A sense of image and timing
When you are with bertsularis or if you attend a competition, the most
striking thing is just how quickly they compose their verses.
Oihane Enbeita during the final
phases of the general competition in 2001: listening to the subject for
improvisation (photo Juantxo Egaña - XDZ)
Given the fact that they do not know the subject beforehand and therefore
there can be no preparation, conveying so many images in so little time,
whilst respecting the rhythm and rhyme, is incredible and very impressive
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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".
"An improviser must be able to talk about anything.
You need to know a little about everything. Most of the time you start
with just one idea, it’s a kind of game which enables you to give a specific
touch to the improvisation.
That means you have to read the press and keep up with current affairs.
One day in a contest the improvisers present were told that there had been a
plane crash somewhere in the world.
Their improvisations were all very serious, they were convinced that it
had really happened. They all managed to improvise something.
That proves that, even if you don’t necessarily know the subject very
well, you’ll will always find something to sing about"
"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"
"I’m not overkeen on very selective subjects which end always up in
clichés. I prefer open subjects, for example: you’re at the top of a cliff
and you’re not sure whether to jump off or not.
That’s up to you to decide. If you want, you can express your feelings,
or a problem you have, whether a problem of society or a personal problem
I find this kind of subject more motivating and I’m prouder when I please
the audience with this type of subject rather than with a traditional
I’ve even surprised myself, often in the negative sense. We have
progressive ideas, in favour of equality and against racism, but when you
don’t have time to think out your improvisation, so many prejudices come to
"I like to improvise on all subjects. For example, it’s amusing to put
yourself in someone else’s shoes because it makes you defend ideas and
arguments which you don’t necessarily share.
I suppose it’s a little bit like acting, and that’s something we enjoy.
I’ve even given my own opinion whilst I was supposed to be someone else.
At the end of the day, we say what we think, we don’t always look for
extraordinary things. Plus you don’t say the same things in front of a young
audience as in front of an older one, you have to adapt what you say.
And performing in the Northern Basque Country is not the same as
performing in the South. You sometimes have to change certain words or
expressions in order to be understood by everyone"