Basque Fact of the Week: Maialen Lujanbio, Bertsolari Champion

Bertsolaritza is the art of Basque improvisational poetry. Every four years, the best bertsolaris come together to crown a champion. (It has been five years since the last competition because of, you know, COVID.) The latest edition of the championship, called the Bertsolari Txapelketa Nagusia, just wrapped up, with the final taking place on December 18, 2022, in Iruñea/Pamplona, Nafarroa, in front of some 13,000 spectators. At the end of the day, Maialen Lujanbio had won her third txapela. Only Andoni Egaña Makazaga has won more titles.

Maialen Lujanbio receives the applause of the finalists after winning the Bertsolaris Absolute Championship. EFE/Villar Lopez. Photo from
  • Maialen Lujanbio Zugazti was born on November 26, 1976 in Hernani. She was part of the first generation of school children who were exposed to and taught improvisational poetry as part of their curriculum. Even as a student, she was recognized as an outstanding bertsolari, winning numerous accolades at the local and provincial level, both individually and as part of teams.
  • She became part of the bertsolari school of Jose Mari Gabiria. She later moved to Bilbo, attending the University of the Basque Country and obtaining a degree in Fine Arts. Her career as a bertsolari took off soon after. In 2003, she became champion of Gipuzkoa. She was a finalist for the national competition in 1997 and 2005, and the runner-up in 2001 and 2013.
  • Her participation in the 1997 event was the first time a woman had competed. In 2022, for the first time two other women also joined her in the finals – Alaia Martin and Nerea Ibarzabal. When Alaia and Maialen performed together in a joint verse, it was also the first time two women competed onstage together in the history of the championship.
  • In 2009, Maialen became the first woman to win the Bertsolari Txapelketa Nagusia of the Basque Country, held that year in Barakaldo. She followed with wins in 2017 and, most recently, 2022, making her a three-time champion. She has appeared in 7 finals, tying Andoni Egaña Makazaga for the most.
  • In the bertsolaritza championship, each poet is given themes they must compose their poem against. Many of the themes in the 2022 finals touched on social issues, including sexual abuse, low-paying jobs, emigration, and transgender issues. Some of Maialen’s verses had these themes:
    • With Alaia: you have a shop together on the seafront. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent. Alaia, you want to change the location of the store; Maialen wants to stay there.
    • With Beñat Gaztelumendi: You are two friends who have gone to lunch together. Beñat has a habit of taking pictures of all the dishes before he starts to eat. Maialen, Beñat takes charge of you because you started eating before he took his picture.
    • With Sustrai Colina: You are two service managers of a hospital. You do not agree with the management of your political authorities. Sustrai suggests that you both submit your resignation together.
    • You gave each other a complicit smile.
  • Maialen has brought a new perspective to the art of bertsolaritza, with references to film and the creation of stories in her verse. In addition to her improvised verse, she has written lyrics for numerous Basque musical groups. She has also become a specialist in the transmission of Basque culture, completing a post-graduate degree on the topic in 2008.

Primary sources: Ibarluzea Santisteban, Miren. Lujanbio Zugasti, Maialen. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Maialen Lujanbio, la ‘bertsolaritza’ o el arte de improvisar reivindicaciones ante 14.000 personas, Maialen Ferreira, El Diario; Maialen Lujanbio, Wikipedia; 2022ko Bertsolari Txapelketa Nagusiko finala, Wikipedia

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