Our weekly magazine Euskonews & Media will reach its tenth anniversary in 2008. To mark this event, within a very extensive programme of activities, every month until December we will publish a special interview with an inportant figure in the recent history of our country. It is the best gift we can give the thousands of readers who read our magazine every week.
B enito Lertxundi was one of the creators of the new Basque song last century in the sixties decade. With him a whole generation began to see culture as a means of expression and the work of Lertxundi continues to be strong even today. During the last forty years his voice has spread the Basque spirit to the four winds. And his artistic tour from village to village has proved to be a direct witness of the variety of Basque society.
I wanted to do some kind of an x-ray of Basque Society with you, its culture, and its reality... In order to do so I would like to take advantage of some of your songs, compositions that have become deeply rooted in us. And since we have to start somewhere, the first title that comes to mind is “Gure bide galduak” (Our lost ways), although I do not know if it is not too going a bit to far to start the interview by being lost right from the start... From that song I remember “Maitasun hitzak nahi nituzke esan, baina gaur ezin dut” (I would like to say words of love but today I just can’t do it)...
When I composed this song –quite a long time ago, already– there were no solid foundations for such a song. We started almost from zero. I used to sing in choirs and octets. In this style of song, akin to that of the minstrels, interpreted with a guitar in the hands, we had no clear references. It was usually said that some time ago Iparragirre had performed in this way, but not much more. In the outer world, on the other hand there were indeed similar traditions in various places. And we, in one way or another, at that time, we needed our references. It so happened that in those times there was a current called “protest songs”. And when we started to do music, we took a little advantage of that current because, of course, there was quite a lot of concern to us here already. Besides, I would add that we were all young, and I was a young lad from Orio who used to like to sing. The “Ez Dok Amairu” movement started and that for me was like a baptism. That is where I stated, in a certain way, to assimilate the awareness of being part of a people. Therefore, all those things we used to talk about then, our political situation, our adventures, our wishes and all that sort of thing were our starting point. And I used the title “Gure bide galduak” because we had no organisation or references, and we lacked adequate actors, and, finally, in order to recover as a people a little.
In those times, that which we call the national conflict was apparent in all its intensity, and I believe that we perceived collectively and quite clearly that there was a kind of way to do things that was impossible to find. That’s where the songs came from. And of course, among other things it says: I would like to say words of love but today this is impossible. Because, at the end of the day, love songs had always been the models. Throughout history, society has always had a strong inclination for love songs, for the expression of this kind of eternal universal feeling when making songs. And we, precisely, we used to act against something, right? And that, concretely, was our protest song.
The wish to express it, and then, when many years have gone by, it is true that I still perceive that we are going along lost paths. I see that in order to channel things appropriately we still lack a little bit of I-don’t-know-what-it-is, and that all this brings about a certain confusion, and that we don’t know what it is made of. And in this moment I believe that we don’t really know very well which the components of the problem are. On one hand, we mix concepts that for me are quite evident. Now, apparently, we are in a democracy but we have our own national problem, and of course, technically, you cannot join democracy and the national problem; they can never appear together. Either there is democracy and the national problem does not exist, or if there is a national problem, then democracy does not exist. At the end of the day, if there were authentic democracy, this problem wouldn’t exist because you would have the necessary instrument.
You have mentioned the contradiction, and it is clear that we continue in it. In fact, our lost way means that we have a conflict, but, although this is the case, it seems you’re not allowed to get angry. In one song at least it says “Haserre egon nahi nuke” (I would like to be angry), as if in reality I lived happily and satisfied...
Yes, it is true... I have always said that if you go to Africa, you will not find psychological problems, as the problem there is to find something to eat. Thus, therefore, they do not have time for psychological problems. We, however, in the first world, we have everything that we need and psychologists. In the end, something similar is happening to us. Yes, we are all right, we, the Basques, are a very developed people, at the spearhead, and we have that special ability to generate wealth, but, in spite of everything, we have an identity problem, the national conflict is always there, outstanding. And when you accept this in an adequate manner, you want to be angry, you want to rebel.
