Basque in the glory
The Basque country covers an area in Northern Spain and Southwestern France. Its indigenous people’s distinctive culture and cuisine have emigrated throughout the world, and found a particular foothold in Northern Nevada. Nevada towns like Elko and Winnemucca hold annual Basque festivals, and Basque restaurants are among the most unusual, iconic and distinctive culinary attractions in Reno.
This week, a different kind of Basque cultural offering returns to Reno: the contemporary Basque punk rock band Berri Txarrak. The group formed in Lekunberri, in the Basque country, during the mid-1990s. It has toured extensively around the world, recorded with esteemed producer Steve Albini, who also produced Nirvana and Pixies records, and released albums on the well-known metal label Roadrunner Records. The group’s music hits the sweet spot that appeals to fans of all high energy forms of rock—metal, punk and hardcore. Using the blank-meets-blank system of musical taxonomy, you might fill in the blanks with Fugazi and Rage Against the Machine.
And guitarist-vocalist Gorka Urbizu sings entirely in Euskara, the language of the Basque people.
“We were teenagers when we started the band, and most of our influences where from the Basque rock scene,” wrote Urbizu in a recent email interview with the RN&R. “Basque is our language, so it came in a natural way. Besides, we’ve toured all around the world singing in our language. Music, and hard working, has this power to overcome boundaries. A good song can touch people, no matter where it comes from or what its language is.”
Berri Txarrak—the band name means “Bad News”—last played in the Reno area back in 2005. On April 7, the group—Urbizu, bassist David Gonzalez, and drummer Galder Izagirre—will play at Sidelines Bar in Sparks for “Basque Rock Night,” presented in part by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Center for Basque Studies.
“They’re really well known in the Basque country,” says Iker Arranz, a graduate student who works at the Center for Basque Studies, about Berri Txarrak. “Here in the library, we have all kinds of materials, mainly books, but we also have CDs and DVDs of groups from the Basque country. … We don’t only do academics, we also try to be up-to-date with music.”
Berri Txarrak recently recorded new songs with the producer Ross Robinson, who’s worked with everyone from Slipknot to The Cure to At the Drive-In. And the Reno show is at the beginning of a U.S. tour. But Urbizu is somewhat dismissive of the idea that the members of Berri Txarrak are international crusaders for the Basque people.
“It’d be ridiculous to believe you’re an emissary of all your culture,” he wrote. “We just wanna be the best band as possible and spread our message and music. … We’re OK if our work makes people think, and learn where the Basque Country is, what its people’s concerns are, but other than that, we’re just another band.”
If anything, the members of Berri Txarrak identify first and foremost as a rock band.
“We think it is important to reach all kinds of people, not just the Basque community," Urbizu wrote. “We’re a rock band and that’s universal. … I think we belong to that worldwide punk-rock family: question things, help each other, do things your way. All you need is good songs, internet and a van, that’s it.”