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The Basque country is a region that spans borders. Located in northern Spain and southwestern France, straddling the Pyrenees Mountains, its spirit can be felt on the sheep-grazed mountains of Idaho, in fishing communities from Scotland to Newfoundland, and in towns across Mexico and Argentina.
From an early period, Basques looked beyond their borders for resources and inspiration, a trait that keeps them on the cutting edge of global economic and sustainability movements. However, their commitment to language and cultural preservation may be the key to their success. To present this intricate tension, musicians, dancers, boat makers, cooks, and other experts from the Basque country and diaspora communities shared their unique traditions and perspectives as part of the Basque: Innovation by Culture program.
Basque culture has always emphasized innovation. The Basque were among the earliest European explorers, fishermen, and whalers to venture to the Western Hemisphere, and their culture reflects this historic influence. Many iconic Basque foods have their roots in the Western Hemisphere and the seafaring heritage, including bakailao (salted cod), piperrada (pepper-based sauce), and marmitako (tuna and potato stew). Today, Basque cuisine sets the standard for farm-to-table and sea-to-table quality.
The Basque have long been leaders in industry, helping usher in the Industrial Revolution after discovering rich bands of iron ore in their mountains. They prospered during the cooperative movement of the mid-twentieth century and are now innovators in car part manufacturing, sustainable energy, transportation, and engineering.
While Basque culture is innovative and outward looking, the people maintain strong cultural roots. They constitute one of the oldest communities in Europe, and today approximately one million people worldwide speak Basque, or Euskara, a language once on the brink of extinction and now an example of successful language revitalization. To many Basques, language is a key component of their identity.
This month I returned from a fieldwork trip to Basque country with co-curator Mary Linn to prepare for the 2016 Folklife Festival...
The following recordings are just a few Basque songs included in an episode of The Folk Music of France radio show.
Juan Onatibia performs songs from the Basque region. Most songs are forms of traditional dances such as the Aurresku (courting dance) and Ezpata (sword dance).
The Basques followed the sheep from Europe to the western United States and they brought with them their boardinghouse cuisine.
In arctic Canada, a Smithsonian researcher discovers evidence of Basque trading with North America.