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The “National Cowboy Poetry Gathering” in Elko, NV works hard to present Bertsolaritza and the Basque culture in the US


Bertsolaris Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran on stage along with Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe (photo Toni R. Milano-Elko Daily Free Press)
Bertsolaris Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran on stage along with Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe (photo Toni R. Milano-Elko Daily Free Press)


Bertsolaritza and Basque popular culture in the US are being showcased this week in a presentation to the American public of a good number of its most varied expressions, and their dynamic reality, at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering celebrated Monday through Saturday this week in Elko, Nevada. Special guests at the event are Bertsolaris Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran, who traveled expressly from the Basque Country for the event.

Elko, NV. The 34th National Cowboy ‘Poetry Gathering began on Monday and it's having a big economic impact on the hotels and restaurants in Elko with people who attend the sessions, workshops, recitals, demonstrations and concerts that are part of the program.  Under the title of Basques and Buckaroos, some two hundred and fifty people attended the opening gala, attracted by the rural and popular culture in the US, including demonstrations of Basque-American culture to which this year’s edition has dedicated much effort and space.

[The University of Nevada, Reno has contribuited to the success of the presentations, sponsoring some of the Bertsolaritza or Basque improvisational poets. As a prelude to this week long program, a event showcasing Basque Improvised Poetry was held last week's Friday at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library and William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies, on UNR's Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Participant Bertsolariak (Basque poets) included Maialen Lujanbio (2017 Basque national champion of bertsolaris) and Miren Artetxe Sarasola (bertsolari and researcher at the University of the Basque Country).]

A large number of the Basque participants who will demonstrate their expertise are from the Elko area that since the 19th century has been the home of a significant Basque community.  Others have come from neighboring states, or even further away.  Two special guests from the Basque Country are the Bertsolaris Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran.  Several more bertsolaris, dance groups, musicians, writers and researchers, in all some 30 people will present their art, Basque art “Made in the USA,” a contribution to the Basque culture in this country, and therefore to the Basque culture worlwide.

Working as an emcee, Bob Echeverria, proud Vietnam Veteran and Basque, addressed those present.  He is the father and grandfather of Basque-Americans that continue the tradition that they received from generations before them.  He served as the president of NABO for years, and proudly explained that his son, Dominic, learned Euskera, and is involved in the Basque club in Salt Lake City, where he currently lives.

Bob Echeverria presented the Elko Ariñak Dancers who are part of the local Basque club.  They danced to the live music provided by Mercedes Mendive, another Elko native who will play on various occasions this week, accompanied by the group Melodikoa that includes txistulari musician Janet Iribarren.  “All of them “play Basque,” traditional music and new compositions that are part of the recordings of Basque musicians in the US Diaspora.  Mercedes is a recording artist.  Her husband, Fernando Lejardi, is a former pilotari that came from the Basque Country to Florida.  Their daughter, Nekane, points the way to her strong Basque heritage that she is growing up in, in Elko.

Coming from Northern Wyoming, David Romtvedt arrived with his trikitixa and the various instruments that his daughter Caitlin plays (from the sax to the violin).  He is a professor at the University of Wyoming, musician and researcher.  David isn’t Basque by blood but living in Buffalo, Wyoming he couldn’t resist the influence of the local Basque community and ended up playing the accordion for the local dance group, Zaharrer Segi.  He became so involved that he decided to learn Basque.  Today, not only does he speak Basque but he is also part of NABO’s Basque teacher network, in collaboration with HABE, and aspires to someday teach Basque in Buffalo. Father and daughter recorded a CD last year that does not detract from any produced in the Basque Country.  It is another Basque Music Made in the USA production that contributes from this Diaspora to the common Basque heritage.

In this environment of local Basques, the “Old Country Basques” Maialen Lujanbio and Oihana Iguaran took the states.  They will also be joined this week by local bertsolaris Martin Goicoechea from Wyoming and Jesus Goñi from Reno.  Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, although born in Munitibar (Bizkaia) has practically lived his entire life in the US, having been an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno as a research and History professor for years.  He is the author of several articles and a book in English on Bertsolaritza and so introduced and translated the bertsos for the audience.

The festival also included other contributions like poetry by Nevada writer Carolyn Dufurrena who read some of her texts and tales.  She was accompanied by David Romtvedt who is also an author of several works including a novel situated in the west with Basque-American characters.

The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions and to comment, taking special advantage of the bertsolaris and the privilege of having the Bertsolari Champion of Euskadi, Maialen Lujanbio, present who won this title in December.

Even with a large portion of the program being dedicated to Basques, the other offerings at the 34 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering also include a large number of poets, story-tellers, arts and crafts, popular and traditional artists from all over the states, workshops, conferences, performances, demonstrations, recitals, from telling or singing the history of the pioneers to, for example making leather products on the ranch, including cowboy hats.

More to come.

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