Benito Lertxundi,
Nere Ekialdean
(Elkarlanean, 2002)

Benito Lertxundi is one of two fathers of contemporary Basque-language folk music (along with Mikel Laboa) who recorded in Basque (Euskera) during the Franco dictatorship in Spain when it was worth a prison term to do so openly. He continues to record listenable and relevant material.

Nere Ekialdean (the name means roughly "In My East") is a fine example of how a folksinger can use sophisticated production to advantage. Unlike many attempts by folksingers to adorn their sound and popularize themselves, this CD actually works because Jean Phocas (also Oskorri's sound engineer) contributes his usual professional expertise to this recording.

Here Lertxundi positions himself as a Basque Leonard Cohen, with his voice and arrangements sounding more and more like those of the Montreal poet-musician. The style of a Mark Knopfler (on "Kaixo Ardizain") comes to mind occasionally as well. Comparisons aside, it is the voice of a mature artist. Although all lyrics are sung in Basque, the melodies and arrangements have a very pan-European flavor.

Musicians are Juantxo Zeberio (piano and synthesizers), Fernando Ederra (bass), Pello Ramirez (cello), Kutxo Otxoa de Aribe (violin), Jose Mari Irastorza (flute), Gurutz Bicu'a (electric guitar), Blas Fernandez (drums), Ander Erzilla (oboe), Angel Unzu (guitar, bouzouki) and the very fine backing vocals of Olatz Zugasti. Notes are provided in Basque only, but lyrics are translated into French and Spanish. (All translations here are mine, via the French version provided).

At first listen, one feels Lertxundi has perhaps overdone it with the keyboards, the strings, the backing vocals and so on, but Nere Ekialdean grows on the listener. It's extremely calming and the Basque lyrics are poems, rendered deliberately, even meditatively, in a voice that must have been heard in a thousand cafes. At times, the rhythms of the songs come in gentle waves. This is a recording to be savored.

The first line of the opening and title track, "September offers its blue to the sea/and the sea makes of me a seagull/that is itself sea," sets the mood, and if you have ever been on a Basque beach in September, you are transported there.

Nere Ekialdean is a meditation on life and also a homage to the poet Fernando Pessoa, who is credited with the lyrics of five songs; other lyrics are penned by Lertxundi and one is a translation by Lertxundi into Basque of a Pete Seeger/Anne Warner song, "Old Devil Time," which is rendered in Basque as "Zergatik Utzi Kantatzeari." In Lertxundi's version, this begins: "My life extends itself/In a song without end/Above the cares of the world/My life, in a song." Lertxundi also composes much of the music on the CD.

The 11 tracks, including the final instrumental "Gaztetarzunak," all together form an intricate web of fine music. Sit back with a cool drink and imagine you are on the beach in Donostia (San Sebastian) or in a cafe in Bilbao or Paris, and relax with this one.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 24 January 2004