Archive for the ‘Basque Music’ category

Oskorri – Xabi Solano – Mikel Urdangarin

April 12, 2017

Three different but equally important albums from the Basque Country recently arrived in Okinawa from Elkar record company. For more than four decades seminal band Oskorri have been vital exponents of traditional and modern Basque songs and music. Their work bears comparison with the likes of Fairport Convention in England and with Scotland’s Battlefield Band.

In November 2015 they finally decided to call it a day and now their last concert in Bilbao is preserved with the release of Hauxe Da Despedidia – which comes as a hardback book containing essays and many photos from all stages of the band’s history as well as a DVD of the concert and two additional CDs. The first CD is an edited version of the same concert while the second is a 20 track compilation with many rare live and studio recordings from the years 1971~2002.

Among the long list of Oskorri members and collaborators was famed trikitixa star Kepa Junkera and he also appears again on a new album by singer and trikitixa player Xabi Solano who first came to our attention several years ago with the band Etzakit and more recently as the leading member of Esne Beltza who have toured mainland Japan.

His new solo album Erenotzu (released under the name Xabi Solano Maizer) is a varied collection of 15 tracks with some traditional-sounding trikitixa as well as more modern mixes of styles – on ‘Nere mundu polit txiki hontan’ it comes close to the territory of The Pogues. The CD is released separately from the second volume of a new music book containing Solano’s compositions.

Mikel Urdangarin has been praised before on this blog as a great singer as well as a composer of songs. His previous release was a completely solo recording of a live tour. This time he has come up with a new studio album Margolaria recorded with a group of five hand-picked musicians. The most wonderful thing about Urdangarin is his emotional and heartrending vocals and there are some fine songs too among the ten tracks here. Best of all is ‘Itsasoan euria’ and the link below is to a video of its recording in the studio:

All albums are released by Elkar.


Maider: Zuei

April 4, 2017

This is the first solo album by Basque singer and musician Maider Zabalegi who was formerly one half of the triki-pop duo Alaitz eta Maider. They achieved great success in their homeland several years ago. The pair’s third and final album before they went their separate ways was released back in 2002. Maider has kept everyone waiting for a very long time but has now finally returned to the music scene with the release of this album, Zuei (To You), her first recording for 15 years.

The album contains nine songs and one instrumental all written or co-written by Maider. The triki-pop style that she helped to popularise by blending traditional Basque tunes played on accordion and tambourine with a rhythm section is only hinted at on the new album. For the most part this is straightforward pop with Maider surrounded by some excellent musicians on guitars, piano, keyboards, mandolin, banjo and drums. Her old friend and musical partner Alaitz Telletxea also reappears to make a special contribution on trikia (accordion) and backing vocals.

One thing that hasn’t changed at all is Maider’s voice which sounds exactly the same as ever and retains all of its distinctive sweetness. Her songwriting skills are also very much intact and this is an essentially uplifting and melodic collection of new songs. All lyrics are in Euskera, the Basque language, and it’s mostly themes of love and freedom that are explored in the words. This is nowhere better displayed than on ‘Hitz debekatuak’ (Forbidden Words) for which there is also a music video (see below).

It was back in 2000 that Alaitz eta Maider toured mainland Japan and I first met up with them in Osaka. They were both 24 years old at the time and their second album had just been released in Japan. The following year I met them again, this time on their home territory in northern Spain where I saw them perform in the Basque town of Arrasate. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since those days but it’s great to have Maider back again in the studio and she has made a very likeable album.

Zuei is released by Elkar.

Here’s a link to the music video for the song ‘Hitz debekatuak’:

Ruper Ordorika: Guria Ostatuan

December 15, 2016

Basque singer-songwriter Ruper Ordorika has achieved near legendary status in his homeland for an impressive career that has bridged musical genres ever since his debut album in 1980. Two years ago he found a new creative high with the release of arguably his best ever album Lurrean Etzanda a set of mostly original songs touching on hope, memory, love and the beauty of life.

Guria Ostatuan (Guria Inn) is his first album since then and follows in a similar vein just as successfully. This time the recordings were made in New York with another small group of musicians. Kenny Wollesen (drums) and Jamie Saft (keyboards) are both familiar with Ordorika’s work having played on the previous album. They are joined here by Tony Scherr (double bass, electric guitar). There is also the crucial addition of strings by Arkaitz Miner on a few tracks.


