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Sing Like a Basque: Traditional Folk Songs

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Fri, 22 Apr 2016 06:02:00 GMT
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<figure id="attachment_22621"><img class="size-full wp-image-22621" src="/media/blog/images/2016/04/SFBCC-choir.jpg" alt="The Ekgarrekin Choir performs at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center's Mass on February 14, 2016. Photo by Elisa Hough, Ralph Rinzler Archives" width="700" height="441" srcset="/media/blog/images/2016/04/SFBCC-choir.jpg 700w, /media/blog/images/2016/04/SFBCC-choir-290x183.jpg 290w" sizes="(max-width: 700px) 100vw, 700px" /><figcaption><div class="figcaption-inner">The Ekgarrekin Choir performs at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center&#8217;s Mass on February 14, 2016. Photo by Elisa Hough, Ralph Rinzler Archives</div></figcaption></figure><p>In France, to “sing like a Basque” means you sing “loudly, well, and often,” according to Mark Kurlansky’s <em>Basque History of the World</em>. And it is no wonder why <em>on chant comme un Basque </em>is a French expression, as the Basque have been developing and performing a unique vocal repertoire for centuries.</p><p>Born out of an array of practical, artistic, and competitive uses, the rural theater of <em>pastorales</em>; the shrill, yodel-like call of the <em>irrintzi</em>; and <em>bertsolaritza</em>—a live performance of improvised verses—are among the many musical forms and vocal traditions that propel the Basque people into their cultural status as known singers.</p><p>The following recordings—unearthed in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection in the <a href="https://www.folklife.si.edu/archive">Ralph Rinzler Archives</a>—are just a few Basque songs included in an episode of <em>The Folk Music of France</em>, a radio program aired by the North American Service of the French Broadcasting System in the mid-twentieth century. Performed by a five-piece choral group, the featured folk songs were composed at least as long ago as the nineteenth century, and span from the Lapurdi to the Zuberoa regions in the French Basque Country.</p><p>As folk music often does, the songs provide (sometimes poetic) insight to Basque life and worldviews, discussing daily activities, games, and gender roles, expressing love and heartbreak, and reflecting on landscape and the natural world.</p><p>The translations are an outlet for the stories inside the tunes. Rather than merely analyzing the music, the songs can speak for themselves.</p><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER START--></p> <div class="tag">Audio</div> <div class="card audio-card full-border-card no-underline"> <div class="details"> <div class="details-inner"> <div class="title-wrapper"> <div class="title"> <span class="light"><span class="er">“Iragan Besta Biharamunian” (Last Year’s Village Festival)</span></span> </div> </div> <div class="audio-player"> <audio class="mejs-player" src="https://folkways-media.si.edu/audio/festival/blog/Last_Years_Village_Festival.mp3" data-mejsoptions='{"startVolume": 0.5, "setDimensions": false}'></audio> </div> </div> </div></div><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER END--></p><p style="color: gray; line-height: 1em;">Written by Jean Baptiste Elissanburu (1828-1891) from Lapurdi region</p><p><em>Herriko besta biharmunian // On the day after the village festival</em><br /><em> Berek dakiten xoko batean // In a corner that they know</em><br /><em> Lau andre, hirur mutxurdin // Four women, three spinsters</em><br /><em> Bat alarguna, jarriak itzalean // And a widow sit in the shade</em><br /><em> Harri xabal bat belaunen gainean // A flat stone across their knees</em><br /><em> Ari ziren, ari ziren trukean // They are gambling</em></p><p><em>Hago, Maria, otoi, ixilik // Be quiet, Maria</em><br /><em> Ez dun* ikhusi neure keinurik // Didn’t you see my wink?</em><br /><em> Xorta bat edanez geroz begiak ñir-ñir // After taking a drink, your eyes wink</em><br /><em> Zer! Ez dun* ahalkerik? // Shamelessly</em><br /><em> Edan nezaken azkarren hortarik // I could drink with no problem</em><br /><em> Gatilua, gatilua beterik // From that full glass</em></p><p><strong>“Iragan Besta Biharamunian” (Last Year’s Village Festival)</strong> vividly sets a scene of four women likely playing <em>mus</em>, a Basque card game wherein teams of two rack up points in four rounds, betting on each hand. Team members can secretly communicate their hands to each other by winking, twitching, biting their lower lip, raising their eyebrows, and other facial clues.