It is interesting to compare the role that music plays among peoples who are considered national minorities.
Given the obvious commonality of interest, it’s surprising how few of these links are easily uncovered. Basques have survived because of their historical cultural isolation, which is now changing. The situation of being outnumbered in one’s own land, or of seeking greater political jurisdiction, is one shared by hundreds of peoples worldwide. These links are often expressed in popular music – one of the key vehicles for the transmission of culture.
Since the 60s many Basques have realized how important it is to sing in their own language and to play their own traditional music and instruments. And many musicians who are speakers of lesser-used languages have done the same.
The most obvious links for Basque musicians are those within Western Europe and North Africa as well as those with Quebecers and aboriginal peoples in North America.
David Cox is a frequent contributor to Buber’s Basque Page. Today marks his first article in a new column entitled Altxor Bila (Looking for Treasure), inspired by a Pirritx eta Porrotx song. This series will examine various aspects of Basque music, from current bands to musical history. Ongi Etorri David!
A few years ago, I got an e-mail from one Johannes of Pforzheim, Germany, asking whether I knew of any musicians from the city of Gernika, Bizkaia. He and his class were planning to visit their twinned city, and he was working on a project and looking for contacts or help.
As it happened I had spent a little time in Gernika, and knew of two great bands with roots in that city: Gatibu and Ken Zazpi, two of the most dynamic groups working in the Basque Country today and singing in Euskera, and was able to point him in this direction.
Gernika-Lumo, as it is officially known, is at the head of the Mundaka estuary and the centre of the geographically significant Urdaibai region. It has a famous farmers’market and, across the railway tracks, large blocks of industrial land. Most importantly, it has the sacred oak tree and the parliament house. This city, which is known around the world and honoured by all Basques, has a prominence all out of proportion to its size. It also has a proud musical history.