various artists,
Zaharregia, txikiegia agian
(Too Old, Too Small, Maybe)

(Gaztelupeko Hotzak, 2003)

In 2003, five Basque artists were invited to New York and recorded this multimedia CD and booklet based on their visit -- there is also a 2006 film Again, since released. The 14 tracks on the CD include texts by poet Kirmen Uribe and singer Mikel Urdangarin, music by Urdangarin (vocals, guitar) Rafa Rueda (guitar, vocals) and Bingen Mendizabal (violin, vocals) as well as Uribe reading his own poetry. Illustrations on the lavish booklet are by artist Mikel Valverde.

Uribe's Basque poetry is both political and personal, and deals in some stunning word-images. On "Munduari begiratzeko" he writes that a language is "a way to look at the world, a way to sing with old friends / to take the sun on the wall, a way to know how to wait." On "Lagun bat" he writes about a friend who is always saying "no, you can't do that, you will fail."

In "Urrezko eraztuna (The Gold Ring)" he writes about a wedding ring that was lost by his father -- then found again in the belly of a fish. His poems and stories, all translated into English and Spanish, are the highlights of this project. They evoke the mountains and the sea, work, love and play. In particular, the story about the coloured heads of Notre Dame, rediscovered after centuries, is a poignant one.

Urdangarin, main vocalist for the project, has a breathy, almost pop delivery, crossing over from folk. It suits the arrangements that highlight Rueda's Knopfleresque guitar stylings and Mendizabal's violin, with the latter two also contributing on effective backing vocals. The result is a light accessible pop-folk that is a perfect vehicle for the text. Only one piece, "In the Palace of Tardets" -- the one traditional text included -- might benefit from a reworking, thought there are some nice harmonies on the track.

The images of Valverde, included on almost every page of the 125-page booklet, are another plus for this package with the watercolours of the Basque Country juxtaposed with drawings and photos of New York, and odd bits, like a dog in a suit, or a Basque house sitting on top of a green apple.

This is a project that can be appreciated on several levels -- just enjoy the texts, the music and the images, or use them as food for serious contemplation. It is fortunate that we have access to these texts in the fine translations of Elizabeth Macklin. All in all, a very worthwhile effort.

by David Cox
24 February 2007