Before, you said that there were a few referents in the field of singing. A friend of mine, Jose Antonio Villar, from Oñati, in the early 1970s, used to be in those famous festivities of La Perla in Donostia and in Eibar playing and singing in festivals, as they came along. And he tells that in one of those festivities, Benito Lertxundi appeared in that new Basque outlook, like a meteorite, with his song “Loretxo” (The little flower). That was, it seems to me, a turning point, right?
Yes, “Loretxo” was my first song. And in those initial meetings of “Ez dok amairu”, we used to speak, among other things, of the fact that we needed our sources, and that we needed to know our ancient songs. The songbooks were there, Azkue, Aita Donostia, and also a few others from Iparralde, Salaberri, Bordes... we got hold of copies and we started to learn those songs. But we had also undertaken the commitment to start to compose our own songs, we knew we had to learn this trade, and that we had to be proficient at it. I remember that when I composed “Loretxo” I was very happy. I celebrated at the moment saying: “I can actually compose a song!” And I immediately started to ring my friends in the band. I don’t know if that was because of the nature of the lyrics –there is a kid looking at a flower and he wants to take out the thorns so that it can live in freedom–, but I think that this metaphor penetrated strongly into people’s imagination. It’s true - it was quite an explosion.
You can say that again! That song had tremendous success. You have mentioned love and love is like the engine in our lives, or so it should be, at least. In this, also, you blazed trails with the song “Eta maita herria üken dezadan plazera” (and I love the people, if you want me to enjoy things). Our people, history, the Basque language... we have a lot to love, don’t you think?
Well, first I have clarified that the song is not mine; it is an ancient song from Zuberoa. It is true that it is very attractive; the melody is very nice, very much alive. And it tells of how a Baron that was roaming around Zuberoa at the King’s service, as the aristocrat that he was, fell in love with a girl and asks her to marry him, and she replies “Sir, if you love me, as you say you do, leave the King’s service and love the people, if you want to satisfy me”. It is curious that as a result of a proposal of love, a mature aristocrat finds this kind of condition: “love the people”. How a young girl appears who lives in nostalgia and in love for the people –this is a nice image– and at the same time it is something that satisfies her.
And it is true that we have a lot to love. In the end, you know, when we speak of love-related matters, this is a state of awareness; yes, love, freedom itself, is a state of awareness. When it doesn’t happen, you do not love things... instead everybody loves their own “ego”, their own ego, whatever can make that ego or nicer. And people don’t do that either because they love, but because what they love is that ego of theirs. But when there is an adequate awareness of things, when one does not leave out whatever surrounds one, if you cannot see yourself outside the place that you have had the luck to live in, with all this patrimony, it is quite natural to be in love with all that or at least to like it. And we have many peculiar and wonderful things, the language itself. I have always said that the civilised world spent a hell of a lot of money to send an expedition to Egypt, to find whatever, and then, when we started up with language matters, there are more people would like to see our language destroyed than those who would be glad to see it progress. That’s curious, isn’t it? And our language is a jewel. Right now it is impossible to determine where it comes from, what course it has taken, where it has gone through. It is here, right here, situated like an island, and as old as one. The civilised world has no interest for it and has set it aside, and that is because it is satisfied with the formal appearance of a democracy. I believe that is a somewhat suspicious attitude. I believe that even for that single reason, it is possible to love the language. Because of that false reaction from the world. In my opinion, only because we stand firm in this world full of makeup, one could love the Basque language, Basque music and many other Basque realities.
Yes, there are many people who look for vestiges in the pass of prehistory. And here we are with a living language that comes from pre history, but some prefer bones and stones...
Bones are there also, but they are dead. Language is something that is alive and, apart from being alive, all the contemporaneous people form their outlook on the world from their forefathers. Then, you can of course do whatever you want with that outlook but, at least, you form it as if on a screen, because it is something that is alive.