</p><p>This song stands out from the collection as it lyrically employs <em>noka</em>, a form of address toward a woman that has almost disappeared from contemporary speech, according to Begoña Echeverria, Basque scholar and associate professor at UC Riverside. (Examples of noka denoted with *.)</p><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER START--></p> <div class="tag">Audio</div> <div class="card audio-card full-border-card no-underline"> <div class="details"> <div class="details-inner"> <div class="title-wrapper"> <div class="title"> <span class="light"><span class="er">“Adios Ene Maitia” (Goodbye, My Love)</span></span> </div> </div> <div class="audio-player"> <audio class="mejs-player" src="https://folkways-media.si.edu/audio/festival/blog/Goodbye_My_Love.mp3" data-mejsoptions='{"startVolume": 0.5, "setDimensions": false}'></audio> </div> </div> </div></div><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER END--></p><p style="color: gray; line-height: 1em;">From Zuberoa region</p><p><em>Adios ene maitia // Goodbye, my love</em><br /><em> Adios sekülako // Goodbye forever</em><br /><em> Nik ez dit beste phenarik // I have no regrets</em><br /><em> Maitia zuretako // About you, my love</em><br /><em> Zeren üzten züntüdan // For I left you</em><br /><em> Hain libro bestentako // So free for another</em></p><p>Even before reading the English translation for <strong>“Adios Ene Maitia” (Goodbye, My Love)</strong>, you may detect, due to the slow drawl of the melody in a minor key, that this song laments for a lost love. Begoña Echeverria provides the translations for an additional verse that was not included in the original program, a response from the deserted woman:</p><p><em>Zertako erraiten düzü adios sekülako? // Why do you say goodbye forever?</em><br /><em> Uste düzia eztüdala amodio zuretako? // Do you think I do not love you?</em><br /><em>Zük nahi balin banaizü // If you want me<br />Enükezü bestentako // Don’t leave me for another<br /></em></p><p>Whether or not it is well known in Basque Country today, the song has lived on through renditions by artists such as Kepa Junkera, and is featured on the aptly titled <em>Ringtone Hits</em>, an album of regional folk songs as cell phone ringtones.</p><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER START--></p> <div class="tag">Audio</div> <div class="card audio-card full-border-card no-underline"> <div class="details"> <div class="details-inner"> <div class="title-wrapper"> <div class="title"> <span class="light"><span class="er">“Ni Naiz Kapitan Pilotu” (I Am the Skipper)</span></span> </div> </div> <div class="audio-player"> <audio class="mejs-player" src="https://folkways-media.si.edu/audio/festival/blog/I_Am_the_Skipper.mp3" data-mejsoptions='{"startVolume": 0.5, "setDimensions": false}'></audio> </div> </div> </div></div><p><!--PODCAST PLAYER END--></p><p><em>Ni Naiz Kapitan Pilotu // I am the skipper</em><br /><em> Neri behar zait obeditu, obeditu // I must be obeyed</em><br /><em> Bestela zenbaiten kasketa // Otherwise, so much head-butting</em><br /><em> Bonbilun, bonbilun // Like buoys</em><br /><em> Behera egin ezkero zenbaiti // Having to push some people away</em><br /><em> Bonbilun bat eta bonbilun // Like buoys</em><br /><em> Eragiok Santi arraun horri // Move that oar, Santi</em><br /><em> Eragiok Santi arraun horri // Move that oar, Santi</em><br /><em> Arraun hori! // That oar!</em></p><p>The lively vocal rounds in <strong>“Ni Naiz Kapitan Pilotu” (I Am the Skipper)</strong> make it easy to envision Basque fishermen making their daily trip to sea. Boats like the <em>trainera</em> that were once used to race back to the market with a fresh catch are now raced in competitive tournaments. A trainera will typically have thirteen oarsmen and a coxswain, or skipper, who faces the rowers and shouts instructions.</p><p>This summer, you can hear the Basques sing like the Basques at the Folklife Festival. The <em><a href="https://www.festival.si.edu/2016/basque/smithsonian">Basque: Innovation by Culture</a> </em>program will bring <em>bertsolari </em>improvisers, a choir, a shepherd singer, small traditional ensembles, and contemporary rock and pop groups. Join us on the National Mall and sing along!</p><p><em>Kyle Baker holds a bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology, interns for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and has recently discovered how present the Basques have been in his own life, from the namesake of his hometown in California to the breed of his dog.</em></p><p><em>Begoña Echeverria, a member of our Basque community advisory group, provided the translations. </em></p>
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