Monday, July 9, 2012

Basque punk rock

Have you ever heard of the Basque cringe? No. Doesn't exist. As mentioned earlier, on a recent trip to Euskadi I was struck by the self-confidence that the Basques seem to exude in whatever way they choose to express themselves.

Though it may not seem like it, the Basque language - Euskera - is still a minority tongue within the boundaries of their nation. However, concerted efforts by everyone from youth groups to teachers to politicians and punks have seen the oldest language in Europe take the momentum. Like Faroese or Hebrew that went from moribund to first state language, I have no doubt that it will become the first tongue of most Basques in the very near future.

I also note that many of the young bands incorporate aspects of traditional culture into what they do. It could be elements of tradtional Basque dress, instruments or iconography but it's there as a badge of pride and identity. Too many Scots see these icons as 'kitsch' and cringe from them or think they're best reserved for weddings or Hogmonay.

One reflection of the independent attitude was the channel Hamaika - one of at least three Basque language channels. It seemed to broadcast a daily gallery of music videos showcasing the breadth of Euskal musika. It was much to my taste with a lot of punk rock on show. Attitude and political awareness was there in spadefuls. Here's a taste...

Siroka are a current hit in the Tocasaid bothie of sound. This song which features a number of other Basque musicians deals with the shameful treatment of Basque political prisoners - from anarchists and pacifists to suspected ETA members - by the Spanish and French authorities.

Xarma are in a similar vein. This time with their female member doing vocal duties on a song against the persistent problem of violence against women.

Negu Gorriak are perhaps best known outside Euskadi. I picked up one of their CDs a few years ago on which they covered international punk, rock and hip-hop songs in their own language. Their Basque version of Minor Threat's 'Small man, big mouth' was particularly memorable. This was a band with a hard political edge and the balls to match. They formed in the 80s and were active at a time when the post-Franco 'democracy' of Spain was continuing the Madrid-centred repression of Basque people, and not just hardline ETA members. Remember the assassination squads of the 'Socialist' Madrid government? This quote from Wiki illustrates matters:
They were completely committed to the political movement, starting with their choice to sing only in Euskera and continuing through their way of work and the message in their songs. They decided to manage themselves and created the record label Esan Ozenki. They performed their first concert in front of Herrera de la Mancha maximum security prison, leading to problems with the government. They were renounced by the Guardia Civil general, Enrique Rodríguez Galindo for the lyrics of the song «Ustelkeria», which accuses the general and the Guardia Civil of being involved in drug trafficking. This was the first time since the end of Franco's regime that the government denounced a form of expression. These charges were dropped in 2001, five years after the group stopped performing together. In honour of their legal victory, the group performed three celebratory concerts to more than 30,000 people.
Here's another article on Negu Gorriak by a Canadian author. I like the reference to 'decolonization movements'.  Here they are taunting the Spanish authorities outside the Herrrera de la Mancha prison.

Onto more modern stuff but still with Euskera and politics at the heart of it, singalong punk in the vein of Rancid or Dropkick Murphys with heavy doses of ska is well represented - Itziarren Semeak:

Hesian are similar:

More fusion stuff and an interesting crossover of punk, metal and electro. Whatever, the medium is the message. Zein da Zein? are Primal Scream meeting Leatherface.

Lastly, when I was at school the Abrasive Wheels classic 'Burn the Schools' was popular with some of us. Here though is a pro-school singalong from Banda Batxoki. The schools though are the successful and multicultural Basque language Eskola.

Here's hoping someone can get Na Gathan or Oi Polloi in to entertain and inspire our kids in our own Gaelic medium schools. Gaelic punk rock could be the soundtrack of our independence...

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