Palo Alto, California, USA. Bertsolaris Amets Arzallus, Julio Soto and Johnny Curutchet performed the art of Basque improvisational singing at Stanford University On February 21st as part of “Bertsolari Day” organized by Iñaki Lopez de Luzuriaga, Basque language and culture teacher at the prestigious institution.
The event was entitled, “Basque Troubadours,” and besides facing off bertsolaris from the Basque Country and the US, it also included a discussion on other improvisational traditions such as those by the payadores in Argentina or the Cuban repentistas.
Basque Country and the US
Iñaki Lopez de Luzuriaga presented the bertsolaris as well as provided a brief introduction into the world of bertsolarismo to begin the performance. Amets Arzallus (Donibane Lohizune, Lapurdi, 1983) is one of the best known bertsolaris in the Basque Country and placed among the final 8 in the last three Bertsolari Championships in 2001, 2005 and in 2009 where he placed second. Julio Soto (Gorriti, Navarre, 1987) is the current champion of Navarre maintaining the title that he won last year.
Bertsolari Johnny Curutchet was born in San Francisco, even though he was raised in Ezterenzubi (Lower Navarre). He returned to the States in the 70s and has traveled the country performing bertsos for the Basque-American community, where he is practically a cultural icon. In 2006 he was inducted into the Basque Hall of Fame and in 2003 he received a very prestigious award from the National Endowment for the Art’s, the National Heritage Fellowship Award.
Discussion in English
After the introduction and the bertsolari presentation, Edith Leni, doctoral student at the university, gave a talk on other oral traditions in South America, which was followed by showing the trailer of Bertsolari a film which talks about the world of bertsolaritza, starting with the excitement and expectation that the Bertsolari Championship arouses in the Basque community every four years.
Afterwards, the bertsolaris talked with those present and answered questions in a fluid dialogue that took place in English. To end the day Arzallus, Soto and Curutchet sang some bertsos on topics provided by the Stanford Basque students. In the video that follows, you can hear one of these bertsos, as well as its translation into English, done by the bertsolaris themselves (more video and commentary in English on San Francisco’s Basque Cultural Center’s website.