Ainhoa Agirreazaldegi (arg. S. Dabadie)
Bertsularis perform without makeup, in everyday clothes (no special costume
or specific style of clothing) and without any special effects.
With their hands behind their back or in their pockets, the spoken word
is rarely accompanied by any kind of gesture. The beauty of
improvisation is in their voice.
Nevertheless improvisation requires a talent which is not common.
Bertsularis must have a tremendous memory, a high level of education in the
field of song, a sense of rhythm, self-confidence and faith in their
creative abilities, plus good timing which enables them to act quickly.
This all requires a great deal of effort.
Some are born bertsularis and have the essential innate qualities, but
you become a good bertsulari ... through hard work.
The background of bertsularis
A sense of image and timing
A remarkable memory
||EUSKAL KULTUR ERAKUNDEA - INSTITUT CULTUREL BASQUE
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You will be accompanied throughout this site by improvisers. During your
visit: click on their photos to discover what they have to say.
"I’ve already mentioned my desire to become an improviser, but I didn’t
feel at all capable. I never tried to create any verse, even when I was
alone the thought never even crossed my mind.
I’d heard some of my friends say that in inns some improvisers competed
against each other with verse and that when they heard them they laughed
At that time I didn’t go out to inns. One year, on the second day of the
village fête, I’d arranged with my childhood friend Lorentzo Tolosa to go to
the dance that evening. The dance was to take place in front of the
What I remember is that just as we were going to leave, we noticed four
or five men improvising in the inn’s kitchen. Lorentzo and I observed them
from the window".
"Firstly, an improviser must have a good master of Basque which enables
him to play with the language, because in most improvisations that’s what
marks the improviser’s originality and quality of reasoning.
Also, you must enjoy it: if you get no enjoyment out of it, you won’t
learn. And I thing there’s also something “else”. In the field of sport, if
you’re not in good shape to start with, even if you acquire a great
technique, you won’t ever get past a certain level. Likewise, in the field
of improvisation, you need to have this “trigger”, this ability to give
things a personal touch.
Some improvisers do their best when they deal with a subject in detail,
they give their verses a lyrical dimension. Others are unrivalled when they
Each improviser will give his improvisation his own personality. That
requires specific qualities"
"You need to have a good command of the language and above all enjoy
playing with words. Not only when you improvise, but rather as a way of
You also need to know how to compose with others. When you go to a
village, most of the time you don’t know anyone. Nevertheless you have to
find subjects for conversation to discuss with people you don’t know at all,
and that’s not always easy. But it makes you a more open person.
Moreover, you’re at a disadvantage because the others are on home ground.
That’s also very rewarding. But I think that today anyone can learn to
improvise in an improvisation school. It’s very mechanical. If a 10 year old
child goes to improvisation classes, and if the teacher isn’t too bad, by
the end of the year the child will have learnt to sing a “zortziko ttiki’’,
that’s a fact. It doesn’t however mean that he’ll be an improviser.
To become an improviser, several factors come into play: a love for
people, charisma, luck too, and your passion for this discipline"
"One day someone asked Uztapide if you’re born an improviser or if you
become one. And he answered: first of all you have to be born. He was
We all have certain qualities, and there are others we don’t have. To
compose an improvisation, you need to have a good mastery of language, have
a minimum amount of eloquence and the ability to express yourself. It’s
something you learn.
On the whole, as an improviser you must be an honest person because
you’re in the public light and improvisation isn’t a profession. It may earn
you some money, but I wouldn’t like it to be a profession. I don’t think it
should become a vocation"
‘‘Improvisation is not about talent, it’s a question of practice. An
improviser must above all master the Basque language.
He must also have a sense of humour, and it’s true that all improvisers,
or almost of them, do. He must also be able to sing touching verses.
Touching improvisations are mostly used at championships, although humour
remains the most important.
Throughout the history of improvisation the subjects used have
evolved a lot. Previously the most popular subjects were country life, the
Basque Country, tradition and faith.
Today all subjects are dealt with, that’s what’s changed, and improvisers
are educated, which wasn’t the case previously. But the values remain
unchanged. An improviser has to read the press.
If you don’t keep up with events you may find it difficult to improvise.
You also need to read books and work on old improvisations.
That’s what we do in improvisation classes: we study the way in which
former improvisers used metaphors, in order to learn to form our own