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For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to travel in space and time with Jordi Savall as members of his ensembles and to learn from each of his projects, launching a new programme with the figure of the outstanding Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano to guide us on a musical journey through his world and his times is a congenial task. The premise is clear and the principle is a simple one: music is the quintessential universal language, which has united remote peoples through the ages, as it still does today. The same man who, 500 years ago, took part in an expedition commanded by Ferdinand Magellan to find the Spice Islands for the Crown of Castile, and who despite having established a landmark in universal history by circumnavigating the Earth, is nowadays unknown in much of the world, and yet provides us with a perspective on the past which enhances our enjoyment and understanding of the present.

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Re-discovering Elcano

For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to travel in space and time with Jordi Savall as members of his ensembles and to learn from each of his projects, launching a new programme with the figure of the outstanding Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano to guide us on a musical journey through his world and his times is a congenial task. The premise is clear and the principle is a simple one: music is the quintessential universal language, which has united remote peoples through the ages, as it still does today. The same man who, 500 years ago, took part in an expedition commanded by Ferdinand Magellan to find the Spice Islands for the Crown of Castile, and who despite having established a landmark in universal history by circumnavigating the Earth, is nowadays unknown in much of the world, and yet provides us with a perspective on the past which enhances our enjoyment and understanding of the present.

The Basque maritime culture to which Elcano was heir has brought us into contact with other peoples since time immemorial, and it has also acquainted us with their songs, dances and music. It is difficult to track down the influences in the north of the Iberian Peninsula of the Hellenic peoples from the East, the Celts and the Vikings from northern Europe, but we share instruments, allegories and musical forms with all those peoples with whom we have had dealings thanks to the sea. Like many other peoples, we Basques have been pagans, Jews, Muslims, Christians… and all these religions have made their mark, shaping us into what we are today. Because of the Basque Country’s location as the real gateway from Al-Andalus to Europe and vice versa, as well as being a stage on the Pilgrim’s Way of St. James, it was a magnet for diverse cultures and a meeting-point for different worlds. Tudela, for example, was the birthplace and centre for outstanding Muslim and Jewish writers, as well as a major trading and shipbuilding city during the 12th-15th centuries, when the River Ebro was navigable as far as the sea. For all these reasons, it is important to study and observe these cultures and their traditions today and to recognize how much we are reflected in them, to communicate directly with them and to enjoy the whole process.

One of the most important changes in the passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, as witnessed by Elcano, was the shift in trading and cultural dominance from the Mediterranean axis to the Atlantic, which became the epicentre of transoceanic voyages and trade routes. The Basques played a decisive role in that new conception of the world. Whale hunting, in which they excelled and were pioneers, forced them to develop groundbreaking naval engineering skills and to become leaders in a manufacturing industry that led them to plough the oceans and pursue the boldest maritime adventures ever seen. They established trading relations with peoples of other continents such as the First Nations of North America and the inhabitants of Iceland and Sweden. The history of the Basque people and the path towards the first circumnavigation of the Earth that marked the beginnings of globalization are therefore inseparable from that centuries-old naval and maritime history. That early globalization of the planet, with challenges similar to those we see today, unleashed a struggle to dominate the world. In some cases, far from fostering a global spirit, it emphasized differences in response to the danger of individual and genuine being swallowed up by the global.

We should not forget that at that time submission to the idea of dominium mundi, or universal dominion, underwent a qualitative shift: human beings, as God’s creation, acquired a new voice through their quest for knowledge and adventure, resolute in their pursuit of intellectual advancement. The Renaissance’s understanding of the oceans, for example, transcended the Medieval worldview’s fear of the unknown as something demoniacal, instead perceiving the maritime world as a realm whose mysteries could be –and in fact were– conquered by nautical prowess.

Moreover, the music and instruments that we find in remote places such as Indonesia clearly point to the human interaction resulting from the intense contacts forged in the Renaissance, and to the influence of the music and instruments carried over the ocean by thousands of sailors and slaves who were forcibly and inhumanly transported from one continent to another, for whom music and dance were a means of surviving amid such great injustice.

In this project, therefore, Euskal Barrokensemble returns to its origins as a music group, telling our story in the first person and taking the opportunity on the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the Earth to recall that global connectedness, as illustrated in the life of Juan Sebastián Elcano, is the essence of our plural nature as human beings.

VIVI FELICE.

MIREN ZEBERIO and ENRIKE SOLINÍS
Tolosa, December 2018

Translated by Jacqueline Minett