Basque Music Roundup

I asked readers for their suggestions of Basque bands and musicians to check out. Here are a few of the favorites they named. I hope you can find at least one you like!

*Disclaimer: I do not speak Basque or Spanish, therefore I cannot and do not endorse any of the messages within these bands’ lyrics.*

Sustraia – Rock, from Hélette

The internet tells me this band is rock, but they sound pretty ska to me. What is with Basque people loving their ska?

Betagarri – Ska, from Vitoria-Gasteiz

I will never be able to drill out the memory of a bunch of middle-aged Basque Americans going nuts on the dance floor over this band at Basque Rock Live. These guys are crowd pleasers.

Kortatu – Ska, from Irun

Ska music usually annoys me to no end (it’s something about the trumpets…), but I’ve heard this song so many times that I kind of love it. There are some great memories attached to it.

Eskorbuto – Punk, from Santurtzi (Greater Bilbao)

Love the punk sound on this one.

Soziedad Alkoholika – Crossover Thrash, from Vitoria-Gasteiz

From what I read on Wikipedia about their controversial lyrics, I’m not a huge fan of this band. But some of you might like their sound.

BONUS! Félicien’s Cum-Cum Mania

Okay, okay, so this guy isn’t Basque. He’s from the Béarn, right next door. But this song absolutely cracks me up.

One year when I went to visit the Basque Country, this song was THE song, all over the radio, everyone singing along. If you speak French, the lyrics are quite amusing. Enjoy!




Big Fat Basque Weddings

Marriage. That’s a hella Basque institution, isn’t it?

I’ve heard of young people in the Basque Country rejecting marriage, choosing cohabitation as the preferred way to form their relationships. But here in the United States, the Basque wedding is alive and well.

This past weekend in Chino, a woman I had just met wanted to know if I had my eye on anyone. She asked me if I wanted to marry a Basco. I joked with her, “Sure! But I haven’t met any worth marrying!”

What about you?

This question comes up several times in the life of a Basque American. I remember it was even a poll question posed to campers at music camp in 2002. The older generation always seems hopeful when they ask. You know they want you to say yes. They just want to see their culture preserved and perpetuated by the young people in the communities they worked so hard to build.

These are things that can be done without Basque intermarriage, but they might be more easily accomplished if we all kept it in the family, so to speak.

Even if we pretend marrying a Basco doesn’t matter or think cultural affinity is not a politically correct way to choose a mate, a lot of us would like to marry within our culture. Finding a Basque person to settle down with would make things easier.

Other Basques already know what to expect from your overbearing Aita(txi) or Ama(txi). They already have friends at Basque events, so you wouldn’t have to go through the routine of introducing them to the culture and to your social group. They could be your mus partner without hours of instruction ahead of time. They get the whole Catholic thing and know how to behave in church. You could easily agree that your children should join the local dance group, go to Udaleku, and learn how to play handball or pala.

These things seem superficial, but to some of us they are very important. Having a Basque partner means intimately understanding one another’s background and possibly less negotiating over cultural activities (in theory).

I am honored that this weekend I get to witness and celebrate the wedding of my friend, Jacqueline. We met as teenagers at Udaleku and over the years, we have: traveled to Boise for San Inazio weekend, worked at two Udalekus together, and run a half marathon with a couple of other friends to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of our friend, Jaime Brown.

Exhausted after a long Udaleku in San Francisco

Exhausted after a long Udaleku in San Francisco

Plain and simple, Jacqueline is an amazing person with whom I’ve shared some great and challenging experiences. She deserves all of the happiness in the world, and I’m sure her Amatxi and Aitatxi are pretty happy she found a nice Basque boy to marry.

Oh right. Did I mention she met her fiancé at Bakersfield picnic? How cute is that?

I am so happy to share in their joy and show my support for their union this weekend. So happy that I will take a three day break from posting on Hella Basque.

The last installment of the McDonald’s chapter of Fiction Fridays will appear here tomorrow, but don’t expect any blog posts Saturday through Monday.

Congratulations, Jacqueline and Chris! May your life together be filled with love, caring, respect, and hella Basqueness.

Recovering from a Weekend at the Basque Cultural Center

A few days ago, the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, California hosted its Jaialdia weekend. Here is the recap of events through my experience:


I arrived around 6:00 PM, in time to catch the last ten points of the handball game with the players from the Basque Country. First of all, there was no cover charge. I was pleasantly surprised by that! In the past few years the Center’s had us pay to watch handball, so thanks for the freebie.

The funny thing about the handball game was hearing my dad’s complaints. Usually Aita rags on “those Spanish Bascos,” but Saturday night he had nothing but criticism for the French handball players. He called them lazy, finding the game a little slower than he would have liked. According to Aita, pilotaris from Hegoalde hustle more.

My friends more in the know about the issue pointed out that these players were more accustomed to playing in smaller trinquets back home. So I told Aita to calm himself.

After handball, we headed for the bar. The Basque Cultural Center phased out the drink ticket system a while ago, but I always forget until I get there. I was a mooch all night, bumming Cokes off people nice enough to offer, because I was too stubborn to break my $20 bill for a soft drink.

Visiting band Baigura played on stage in the banquet room, but I refused to dance. The only people bold enough to dance in front of the large audience at the bar were mostly little kids and a handful of women. I hung back to chat with other people in the crowd, not wanting to join the fishbowl of the dance floor.

My friends and I eventually got in line for dinner. We jumped in the shorter line down the long hallway leading to the back serving line. In years past, the two lines used to be fairly equal, but it seems people forgot about the second serving line on Saturday night. We breezed right to the front.

serving line

When we got through the line, we were obliged to sit across from my parents, as they were on the end of the open table to which we were ushered. My parents even did that annoying thing where they sat side by side, so my friends and I had to sit in front of them, rather than across from each other.

Oh, the drama of family style seating! I actually had to sit with my family in the end. What a drag.

I kid, of course. My parents are wonderful people, but that adolescent attitude still takes over. You know the one where you don’t want your parents listening in on your conversations with your friends. Maybe they’ll hear something inappropriate. Oh goodness!

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Real Talk: Why I’ve Never Cared to Learn Basque

Basque identity is wrapped up in language. The Basque word for Basque person, Euskalduna, literally translates to “person who speaks Basque.” Some might say that to be Basque you must speak Basque.

Throughout my short life, people have asked me if I speak Basque, tried to teach me Basque, and told me I should learn Basque. There’s a small part of me that feels like I should at least try to learn Basque (mostly when people tweet me or write articles about Hella Basque in Basque), but for the most part I have absolutely no interest.

[Sidenote: If you actually want me to understand what you tweet me, please use Spanish or French.]

I figure my lack of interest is because I already speak French. I know Euskara, the Basque language, is so much cooler and rarer and makes for a great party trick, but the main purpose I would want to learn Basque would be to speak with my relatives in the Basque Country. And the truth of the matter is that I already can–in French.

Frankly, my French gets worse and worse by the year. With little opportunity to practice, I’ve forgotten what feels like 80% of the vocabulary I knew as a child. That makes communicating in French awkwardly uncomfortable, as I stutter and struggle to find the words that used to come to me so easily.

So why would I add another foreign language on top of that? Trying to learn Basque seems like way more effort than it’s worth. Even if I worked at it long enough to be successful, how would I be able to keep it up? There aren’t very many people I would be able to speak it with on a regular basis.

It seems like a mission for failure. Why learn a language just to lose it through underuse?

And then there’s the issue of which Basque to learn. My dad, aunt, uncles, and cousins all speak a specific Basque dialect from their region. If I wanted to learn Basque to speak with them, there’s no way I could learn it here in San Francisco. (Aita’s not the best teacher.) I would have to move to their region and learn from the locals.

I could enroll in a Basque language course here in the United States or online, but then I would be learning Euskara Batua, what Aita calls “le nouveau basque.” And frankly, my dad gets riled up when he hears Batua because he can’t understand it very well. Learning Batua would just give Aita another reason to yell at me.

The whole thing is just one big headache with few advantages. Sure, I could impress some people by learning Basque. But if I’m looking for a language to actually communicate with people, I don’t think Basque is it.

I’m glad schools in the Basque Country are teaching Basque and there’s a Basque language revival going on over there, but in the United States learning Basque just isn’t practical.

For the same reasons my parents taught me French instead of Basque, I’m going to focus on improving my French: it’s more useful because more people speak it.

12 Reasons to Go to a Basque Festival

1. Make friends


Basque festivals are a great place to meet people and strengthen ties with those you already know. Long afternoons give you lots of time to get to know people.

