Esne Zopak,
(Gaztelupeko Hotsak, 2011)

Members of the popular Basque group Esne Beltza, Xabi Solano (accordion) and Jon Mari Beasain (tambourine), adopted the temporary band name Esne Zopak and created this album of traditional Basque "trikitixa" -- music based on the diatonic accordion -- as a tribute to the rich vein of this folk music in Basque Country.

For those who can't find it on a map, the Basque Country is located in northern Spain and southwestern France or, as a Basque might say, between Spain and France. The Basque language is spoken by almost a million people in this area and has no known linguistic relatives.

The band's name in Basque means the Milk Soups (or Milksops), and the name of the CD is roughly: "That which belongs to the milk seller."

For the most part this CD presents traditional Basque dances, such as waltzes and pasodobles, but in a modern context (samples, scratches etc.) making them more accessible to a young audience. The trikitixa style is, in a way, the "country music" of Basque Country, and it was the indigenous "popular music" before radio and sound recordings became available. And it lives on in the hands of many excellent practitioners today.

While Esne Beltza is one of the most successful rock groups in Basque Country, blending roots, rap and reggae, Esne Zopak plays unadulterated accordion music in the triki style. The exception is the standout, contemporary track "Pasadoble," which moves into folk-pop territory. A second outstanding cut is "Baltxekua," which samples the voices of traditional Basque musicians in a beautiful five-minute waltz.

Beyond this, the songs feature the accordion and the tambourine, in standard "trikitixa" style, but contain a new liveliness and energy within that genre. Unlike, say, the band Gozategi, which blends triki and pop smoothly and successfully, Esne Zopak stays within the folk-roots genre but simply borrows contemporary effects to augment these folk dances. Throughout the dozen or so dances, Solano's high but smooth tenor and amazing accordion is a constant.

Lyrics are poignant: On "Inpernuko" comes a reminder that the accordion was condemned by the Church as the rock 'n' roll of its day. And also a reminder of some Basque history, the 1937 destruction of a Basque city by the authors of a Spanish military coup, one of the first acts of modern terrorism, immortalized by Picasso: "This hell's bellows has heaven's luck / it escaped the fires of Gernika." The voice of Basque legendary singer Mikel Laboa is also sampled along with a recurring siren.

In Basque Country there is a sense of permanence: Who we were, we are and we always will be. In "Bals Bat," we are reminded that Basques keep on singing and dancing through the tough times: "Black seasons, tough times, a May without flowers / but where there was the voice of the triki, there were boys and girls ... here's a waltz for you dancers, a waltz without end."

In this, the most economically vibrant corner of Iberia, the downtowns are always lively. (Coincidentally -- nearly unknown are the Walmarts and McDonalds that have hollowed out the cultures and downtowns of North America and many parts of Europe.) There is little urban sprawl. People still walk, as they have done for a thousand years, instead of using cars to get around town -- this gives an opportunity to interact and build community. The Basque Country offers proof: you can indeed modernize and be economically successful without forgetting who you are. And so, in a way, Esne Zopak is a musical model of Basque society.

At the same time, Esne Zopak is proof that traditional music need not be boring and serious, it can also be fun. And the best popular music also gives a nod to those traditions as well.

music review by
David Cox

11 May 2013

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