Archive for the ‘Basque Music’ category

Agurtzane eta Ion Elustondo: Bizirik dauden eskuak

June 26, 2019

This is the new album from Basque trikitixa duo Agurtzane eta Ion Elustondo. Their previous album four years ago, simply titled Elustondo, was also reviewed here. But first a useful definition: “The word trikitixa can be a generic term, applied to a kind of dance, a style of music or the instrument. But, nowadays, the term is almost always used to refer to this last meaning: the Basque diatonic accordion.”

The Elustondo pair are sister and brother. Agurtzane is one of the most important Basque musicians and she is also the president of Trikitixa Elkartea –an association that finds opportunities for young players and offers a wealth of information about the world of trikitixa, its festivals and albums. (The trikitixa definition above is from their website). Her brother Ion sings and plays panderoa (tambourine) the instrument most often played alongside trikitixa.

Agurtzane Elustondo learned the instrument when she was a child from the legendary master Laja who died recently at the age of 74. The album’s title can be translated as ‘Hands that remain alive’ and is intended as a tribute to all the forerunners who helped create such a vibrant people’s music in the Basque Country. They believe that “each time we play the keys of the accordion, their hands move together with ours”.

The album contains 16 tracks divided equally between songs sung by Ion Elustondo and tunes that include a good deal of irrintziak: the loud joyous yelling which plays a similar role to hayashi in Okinawan music. For this, and on some of the songs, they are joined by a small number of collaborators. Ten of the compositions are by Martin Aginalde, a veteran musician and influential figure for all younger players.

Some of the songs have traditional melodies and it was a surprise to find the familiar tune of ‘Bagoaz’ corresponding to the 1920s American gospel song ‘I’ll Fly Away’. It shows how universal the links in roots music can be. The final track ‘Adio amets’ also has a traditional tune and this time it’s arranged in a Latin American style by Agurtzane.

It’s familiar nowadays to hear trikitixa mixed up with many other styles, from triki-pop to hip-hop. Most recently it has been achieved very effectively by the bands Esne Beltza and Huntza. But it comes as a very refreshing experience to listen to this album of straightforward music and song played so lovingly by two of the best musicians around. It’s an advance on their previous album and can be highly recommended to anyone with even the slightest interest in Basque roots music.

Bizirik dauden eskuak is released by Elkar.

www.elkarargitaletxea.eus

http://trikitixa.eus/

Joseba Sarrionandia – Gure Oroitzapenak

April 25, 2019

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

Ruper Ordorika: Bakarka

April 17, 2019

This latest album from Basque singer, guitarist and songwriter Ruper Ordorika was released at the end of last year and has already been acclaimed in his homeland and beyond. Last month Bakarka (Alone) won the annual Etxepare Award for Best Album in Basque at MIN, the Spanish Independent Music Awards.

As its title suggests, this is an album that finds the singer alone in the studio with just his guitar and voice, and the twelve tracks are a mix of new and older songs from his long career. All the music was composed by Ordorika but three songs have lyrics by novelist and poet Bernardo Atxaga while two others have words by the iconic exiled Basque poet Joseba Sarrionandia.

The appearance of these names is no surprise as there is a strong tradition of literature running through many popular songs in the Basque Country and Ordorika’s connection with literary groups in the past has always been a feature of his own writing and performances. The album booklet contains both French and Spanish translations of the Basque lyrics but unfortunately there are none in English.

This hardly matters when listening to the results as he seems to have found a new lease of life in the past few years and Bakarka is no exception. With just a few brush strokes he seems able to paint an evocative musical picture that touches the emotions in all kinds of ways. The deep distinctive vocals are complemented throughout by subtle guitar work. This creates a warmth on songs such as ‘Mundua biltzen duen bihartzuna’ (Echoing the world) while ‘Fas fatum’ is built around a repetitive guitar figure that is quite hypnotic.

It’s a reflective set that exudes a quiet passion. The lyrics (translated to English) for Ordorika’s song ‘Edertasunaz mintzo’ begin like this:

We used to speak of beauty,
of the unattainable things,
hidden in those bars
at dusk.
But time flies,
and beauty goes away with it.
We did what we could,
leaving life till later.

The singer goes on to speak of freedom and of life and their cost as time passes. There are many pleasures in listening to this other side of one of the Basque Country’s most important singers who is just as much at home on his own as he is with an electric guitar and a band. His last three albums have all been of the highest quality and this is right up there with them.

Bakarka is released by Elkar.

www.elkarargitaletxea.eus

Basque Night in Naha

May 25, 2018

Mikel Urdangarin’s concert on Wednesday (23rd) in Naha played to a full house at Sakurazaka Theatre and was the best so far of all his live shows in Okinawa as the first Basque Ryukyu Project nears its conclusion.

Last week’s successful Basque Night in Ginoza featured a live performance plus a talk on culture and identity with a backdrop of Basque-style food and wine. By contrast the Naha concert focused strongly on the songs and music with Mikel Urdangarin playing a solo set of his own compositions first accompanied by guitar.

