Archive for the ‘Basque Music’ category

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.

Mikel Urdangarin in Okinawa

April 6, 2018

The renowned Basque singer Mikel Urdangarin is coming to Okinawa at the end of April. He will perform solo concerts and spend over a month on the island immersing himself in the music and culture of Okinawa in the first meeting of its kind between musicians from Okinawa and the Spanish Basque Country.

Mikel Urdangarin has been an important singer and songwriter for more than 20 years and has released 14 albums. He sings in Euskara, the language of the Basques which is thought to be the oldest in Europe. His many projects have included collaborations with the musician Rafa Rueda and the novelist and poet Kirmen Uribe. His latest album Margolaria (The Painter) is also the title of a feature documentary film about his career that is currently in production.

In Okinawa, solo concerts have been announced at Garaman Hall Lobby, Ginoza on 19th May and at Sakurazaka Theatre Hall B, Naha on 23rd May and tickets are already on sale. He will also appear at Coconut Moon, Onna on 20th May and at the Ajiru Music Festival at Futenma Shrine on 26th May. Before these concerts he will be a guest on the Ginowan City FM radio show ‘Lucy のイチャリバAmigos!’ at 11 a.m. on 7th May.

Last September I met Mikel for the first time near his home in the Basque Country and the idea for this Basque-Ryukyu project began. Now that it’s becoming a reality I hope friends, musicians and anyone in Okinawa with an interest in music and different cultures will take the opportunity to attend one or more of his shows.

Anjel Valdes

January 16, 2018

Last September I spent a week in the Basque Country of Spain and while there interviewed record producer Anjel Valdes for an article published in the current edition of UK magazine fRoots. Anjel spoke about many things and this feature only scratches the surface of his philosophy on music and life and his important work at Elkar Records. It’s also Anjel’s idea that Basque and Okinawan musicians will soon be able to meet and there are now plans for a Basque Ryukyu project to bring them together.

Anjel Valdes

Elkar Records have grown a massive catalogue of Basque music. John Potter meets their founder.

I’m in a wood at the foot of a mountain in the Basque Country with Anjel Valdes and he is looking for mushrooms. It’s a passion of his to walk in the silence of this spectacular scenery in Gipuzkoa province and a bonus if he can collect some big mushrooms along the way.

But this isn’t why we’re here. Valdes has been producer and coordinator at Elkar Records for 30 years. He has chosen to talk to me about it all in one of his favourite locations in the south of Euskal Herria (or Basque Country) which straddles part of northern Spain and south-west France. Elkar (it means ‘together’) has long been promoting Basque music, language and culture, and the purple and yellow logo on their shops is familiar throughout the region.

Valdes explains: “Elkar Records was founded in 1972. We began with literature and books and then started working on music and traditional songs, all in the Basque language, first with singers from the northern part of the Basque Country. Elkar began in Bayonne but then came to the south at the beginning of the 80s.” Their recording studio is based in Donostia-San Sebastian.

“We have a very important catalogue of music that now has more than 1,300 releases. Songs express the culture of the people, their dreams, and in our case the most important compositions speak about freedom and love and territory. And so if you put all of our tracks and recordings one after the other you can tell a very good story of our culture and our development.”

My own first encounter with Basque music was through this very magazine in the late ‘90s through the phenomenon of triki-pop. Traditional trikitixa (accordeon) and panderoa (tambourine) music had been given a new lease of life by the addition of pop rhythm sections and young bands such as Maixa ta Ixiar and Alaitz eta Maider were quick to attract listeners, including me. My first long distance contact with Anjel Valdes was at that time and he has been sending me review copies of albums ever since. Although trikitixa is still a vital ingredient of much of the music there are many other popular styles and new singers and musicians appear all the time.

But let’s go back to the beginning. “We can find our roots in traditional instruments and singers and we must speak about Oskorri, a very important band that finally disbanded two years ago. They did their last concert in Bilbao and we released a special album with a DVD. Mikel Laboa is also an important singer in our catalogue as is Benito Lertxundi and some others who began their careers in the 1960s and ‘70s. The passing of time has given them authority. Benito Lertxundi is now 76 years old and he continues recording and giving concerts. After him comes Ruper Ordorika who was from a new generation closer to a pop and rock style. Ruper is a very good songwriter who writes lyrics in a special way that connects with people. His last three albums are remarkable and very important for me. Mikel Urdangarin is another very special singer from a younger generation.”

