Mikel Laboa,
60ak + 2
(Elkar, 2003)

"If I had cut its wings,
It would have been mine,
It would not have flown away.

But then,
It would have been a bird no longer,
And it was the bird that I loved."

-J.A. Artze, as sung by Mikel Laboa

Mikel Laboa is perhaps the grandfather of contemporary Basque folk music. His music and contribution to the Basque "new song" echoed the early "nueva trova" folk song movement in Latin America.

This 75-minute collection of his greatest work from the '60s, plus two influential later songs, shows Laboa's key contribution to the post-fascist restoration of Basque culture.

Most of these songs are in simple arrangements, many simply guitar and voice. Some are traditional folk songs such as "Oi Pello, Pello" and "Haurtxo Txiki." Others are settings of poems by Brecht or by Laboa's collaborator, J.A. Artze.

The words of "Txoria Txori" (quoted above) seem simple enough, even innocuous. It is not until you hear the live version of this song and hear the audience singing along with Laboa that you realize "Txoria Txori," as delivered in Laboa's crackling tenor, is one of the most powerful protest songs ever written. It is worthy of Bob Dylan, Ferron or Silvio Rodriguez at their best.

Another tune that is eerily evocative is "Martxa Baten Lehen Notak" (roughly, "First Notes for a March"). Laboa wrote this song with Artze to celebrate the end of fascism in the Spanish-ruled part of the Basque country. It was meant to be a march along the lines of the "Internationale," but one that took the peoples of small, stateless nations into account.

Despite the age of the material, the recording quality is good throughout, with rare exceptions. The arrangements are best when kept simple, but occasionally veer into the experimental, often making the material sound dated. Lyrics are provided in Basque. Although translations of the songs are not given, brief notes in Spanish and French accompany the CD.

Laboa continues to record music, but this is a thorough retrospective of his classic, most influential songs.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 30 October 2004