With the support of the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Worlds of Music, the band Ospa will present music of the Basque Country and of the Basque immigrant communities of the American West in a series of talks and performances around Wyoming in January, 2023. The programs will focus on both Basque community dance music and the songs and poems of the nineteenth century Basque troubadour Joxe Mari Iparragirre.
While Iparragirre—singer, songwriter, poet, cultural activist, and roustabout—is one of the most prominent nineteenth century Basque figures, his complete work had never appeared in English until 2021 when the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada published Gernikako arbola—The Tree of Gernika. This book of translations by David Romtvedt and Xabier Irujo included the thirty-nine poems and songs that scholars are certain were written by Iparragirre, including the title song “The Tree of Gernika” which has long served as the unofficial national anthem of the Basque Country and of the global Basque diaspora.
As a print book, the Tree of Gernika included the text of the songs but not the accompanying music. Having been drawn to Iparragirre’s life and work as a result of serving as the co-translator of the poems and songs, Ospa member David Romtvedt began performing some of the music with its Basque lyrics while also reading the translations for English speaking audiences. That led to the idea of enlisting the other Ospa musicians to perform Iparragirre’s songs along with Basque music of Wyoming and the West—primarily the dance music historically associated with celebratory events.
These dance tunes that are known in almost identical forms throughout the Basque world whether in Wyoming, Nevada, Argentina, or Europe have been largely instrumental. Their emphasis was on bringing people together through group dancing that emphasized the continuity of Basque life through the past five centuries. Iparragirre’s songs, on the other hand, were meant for listening not dancing, and spoke to the experience of the Basques during the Carlist Wars between 1834 and 1876, a time of ongoing civil war on the Iberian Peninsula. These were the years when Basque autonomy came under increasing fire from the French and Spanish states and when Basque political independence was coming to an end.
Iparragirre wrote about the long history of Basque autonomy, about great military and cultural heroes of the past, about the importance of the Basque language, and of those writers and scholars who defended the language and its culture. So Iparragirre was something of a political figure. Indeed, his song “The Tree of Gernika” was considered so dangerous by the Spanish state that he was exiled and spent eighteen years in Argentina and Uruguay before returning home. This followed earlier exile in France and England along with a period of two years when he was a member of a traveling theater troupe performing in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.
When Iparragirre finally returned home, he wrote one of his most famous songs, “Back to the Land I Love” that opens with him standing on a hill above what is now the Spanish French border looking out across the southern Basque provinces—Gipuzkoa, Nafarroa, Araba, and Bizkaia—and saying:
Over there the beloved mountains,
the rolling fields
and sparkling white farmhouses,
the streams and springs.
Here, Iparragirre expresses love of place. And indeed, many of what are thought of as his most political poems are driven as much by a straightforward love of place as by any ideology or national sentiment. Indeed, when Iparragirre ran away from home at fourteen and enlisted in the Carlist Armies, he said years later that he did so only for love of the Basque Country and his fellow Basques not for any political reason.
Maybe it was love in all its varieties that drove Iparragirre. He loved sport and wrote about famous players of Basque handball—pilota. He loved language and wrote about the linguists and historians working to keep Basque alive. Above all, and for better and worse, he loved romance and wrote about his many infatuations. He knew he was often silly but couldn’t resist. In “About You, Manuela,” he wrote:
It’s hopeless, this
love. Why’d you
pick my heart
to rule. Better
to have said,
‘Buzz off, truth
is I never liked
men with beards.’
And in “A Sharp Thorn,” explaining love, he wrote:
You want to know
how bad it is? Ask me.
I’m the test case
for loving too much.
Poor Joxe Mari. His was a wild musical journey through many aspects of nineteenth century Basque life. Ospa is excited to present some of this journey to audiences around Wyoming.
Ospa Wyoming tour – Jan 5 – 15 supported by the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Worlds of Music
For info, please contact David Romtvedt at 307-217-2812 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thur Jan 5 – 7:30PM, Campbell County Rockpile Museum, 900 W 2nd Street, Gillette, WY 82716. Contact: Stephan Zacharias, Stephan.Zacharias@campbellcountywy.gov; 307-682-5723.
Fri Jan 6 – during school day meet students at Sheridan High School. Contact: Chad Rose, email@example.com); 307-620-2931.
Fri Jan 6 – 7:00PM, Kendrick Mansion Carriage House, 419 Delphi Ave., Sheridan, WY 82801. Contact: Grace Cannon, firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-461-0262.
Saturday and Sunday, Jan 7 and 8 – No performances
Mon Jan 9 – 12:45PM, Buffalo Senior Center, 671 W. Fetterman St., Buffalo, WY 82834. Contact: Stephanie Nicholson, email@example.com; 307-251-1359.
Mon Jan 9 – 7:30PM, Johnson County Library, 171 N. Adams, Buffalo, WY 82834. Contact: Heather Kuzara, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Steve Rzasa, email@example.com; 307-684-5546
Tue Jan 10 – 7:30PM, Albany County Library, 310 S. 8th St., Laramie, WY 82070. Contact: Cassandra Hunter, firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-721-2580.
Wed Jan 11 – 6:00PM, Casper College Continuing Ed program, 125 College Dr., Casper, WY 82601. Contact: Zhanna Gallegos, email@example.com; or Kat Bohr-Buresh, firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-268-3399.
Thur Jan 12 – during school day meet students at Kelly Walsh High School 8:20-9:45AM (band), Noon to 1:30PM (percussion), 3500 E. 12th St. Casper, WY 82609. Contact: Brent Rose, email@example.com; 307-620-1454.
Thur Jan 12 – 7:30PM, Artcore at Lyric Theater, 2340 W. Yellowstone, Casper, WY 82601. Contact: Carolyn Deuel, firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-267-8606.
Fri Jan 13 – 7:30PM, Clay Paper Scissors Gallery, 1513 Carey Ave. Cheyenne, WY 82001. (venue TBA—gallery or Cheyenne Unitarian Universalist Church. Contact: Camellia El-Antably, email@example.com; 307-631-6039.
Sat Jan 14 – 7:30PM, Broadway Theater, 618 Broadway, Rock Springs, WY 82901. Contact: Chad Banks (Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency), firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-352-1434.
Sun Jan 15 – 7:00PM, Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, 265 S. Cache St. (PO Box 860), Jackson, WY 83001. Contact: Marty Camino, email@example.com; 307-734-8956, or Willi Brooks, firstname.lastname@example.org; 307-690-3997.