Navigating Peace

Casually, or rather causally, the Irish Peace Process kept drawing the Basque Txalaparta group Jo Tta Kun and me toward itself in a way or another during our summer concert tours, like a huge magnet that reached out to us at that point where there is a common resonance. In August 2003, an Irish friend who Txalaparta player Josu Goiri introduced to me while I was undertaking fieldwork in the Basque Country, brought the Basque crew and some of the Irish that were participating at ‘Navigating Peace 2003‘ to one of our concerts in Belfast. The crew in turn, enthused by the group, invited us to play at the welcome celebration that had been organised for them at the end of their voyage in Portrush, Northern Ireland. They were circumnavigating Ireland in a trainera with a mix crew of Irish Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland who sailed in an Irish curragh, and wanted Basque Txalaparta at the event.

Here is the fieldwork excerpt that features the spontaneous performance among Ulster-Scot musicians Willie Drennan (Northern Irish kettle-drum) and John Hamilton (Scottish Highland pipes), in casual clothes, and players Kaiet Ezkerro and Mikel Hernandez, from the Basque Txalaparta group Jo Tta Kun, in Basque farmhouse costume, improvising over the piper’s tunes on a txalaparta made up of three wooden planks. Continue reading

The planks are placed horizontally over A shaped stands at either sides, with rubber foam insulation under the planks to allow for these to vibrate. The ikurriña (the Basque flag), hangs from the instrument, facing the sea. Txalaparta, recovered in the 1960s from near extinction, and iconic of the Basque Struggle for self-determination for many until recent years, is a Basque tradition and instrument performed in an interlocked fashion between at least two players, with two sticks each traditionally held upright. The first of the tunes performed by the piper is ‘Scotland The Brave’; the other two are known by Northern Irish pipe bands as ‘Mairi’s Wedding’ and ‘Mary of Maryhall’. Both the first and third tunes make a reference to Scotland (Maryhall being a place from Glasgow, in the Scottish Lowlands from where the first Ulster Scots arrived to Ireland), which is a cultural focal point for Ulster-Scots, a minority among the communities that originated from the Ulster plantation of the 1600’s and whose language and culture The Good Friday Agreement set out to protect and promote (through the establishment of Boord o Ulstèr Scotch/Ulster Scots Agency), along with Irish (through Foras na Gaeilge) and other languages found in Northern Ireland. I recorded the event, which took place on the 10th of August, 2003, in Portrush (Co. Antrim), with a video camcorder both for fieldwork research purposes and as an audiovisual document of their tour for the Txalaparta players. Unfortunately the quality of the recording has been lost after the rendering process, but the thrill of the event can still be perceived nonetheless!

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