Basque music

Concert of Niña Coyote eta Chico Tornado. Photo: Josu Kaleko


Basque voices sing out to the world. Music is one of the most dynamic sectors of Basque culture. New groups are constantly being formed, with musicians recording their music and uploading their records on digital platforms, as well as performing at concert halls, cultural centres, youth squats (gaztetxes), and bars across the Basque Country.

Basque song is so diverse that today almost every style is sung in Euskara. New generations of musicians from music schools and conservatories join musicians with years of experience under their belts. Basque musicians used to have to leave the country to record but now the network of highly-regarded recording studios and sound technicians is so solid that musicians come from abroad to record here. Our folk, pop and rock music has been used for everything from poetry to social and political change, from entertainment to personal conviction. It has been the vehicle for reviving old traditions and creating new ones.

In 1961, Mixel Labegerie recorded his songs on a magnetophon tape recorder, marking the beginning of modern Basque music

In 1961, Mixel Labegerie recorded his songs on a magnetophon tape recorder, marking the beginning of modern Basque music. One of the novelties of Labegerie’s music was the Spanish guitar. Another major shift was that he wrote songs of protest against the suppression of Basque identity, writing all of the lyrics and music to his songs himself. In 1965, Ez Dok Amairu followed the path forged by Labegerie, taking it a step further. More a movement than a group, Ez Dok Amairu, named by the sculptor Jorge Oteiza, was a collective of singers, musicians, writers, artists and dancers. The performances brought together different artistic disciplines such as song, dance, txalaparta (percussion instrument) and poetry. Between 1965 and 1972, Ez Dok Amairu refreshed the popular songbook while borrowing outside influences to create new songs. Some of the leading names associated with the group were Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, Lourdes Iriondo, Xabier Lete, Joxean Artze and Jose Anjel Irigarai. The era of protest song, at the tail end of the dictatorship, gave us some of the most memorable songs in Basque music. Pantxoa eta Peio, Gorka Knorr, Imanol Larzabal, Gontzal Mendibil and Maite Idirin were the most prominent singer-songwriters of the period.

The birth of Basque rock is inextricably tied to Niko Etxart and a band called Errobi. Eventually, bands took the place of singer-songwriters. Symphonic rock and English folk bolstered well-known traditional tunes; the dance and rock band Itoiz was pivotal, as was Oskorri in the area of folk. Ruper Ordorika began his career in the years following the end of the dictatorship. He was a member of Pott Banda, a fundamental group in the history of Basque literature. Together with Ordorika, some of the most relevant solo singers of contemporary Basque song included Fermin Muguruza, Gari, Anari, Jabier Muguruza, Petti, Izaro and Mikel Urdangarin.

The deep economic and social crisis of the 1980s ushered in an era of nonconformity, fanned by the flames of London punk. This led to a change in the Basque music scene, with the advent of punk, ska, reggae and hardcore bands. Most of the bands sang in Spanish, including La Polla Records, Eskorbuto, Barricada and, at first, Kortatu; Hertzainak, Zarama and later Kortatu sang in Basque. This was known as the Rock Radical Vasco (Radical Basque Rock) movement. In the area of folk music, musician and researcher Juan Mari Beltran was already working to revive Basque folk music.

The brothers Fermin and Iñigo Muguruza, who had played with Kortatu, began a group, Negu Gorriak, in the 1990s incorporating hip hop music and culture into the Basque language. The Basque music scene was becoming more diverse and embracing different styles. Ama Say, BAP!!, Beti Mugan, Dut, Sorotan Bele and Zazpi Eskale are just a few of the bands that made a name for themselves at the time. Su Ta Gar brought us heavy metal and Joseba Tapia and Kepa Junkera were the names responsible for popularizing ‘trikitixa’ music (Basque diatonic button accordion).

About 200 works in Basque are released every year

Self-production is the most relevant phenomenon of recent years. Far from homogeneous, today’s Basque music scene is diverse, vibrant, and comes in all shapes and sizes. Rap and urban music are in vogue and Glaukoma, 2zio, Aneguria, La Basu and La Furia are all singing in Basque. Mursego, Amorante, Joseba Irazoki, Maite Larburu and Ibon RG are at the vanguard of experimental music. Delorean and Anita Parker are big names in electronic music. Berri Txarrak has been a household name in electric guitar bands, along with Zea Mays, Lisabö and Willis Drumond. Leading names in pop and rock are Ken Zazpi, Bide Ertzean, Rafa Rueda, Belako and Izaki Gardenak. And in folk music, we have Oreka TX, Korrontzi and Kalakan.