Valdes is a philosophical man who thinks deeply about the wider issues and implications of what he does. “The most important thing is always the artist and the song. All of us need to be consoled and music offers us one essential way. If you have made 1,300 productions you will find some albums among them that are very, very important. So my work is to listen to the artist and to coordinate the ideas with my team.”

“I’ve learned that it’s better to continue than to win. You can win once or twice in your life but if the moment arrives when you have to disappear it is very sad. So sales are never the most important thing. The continuation of our work regardless of sales is what is most vital. It’s not possible to work in this job if you don’t like the music. People need freedom and we need love and freedom and we need dreams and this is the essence of the songs, of the poetry. I think that we must believe that someday the world will be changed, like we thought in the ‘60s.”

The Basque language, known as Euskara, seems to be unrelated to any other language and is possibly the oldest in Europe. There are around one million who understand and speak it while 400,000 use it as their first language. With a language not even spoken by all Basques does this present an obstacle to wider recognition? “There is great music everywhere” says Valdes, “in Cuba, in Okinawa, in Africa and so on. We are just a small territory in Europe and we aren’t expecting to achieve a lot of worldwide attention. For now, it’s just important that we try first to spread these songs and music among the Basque people.”

“I want to say strongly that songs are the last guardians of the culture – and even if people don’t understand the language they will recognise the songs.”

(fRoots Nos. 415/416, January/February 2018)



Soinu-Tresnak Euskal Herri Musikan 1985-2010

December 14, 2017

Soinu-Tresnak Euskal Herri Musikan 1985-2010 is a 70 page hardback book with CD and DVD insert on the musical instruments of the Basque Country. In the 1980s the musician and ethnomusicologist Juan Mari Beltran spent a year travelling and researching traditional musical instruments used by the Basque people and he compiled an hour long film of his findings with footage of many of the musicians who made and played these instruments. As a follow-up 25 years later he made another film containing his reflections and images related to the study. Both films are presented on the DVD.

This is a valuable and extraordinary musical adventure and in no way a stuffy academic exercise. As well as the trikitixa (accordion) and panderoa (tambourine) – still thriving in contemporary Basque music – there are rare recordings of much lesser known instruments such as the sunprinua (bark trumpet). There is also fascinating footage of the txalaparta and how it provided the “audible heartbeat of the cider-making process in the San Sebastian area”.

In addition to the instrument playing there is some arm-flinging Basque dancing not unlike Okinawan katcharsee that reminds us of the interconnectedness of culture and traditions worldwide. This new release is available for the first time with subtitles in English and several other languages while the book has rare photos and background details and information on all of the instruments.

Beñat Igerabide: Geldialdi Bakoitzean

December 6, 2017

It’s already three years since the singer, songwriter and guitarist Beñat Igerabide announced his arrival on the Basque music scene with a fine debut album Orbainak. Now he is back with a second album, some new musicians, and a set of 13 brand new compositions. Like its predecessor, Geldialdi Bakoitzean (At Each Pause) was also recorded at Igerabide’s own Sonola Studio in Gipuzkoa in the Spanish Basque Country.

The new release shows off a broader musical palette. This expanded view is evident from the outset as the opening track ‘Indar Berri Bat’ (Renewed Force) starts off with a hint of rockabilly before delivering its positive energetic message, while the next song, ‘Numinous’, displays a new funky side of Igerabide. There are also excursions into folk, pop and rock.

Igerabide is a poetic writer but this time his words (all in the Basque language) are more concise and accessible while retaining their lyrical quality and they are delivered in an appealing voice. The overriding theme that surfaces throughout is one of positivity and courage in the face of obstacles, and the need for love and connection with nature. It’s ultimately an album with a life-affirming agenda.

There are also melodies aplenty. One of the best is saved for last with the album’s thirteenth track, the simple and beautiful love song ‘Ez Da Ekia’ (It’s not the Sun). Despite the more experimental nature of these recordings it all hangs together very well and to those familiar with his previous work it’s still very obviously an album with its maker’s own distinctive stamp all over it.

The boldness, confidence and range of Geldialdi Bakoitzean is in no small way due also to the excellent band that Igerabide has gathered around him of David Etura (drums), Matthieu Haramboure (bass), Pello Gorrotxategi (keyboards) and the sole survivor from the previous album Gorka Urra (guitar, backing vocals).

Geldialdi Bakoitzean is released by Elkar.

Here is a link to the music video for the song ‘Numinous’:

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’: