Scotland Goes Basque

by Amagoia Gurrutxaga Uranga

“Euskara jalgi hadi plazara (…) Euskara jalgi hadi mundura” (Euskara, go forth into the squares, Euskara, go forth into the world). This is what Bernart Etxepare wrote in the book Linguae vasconum primitiae (1545). These verses are why the Etxepare Basque Institute received its name and they also represent its principal mission. That’s why this institution has decided that 2019 will be the year in which Basque culture makes the leap to Scotland. “It’s the first time we’ve promoted a programming of many disciplines in the same place and at the same time,” says Irene Larraza, director of the institution. The Scotland Goes Basque initiative represents a turning point, which was very clear last August at both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for performing arts and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Iban Zaldua and James Robertson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Photo: Etxepare

Every year, especially during the summer, 4,500,000 spectators from 70 countries around the world flock to Scotland’s capital to enjoy the more than 3,000 shows involving more than 25,000 artists and creators. As for the book fair, more than 900 events are held and 200,000 people attend. And in this cultural effervescence, 48 Basque artists have participated between August 7th to the 18th. For example, the group Tio Seronen Semeak presented the show FreshColl at the Royal Mile Mercat Stagen. And at Scotland’s National Centre for Dance, Atlantik1050 was performed, a work elaborated between Basque and Scottish dancers and a sample of Basque Showcase, from the Krego-Martin company, Akira Yoshida and the HQPC Collective Project. The Bilbao-based theatre group 2Theatre offered the show Interbeing: Stories From a Current War in Edinburgh for 25 days, and thanks to this, they brought back to the Basque Country the Spirit of the Fringe award.

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Iban Zaldua presented the compilation of letters prepared jointly with James Robertson and called Txekhov vs. Shakespeare, Harkaitz Cano and Danela Sarriugarte gave a music recital and wine to enjoy; Uxue Alberdi offered the show Scotland Goes Bertsolaritza!. And writers Harkaitz Cano, Miren Agur Meabe, Bernardo Atxaga and Eider Rodriguez talked about their literary creations along with other international creators. This also took place in August.

Uxue Alberdi presenting the show Scotland Goes Bertsolaritza! Photo: Etxepare

Larraza stresses, “The Etxepare Institute has different ways of internationalizing Basque creators,” and among them is that the institute itself promotes initiatives. “We produce such initiatives, but we never do it alone, but rather in collaboration with outside parties. This is how Scotland Goes Basque began. It’s the first time we’ve embarked on programming with so much volume and importance.”

In terms of volume, Basque creators have been making their work known in Scotland’s major cities since early 2019. As of January, the groups Huntza, Oreka TX, Korrontzi and Kalakan were in Glasgow. The multicultural group Tosta Banda also performed at the Celtic Connections festival, created to value minority languages. In addition, Basque players in the sector took advantage of the festival to establish international relations through the Connecting Cultures conferences.

In the spring it was the chance to show Basque cinema in Scotland. In collaboration with the CinemaAttic platform and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Etxepare Institute programmed a retrospective of Basque cinema from recent decades. It began in April with the program Films From Basque Country at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. Until the end of June, short films chosen for the 2018 Kimuak program were offered, as well as Dantza by Telmo Esnal, Obaba and Tasio by Montxo Armendariz, Loreak by Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga and Oreina by Koldo Almandoz. It was a program that also served to establish professional relationships in the sector.

Tio Seronen Semeak and the FreshColl show at the Royal Mile Mercat Stagen. Photo: Etxepare

The Scotland experience has been “important” to all the creators of film, music, performing arts and literature who have participated in the initiatives so far. In the words of the director of Etxepare, “In these festivals they have been able to participate with top international creators in their respective disciplines. We have done nothing but act as a bridge. If they’ve been there, it’s because they’ve shown the level to be there.”

Beyond the experiences of the Basque creators, Larraza has stressed the importance of establishing cultural ties with Scotland, “Relations between nations are usually formal and institutional, but there is also cultural diplomacy, that seeks mutual knowledge through culture.” That is the fundamental objective of the Scotland Goes Basque initiative, recalling the words of Bernart Etxepare almost 500 years ago. The first bridges between Scottish cultural agents and a number of Basque cultural initiatives have already been established such as at the Durango Basque book and CD/record fair, the Literaktum literary gathering in San Sebastian, the international festival of literature of Bilbao Gutun Zuria, the music and cultural festival Atlantikaldia and the Dantzagune dance creation and learning center, both in Errenteria.

2Theatre offering Interbeing: Stories From a Current War in Edinburgh. Photo Etxepare

The next events will be in the fall. In October, the Limited or unlimited space? Minority languages and media in the digital context conferences will be held at the University of Edinburgh. Documentaries of the Europa Transit project, from when San Sebastian was European cultural capital in 2016, will also be shown in October at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Meanwhile, a new location has been selected for Basque culture to be projected to the world. In Irene Larraza’s words, “Looking ahead at 2020, we’ll do, in Quebec, what we are doing in Scotland this year. We’re already preparing this new initiative.”

About the Author

Amagoia Gurrutxaga
Amagoia Gurrutxaga Uranga is a journalist who has worked in different media such as Egin, Argia and Euskaldunon Egunkaria. She is currently working at the newspaper Berria @AmagoiaGu

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