Basque-ing in Nomadak Glory
Originally, the txalaparta was
a communication device used for Basque funerals,
celebrations, or the making of slaked lime or
This duo of players have extended the range of that
communication to new levels around the world.
duos website with videos at
Original online source:
The article is reproduced here in case it is re/moved.
It seems that any time you read
or hear the word "Basque" in the news, it's followed by the
word "separatists." The region bridging the border of Spain
and France is probably most associated internationally with
the longstanding, and sometimes violent, movement for
independence. Well, that and some very nice chesses.
Igor Otxoa and Harkaitz Martinez de San Vicente are Basque "togetherists."
It's the nature of what they do under the musical name of
Oreka Tx -- they play the txalaparta, one of the few
instruments that require two people, as they show
in this video clip. And this one. It's a traditional Basque
thing, sort of a cross between a marimba and a picnic table,
usually made with wooden or sometimes stone beams cut to
play tuned notes when struck from above by the players with
the ends of tapered dowels.
"It's the best and worst of the instrument to depend on
another person," says Otxoa, speaking from his home in San
Sebastian in the Spanish part of Basque country. "But since
when you play the instrument, very different from other
instruments, one of the nicest things is you get caught up
in it and want to play more. You can feel how the relations
is between two players."
But the pair wanted not to share it just between players but
between cultures. Hence their project 'Nomadak
Tx,' a new album and award-winning documentary film that
chronicle trips they made to various locales to jam with the
locals. In India, they collaborated with village singers and
musicians, an Adivasi bard named Bagu spinning the story of
the Oreka visit into improvised verses as the visitors
played. In the Sahara, they set up with bemused Berbers
(with one session in a refugee camp). In Central Asia, they
settled in with the epic equine balladeers. And among the
Sámi people in the Lapland region of north Sweden, they even
made a txalaparta entirely of ... ice! Well, it was in the
Ice Hotel, after all.
Back home, some of the field recordings were put in contexts
reflecting the Oreka modern-traditional aesthetic, resulting
in such true hybrids as 'Jai Adivasi,' drawn from sessions
in an Indian village:
"The reason was we wanted to know about the reality of other
nations, other people that were interesting for us, many of
them in relation with the nomadic way of life," Otxoa says.
"People from nations that are in very dramatic situations,
identity is not respected -- like the Basque. Sahara people
don't have that place. Lapland people live in different site
but don't have their own country. Mongolia, the people will
disappear because they cannot survive like a nation. We were
interested in that. In a way like looking in a mirror with
the Basque situation."
The very notion of preserving fading cultures is inherent in
their musical legacy as well. "In the '60s, there were only
two couples that still played it, from two different
families, Zuaznabar and Goikoetxea," he says. "There were
supposedly more from isolated areas, but it had nearly
disappeared. Then there were another two brothers from other
families that started to learn, and they started to teach
Soon the txalaparta (often abbreviated as "tx") took hold as
an instrument not just of music but of Basque culture and
pride at a time when it was being squashed under the
continued rule of Spain by fascist General Francisco Franco.
"When they started recognizing the txalaparta toward the end
of the '60s, it was the start of a cultural movement in
Basque country against Franco," Otxoa says. "The txalaparta
became a symbol of identity."
By the time Otxoa and Martinez took it up in 1997, while it
still held that position, it was also being seen for its own
musical values beyond the cultural and political statements
it had come to embody. From the start of Oreka Tx, the goal
was to explore the possibilities of the instrument in both
traditional and nontraditional settings. And it proved
"In these 12 years we have been playing it professionally,
we have seen that on one side, it is percussion, so easy to
fit with other styles and other instruments," Otxoa says.
"And on the other side, it is melodic, too."
At first they brought other musicians to their home town to
collaborate, releasing their first CD in 2001. Meanwhile,
they were touring with a band to spread the ideas, but it
wasn't fully satisfying.
"We realized we were like nomadic people, going from one
place to another, just staying one night in a hotel to play
a concert and then go to another place," he says. "Didn't
have time to get to relate with people we were playing with,
to know about their culture and realities."
As seen in the film, the way to address this was pretty
simple, generally just with the two of them and
cameraman/director Raúl de la Fuente arriving in the
communities where they hoped to film: "When we made the ride
to a little village, the first thing we did was play the
txalaparta," Otxoa says. "It was our way of arriving places.
The first thing we did was put up the instrument and play,
and all the people came and would try it too and liked it.
So that helped a lot for us to have a relation to the
It wasn't always smooth communication. "With some musicians
in Morocco we didn't understand one another in a musical
way. In India, too, very different concept for the music.
But in personal ways we were very lucky -- didn't have any
problems in all the trips."
And of course there were some surprises.
"I think we all agree, the three of us, that Mongolia was
especially nice. Mongolia changed us -- a little or a lot, I
don't know," he says. "Forty percent of the population there
are nomads, but it was nice to arrive to a place and see
people there continue their work and say, 'Feel at home, go
inside.' They just have the minimum things they need to
survive, so they don't have many traditional instruments.
They have to carry the things they need to survive. A piano
or a txalaparta is not good for that. So they developed the
harmonic singing and the vocal techniques because they can
carry it with them.
"In India was just the opposite. We were with the Adivasi
people, the aborigines of India, who are not nomads. They
have lived there many centuries and have hundreds of
The biggest surprise may have come after the trips. As they
put all the segments together, it struck them that they
could literally put
them together with the song 'Lauhazka.' And that's exactly
how the album opens and the film climaxes, with the sights
and sounds of all the locations spliced into one glorious
"It was not planned," Otxoa says. "That was made after all
the things were recorded. We didn't expect to do that when
recording, but it was very good. All the tunings of the
singers and everything was the same! We changed one of the
rhythms, but everything else is how we took it. It's what we
wanted to express with the project."
The piece took on even more meaning to the pair, as it
features a poem read by
Mikel Laboa, considered the patriarch of the Basque folk
music movement. Laboa, Otxoa explains, passed away a few
months ago, another link with the culture's rich past gone,
another reason for the project to keep going. And that it is
doing as they take the music and the film around the world
in a multimedia concert presentation.
"When we made the film and music, we didn't want to do
something only for the Basque but which could be understood
anywhere. We didn't know if we got it, but seeing how many
festivals and other places we've taken it, for us it is the
best that could happen."