Before you mentioned the lack of awareness and this brings me to another of your songs: “Aita saldu nauzu” (Father, you have betrayed me). How many mad things, how many betrayals, how many false things...!
Yes, it’s true and that has happened with most things. Before, I mentioned “egoism”, and the fact is that we have always had some caciques, some cowards around here, that sold villages, the whole of the patrimony of the village, in exchange for I don’t know what reward from I don’t know what King. And then the people have had to drag themselves along on a shoestring. This metaphor, “Aita saldu nauzu”, expresses very well the damage done.
And the prejudices? I mean, “Esku ezkerra” (the know-how): Careful! We can’t go anywhere with that! With our prejudices aren’t we cutting our own wings? And aren’t we labelling whoever comes along instead of giving him his due freedom?
Indeed, and besides, because of superstition, we have never managed to transfer freedom to others. That is to say, superstition itself is what blocks and decreases understanding. When one, because of false beliefs, considers something as definitely designed and established, from then on in, there is no space for freedom. We already know the concept of freedom - it is an extensive concept. Freedom is not an objective. Freedom is an indispensable tool to understand what it is necessary to understand, because we can not act without it. If I am searching for truth, but I have behind me a hierarchy or an authority, I am handicapped. In all my reflections there always appear the concepts of good and bad, because in that exercise there is a certain morality. In this concept of morality and in the judgement that I make the source I have got the information from always appears. Then, but I have to say is that interested discourses or reflections are all interest for me. Things are interesting and profound and they are done without an ulterior interest. That is to say, if I am observing something, but I already have a judgement on the result, then I am not really observing. In order to be able to observe you have to be free, only then will I see the truth and authentic reality.
Therefore, for me, freedom is indispensable to be able to understand what it is necessary to understand. And it is not the objective, but the way to get there. Freedom is indispensable. Therefore, when we move between prejudices and false beliefs, we are not free. This is what often happens, in the name of the spirit and the soul, and in the messages that come from those ill-termed religions. What do we do then? People become indoctrinated. We introduce ourselves in certain customs, in the name of the spirit. And what thought does is sort them out, it prepares a choreography and by means of certain postures we create a scene, a symbol of spirituality, but which has nothing to do with the spirit. That is the most thought can do.
Thought is memory and as it is memory, it belongs to the past, but it is an indispensable tool with which to organise our lives. That is how, therefore, we introduce ourselves into the psychological world. Careful! This produces considerable breakdowns. If I want to win the Olympic Games, I had better follow the training program of a wise trainer. Because he is the person who will have experienced in the best possible way on how my muscles have to work. To get into such a program means that I shall have to make many repetitions and I shall have to align my body. What for? To strengthen myself and because I am determined to reach a degree of specialisation. At the end of the day, the objective is to achieve a mark, and in exchange, applause and fame. And there, the whole thing ends.
But if I apply the same method reference to the psychological world, that is, as is done by means of catechisms and doctrines, what is the result? Well, the result is always a fundamentalist. This hierarchy of teaching will always provide a direct answer to some signals, but it is like an instrument that has been wound up. It is not intelligent. I always say that we eat without realising what we are swallowing. We flavour the food and we may even enjoy it, but our intelligent being will continue there without controlling thought, metabolising everything that we have eaten. That is being intelligent. That is intelligence. And thought knows nothing about it. What I want to say with this is that we have to be careful when we make rules: this is good, that I do not know what... careful with prejudices! In my opinion, this is nothing but a method with which to keep the following generations with their heads castrated.
You have just mentioned superstition and fundamentalism... And if I am not mistaken, this can be related with the obscure side of man. But not inevitably with the man of darkness (“Ilunpetako gizona”).
When I composed that song, “Ilunpetako gizona”, I used to visualise a type of man that cannot be in the sunlight, who tends to obscurity to be able to do something.
But an intelligent person can be in darkness, can’t he? This is never the one who believes in superstitions and fundamentalisms... the obscure man has a completely negative expression...