He then handed over the stage to his guest Mutsumi Aragaki whose remarkable voice and sanshin blended in an experimental piece embracing loops and effects. She began her contribution by singing the words of thanks in both Basque and Uchinaguchi – “Eskerrik asko” and “Nifee debiru” – surely the first time the two languages have been fused in this way.

Mikel returned to combine with Mutsumi and with Makoto Miyata on percussion to form a trio for the final third of the concert. In this part things were taken up to an even higher level with some superb singing, playing and arrangements of Mikel’s original songs and some songs from the Ryukyu Islands.

The audience were clearly won over not just by Mikel Urdangarin’s heartfelt and passionate but controlled singing but crucially by his willingness to engage with Okinawan music, people and culture and to share his own thoughts, feelings and stories from the Basque Country. Not surprisingly he was called back for an encore which turned out to be his first ever live performance of the familiar Okinawan song ‘Tinsagu nu Hana’.

Mikel during rehearsal time before the concert

Mikel and Mutsumi after the concert

Before returning to the Spanish Basque Country next week Mikel Urdangarin will join the Ajiru Music Festival on Saturday (26th) at Futenma Shrine, Ginowan. The festival opens at 14:00 and Mikel is due to appear at 17:20. Among many other guests are Unaigumi (with three original members of Nenes), Miyako Island singer Hirara, Suming from Taiwan, and festival organisers Kachimba who will perform first as Kachimba4 and then with an expanded line-up as Kachimba Mundo.

Basque Night in Ginoza

May 21, 2018

Mikel Urdangarin’s visit to Okinawa as part of the Basque Ryukyu Project continued last Saturday evening with a Basque Night at Ginoza Farm Lab, a newly opened cafe and live music venue. The event was sold out and was a great success with Mikel giving a concert after a half hour talk session on culture and identity together with Daniel Lopez.

The evening also included much food and drink with Basque-style pintxos and wine available. In the concert that followed the talk Mikel performed solo at first and was then joined by Mutsumi Aragaki (sanshin, vocals) and Makoto Miyata (percussion). The trio concluded a very enjoyable and enlightening evening with a performance of the Yaeyama song ‘Tsuki nu kaisha’ with a newly written verse in the Basque language.

Yesterday Mikel gave another live show at Coconut Moon in Onna where he was joined by Mutsumi Aragaki. This Wednesday (23rd) is the final Basque Night concert at Sakurazaka Theatre where Mikel Urdangarin will play solo and again as a trio with Aragaki and Miyata.

These photos from Saturday at Ginoza Farm Lab were taken by Garaman Hall photographer Yuta Nakama.

Basque Ryukyu Project in Okinawa (2)

May 12, 2018

There has been a change of venue for Mikel Urdangarin’s Basque Night in Ginoza on 19th May. It will now be held at the more spacious Ginoza Farm Lab which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and will start at the same time, 19:30. The concert is preceded by a Talk on culture and identity between Mikel Urdangarin and Okinawa-based filmmaker and photographer Daniel Lopez.

Film director Oier Aranzabal and his crew have returned to the Basque Country after spending a week shooting on the island. Oier has subsequently been interviewed on Basque television about the making of the film Margolaria (The Painter) which features Mikel Urdangarin and he talks about how the connection with Okinawa was made and about the history and culture of the Ryukyu Islands.

The interview is in the Basque language but includes footage from Okinawa in which Mikel rehearses with singer and sanshin player Mutsumi Aragaki. (See link below). Mutsumi will be Mikel’s guest at the Sakurazaka Theatre concert on the 23rd.

http://www.eitb.eus/eu/telebista/programak/ahoz-aho/bideoak/osoa/5581460/bideoa-oier-aranzabal-mikel-urdangarini-buruzko-margolaria-dokumentalaz/

Basque Ryukyu Project in Okinawa

May 6, 2018

Basque singer-songwriter Mikel Urdangarin has already been collaborating with musicians from Okinawa and immersing himself in the local culture since his arrival on the island at the end of April. He has also performed in public as a guest of Miyako Island singer Isamu Shimoji.

Mikel Urdangarin and Isamu Shimoji meet for the first time.

Mikel and Isamu playing together at Slow Jam, Naha.

After a week in Naha where he was followed by a film crew from the Basque Country who are making a documentary about him, he has joined us to stay at our home in the south where he has been rehearsing and collaborating with Mutsumi Aragaki and they will play together on the 23rd at Sakurazaka Theatre. From what I’ve already heard it will be a unique and very exciting meeting of Basque and Ryukyu musicians.

A rehearsal with Mutsumi Aragaki.

Mikel meets Lucy

He also met Lucy and will be a guest on her radio programme tomorrow at 11 a.m. on Ginowan City FM. In fact, it has become a very musical home over the past few days as we were also visited by Merry and David Ralston of Okinawa Americana who treated us to a house concert.