It’s an album of great depth and it rewards repeated listening. Ordorika draws the listener in on the opening song ‘Ireki Atea’ (Open the Door) and holds our attention on eleven songs that end with the album’s most gentle and reflective track ‘Zatoz’ (Come).

All of the music is composed by Ordorika but three songs have lyrics by other writers. One of these is by the exiled Basque poet Joseba Sarrionandia whose work has been drawn on before. Another is ‘Munduko Ostatuetan’ an adaptation of Gary Snyder’s poem ‘Dillingham, Alaska, The Willow Tree Bar’. The lovely ‘Hamar Negu’ (Ten Winters) is the busiest sounding with its effective use of strings while ‘Ahots Urrunak’ (A Distant Voice) is the closest to a Dylanesque anthem with its rolling rhythm and uplifting chorus.

This new later style (if it can be called that) is generally quieter and more reflective as Ordorika’s inimitably warm and familiar voice sings of memories, moments and sensations with great subtlety alongside some engaging melodies. He has always been a literary songwriter and this is evident again in these songs though they are never over-wordy and always convey their emotions with economy. It’s ultimately a life-affirming album and a fine way to end the year.

All lyrics are in the Basque language and the CD booklet contains translations in Spanish and French.

Guria Ostatuan is released by Elkar.

Kantuz 1965-2015

December 21, 2015

As 2015 comes to an end a hugely important 3 CD compilation of Basque songs has just been released. Kantuz 1965-2015 ~ Memoria eta desira has been produced to celebrate 50 years of Basque culture and song and to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Durango Fair, a large gathering of music, literature and the arts which was held this month in the Spanish Basque Country.

Kantuz is the Euskara word for singing and the three discs offer 50 songs from throughout the half century up to and including this year. The project was produced and coordinated by Anjel Valdés of Elkar whose company has released the album as a hardback book with an introduction by Valdés and with the lyrics of all the songs (in Euskara only) plus the poem ‘Memoria eta desira’ (Memory and desire) by Joseba Sarrionandia.


Valdés writes in his introduction: “Looking back, we realize that today we still have the same dreams as at the beginning. From generation to generation, the themes of the songs remain unchanged. Thus, land, freedom, peace, love, nostalgia and language, among others, are still, as in the beginning, the main source of concern of Basque society, its dreams and the essence of Basque song. Through this album which brings together songs and singers from different times, ages, backgrounds, styles and shapes, we remember that memory, dialogue and communication between different generations are the basic pillars for building our people.”

The three CDs are arranged in roughly chronological order and so the first one, (coloured green) begins with a song by trikitixa trio Tapia, Leturia eta Amuriza and goes on to introduce many other songs by familiar names in Basque music. The second CD (blue) continues this while introducing different styles and themes and the third one (red) brings us right up to date and features several songs from young hard rock guitar bands. Many of the tracks were originally released by Elkar but there is also a large selection of music from other labels.

Three great singers and songwriters who all appear on more than one of the CDs are Mikel Laboa (who died in 2008), Benito Lertxundi and Ruper Ordorika. In fact, the iconic Laboa is on all three discs where he crops up in collaborations with musicians as varied as Ruper Ordorika, enduring folk band Oskorri, the Euskal Herriko Gazte Orkestra & Donostiako Orfeoia, and finally with 1980s radical rockers Kortatu whose singer Fermin Muguruza has another track on the compilation.

Lertxundi’s ‘Baldorba’ is a modern classic and is rightly included in its superb orchestral version and on the third disc there is a gloriously energetic re-imagining of the triki-pop song ‘Amets bat’ by Hesian & Alaitz eta Maider. Most poignant and powerful of all is ‘Gernikan’ sung by the band Ken Zazpi on the second disc. The song refers to the tragic bombing of Gernika and has words by the poet Joseba Sarrionandia who continues to live in exile after escaping from a Spanish prison. These are just a few of the picks on this treasure trove of song.

Kantuz 1965-2015 ~ Memoria eta desira is released by Elkar.

In this short video the CDs and book are introduced by Anjel Valdés:






Mikel Urdangarin: MMXV

December 18, 2015

I first heard of Mikel Urdangarin a few years ago when he joined Basque band Korrontzi to sing in a concert recorded for CD/DVD. It was obvious straight away that he was a special singer and his mellifluous voice raised things to a new level. He is blessed with a strong and passionate singing voice which nevertheless has a soothing effect on the listener.