That is so, to a considerable degree. It is necessary to discern why he is in the darkness and at whose service he is there. Certainly, the dark man can also be in darkness. A fundamentalist, when the world realises that it is dangerous, has to act in obscurity in order to achieve what he wants, as his action can bring about negative consequences.
The man of darkness comes outside and appears in the surface. “Oi lur, Oi lur” (Oh earth, oh earth)...
That’s it, on one hand there are people who take it as their own. On the other hand, the earth understood as the world is, precisely, quite a planet. It just so happens that mankind does not feel it is part of the planet. At the very most, it feels it inhabits the planet. This duality always appears to mankind, in that mediocre conceptual attitude it has because it carries out its designs with thought. Illusory designs. Therefore, mankind has completely lost its conscience. I have often made this test: when you begin to speak of ecology, many people come and say: “Yes, we have to care for nature” They gesticulate outwards! They do not feel part of it. Mankind has forgotten it is nature. That is why I say very often, and quite seriously, although I also do it in order to provoke, that I am also part of the planet. I am not an inhabitant of the planet - I am part of it. And besides, that way I really become part of it.
It is curious, as long as we are not conscious of this, we shall always be saying something like “Yes, I want that but...”, in that love-hate game. “Yes, I want that... but I destroy it”. Until mankind says, “I am part of the planet” it will not care for it as much as it cares for itself, and the fact is that, at the end of the day, it is part of the planet. But this having been said, I would like to bring out another extravagant opinion. And it may sound contradictory, but it is not so. I would also like to denounce the human being’s arrogance. Man thinks, at the same time, that he can destroy the planet and make the earth disappear. But I do not agree. I think the planet or nature has a much higher capacity, it is much stronger than all that. It is more powerful than anything mankind creates. Mankind can state it does not care about the planet. But what is absolutely true is that the world will continue there even after mankind has disappeared from the planet.
Probably so, long after our disappearance, planet earth will continue here. We can insist on destroying it, but nature is intelligent. In the meantime there will be storms, “Ekaitzak”, above this earth, “Oi Lur”, which they will shake, just like they do now. How much hate, how much enmity...
In this interview I am following a line I do not wish to leave at any time. And that is precisely mankind, the indoctrinated mankind, and the codified mankind. At the end, so to say, mankind makes the rules of conduct produced by its codes sacred and untouchable, and mankind venerates those rules. When another group next to it does the same, albeit with a certain difference if you like, there begins to be a competition between both groups. Such is the history of mankind. And that’s where what always happens originates from: We and them. We are incapable of normally perceiving those scarce differences between people and things continue the way they were. Then we realise that the most important thing is to get it all organised, and we start to organise “them” as well, and when organisations are pitted against organisations there are always storms and conflicts. Such is history. In this we have a defect within ourselves that we have not as yet caught. And there is no revolution; at least in the way we understand revolutions, that is, a collective revolution that could perhaps fix things. The only thing that can fix things is a personal revolution. Individual revolution, and that can be so slow! Thus, therefore, with a few reforms you can provide society with a certain educational tendency, but the defect will come up to the surface, because it has not been perceived or it has not been understood, because we are not free to grasp it properly.
On the other hand, it seems that enmities, jealousies, egoisms... all of that disappears completely in a determined period of the year, in which we love one another. And that is when you turn up saying “Ni Olentzero naiz” (I am the Olentzero). I do not know if you are the Olentzero that wishes to put an end to all the jealousies and defects, or if the Olentzero we have today is too sacred a figure...
