Vizkayatik ... Bizkaiara
It's not enough to simply go out and research old folk tunes and make a living playing them. The really impressive folk artists are those who have made the tradition their own and successfully brought it to a contemporary audience that goes beyond committed folkophiles. To do this for years and years -- to fight for and win a place for the music in the daily lives of people -- is an impressive achievement.
You think of La Bottine Souriante, bringing the music of old Quebec to the world, even updating it with a new flavour. In Venezuela, there is the group Un Solo Pueblo. In Euskadi, the Basque Country of Spain, there is Oskorri.
Oskorri's album Vizkayatik ... Bizkaiara is the 24th this group has produced in three decades. The musicians (their name means "first light of day") started life as a rock band but realized they were singing someone else's stories, not those of their own Basque communities.
On Vizkayatik ... Bizkaiara they tell, in song, the stories of the people of Bizkaia, the most populous Basque province. They tell those stories in the Basque language, Euskera, and they do it well. Fortunately for us, translations are provided into English, Spanish and French, so we can understand as well as enjoy these songs.
Musically, this CD is squarely in the folk idiom with traditional instruments predominating and the songs, dating from anytime in the last 200 years, delivered with energy and passion. Whether about war, peace, work, drinking or just everyday life, these songs evoke a whole culture.
"Bilbotik Ipi–aburura" sets the tone of this CD with a rollicking tale of the Basques preparing for an invasion of Spain by the United States during the 1898 Spanish-American War. (Of course, the invasion never happened!)
Most songs are upbeat and fun, but one of my favorites, "Euskaldun bat Veracruzen," is a beautiful lament dating from the period of the First Carlist War in Spain (the 1830s). Lovers of Celtic music, take note, this sad refrain is worthy of the best of Ireland and Wales.
Oskorri is joined by worthy guests on this CD. Included are La Bottine Souriante's Michel Bordeleau on foot percussion and Basque accordionist Kepa Junkera.