Xarnège - Talka Tum - Xarnege

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Talka Tum (Collision)
Pagans (www.pagansmusica.net)

The Basque Museum in Bayonne (Baiona) Southwest France, provides evidence that the Basque and Gascon languages both have deep roots in this part of the world. I suspect that both linguistic groups descend from the Vascones of the Roman occupation period; in this theory Basques and the Occitan speaking Gascons are essentially the same people, the first maintaining their original Euskarian tongue and the latter adopting a Romanized language.

Both Occitania and Basque Country have experienced a musical renaissance of late. Basque language folk and rock production has reached high levels of quality in the new millennium. At the same time, Occitan-language music has achieved a revival of its own. (And remember this is a language family that has been left for dead by the French government.)

Xarnège represents the “Western Door” of Occitania; the group envisages the musical fusion (or re-uniting) of the two traditions, Basque and Gascon, separated by language and the Pyrenees. The group's name refers to the 'border' areas where the two cultures come into 'collision' with each other.

While this part of the world has been French-run for centuries, it is also Basque, Occitan -- even the English ruled Gascogne for a long time in the Middle Ages. And Navarra, a Basque and Occitan speaking polity, was still independent in reduced form until the Reformation.

The five members of Xarnège, (Joan Baudoin: pipes, flute and percussion, Juan Ezeiza: violin, alboka, stompbox, Simon Guillaumin: hurdy gurdy and vocals, Lucia Longué: flutes, accordion, vocals, percussion, and pipes; and Josean Martin: guitar, bouzouki) hail from a variety of veteran Basque and Gascon bands of which the best known are probably Alboka or Ganbara.

In this, their third disc, the group further explores this territory in-between where cultures mix. Talka Tum shows the influence of Gascon rock pioneers Familha Artùs, evidenced by the involvement of Romain Baudoin, but also reminiscent of iconic Basque folk acts such as Oskorri, Tapia eta Leturia and others.

I would define this music not as “folk rock” but as “hard folk” as evidenced by the wall of hurdy-gurdy and percussion that opens the first track, bilingually titled “Las damisèlas deu borg nau / Auzo berriko andereñoak.” Joan Baudoin's flute picks up the lead on this to lend a more traditional feel. This is a full sound, both energetic and textured, and sets the tone for the rest.

Instrumentally the tunes are approached vigorously with solid, driving percussion, plus liberal doses of discordance and feedback. A meandering guitar solo is certainly not out of place on “Fandango Aparta” but neither is the traditional violin or hurdy. In “Errege Jan” the voice of Lucia Longué emerges from a background of distortion and feedback to tell a story about King John in the idiosyncratic Basque of the isolated Xiberoa (Soule) province.

Each folk theme is explored in some depth. “Atzo Goizean” (Yesterday Morning) is a song made famous by Oskorri while a tune I would know as “Aita San Miguel” or “Banangoa” once popularized by Tapia eta Leturia, is approached as an instrumental. On “Arin Arin deu pastors” the hurdy and the violin duel, through various tune and tempo changes, before the Guillaumin vocal arrives.

In terms of the technical mastery, the group here shows a progression from their first album, Gaueko Lan Musika, (an album which, in fact, improved after multiple listens). In comparison, Gaueko Lan Musika had some brilliant moments; Talka Tum is a more integrated whole. The blending of the two traditions is, if anything, more seamless. The addition of a female vocalist, Longué, is a positive element. The hurdy gurdy is more powerful and dominant, in terms of driving the music forward; reminiscent of, but more musically innovative, than Lou Dalfin.

And while Xarnege is a traditionalist project, the vision of the Baudoins is one which clearly sees the link between past and future. These are living cultures not relics. Its eight tracks incorporate multiple folk themes from both sides of the 'border'. It's an area worth taking the time to explore. - David Cox


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Talka Tum (Collision)

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