It is true that in those times our liturgy instructs us to be fraternal, to kiss and congratulate each other. It goes without saying that this is all just make up. On one hand, within this liturgy are the three wise Kings that bear sweet gifts, although sometimes they also bring us a lump or two of coal. But here in this whole matter we have introduced the Olentzero, who also brings presents. But the Olentzero, per se, because of his aspect and attitude are coarser than that of the three wise Kings, as he is a man from the countryside, a coal merchant. And using his figure, what we want here is to bring bitter presents, because enemies tend to crawl in everywhere. The fresh livers of the Carlists... It is a bit of a provocation, a way to shake up our memories. That was the intention behind the song. A sad song perhaps. Olentzero wants to be a warning in this moment. This is what can happen if we do not research things as they should be researched. That’s where bringing bitter presents comes from...
Composer Sabin Salaberri says that you can live without music but that life without it would be very sad. For what reasons would you stop singing (“Zergatik utziko zenioke kantatzeari”)?
I will stop singing when I am no longer able to do so, like everybody else. There comes a time when pain, illness, age or tiredness overcomes us. That will be the reason. That is the only reason I can imagine. I feel very fortunate. I have always loved to sing, since I was a child. I have some very fond memories relate with singing. Images from childhood that I will never forget, like when I used to sing in church... to live without that? yes, well. As long as we breathe, we can live, without music and also without a lot of other things, and perhaps mankind has lived without music and other times. But we are conditioned because we like music. Without it, life would be very difficult.
When I was recording in Madrid the record titled “Zuberoa eta askatasuna”, back in 1977, a chap from Bilbao came along, who used to work as a public relations man in the record company. All dressed up in a suit, and he said: “I understand you very well in your job, because I also use to be an artist”. That sentence shocked me, so I asked him: “Jeez, you used to be an artist? And you are no longer?” That is something I have never understood. I am an artist, but as from tomorrow I shall be no longer. You are born as an artist or as a music lover, and you die as such. Then, as long as you continue and have capacity, strength and energy for this, I see no reason to stop singing.
A carpenter will always be a carpenter and a bullfighter will always be a bullfighter.
From the bottom of my heart: May you continue singing for many years! Benito, we have come to this house, you have greeted us generously, you have brought us to these windows and here we are looking at the sea: “Itsasoari begira”. What is the sea for you? What has it been for the Basque Country?
Loads of things have been said about the sea; by poets, and writers... we all speak about the sea. It is such a mysterious thing...! The sea always provokes some kind of commentary. And in spite of everything, everyday I see more clearly that the sea is something to look at in silence. And when I say in silence I mean even without thinking. That is to say, as if you were going to dissolve into its blue tinges. Why does the sea appeal to us so much? Is it perhaps our subconscious? And are we involuntarily looking for something maternal in the sea? Don’t we come from there...? Then, don’t we see our mother’s womb, to a certain extent, in it? And the sea always looks the same but it is different, it always offers something different. This window to the sea is necessary for us. I come from Orio, I have always been here, who was born here and I have lived here. Any place in the Basque country has its own beauty, because the Basque country is very beautiful, but if for some reason I had to move from the coast to the interior –and mind you, there are some paradisiacal places!–, I would feel as if I was imprisoned. I need the sea. I need that window. To see the sea, to get up and have my first look at the sea. Why...? Perhaps, because that is where we come from.
Perhaps your biblical figure is Jonah...
Perhaps. Who knows!
You here in Orio looking at the sea, and inviting a young girl to the dance, “Nire herriko neskatxa maite” (My loved lass from my country). Nice, isn’t it?
Yes, yes. You know, we have also been young. Now I also feel quite young. It happens to us all, when we go along the world we are crisscrossed by those vital, strong pulsations, and then a lass comes by and excites you, and then another... finally, three, four, five... I don’t know how many... but, we all love our country’s young lasses. It doesn’t matter how many of them it has been, ten or a hundred, you always love that lass from the village, don’t you? in the end, that experience is there, absolutely present. It is so strong...
