Joseba Sarrionandia – Gure Oroitzapenak

Joseba Sarrionandia is a special name in the Basque Country. The prolific poet writes in Euskara, the Basque language, and has achieved iconic status in his homeland despite being exiled from there for a long time.

In 1980 he was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for his alleged connections with the Basque separatist group ETA but subsequently, in 1985, he staged a sensational escape by hiding in the loudspeaker of the Basque singer Imanol who had come to the prison to give a concert. He has been a fugitive ever since fleeing to various countries and using different names and passports but has now been settled for many years in Cuba.

As mentioned before on this blog, there is a strong connection between singers and poets and between music and literature in the Basque lands. Many of Sarrionandia’s poems have been set to music and turned into songs by a variety of artists. In fact, there have been about 150 songs recorded with lyrics by the poet since another iconic Basque singer Ruper Ordorika began the trend in 1983.

Gure Oroitzapenak (Our Memories) is an ambitious project involving the collection of poems and music which has taken three years to complete. It is now available as a hardback book of 127 pages published by Elkar. The book comes with two CDs containing a total of 32 songs, each by a different singer or band, and well over two hours of music.

The songs on the CDs are by musicians from different genres and generations,  The recordings chosen include those by famous Basque names such as Mikel Laboa, Ruper Ordorika, Oskorri, and Imanol, as well as Iker Goenaga, Ken Zazpi, Fermin Muguruza, the triki-pop duo Alaitz eta Maider, and a fine track by Gontzal Mendibil. But there are also many new recordings especially created for this project by significant contemporary artists. Among these are songs by Mikel Urdangarin, Rafa Rueda, Zea Mays, and Libe.

The poems cover a wide range of topics but the recurring themes, not surprisingly, are prison and exile and the meaning of freedom. In addition to the lyrics of all the songs the book contains twelve poems by Sarrionandia that were the subject of a collective film by twelve different directors. The film was presented at the San Sebastian Film Festival last September. The book also has some illustrations and a detailed list of all the recordings of songs made with Sarrionandia’s lyrics from 1983 to the present.

The book is published entirely in the Basque language but it’s fitting here to conclude with two very brief examples to give a tiny flavour of Sarrionandia’s poetry in English translation. The poem ‘Errua’ (Blame) was recorded by the band Gose in 2014 and is included on CD2. It begins:

When we were children we witnessed the return of / persons destroyed by the old war, / prison and exile, who passed by in the rain / bearing all the blame of an entire people

Its repeating verse is:

Do not take from me the blame, my blame / nor this ancient blame of our people. / Because without blame I have nothing / It would be as if I had done nothing.

The poet explains that errua (blame) is: “A shackled word, in truth, but allow me to use it, as it is all that is left me. Our people have no rights, because they are culpable, according to those who deny them, for having fought for those rights.”

The opening song on CD2 is ‘Martin Larralde’ a moving live recording from 2008 sung by Ruper Ordorika. As it begins, Sarrionandia’s words evoke images of the lost homeland:

Green fields, whitewashed houses and red-tiled roofs, / a gendarmerie car / picks its way slowly through a flock of sheep. / Prayers in the church / and in the home, the age-old imprecations softly rising / like smoke in winter.

Joseba Sarrionandia’s legacy will be of great importance and Gure Oroitzapenak is a fitting tribute to his poetry in words and music.

www.elkarargitaletxea.eus

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