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Basque Performers Highlighted At Cowboy Poetry Gathering In Elko


The 34th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering wrapped up in Elko over the weekend. Its theme focused on herding cultures, with a heavy emphasis on Basque people. Our News Director Michelle Billman spoke with two Basque performers who were highlighted during the festival.

Maialen Lujanbio is the 2017 Basque National Champion in bertsolaritza, a form of improvisational oral poetry. Miren Artetxe is also a bertsolari and researcher at the University of the Basque Country. In this interview they broke down the history of bertsolaritza and how it’s evolving now that women like Lujanbio are excelling at it.

“Now it’s changing,” says Artetxe. “Now for the first time, there are real women playing woman roles, so if you see one woman singing in a woman role, it becomes more complex and not so archetypical.”

When asked how Lujanbio has influenced the form, Artetxe describes her fellow performer as a “revolution” and a “pioneer” who elevates the performances to an artistic space of exploration as opposed to simply a competition where there are winners and losers.

“Bertsolaritza has more to do with playing and this is our way to explain the world,” Artetxe adds. 

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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