Yes, that’s it, but careful, love... or, at least, that attraction... that which is so biological and strong! How can one understand that suddenly a person loses his senses or his capacity of reasoning for another person of the opposite or the same sex? To the extent that he is no longer capable of thinking in an objective way, and all because of that attraction. What is happening there? What kind of adrenalin is that? We do not know what it is. This, in itself, is very beautiful, and maybe love is, I would say, an almost sacred connotation. Love, at the end of the day, is freedom. Let me tell you something: as I said before, love and freedom, the end of the day, is the same thing, a state of conscience, precisely. I see four words which are different at first sight but which, separately, are impossible without the existence of the others, because if one of them is missing, the others become devoid of any sense. They are: freedom, love, intelligence and death. We usually speak separately of each one of them, without bearing the others in mind. Love is not possible if you are not free and if you not free, there is no love, nor freedom. Therefore, intelligence is not absent either. We see it there - it is very limited. And whereas one does not die, the other three are not there. Inexorably we have to die, that is... there is the first by William Blake, which, in my opinion, constitutes a tremendous thesis. It says that he, who clings on to beer and skittles, wastes his life away quite happily, but he who embraces joy or happiness in the air as if on flight, lives on the threshold of eternity. Even if there is no joy, that person creates it, because he or she does not know how to live without the happiness of joy. Therefore, he or she holds on to it. And, precisely, that effort to hold on may end up being his or her prison. It can keep him or her imprisoned. And he or she is chained away from any other form of happiness that could turn up. It just passes by. As everything else passes by, because all his or her attention was concentrated there. On the other hand, somebody that goes along as if flying, if he or she lets it go by, embracing it, he or she remains free for when the next one comes along, to be able to embrace it once more. For this reason, for me, that is what death is all about: to die with respect to things.
Lets go back to another song: “Txoria kaiolan” (the caged bird).
It is a metaphor. The small bird is in the cage. They tell us we are free in the name of democracy and equality. They opened the door for us and we go, for example, to the Congress in Madrid to tell them whatever we want. But, of course, we do not realise we are tied to a thick chain. And as soon as you start to fly you realise that you are tied down by that chain. That is what that metaphor says.
We are shut into our cage, we go to Madrid, and what kind of jota do we dance there? The type that is played in Madrid? Or “Erribera”?...
Not “Erribera” at least. With “Erribera” we would dance a different type of jota. We need to make do with whatever they play there, whether we like it or not... we are not the owners of our melody, of our music. There they play and depending on how we feel, we give a jump or two, and that’s it.
It is difficult to dance our jota, isn’t it ?
Up to now it has been completely impossible, because we have not managed to. Ours was the one imagined by our means, our strategies and our instruments. If we knew how to join forces and make that force uncomfortable for those who govern... and the end of the day, we, the Democratic forces, what we have to do is to wring power from the despot. That’s it. But how? That is the question.
In that case, in that jota of ours we would have to reflect truth: “Egia”. You have been wondering about this for a long time: truth, what for?
We are always effectively looking for truth. Or what is the same, sad people are always looking for happiness. And look what has happened. When somebody is so, longing is but a small cloud, an illusion. What really exists is adversity. Then, in a sane manner, what we should seriously investigate is what exists. What doesn’t exist can be investigated. And what exists is misfortune. Then, in this case, it is not true either. Truth, what for? Says the song, as if we have the truth at hand. We need to shed layers and layers of lies.
As has been said, learning is a form of advancing. And yes, this has some very positive connotations. But I have realised something. It is necessary to be able to unlearn. We have so many and so many layers, of this, that, and the other, that we do not know where the truth is. Therefore, what we call truth is absolutely there, but hidden away in a deep hole. Then, what we have to do is not to go looking for it, because we shall not find it anywhere else, because it is here where we have to look what we have to do is to unlearn. That is to say, we have to stir everything that has detoured our lives and which in one way or another has made us clumsy in understanding. Again, again and again... that is to say, to take off and off again... and once we have got rid of it all, you’re finally sane. Wisdom is in one’s head. I am not speaking of that wisdom that it is necessary to train. There is another type of intelligence that promotes logical awareness, common sense and instinct. And it is necessary to use all of that to do some cleaning, to extract truth from under the earth. You have to take out all the earth that has been thrown on top. And that is where that intelligence will flourish. And, perhaps, also, truth.
