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Bertsolari Event at Stanford University

February 21st, 2012: Bertsolaris Amets Arzallus, Julio Soto and Johnny Curutchet appeared at a special presentation on Bertsolaritza at Stanford University, which was organized by Stanford Instructor Joseba Inaki Lopez de Luzuriaga.





The event started with a brief introduction of the guest bertsolaris (Basque troubadours) by Mr. Lopez de Luzuriaga, who explained that bertsolaritza, or verse making, is usually sung to certain melody chosen by the bertsolari. The bertsolaris have been rooted in the fabric of Basque culture for ages. The subject matter of their verses deal with serious, historical, contemporary and comical topics alike, and by means of their rhetorical devices they weave a thread of images and ideas that deal with the concerns of the people with a critical approach. There is an identification of the bertsolaris with its audience and vice-versa. The bertsolaris employ classical and popular melodies to convey their verses and adapt contemporary ones as well.

Ph.D. candidate, Edith Leni, gave a presentation on troubadours from South America and afterwards, a ten minute pilot of the documentary Bertsolari, was screened which talks about bertsolaritza in the context of the Bertsolaritza championships, which are contested every four years. The pilot features John Miles Foley, a specialist in oral traditions.



The bertsolaris then fielded questions from the audience and were able to respond in English. After the Q & A session the bertsolaris sang verses with subjects given to them from Mr. Lopez de Luzuriaga’s Basque language class.



Bertsolaris answer questions from attendees:







Bertsolaris sing improvised verses with subjects given by students of Mr. Lopez de Luzuriaga's Basque class:




Left to right: Johnny Curutchet, Julio Soto, Amets Arzallus, Edith Leni, Joseba Inaki Lopez de Luzuriaga

Johnny Curutchet: Born in San Francisco and raised in Ezterenzubi (Lower Navarre, Basque Country). Mr. Curutchet has been singing verses in the United States since the 1970s and is a cultural icon in the Basque-American community. He was inducted into the Society of Basque Studies in America’s Basque Hall of Fame in 2006 and was the 2003 National Endowment for the Art’s National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient, the highest honor in folk art in the United States.

Julio Soto: Born in 1987 in Gorriti (Navarre, Basque Country), Mr. Soto learned to sing verses in an afterschool Bertso school, and studied Agricultural Engineering and Basque Studies. Mr. Soto is currently the Bertso Champion of Navarre (2011) as well as in 2010.

Amets Arzallus: Born in 1983 in Donibane Lohizune (Lapurdi, Basque Country) Mr. Arzallus developed a liking for improvised verses in his family environment, where he started to sing at a very young age. His father, Jexux Arzallus, was also a well-known Bertsolari from the Basque Province of Gipuzkoa. Mr. Arzallus studied journalism at the University of the Basque Country and has worked as a journalist for the Basque magazine Argia and for the Basque radio station Euskadi Irratia. Today, he has risen to the top echelon of Bertsolaritza, and teaches bertsolaritza to youngsters in Hendaia, where he was raised. Mr. Arzallus was the Bertsolari Champion in Navarre for four straight years (2000-2003), the Bertsolari Champion of Iparralde (North Basque Country) in 2008 and 2010, and was a finalist (top 8) in the last three Bertsolari Championships in 2001, 2005 & in 2009, where he finished second.


For more information, please check:

History of Improvised Bertsolaritza

Oral Traditions

NABO – Bertsolaritza

Basque Cultural Institute

Bertso Institute

Books available at the Martin Minaberry Library:

Shooting From The Lip : Bertsolariak Ipar Amerikan : Improvised Basque-verse Singing (Mallea)

The Art of Bertzolaritza : Improvised Basque verse singing (Garzia, Sarasua, Egana)

Improvisational Poetry From The Basque Country (Aulestia)

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