Archive for the ‘Basque Music’ category

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:




Kepa Junkera & Sorginak: Trikitixaren historia txiki bat

March 10, 2015

There are many players of the trikitixa (diatonic accordion) in the Basque Country but Kepa Junkera has established himself as the best-known internationally with numerous appearances at festivals and concerts around the world. He has also recorded prolifically and has collaborated regularly with musicians from other countries and cultures. His 2006 album Hiri, inspired by memories of different cities, even included a composition for ‘Nagoya’.

Now to commemorate 35 years as a musician he returns to his roots and has recently released a 17 track CD of traditional Basque tunes alongside several original compositions of his own. But this isn’t just another Junkera release as this one comes in the form of a large-sized 150 page hardback book with the CD inserted inside the back cover.


Trikitixaren historia txiki bat (A little history of trikitixa) gives us the fascinating story of trikitixa written by Joxian Agirre and the book contains contributions from Kepa Junkera and others along with numerous interviews with important personalities in the world of trikitixa. There are also lots of photos, many of them from Junkera’s personal archive.

The text in the book is printed in two languages – Euskara (Basque) and Spanish. However, a visit to Kepa Junkera’s website will also turn up complete translations of the text in English, Galician and Catalan as well as Euskara and Spanish. The release in Japan has an insert with notes in Japanese.

Sorginak with Kepa Junkera

Sorginak with Kepa Junkera

Joining Junkera for the music is a group of seven young women from the trikitixa world known as Sorginak who were put together especially for this project. They provide the vocals to many of the tracks as well as panderoa (tambourine) which traditionally blends so well with trikitixa to make the unique sounds of this roots music. It hardly needs adding that the recordings are up to the usual high standard and Junkera and Sorginak are both in fine form.

A short video ‘Making Of’ gives a taste of the music on the CD:

Trikitixaren historia txiki bat is released by Fol Musica.








Ruper Ordorika: Lurrean etzanda

December 17, 2014

Ruper Ordorika has for many years been one of the most important singers and songwriters in the Basque Country. Despite his long and impressive list of credits this new album Lurrean etzanda (Lying on the Ground) may well prove to be his finest achievement. He seems to have reached a new peak in his late 50s.

Last year he released Azukre Koxkorrak a collection of songs made well-known by other Basque singers and bands which had inspired him over the years but now he comes up with a brand new collection of songs and all but one are Ordorika originals. The exception is a poem by Dionisio Canas which Ordorika himself has translated into the Basque language and set to music.

The recordings were made at Elkar studios in Donostia-San Sebastian and Ordorika’s vocals and guitar are accompanied by three musicians: Leo Abrahams (guitars), Simon Edwards (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). The musicians are vital to the project and their experience obviously played a great part in the success of the album. The three have worked individually with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Billy Bragg and Tom Waits.

Ruper Ordorika

Ordorika and his musicians were recorded playing together live in the studio over three days in September with Jamie Saft’s piano and Hammond organ added to three songs later in New York. The resulting album has a thrilling rich texture with clear, simple but subtle arrangements enabling Ordorika’s deep vocals to shine. Everything is sung in Euskara (Basque).

Ultimately, it’s the songs which lift this album way above the average. The melodies are always matched by lyrics which show wisdom and philosophical depth as Ordorika reflects on hope, memory, love, and the beauty of life. It’s hard to single out the best tracks as there isn’t really a weakness on the album but the opening trio of songs ‘Giltz-Gordea’ (The Secret Key), ‘Bizitza Eder Denean’ (Life is Beautiful), and ‘Atako Bandan’ plus the outstanding ‘Itzala’ (Shadow) are all immensely satisfying.

There are no English translations in the CD booklet but if your Basque is rusty there are helpful translations of all the songs in both French and Spanish. I haven’t listened to all of Ruper Ordorika’s recorded output, which began back in 1980, but it’s hard to imagine anything better than this. Before its release, Elkar’s Anjel Valdes told me it was the finest album of Ordorika’s career. I thought he was exaggerating but realise now that he may well be right. Ordorika has delivered a piece of work full of meaning which deserves to be acclaimed not only in his homeland but much further afield.

Lurrean etzanda is released by Elkar.