It is nice but also, at the same time, certainly outstanding. I thought that Basque rebirth –“Euskal pizkundea”– could come from illustration, from cultivated people, but now you’re telling me that we have to unlearn, to deform what we have...
Illustration and studies, at the end of the day, modernize you... but inside it all there are bad passions, passions springing from the egoism of the ego. These passions are organised, covered in make up, disguised in more modern forms. However, all of those that generate conflict continue in the same state. What happens is we change the choreography and ballet... and this fools people: “Ah yes! Now we are not so savage”. Leonardo da Vinci wrote some aphorisms, and in one of those he says: “Savage is he who saves himself”. And I perceive this; I see there that tendency to shed things that I was talking about. Formally perhaps we will create refinements, a certain type of education, we will try to be correct with other people, etcetera. But then, when they turn around we will stab them in the back. You do not learn those things. Those things you have to unlearn. When one observes them, you tend to say: why do I do all this? That is to say, when you see your ego in the nude, you laugh at your ego. Not until then, until then feed that ego, we feed it, we strengthen it, we build it an altar and we worship it.
We need to know how to laugh at ourselves, right?
But really laugh at ourselves. And really laughing at ourselves is seeing that ego of yours, that ghost you have fabricated for yourself, completely disfigured. If you perceive it as beautiful, you will worship it. When you see it disfigured, absolutely insignificant, you won’t even need to push, it will topple down by itself, because it is a ghost, a ghost you have created for yourself. That is the only way.
You have commented, Benito, that you sing to the “beloved lass of my country”, that God knows where “truth” is, that the “storm” can be anywhere and that “we the young people walk today...” But what is it that today’s young people do?
New formulas turn up in terms of songs and music and today’s young people have a type of culture they have received or that their generation likes which is not ours, rock, for example. Rock has its paraphernalia, which to a certain extent is shouting and coarseness, and toughness in a very strong sense. Many things are associated with this, violence and similar concepts. This doesn’t mean that there is strength in expressivity, since the amount of decibels does not imply force. Force is transmitted from within. But as a concept, we seem to be committed with “hard stuff”, right? Within this, however, in one way or another, there is also the story of the “young loved lass” and that is inevitable, if you look at it from all possible angles. Together with other ideas. Each generation contributes with its own imprint, and functions with that imprint. What happens to you is that you’re going to try that imprint and it just so happens that it is too big or too small for you. Today’s youngsters, more or less, have similar problems to those of our times, with more elements, certainly, with the language and other referential resources that we lacked, and such is life. But, fundamentally, all the generations carried that passion of the young loved one, in one way or another. And violence and freedom and conflict. Life goes on with the world, but the basic values of men and women stay the same.
You have mentioned four basic concepts for songs, that is: intelligence, death, love and freedom... but always sad, “Beti penetan”...
We talked about that before, and yes, we always live with our grief. And this situation of grief is curious because it is also related with those four ideas. The reasons that produce our grief are sometimes collective and other times individual. That depends on each person... they follow personal feelings. That’s it. I was speaking before about unlearning. But we also need to know how to die. It’s indispensable, because dying is what brings about novelty. Dying is also being newly born. And in that, each one of us has to have his own school, everybody has to be their own teacher, and when you have to confront the elements, each one of us has to distinguish them. It corresponds to each of us to interiorise that death and not ruin our lives. And we also have to know that life is very important at all times and that it is made of many materials. And it is not a small detail or a feeling that should ruin the whole lifetime. That’s why dying is a very healthy exercise.
Hey, and with all the mental fuss we strike up, do you think we know how many of us we are? “Zenbat gera?”
