The importance of music in Basque culture

The biggest, Basquest festival is fast approaching-it's time for Jaialdi. Because the festival is held only once every five years (Grammy, Oscar and Tony take note!) the anticipation is great and the events are even greater. With one of the largest Basque populations outside of the Basque country, Jaialdi is an important celebration for Boise Basques and non-Basques alike. Jaialdi means "big festival" and is a weeklong event honoring all areas of Basque culture-sports, food, dance and, of course, music.

As with any ancient culture, Basque music is steeped in tradition. But often that tradition is diluted over the years and eventually lost. Basque children are often brought up learning traditional Basque dancing, but not how to play the music they dance to. During the last Jaialdi festival (in 2000) a young group of musicians from the Basque country called the Txorimaloak Soinu Taldea performed. Impressed with the youngsters' knowledge of and ability to play Basque music, members of Boise'ko Gazteak, a local dance group, formed Txantxangorriak to make sure that the glory and tradition of Basque music would always be in Boise. While it was hard going at first (with only 13 instrument players), the group now has 18 triki (accordion) players and and eight pandareta (tambourine) players. Playing these traditional instruments is an important part of the music, but often these instruments are difficult to find and even more difficult to learn, making them largely unheard of outside of rural or folkloric music.

One such instrument is the txistu-a three-holed wooden flute. The txistu is an ancient instrument tuned to a specific key. Because there are only three holes, overtones are used to produce more than what a simple three-holed instrument could produce. A txistulari-a txistu player-plays the txistu with one hand and plays a percussion instrument with the other. Compositions are written for the txistu and its place in Basque music is as important today as it was centuries ago. Fortunately, playing these instruments is still taught, and year after year gains popularity as does Basque singing.

In 1986, Biotzetik Basque Choir (Biotzetik means "from the heart") was formed in Boise. Continuing the Basque tradition of choral music, they perform at multiple functions throughout the year including funerals, weddings and various masses including an annual Christmas performance.

While Basque music plays a huge role in Basque culture, it can not be discussed fully without mentioning about one of Boise's most influential and beloved Basque musicians, Jimmy Jausoro. Jausoro who died in 2004 at the age of 83, had dedicated his life to his family, his culture and his music. Born in 1920 in Nampa, he was raised in a Basque boarding house. At 10, Jausoro began learning how to play the accordion, and he was playing at parties by the time he was 12. Jausoro joined the Navy after high school, taking his accordion with him. Returning to Idaho, he started a Basque band in 1957 and began teaching at Basque music camps.

For the rest of his years, Jausoro played his music throughout the United States and the world, including trips accompanying the Oinkari dancers to New York City, Washington D.C., Argentina and Euzkadi. He won awards throughout his life not only for his music, but for his dedication to his community. He won the Euzkaldunak (Boise's largest Basque organization) Award for Appreciation of 25 Years of Devotion to Children in 1972, the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985, the North American Basque Organizations Award for Contribution to Basque Music in 1994 and the prestigious Governor's Award for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement in 2000. Jausoro's music was his art, and he played not only for the Oinkari dancers as they danced across the world. His body of work includes hundreds of performances.

As a shining example of the joy and tradition so important to Basque music, Jimmy Jausoro is truly missed by everyone who ever heard him play. And without him, many of us would be unfamiliar with the heart of Basque music. However, if you never had the chance to hear Jausoro play, Jaialdi is the perfect opportunity to hear, become familiar with and fall in love with the traditional sounds of Basque music.

As with any culture, music plays a huge part of making us who we are. We use music to teach, to soothe and to celebrate. Jaialdi 2005 is going to be a momentous event and music is going to be one of the cornerstones of this year's festival which promises to provide a glimpse into the culture that is such an important part of this community and a foundation on which to build memories.

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