Urdangarin first came to attention in the early years of this century as a major singer-songwriter but has been connected with other projects too. Most recently there have been some fascinating and successful experiments in turning poetry into music and song with the novelist Kirmen Uribe and other musicians. Their CD and book Jainko txiki eta jostalari hura was reviewed here last year.

mikel urdangarin

For his new album MMXV Urdangarin releases 13 live tracks carefully selected from the large number of songs he has been singing on a solo concert tour which has taken in many cities and comes to an end this week. A total of 26 concerts were recorded and this is the cream of the performances distilled into around an hour of music. This really is a solo tour for it’s just the man himself on stage accompanied by his acoustic guitar in bright and effective arrangements which show off that marvellous voice and the poetic force of his songs.

The prospect of listening to one man and his guitar singing songs in a language incomprehensible to most non-Basques might seem a bit of a chore but right from the opening song ‘Agian irailean’ (‘Perhaps in September’) Urdangarin brushes away any fears with a really tender and heartfelt show to win us over. The CD booklet contains Spanish translations of all the lyrics which are in Euskara.

All of the songs have music written by Urgandarin but some of them have words by other important writers including three with lyrics by his recent collaborator Kirmen Uribe. It shows the strong connection in the Basque Country between literature and song. As the press release states: “Mikel Urdangarin reminds us that we are never alone if we have at hand a good song to move us and make us dream.”

MMXV is released by Elkar.

Here is a link to Mikel Urdangarin’s music video for ‘Agian irailean’:









July 17, 2015

Elustondo is both the name of this trikitixa duo and the title of their new album. Trikitixa (diatonic accordion) and panderoa (tambourine) duos have a proud history in Basque roots music and the genre continues to be widespread. In fact, it is fair to say that it’s the most deeply rooted popular music in the Basque Country. This album carries on the tradition through Elustondo one of a large number of younger talents who emerged to perpetuate the style and offer encouragement for others to follow.

Agurtzane Elustondo began playing trikitixa when she was eight years old and studied with the great living master Laja. She presents a unique way of playing the instrument with precise rhythms but also a personal expressive touch. She is accompanied by her brother Ion on panderoa. Despite the duo’s strength and sureness this is their debut album. Many of the choices of composition are inspired by various pieces by the well-known trikitixa player Martin Aginalde while some of the music is traditional.


Both songs and tunes are represented and Ion Elustondo adds vocals as well as irrintziak: the loud joyous yelling which plays a similar role to hayashi in Okinawan songs. They are also joined by several friends and collaborators with bass, drums, guitar, mandolin and vocals here and there. Not least among the list of collaborators is the famed trikitixa player Kepa Junkera who has himself done more than most to popularise the music with recordings and appearances at world music festivals.

The small accordion is not to everyone’s taste and listening to 45 minutes of it in one go might seem a bit daunting. Elustondo do their very best to make sure the ride is a joyous one and their enthusiasm, not to mention their sheer musicianship, is so infectious that it’s more likely to make the listener want to dance.

Elustondo is released by Elkar.

Here is a link to a video of Elustondo performing ‘Non gara?’ the opening track from the album:

Skasti: Maskarak

July 13, 2015

The nine members of Skasti first met in the town of Zarautz in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and have been together for a decade this year. Despite this musical longevity they are still a young band and the new album Maskarak (Masks) is their first on the Elkar label. They obviously impressed with their televised show as part of the record company’s Studio Sessions a few months ago and their song ‘Arima ilunen postontzi hauskorra’ was also included on the subsequent live sessions album. A new recording of the same song opens this album.


The Basque Country, just like Okinawa, is host to a great diversity of musical styles. Skasti’s members have evolved together with a passion for music to create an evocative collection of contemporary rock music with a big sound and a strong element of ska, hence the name. The ten compositions on this album (there are nine songs and one instrumental) reveal a powerful rhythmic base and an urgency and intensity of performance. The results are equally good for listening or dancing.

It is most likely in live performance that the band really comes alive, rather like England’s roots big band Bellowhead, though these recordings do a good job of showing off Skasti’s energy and musicianship. Twin vocal duties are shared by Iker Inigo and Xabier Uzin while other band members play guitars, bass, drums, synths, trombone and trumpet. All lyrics are in the Basque language.

Maskarak is released by Elkar.

A video of the song ‘Denboraren giltza’ from the album can be seen here: