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Bertsolaris: improvisation as an art

Imagen: Autoría: UKBerri. Licencia CC BY 2.0. Disponible en
The box office selling tickets for the finals of the bertsolaris always has to hang out a “sold out” sign: 13,500 people attended the latest edition of this literary event sung in the Basque language. What is a bertsolari?

Bertsolaritza, in the Basque language, is one of those traditions that has been capable of adapting over time and that has gone from being sung in small places, such as private homes, cider houses, meetings and town squares to filling stadiums and fronton courts.

The finals of the Absolute Bertsolaris Championship are held every four years. The immaterial driving force behind this competition is the friendly rivalry between bertsolaris, which becomes a curious and interesting clash with language as the only weapon. Words in verse, with predefined metrics, based on popular music, but always in a context of improvisation and in Basque.


Bertsolaris are poets who improvise poems (bertsos) on issues suggested to them and not known in advance; and they express themselves by singing in Basque. Other important figures in this artistic process are the people who decide and organise the subject matter on which the bertsolaris must sing, making maximum use of their concentration.


It is a tradition that is constantly being renewed, including new music, subjects, metrics and participants. The presence of women has become a normal event on stage: women, such as Maialen Lujambio, Onintza Enbeita, Miren Amuriza, among many others, contribute their expertise to a world that used to be reserved for men.


This endeavour of permanence and renewal is supported by bertsolaris schools, which perform immense pedagogical work and contribute greatly to the introduction and presence of new generations in the world of the bertso, and help spread it throughout the Basque Country. These schools organize courses and activities that help keep the tradition alive among people in younger age groups, the seed that will eventually take to the stages of the Bilbao Exhibition Center in Barakaldo; the venue where the latest finals of the open championships have been held, achieving excellent attendance figures. Devoted spectators who clearly state their preferences for one or another bertsolari.


It is rather unusual that popular literature can fill stadiums and that words are the only weapons used in this peaceful and beautiful contest.


Basic information:


Basque Literature Portal:


Bertsozale Association:


Latest grand final of the Open Championship of bertsolaris, held in December 2013:


Schedule of bertsozales activities:


The Media:



Written by Eurodesk Qualified Multiplier,  Centro Coordinador de Información y Documentación Juvenil de Euskadi


Published: Thu, 14/04/2016 - 10:15

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