various artists,
(Elkarlanean, 2003)

This three-CD collection is not as much an introduction to the major popular folk-based artists from the Basque Country, but rather a compendium of the best cuts from 50 of Elkar's recordings of roots-based popular Basque musicians.

The three CDs each have a distinct flavour. No. 1, my favorite, is current neo-traditional music; No. 2 has more of a folk/country/'80s feel, and No. 3 is from the early days of Basque folk revival (1960s and '70s). While not presented exactly in reverse chronological order, there is a feel that the deeper you go into this collection, the further back in time you are going. You can see the evolution of Basque roots music in reverse.

In effect, it's a story of "forward to the past." Today's music is more authentic-sounding than ever, and has more to do with Basque traditions. The group Oskorri and accordionist (trikitilari in Basque) Kepa Junkera turn up on the first CD. So do singer-songwriter Benito Lertxundi, Ruper Ordorika, trikitilari Iker Goenaga and txalaparta (traditional two-person percussion) group Oreka TX.

Most of this disc comes from recordings done in the past five or so years. With the rediscovery of the trikitixa (diatonic accordion) and the txalaparta and other traditional instruments in the 1990s, Basque music has emerged into its own.

Junkera's lively "Zirkinipez" (with alboka player Ibon Koteron) opens the set followed by Amaia Zubiria's trancelike "Mami Xuri." Artists such as Tapia eta Leturia, Goenaga, Ganbara, and Olatz eta Maider interpret the Basque "trikitixa" in a new and lively way. In another highlight, Oskorri's "Kalera Noa Ihesi" (from their 25th anniversary live album) is performed live with Gabriel Yacoub.

Moving to the other two CDs, the fare is not quite as exciting. The second CD features the likes of Ordorika, Imanol, Jabier Muguruza and others. It has a more mainstream sound, but is still roots-based. Muguruza's plodding "Frances Farmer" does feel a bit dated, and the second disc is uneven.

On the third, Lertxundi appears again (he's been around a while) with "Orreaga." Mikel Laboa's excellent "Haika Mutil" is there; Erramun Martikorena, the singing shepherd from the French Basque Country, Xabier Lete and other pioneers of folk also turn up. Much of this third disc has the feeling of simplicity of '60s-era folk-pop.

All in all, the three-disc set is a thorough look at Basque roots music. It's reasonable at about 25 euros for three hours of music and proof that there is an astonishingly lively music scene in Euskal Herria, the Basque Country. Proof, too, that progress has been made and the music being made today is as interesting as ever.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 24 July 2004

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