Towards the end of the 19th century, Sabino Arana-Goiri (founder of the Basque Nationalist Party) and his friends wanted to encourage Basque cultural renaissance but were over zealous wanting to "purify" the Basque language of anything that they did not see as noble.
Judges during the 2001 championship final (Photo: XDZ)
These purists disliked bertsularis and wanted to marginalise them. Since they did not manage this, they imposed a master of ceremonies of their choice, and thus ensured that improvisations were to their satisfaction, placing emphasis on the purity of the language used.
The difficult role of the master of ceremonies
The Basque Country General Championship from 1935 to the present day
Champions in the general competition from 1935 to 2005
Consequently since approximately 1890 in the Spanish Basque Country, and 1920 in the French Basque Country, contests developed in a new way: without losing their popular essence, they were abandoned as "true" performances.
"Gaia", the subject for improvisation
There were between 5 and 8 bertsularis with a new feature included: the "presenter" or the coordinator: the master of ceremonies who proposes subjects and ensures the contest runs smoothly.
The organisation of the first championship in Donostia - San Sebastián in 1935 marked a new period in this process. A panel of judges was then also formed in order to decide between the candidates.
Today the Basque Country championship takes place every four years. In 2005 it was won by Andoni Egaña.
For further details visit the site of our partner, the "Xenpelar" improviser resource centre