Gatibu, a sign of Basque resistance

Called the “last indigenous of Europe” by many, the Basques, who live in a small region, Euskal Herria or Basque Country, divided between Spain and France, are also proud of their roots and culture.

In the midst of bucolic scenery, hills with preserved and wild vegetation and thousands of years of history, own myths, music and literature, the Gatibu (captive) band found ways to blend the ancient Basque language, the Euskera, with modern rock.

On tour once again, the band, which in 2016 was the most played in Basque language at Spotify, continues to promote Basque culture everywhere it goes.

The name of their latest CD, the seventh in their career, couldn’t be different: Azken Indioak, or “last Indians”. If singing in Basque is, in itself, a political manifestation, singing in the Bizkaia dialect (one of the Basque provinces, where Gernika is located, the hometown of the band members) becomes even more resistance.

Singing in Basque has its limitations, as they recognized in an interview with the website Rock sin Subtítulos: “ It costs a lot more to go out [the Basque Country] and play, but little by little we are making our small way and we are opening doors outside Euskal Herria.

In the case of Gatibu there’s a special flavour, because they do not sing in Batua, or the literary Basque language, the official on in which most Basque bands sing, but in the dialect of their native region.

Singing in Basque is really a political manifestation and a form of resistance against the pressure of English and Spanish, against the amalgamation, the on-demand pop. It is a struggle for the recognition of minority languages and cultures that seek space in the globalized world. And Gatibu always worries about exporting their music, on serving as Basque ambassadors.

“Gatibu sings in Euskera, a language that causes strangeness […] and that makes us special” said the musicians visiting the United States, to play at the Smithsonian Folk Festival, for the Basque newspaper Deia.

With just over 800,000 speakers, the Basque language still struggles to survive the new millennium. Forced to almost disappear during the years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939–1976), the language has resurged with force, is taught in all schools in the Basque Country and in a considerable amount in the neighbouring (but historically Basque) region of Navarre It is also used in the public service and in the daily lives of thousands of people, but still struggles to become dominant in its own historical region. In bigger cities, Spanish is still the dominant language of daily life.

Bands like Gatibu (and others like Zea Mays, Berri Txarrak, Esne Beltza, etc and singers like Fermin Muguruza, Anne Etchegoyen, etc) are instruments to take the Euskera forward, to make the language be sung and appreciated beyond folk and songs that appeal to affective memory of a distant childhood. It makes us leave the past to look to the future. It’s about mixing the new (rock) with the old and ancestral (Basque culture) looking to the future.

“From the moment you are denied the right to decide anything, it is enough for you to be denied and crave it even more. The State has been carrying out unattractive policies so that people feel comfortable or want to remain linked to it, especially in Catalonia, also in the Basque Country, and this says that something is wrong with what the State is doing. It is not respecting plurinationality and what it has done is impose and impose, and all this leads us to what is happening. Although it is a globalised world, identities must be maintained and then it will be decided whether we get together for some things or not, or whether we get together for everything” explained Haimar Arejita, guitarist of the band to the site

And for the members of the band, the future of the Basque Country is also that of a sovereign and independent country. The singer, Alex Sardui, is close to the nationalist left party EH Bildu, and the band has already played, as in 2016, in political rallies of the party. Apparently just singing in euskera is not enough, Gatibu goes further and make clear their political preferences, without room for misunderstanding or instrumentalization. Over 15 years on the road made them a reference, not only a political one, but also a musical reference for new bands trying to find a place on the spotlight.

Gatibu’s rock is melodious, engaged, even revolutionary. It unites tradition and modernity, resistance to amalgamating capitalism while at the same time seeking to export its music and culture to strengthen ties and solidarity among minority peoples.

Journalist, PhD in Human Rights (University of Deusto). MA in Communication Sciences, BA in International Relations.

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