Singers Mikel Markez and Erramun Martikorena are a generation apart and represent two different styles of music. Markez sings folk songs he writes himself, playing along with his guitar. Martikorena sings traditional Basque songs, often a capella. But when the two of them sang together during a recent tour to California, listeners might have thought they had been singing together for years.
“We compliment each other very well,” said Markez, at the Chino Basque Club on Oct. 24, after their last performance.They sang many traditional songs – Martikorena’s specialty – for the show Sunday, rousing a crowd dominated by many older immigrants, who joined in on the familiar tunes. But Markez sang three or four of his own songs, including “Zure Begiek,” the song he said his fans request the most.
“Beautiful,” said Bernard Cazenave about the show. “That’s why we come here.”
The two singers started their tour in Rocklin, on Oct. 9 for the annual festival of the Basque club there, Iparreko Ibarra. It was also Kantari Eguna – the Day of the Singer – an event organized by the North American Basque Organizations (NABO).
Martikorena had been asked several months ago to perform at the October Kantari Eguna event. The music of the 67-year-old Martikorena is popular among California’s Basques who mostly hail from Iparralde, the French side of the Basque Country, where the singer is also from. He had made previous trips to sing in California, Buffalo, Wyoming and at Boise’s Jaialdi.
Martikorena said he wasn’t too keen on the idea of coming to the U.S. His sheep farm keeps him busy and he has a 7-year-old son. But then NABO delegate Pierre Etcharren showed up at his home in Baigorri, to extend a personal invitation. Martikorena said his wife convinced him he should go. But he told Etcharren he didn’t want to travel alone and asked if Markez could join him.
In recent years, the two had found themselves singing at the same concerts, strengthening a friendship that started 20 years earlier, said Markez, who is 39 and started singing in his teens.
The plan was set and when other California Basque clubs found out they were coming, they asked if the singers could perform there too. Besides Chino and Rocklin, Markez and Martikorena also sang for the Anaitasuna Club in San Francisco, the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, and they squeezed in a concert last Tuesday night at the Kern County Basque Club in Bakersfield. In between, they did some sightseeing, driving all the way to casinos in Reno and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It was Markez’ first trip to California, although he sang at Jaialdi in Boise, Idaho in 1995.
Markez has sung around the world, performing in countries such as Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba, mostly for Basque audiences. Last year he sang for the Basque organization in Shanghai, and in London as well.
But mostly he sings in the Basque Country. The songs on his eight CDs reflect a changing style over the years. He admits he has switched from playing with a large group of musicians to playing with only a few, and sometimes, he prefers to play alone, with just his guitar.
Markez lives in the small town of Aia, Gipuzkoa, with his wife and two daughters. When he’s not singing, he does a music program on the radio, for Herri Irratia in San Sebastian.
Martikorena has strong ties to the U.S. Basque community. His grandfather came here in 1890 and his mother was born in Stockton, although her family went back to Baigorri. His uncles, John and Pete Ospital, ran the Wool Growers Hotel and the Villa Basque restaurant in Stockton for many years. His father came for five years, to herd sheep, to raise money to pay off debts on the longtime family farm.
Today, Martikorena is still running that farm, on a mountainside corner of Baigorri. He has 150 sheep and sells cheese made from sheep’s milk. Maintaining a singing career while running a farm is sometimes difficult, he admits. He can recall driving several hours and getting home late from a concert, and then having to get up early the next day to tend to the sheep.
Two Popular Singers in the U.S.
“But I find that it’s a good balance,” he concluded.
Mikel and Erramun together at a concert in the town of Oion, September 16, 2011, singing “Zure Begiek.”