The first known example of bertsolaritza that we know today dates back to the 19th century. However, improvisational oral tradition goes back thousands of years. Bertsolaritza is the art of improvisational verse singing that is a part of Basque culture. A bertso is always sung without accompaniment and has metre, rhyme, and airs (somewhat equivalent to melody that is specific to bertsos). A bertsolari (singer) doesn’t need to have a good voice to be successful. Success is more dependent on the melody chosen and the manner in which the bertsolari sings. While the air and rhyme are allowed to change and vary, the metre chosen does not allow for any flexibility. By having a rhyme and strict metre, it is very challenging for a bersolari to say exactly what they wish to say. There are such things as bertsolaritza competitions. One of the most common mistakes made is the repetition of the same rhyming word within the same verse. Hear bertsolaritza here and here.

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3 Responses to Bertsolaritza

  1. ldcummi2 says:

    This is so interesting, I had never heard of this or seen anything like it. It seems like it can be a competition, at least with the video you posted. Maybe it developed from some other tradition involving instruments or various singers, since it seems that the bersolari sings alone an unaccompanied always.

  2. cesndrs2 says:

    Over winter break, I studied abroad in the Bahamas to research cultural sustainability, and I focused on Bahamian literature in particular. The Bahamians also have a very strong oral tradition, similar to that of the Basque country. Much of their folklore is being lost slowly due to the instability of the oral tradition (it’s hard to preserve things if they are not written down!). I wonder if Basque traditions such as bertsolaritza faces similar challenges, and if so, how steps are being taken to prevent the loss of this challenging tradition.

  3. cifrasola says:

    Oral traditions are fascinating to me. For those who sing, they must have a lot of dedication to the art form, and I really admire that. I also hope that steps are being taken to preserve the traditions of bertsolaritza.

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