Monday, 21 December 2015

Keep on rocking in the free world

I went concert-hopping in Hendaye last night.  The plan was to go and see Gani Mirzo, an Oudh player who blends Kurdish and Flamenco styles, doing a benefit concert for Syrian refugees.  I arrived way too early, so went walking around town and dropped into a bar that was having an open mike session with people playing Galician (Basque?) pipes,  a tambourine and a didge.  The vibe was lovely, the tapas first-class and some drinking buddies from Hendaye Plage were there.  It had a Cambrian mountain trance –fusion feel to it. This is the zonard zone and I feel at home.  I was really tempted to stay but had a ticket to see the Oudh player.

The Church of Saint Vincent (watch the video for great footage) is very impressive, possibly the finest church I have seen in the Basque Country (though I haven’t made a point of checking them all out).  In typical Basque style it has balconies above the main knave – for the men.  Most of the churches in the region have one balcony – but this one has three, elaborate and imposing.  The acoustics are great, the musicianship superb and on any other night this would be the place to be.   But it just feels a bit too staid. This is a night out for the liberal, worthy-cause-supporting, world-music-loving bobos of Hendaye. 

At the break I go outside for a cigarette and hear singing from a cafe across the street. I wander over to check it out.  What happened next was probably the most authentic and moving world music moment of my life.  Inside the bar there was a four piece band playing (two guitars, two accordions) and a group of maybe sixty people singing their hearts out along to them: in Basque.  The 'pop-up choir’, ranging from young mums to beret clad pensioners was grouped in a semi-circle around the band, ten deep into the bar area and stretching out onto the terrace: hands on hearts, belting out their favourite Basque songs.

I ask one of the audience what the songs are about.
'This one is about two Basque brothers who climbed Mount Everest and who loved the same girl’ comes the reply.  

I can (more than) live with that. True, the band did sound like a second rate oompah band that one might find in any European bar of a weekend. True, every song did end like ‘Hey Jude’, with innumerable ‘la-la-las’. But this felt like a genuine and spontaneous expression of cultural identity.  Nothing like the cultural evenings that are put on for tourists or visiting academic dignitaries at conferences in remote regions. I've never experienced a 'cultural event' like this. It's raw, spontaneous, authentic, participative. 

I made a short video clip but it's too big to load onto the blog.  Take a look at it here. I stayed, till the wee hours. This felt so much more authentic than – well anything I can remember.  At some point a hokey-cokey broke out, led by one of the accordionists.  Then it was dance time and I jived with one of the pensioners who had been singing her heart out earlier.  I went home with my pulse racing – having joined the mailing list for details of the next get together.

One night out, three concerts, three very different social groupings.  There’s diversity to be found here. 

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