About 200 works in Basque are released every year in digital and physical format, mainly CDs, but the LP is making a strong comeback as seen in the Basque music portal


Basque composers and performers fill the world with music. Basque classical music has produced world-renowned figures in the past and continues to do so today. Maurice Ravel is without a doubt one of the greatest composers of Basque origin. Ravel shared certain things with other Basque composers, many of whom spent their careers outside the Basque Country, working in other languages, while never forgetting their Basque identity.

Choirs, soloists and instrumental ensembles complete the map of classical Basque music. The importance of this type of music became clear in 1982, when only in its second year, the first Basque Government created Euskadiko Orkestra, the Basque National Orchestra. In Gipuzkoa, Arava and Bizkaia, the higher school of music is Musikene; in Navarre, it’s the Pablo Sarasate Conservatory and in Iparralde, the Maurice Ravel Conservatory.

Attempts to modernize Basque classical music came with the Age of Enlightenment, focusing on Europe and particularly on France. The Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country (Euskalerriaren Adiskideen Elkartea) was at the core of the movement, leading in the development of secular music, albeit not without opposition. This was the environment that saw the emergence of composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, who created his first composition at the age of eleven. His early death before his twentieth birthday deprived the Basque music world of an exceptional figure. Two musicians of Basque origin stood out in late 18th century Madrid: Hilarión Eslava and Blas de Laserna. The first marked the transition in Spanish music from the religious to the secular. The second was the great master of the tonadilla, a kind of miniature opera featuring popular and folk songs. Toward the end of the 19th century, the so-called nationalist schools emerged in a large part of Europe, which sought to incorporate the musical traditions of each nation into classical music. In the case of Basque music, these elements would be the zortziko, most closely associated with Jose Maria Iparragirre, and to a much lesser extent, the jota style of music and dance. In the early 20th century there was an attempt to create a national opera in Basque, but the project was upstaged by the success of Spanish zarzuela. The zarzuelas by Jesús Guridi and Pablo Sorozabal were a great success. Meanwhile, Jose Antonio Zulaika, better known as ‘Aita Donostia’ (Father Donostia), stood out for his research in Basque music.

In the period following the Spanish Civil War, Jesús Guridi, Francisco Escudero, Karmelo Bernaola and Antton Larrauri were the most influential Basque composers. Agustín González Acilu is one of the most relevant contemporary Basque composers today, while the most internationally renowned figure in Basque musical composition is Luis de Pablo. Both are known for their continuous experimentation. As for the younger generation, Zuriñe Fernández Gerenabarrena, a disciple of Karmelo Bernaola, shines with her own light. And just like Bernaola, she has also written music for films. Other essential names in film score composing include Angel Illarramendi and Alberto Iglesias.

The Basques are possibly best known for their choirs and choral music, both in the Basque Country and abroad, with many Basque choral groups garnering international praise. The choral societies of Pamplona, Donostia, Tolosa and Bilbao are among the most outstanding. Choral music is so popular that even the smallest villages have their own choirs, all grouped under the umbrella of the Confederation of Choirs of the Basque Country. As for soloists, the voice of opera singer Julián Gayarre is perhaps the most important in Basque music history. Today the soprano Ainhoa Arteta is the most internationally recognized Basque voice, along with soprano María Bayo, countertenor Carlos Mena and tenor Andeka Gorrotxategi. The Basque National Orchestra is the most important musical institution in the Basque Country. Both the BNO and the Pablo Sarasate Orchestra in Navarre are also dedicated to teaching children. Music bands are part and parcel of Basque culture. Txistulari bands featuring three-holed txistu flutes and drums are unique to the Basque Country.

Nicanor Zabaleta was the best harpist of the 20th century. Joaquín Achúcarro is the greatest Basque pianist today. Other outstanding Basque musicians include Ricardo Odriozola (violin), Asier Polo (chello), Josetxu Obregon and Alfonso Gómez (piano) and Igor Silguiero (saxophone). Juanjo Mena and Inma Shara are among the most highly-recognized conductors internationally.



Jon Eskisabel
Cultural journalist from Berria and founder of the platform

Download book


Karlos Sánchez Ekiza
Professor of the History of Music at the University of the Basque Country

Download book