25 Kantu Urte
(Elkar, 1996)

The Basque group Oskorri's 25th birthday party is a masterpiece combining strong delivery and presence with time-tested material that highlights folk music as a moral force in society. This is their first truly European album, featuring songs in nine languages and musicians from across Western Europe.

25 Kantu Urte (which roughly means "25 Years of Song") was recorded in 1996 at the Getxo Folk Festival near Bilbao. It stands today as a passionate audio documentary of a vibrant concert and songs that resonate with an entire people. It affirms that the Basques are a part of Europe and a people determined to survive.

The album is indeed a team effort that transcends borders. Besides the band, 25 Kantu Urte features musicians Kepa Junkera from the Basque Country, Gabriel Yacoub from France, Martin Carthy from England, Patrick Vaillant from Provence, Anton Reixa from Galicia and more. Oskorri's repertoire is present with a twist -- guests sing a verse in Basque, and the audience cheers in recognition. Then Oskorri singers Anton Latxa or Natxo de Felipe sing a verse in the guests' native language.

Highlights abound: Ruper Ordorika's singing on "Ostatuko neskatxaren koplak (Ballad for the Girl at the Inn)" resonates mightily with the line, "the blood of the Basque people will not be shed in vain." Fermin Muguraza shouts his way through the "Euskaldun berriaren balada (Ballad of the Basque Learner)," followed by calls from the audience for "Euskal Presoak Euskal Herriran!" ("Basque prisoners back to the Basque land!") And don't miss the audience singing "Happy Birthday" ("Zorionak!") to the band in Basque at the end of the CD.

A particular favorite is Basque folksinger Mikel Laboa teaming up with the band on "Aita Semeak (Father & Son)" with the audience joining in: "But I am young and have /the future in my hands/the Basque country will never die/as long as I shall live."

Also stirring is the Basque and Catalan version of "Euskal Herrian Euskaraz (In the Basque Country, Speak Basque)" featuring falsetto Albert Pla, who seems to run out of breath on the last stanza. (Welsh singer Dafydd Iwan may have been a better choice in this case.) This song was written during the democratic transition in Spain, and Latxa sings in Basque, "We want to speak and play, live and work in Basque/It's time to win or lose this battle," and later in Catalan, "If we cannot speak Basque/in the Basque country/what good is this democracy/we can throw it out."

Irish piper Liam O'Flynn does a spoken-word version of the first verse of "Gaztelugazte" to which Latxa and de Felipe respond, singing in Irish. The treasure and pride of the Basques is "the will not to oppress; the will not to be oppressed." Carthy's Nafarroa gives us a chance to hear Oskorri sing in English.

The CD isn't all serious politics, however. Having fun, Joseph Tapia joins in on "Furra Furra." Brittany's Gwendal plays on "Tirauki." Jon Sarasua, the urban bertsolari (verse improviser and poet) sings in "Insumisoarena (Song about Refusal to Do Military Service)" and contributes lyrics on about half a dozen cuts.

25 Kantu Urte sums up beautifully the band's first 25 years in 25 songs. The most remarkable thing about the band was that after this look back, they have moved so far forward and in many new directions. This is a record of great importance. Fortunately, lyrics are translated into French, English and Spanish, and there is a fine booklet with powerful black-and-white photos of the Basque Country to accompany each song, as well as photos of the band members and their guests. If you were to buy just one album of Basque folk music, this should be it.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 19 March 2005

[ visit the artist's website ]