Taken from "Folklore and Traditions", one of the series of "The Basque Country, Come and then pass the word" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Angel Murua, Published by: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo.

Local Music and Poetry

The Basque Country came relatively late to the written word, which for centuries was used to record religious literature. So for hundreds of years Basque tradition was passed on through songs and verses which were subsequently collected into numerous anthologies. These songs and verses form the basis of Basque collective memory. Many of these songs are related to traditional fiestas such as the ones we have mentioned. Others simply comment on legendary figures and deeds. Traditionally the Basque has been painted as a retiring character of few words, but all inhibitions disappear in song, and in spite of the dramatic changes which have occurred in the Basque Country in barely a hundred years, some groups of serenaders - until recently very common in our villages - have been preserved. For example, the Marijeses de Gernika make their songful way through the streets of the village for nine days, from 16th December to Christmas Day, and the choirs of Santa Agueda, groups of nightime serenaders, go round the streets of Basque communities on 5th February singing versus about Santa Agueda, accompanied by the rhythmical banging of stakes.

One unique phenomenon is that of bertsolarismo, the most important and popular display of oral Basque poetry. The bertsolari, subject to strict rules of meter, and basing his song on a huge range of tunes adapted to the different stanza forms, improvises elaborate verses on subjects suggested to him on the spot, or according to rhymes which have been decided. A session of Bertsolaris is apart from anything else, a challenge of ingenuity, quick thinking and technical skill.

As far as the music goes, the txistu is the Basque instrument. It is a simple wind instrument which, in its different forms, and usually accompanied by a light drum beat played by the same musician, is used to play the music of the majority of Basque Dances, from the most solemn ones to the "jotas" and fandangos, which everyone dances. An instrument which often fulfils similar functions is the alboka, a little pipe made of straw, wood, and horn. The Basque Country has zealously preserved its own folkloric traditions, but likewise it would be unusual for a country such as this, which has always regarded music as one of its most genuine means of expression, to remain distanced from other musical tendencies. And in fact the Basque Country hosts for example the most important Jazz festivals of Spain, such as those of Vitoria-Gasteiz and Donostia-San Sebastian, and offers programmes of classical music such as the Fortnight of Music of Donostia-San Sebastian or the Bilbao Opera season.

Music, Songs, and Local Poetry

Classical: The Symphony Orchestra of the Basque Country, and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra. See annual programmes. Choral Fortnight of Bilbao, February. ABAO Festival of Opera, February. Spring opera, Bilbao, May. Fortnight of Music, Donostia-San Sebastian, September. Maitza Dantza, Donostia-San Sebastian, May.

Jazz: Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival, July. Donostia-San Sebastian Jazz Festival, July. Getxo Jazz Festival, Bizkaia, July.

Local Serenade Groups: Marijeses of Gernika. Nine days from 16th to 25th December, at night. Choirs of Santa Agueda. 4th February at night, in most villages. Olentzero. 24th December, all day, but especially at dusk, in most villages.

Bertsolaris: Finals of the local competitions of poetic improvisation in May. Location varies.

Annual Trikitrixas Championship. (Small accordeons) Spring. Location varies.

May-Month of Dance. Vitoria-Gasteiz.

African Music Festival. May. Vitoria-Gasteiz.

International Choral Week. September. Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Early Music Week. September. Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Previous Chapter

Next Chapter