feature not only original songs by Olatz Zugasti but also a poem by 16th century writer Lazarraga which she has set to music and there are three songs co-written with Irish singer-songwriter Brendan Graham. The two final tracks are live performances of songs she recorded with a group of young singers called Olaxka who were formed and trained by Zugasti herself. Outstanding among many fine tracks are two originals, ‘Amaiur’ and ‘Alkandora Saretua’. Most songs feature harp, guitars and keyboards with some bass and percussion, and occasionally clarinet and saxophone.

Olatz Zugasti

I first came across Olatz Zugasti several years ago when she was a member of Benito Lertxundi’s band where she often features with background vocals and synthesizers and she appears on several of his albums. Lertxundi himself is a formidable Basque singer-songwriting icon and is well worth investigating. Sadly though, Olatz Zugasti’s own solo recordings are few and far between and this is only her fourth album.

Other new releases by the estimable Elkar label include the experimental Transhumance, which is a collaboration by Basque singer and flute player Mixel Etxekopar with Alsace pianist Francois Rossi. Another collaboration Arnasak (Breaths) is by the accordion and txistu (flute) players Garikoitz Mendizabal and Aitor Furundarena. And veteran singer-songwriter Pier Paul Berzaitz from Zuberoa in the French Basque Country also has a new solo album Han Eta Hor.

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