Benito Lertxundi: Oroimenaren Oraina
This latest addition to Benito Lertxundi’s impressive catalogue is a more subdued and gentle album than its predecessor Itsas Ulu Zolia (2008) but one in which the singer-songwriter from the Spanish Basque Country shines as ever. Lertxundi is one of the pioneers of Basque popular song and his music is intrinsically linked with the culture of his people in whose language he sings. Now a veteran at 70 years of age this is (by my reckoning) his 16th album in a long career that stretches back to his debut release in 1971.
On Oroimenaren Oraina he sings and plays guitar accompanied by a group of musicians including Pello Ramirez on cello and accordion, and long-term collaborator Olatz Zugasti on backing vocals, harp, synthesizers and programming. The ten songs were all written or co-written by Lertxundi and this time are less directly concerned with Basque issues, politics and identity and more generally with poetic themes and reflections on life in general.
It’s hard not to listen to some of this and not be reminded of Leonard Cohen especially on songs such as ‘Zuhaitzen Denbora’ (‘The Time of Trees’) where he is joined on vocals by Olatz Zugasti who is herself an outstanding singer and musician in the Basque tradition. The best song on the album, however, is Lertxundi’s composition ‘Laket Dut’ (‘I Take Pleasure’) which finds the singer in typically deep-voiced passion and with a lyric and melody of real beauty.
It’s also easy to argue that if Lertxundi’s albums had been released by one of the major corporations – and sung in the English language – he might well be jostling Cohen and the big Western songwriters in worldwide popularity and record sales. For those willing to seek out interesting singers and musicians from outside the Western mainstream Benito Lertxundi will be a very rewarding discovery. The CD booklet contains the original lyrics in Euskara (Basque) and also has translations of all the songs in Spanish, French and English.
Oroimenaren Oraina is released by Elkar.