2. Eat delicious food

Gardnerville lunch

Try the lamb. It’s always exquisitely seasoned, and there’s usually lots of it. Meals are usually meat-heavy, so vegetarians proceed with caution and vegans stay home.

3. Have drinks you can’t find at American bars

Star Hotel T-shirt

Drink Kalimotxos and Picon Punches to your heart’s content at Basque events. The bartender will actually know what you’re talking about.

4. Speak Basque or hear it spoken

Need to brush up on your Basque? There will be plenty of people to converse with. If you’re just a linguistics nerd, come to listen to this language isolate.

5. Socialize with free day care

Chantal + Joana

Everyone looks out for people’s kids at these events. The little ones happily run around with their new friends, but they always come back to mommy and daddy if they get hurt, tired, or hungry.

6. Watch Basque dance performances

Like folk dancing? Think kids dressed up in traditional costumes is adorable? Then a Basque festival is the place for you, as virtually every one involves a dance performance.

7. Polka, waltz, and fandango the night away


If you’re old school at heart, Basque festivals are the place to release your inner ballroom dancer.

8. Play mus or learn how to play


Unless you set up your own card tournaments, you probably don’t get much opportunity to play this Basque poker-esque card game. It can be hard to play on your own since the game requires four players, but you’re bound to find others to partner up with at a Basque event.

9. Catch up on the latest gossip


Sometimes the most exciting part of a Basque festival is hearing what other people have been up to. You hear a lot of interesting things by sitting around all day.

10. Try your hand at the txingas competition

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

You think you’re a tough guy? Prove it! See how far you can lift those heavy weights and maybe earn yourself some bragging rights.

11. Sing at the bar

Let go of your inhibitions! You’re among friends. Basques love to sing, especially after a big meal and a few drinks. If someone starts a tune and you know the words, join in! If it’s new to you, belt out some heartfelt la-la-las.

12. Volunteer


There’s always plenty of work that needs to be done at a Basque festival. Help out with food prep, bartending, serving, selling tickets, setting up tables and chairs, and breaking it all down at the end of the day. Find out who’s running the show and offer your services!

What Makes a Person Hella Basque?

This news is a few months old but new to me: Iker Saitua, a Basque graduate student from the University of Nevada, Reno retraced the steps of Basque immigrants just for funsies. He took the train from New York all the way to Reno and wrote an interesting article about his experience over at Elko Daily Free Press.

Reading his account left me a little in awe. I thought to myself: And people call me hella Basque? No, this dude is hella Basque. Or maybe just a dude hella into history.

Seriously, who takes a trip like that? I’m impressed that he’s so into the history of Basques in the West that he would do a whole cross-country train journey. As someone who hates taking hours to get from Point A to Point B, I can’t believe he made the trip willingly in his spare time.

But my reaction to the post got me thinking about Basque identity. I feel a little uncomfortable when people call me “Hella Basque,” because I feel like there are so many people who are more Basque than me. Like this guy Iker.

I don’t speak Basque. Ethnically I’m only half Basque. And I’ve only spent maybe a grand total of five months of my life in the Basque Country.

But what makes us Basque? What makes one person more Basque than another? 

I’ve always felt connected to the Basque community primarily through folk dancing. Since I quit San Francisco’s Zazpiak Bat dance group four years ago, my connection has lasted through the relationships I’ve built within the Basque clubs. But I can’t say being involved in activities and making friends within a certain group makes me Basque. There’s something more, something intangible to it.

So I wondered if any of you readers had thoughts on this issue.

What makes you Basque? Please share in the comments!

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Small Acorns Need Not Apply

The words are big but the acorns are small.
– Basque Proverb

Original: Berbak handiak, ezkurrak txikiak.

Anyone close to me knows I absolutely hate big talk, commitments not honored, and broken promises. You know it’s real when I get mad at you for something as simple as making dinner plans you have to later cancel.

I’ve dropped more friends for having big words but small acorns than is probably healthy.

My tendency to overreact when friends bail is a little ridiculous, but I’ve been working on minimizing my reactivity over the years. I should probably explore my intolerance for flaking more deeply in therapy… But that’s not the point.

The point of this proverb is that your word is everything in Basque culture. Some might argue it’s the only true thing you have to offer. So when you go back on your word, what does that say about you and your values?

Let’s do our best to match big words with big acorns, not small ones. And if we don’t have the acorns to back us up, often it’s best to let the words go unsaid.