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  • The Basque Bertsolariak: Festival Welcome

    At Basque festivals, sporting events, and other ceremonial gatherings, it is traditional to invite bertsolariak to the stage to sing a greeting in rhymed verse. The opening ceremony of the 2016 Folklife Festival was no different, with short songs by Martin Goicoechea, Irati Anda, and Xabier Paya.

    These greetings were likely prepared beforehand, allowing the poets to show off their vocal range and thoughtful introductions. Over the next two weeks, however, they demonstrated their exceptional skills in improvising lyrics on topics suggested by the audience. As they often pointed out to Festival visitors, it is very difficult to translate Basque bertso lyrics into English, as they lose puns, double entendres, and other clever turns of phrase.

    After Martin explained it in an earlier interview, it gave me goosebumps to hear Basque speakers in the audience sing along to these ad-libbed songs, when the last line is repeated or when they anticipate the rhyme. These words, unaccompanied by any instruments, shared by a community, mixing two languages, capture the spirit of Basque culture and innovation.

    Camera: Helen Lehrer, Alexis Ligon, W.N. McNair, Michelle Mehrtens, Claudia Romano, Lillian Schneyer, Ryan Shank, Albert Tong
    Editor: Ryan Shank
    Sound recordist: David Walker
    Translator: Miguel Leonis
    Text: Elisa Hough

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