Duels of improvisers
In the old days, once a week, on Sunday afternoons, after evensong, most
of the villagers used to meet in inns and cider-houses near the church.
There, for hours on end, whoever had the “divine talent” improvised verses
about the simple things in life, singing and always with humour. This poetic
improvisation showed its worth when two improvisers met. Then, a true
"dialogue" began. Most of the time one provoked the other.
Audio extract: The improvisers
Mattin and Xanpun
during a duel
Subject: Mattin plays the role of a pig and Xanpun that of a dog -
(Basque Cultural Institute Archives)
Windows Media Player (800 Ko)
Real Player (1,68 Mo)
Basarri and Uztapide improvising in a
cider-house during the 1960's
These talented "entertainers", privileged witnesses of their era who were
both admired and revered, were invited to perform at many different public
and private events: local festivals, fairs, markets, processions, pelota
matches, banquets, weddings, christenings, etc.
For decades, the organisers of popular events generally called on the
services of two bertsularis. Placed higher the audience (standing on chairs,
a wall or a balcony), the two improvisers led the contest as they wished.
They alone controlled the game.
Meal with the bertsulari Sebastian
Having an audience was essential to perform and spectators were very
often taken by surprise ... by directly having to provide some of the
subjects for the improvisers who took pleasure in giving these ordinary
people who had come to have fun an ego trip or making them blush .
Open air improvisation contest
This social aspect and friendliness of versified and sung improvisation
are still present in the Basque Country today where bertsularis take part in
a wide variety of social and cultural events.
details visit the site of our
partner, the "Xenpelar" improviser resource centre