Friday, 29 January 2016

Martin Larralde

Today I want to tell you about a guy who lived about two hundred years ago. This is going to seem totally off-topic at first, but I promise this is still a music blog. There's a song in the end, in case you want to skip the boring stuff.

Martin Larralde Ithurbide, “Bordaxuri” was born in Hazparne, Southern France, in 1782, and died in Rochefort in 1821. He was a farmer and a bertsolari, a sort of poet who improvised his verses.

When Larralde was young, he lived in a caserío, a country house that can be found in the north of Spain or the south of France. When his mother died, he asked his father for his share of the caserío, which led to arguments between father and son and a worsening of their relationship.

Larralde’s father gave permission to a neighbour, Jean Ospital, to harvest grass from the landa round the caserío. While doing it, Ospital was shot. Martin Larralde was judged and declared guilty. He was sent to prison, where he wrote some poetry and died six years later.

Martin Larralde bécame, for some reason, some sort of local myth;  songs were made out of his verses, a theatre play about him was made and poet Joseba Sarrionandia wrote a poem called “Martin Larralde”.

Why am I telling you this obscure yet rather uninteresting story? Why so very few details, by the way? About the second question, there’s not much online about Larralde, so I took Wikipedia’s article in Basque, the only language it’s in, and asked a cousin (thanks a lot!) to translate it, as I don’t speak the language.

Ruper Ordorika (photo source:
About the first question: I’m boring you to death with this story because Ruper Ordorika, a Basque songwriter I really like, made a song using Sarrionandia’s poem as lyrics. I first listened to the song ten days ago and it has been stuck in my head ever since. The song is not especially complex instrumentally speaking and I didn’t understand the lyrics until I looked for the translation to Spanish and yet there’s something about it that makes it beautiful.

I translated the lyrics from Spanish to English. Bear in mind that it’s a double translation and I’m no translator anyway, so some nuances are probably lost.

The fields are green, the houses white with red roof tiles.
The gendarmes’ car
drives past the road between the lambs.
Prayers are held in the houses and in the churches the prayers,
the usual prayers rise like smoke during winter.
Martin Larralde never returned
but if he had returned
(like a hedgehog with his spikes upside down)
-          And if he had returned, what?
-          Today is Sunday, the fields are green,
the houses white with red roof tiles.
The gerdarmes’ car
under a panel that reads Bayonne 17
The people, prepared as for a family photo
go to Mass with their soul overscented
Nobody unties the knot of memory
(everything is habit, everything is guilt, everything is forgiveness)
Nobody needs a bard
(everything is habit, everything is guilt, everything is forgiveness)
Martin Larralde died on a day like today in a prison.
He lay with his eyes open
saying perhaps that the sky is a dirty sea.

As always, here's the facebook page for the blog. I hope you like this song as much as I do!