Well, no, apparently we don’t. As an anecdote, we are now in the middle of an enormous fuss on whether we shall have a public consultation or referendum or not... whether we are going to do it, whether they are going to do it, this, that and the other... No, really, we do not know how many we are. In the times when that song sprung up, it was an enumeration of places that historically are vestiges of the Basque world. But, after that you go to some concerts and they don’t feel it that way. So, we, for our part, have certain wishes, not all wishes come true the way you would like them to. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
This means that telling the story is not the same from Bizkaia, from Navarre or from Zuberoa...
No, it’s not the same.
To conclude, Benito, “Oi, ama Euskal Herria”. What is happening to us with the Basque Country? Where are we going?
That depends on us. That is, it is in the hands of those of us who have the Basque Country as our motherland. It just so happens that for some time I have been hearing strange things and that there are people, I don’t know if in the name of illustration or refinement or what, they are adopting that pose. There are writers who state: “one of the essential elements of our land, the language, is far too politicised and we should not politicise it” and they say this as if it was impossible to separate these things. That is the enormous confusion there is here. I do not know in this world that the language is something defendable for the enemy of no country or nationality. At the end of the day, we have this tendency of committing hara-kiri. Look, it is as if I said that I like my house a lot, that I like it a lot but I don’t want to govern it. That I want others from abroad to come and govern it, and that I will live here playing the tune of whoever it is who comes here. Nobody would understand that. However, when we say exactly the same about our people, apparently all those things are considered possible. Or when independence and dependence are considered analogous values.
Lertxundi (Orio, 1942)
Benito Lertxundi was born into a humble family from Orio on the eve of the Epiphany, 1942. The youngest of nine siblings, this watchmaker who refused to become a fisherman, loved to sing to the sound of his guitar and would most probably have continued making watches his whole life if he had not entered a singing competition organised by La Voz de España in 1965. After winning the competition, he immersed himself completely in the world of singing, using his music as a way of fighting against the oppression of Franco’s regime, travelling from village to village, and overcoming prohibition after prohibition.
A little later he joined the group Ez dok amairu, becoming an icon of Basque music and seducing everyone who heard him with his lyrical, melodic folk songs. Over the last 40 years, Benito’s baritone voice has delighted us with songs such as Bizkaia Maite, Oi Zuberoa, Loretxoa, Baldorba and Hitaz oroit, among others.
In 1971 he published his first long-playing record, which was in fact a collection of his first singles. Then, in 1974, he brought out his first album, entitled Oro laño mee batek..., a work followed in 1975 by... eta maita herria, üken dezadan plazera. Two years later, in 1977, he published the double feature Zuberoa / Askatasunaren semeei, a heartfelt tribute to Zuberoa. In 1981 he brought out another double feature, this time entitled: Altabizkar / Itzaltzuko Bardoari, based on the Battle of Roncesvalles. In this work, Benito gathers together the few existing remains of this Basque epic and reworks them into long songs with incidental music, etc.
Gaueko ele ixilen baladak, published in 1985, is an examination of his inner self, designed to formulate and express his personal philosophy. In 1987 he brought out Mauleko bidean... izatearen mugagabean. Finally, Pazko gaierdi ondua, which came out in 1980, was his last work before his greatest hits album. Lertxundi then returned to traditional themes, although at the same time managing to incorporate a variety of modern sounds. Here he also included songs he had performed on stage, but never recorded, such as Primaderako liliak. In 1993, after over two decades working in the music industry, he published a compilation album entitled Hunkidura Kuttunak; two double albums featuring 46 songs, some of which had been updated.
In total, he has recorded 14 records and has put music to texts by Basque poets such as Lizardi, José Ángel Irigarai, Juan A. Urbeltz and Xabier Lete. Nere Ekialdean, brought out in 2002, is his last studio-recorded album and includes five tracks by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Alongside these works, Benito Lertxundi also includes a poem dedicated to the former skipper of the Orio rowing team, Txiki Larrañaga. His last album, 40 urtez ikasten egonak, features material from recordings of the concerts given by Lertxundi in Gernika and Tolosa. In 2006 he composed a song for the Society of Basque Studies to commemorate the International Day of the Basque Language.
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