Ravel's Bolero is played for two pianos in the original arrangement from the composer. The percussionists have added the sound of the original basque percussions that Ravel loved so much.
Accidents of history, politics and geography have helped sustain the culture of the Basques, who live in the western Pyrenees Mountains adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and spanning the border between France and Spain. And while only a small minority of Basques on the Spanish side align themselves with the sometimes violent secessionist movements dedicated to carving out a totally autonomous Basque republic, Basques in general are fiercely protective of their language, customs and traditions.
The Basque group comprised of three singer/instrumentalists, is one of many groups dedicated to promoting Basque culture. Instrumental accompaniment of percussion instruments have been hand-crafted by group members. Perhaps the most famous Basque instrument, which appears on several tracks, is the txalaparta, a group of raised wooden planks suspended on large baskets or sawhorses – in effect, a giant wooden marimba. The players strike the instrument either vertically, with the heel of a cylindrical stick, or horizontally. Two instrumentalists play the txalaparta simultaneously, one providing the melody and the other rhythmic accompaniment... Some of the music is visceral and tribal; some is elegant and almost courtly. The musicians are actively engaged in the growth and development of their traditions.
EUSKARA: the language of a people.
The Basque language has been present on this small piece of land straddling the Pyrenees for several millennia, long before the migrations of Indo-European peoples. For thousands of years it has infused other European languages and has been nourished by all of those encounters. The Basque Country is a threshold, a crossing point and also a refuge. It has been a point of departure for a nation of sailors and workers who have traveled the world and always returned to their roots.
Today the Basque language is also endangered, according to UNESCO, as it struggles to maintain the minimum threshold of speakers to ensure its survival.
The txalaparta is a percussion instrument strongly linked to the Basque cultural identity. The latest txalapartari (txalaparta players), founded in the 70s in the hills surrounding San Sebastián (Donostia) in Gipuzkoa, have transmitted their knowledge, and today the Basque Country has many txalaparta schools.
This assemblage of wooden planks is the only known instrument whose rhythm and melody are played by two people who must communicate silently and without looking at one another, in order to create music that never belongs to a single musician.
One player marks the rhythm, the other one breaks it, fractures it, neither mechanically nor precisely, but rather by creating something new, organic, and alive.
The txalaparta is not only an instrument, it is an attitude, a way of connecting and becoming closer to one another. When playing the txalaparta, the musician cannot be selfish and introverted, but rather must learn to let go, to listen, to communicate, to create energy. This is the primal essence of the txalaparta just as its essential component, wood, is a raw material.
The txalaparta is order and chaos, a balance between tradition and modernity, between erudite and primary blows, an improvised music.