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15 - Hiru ahoko ezpata
Leo usoa / Bi behatz /
Cormac Breatnach-en ezpatadantza

('The Three-Bladed Sword') - 4´29
'Leo the Dove' / 'The Two Fingers' /
'Cormac Breatnach's Sword-Dance'

(Music: Alan Griffin)
(Arranged & produced by Joxan Goikoetxea & Alan Griffin)

[Eng] [Eus] [Es] [Fr] [It] [Cat]

Recording engineer: Joxan Goikoetxea
Recorded at Aztarna Studio (Hernani, Gipuzkoa) throughout 2017.

Mixing and Digital Mastering:
Mikel F.Krutzaga – Musikart Studio (Amezketa - Gipuzkoa).

Alan Griffin: low whistle, whistle, Jew's harp, alboka
Joxan Goikoetxea: accordion, keyboards, percussion, sound FX
Fiachra Mac Gabhann: bouzuki, mandolin
Juanjo Otxandorena : bouzouki
Peter Maund: târ, riqq
Juan Arriola: fiddle


Some ceremonial dances from the Western Basque Country have a characteristic time-signature of alternate bars of 6/8 and 3/4. There appears to be no generic name for these tunes and for convenience most musicians refer to them as 'ezpatadantzak', 'sword-dances', which some are and others are not. The tunes here follow the traditional rhythmic pattern.

The first and second tunes are not alboka-friendly, but the third is Nº 78 in Halfway to Hell: Albokarako 333 doinu.

All Alboka albums must have at least one set of sword-dances. After using up all the traditional tunes we began to compose our own and here are three more. I asked Joxan what he thought of the tunes. 'Rather than sword-dances they're labyrinths in sword-dance form', he said.aid.


The third tune was named in hopes that Cormac Breatnach might be flattered into playing it.

As for the other two titles, I'd be happy to tell you about them in conversation but would rather not set anything down in print.
















































Ezpata-dantza' is a generic term that
may in principle by applied to any dance performed with swords. In fact,
the Basque tradition has several
different dances with the same name,
e.g. in Xemein, Zumarraga, Deba,
Legazpia and Lesaka, although
nowadays in the latter at least
sticks are used rather than swords.

Moreover, there exists a standardised
Gipuzkoan sword-dance and indeed
a new one has been created
in Pamplona. Nonetheless, the term,
especially in the first half of
the twentieth century,
became synonymous
with the 'Dantzari Dantza' of
the Duranguesado region.

The reason for this curious fact
lies in the special interest taken in
this dance by the PNV
(Basque Nationalist Party)
and by their leader Sabino Arana
in particular. Arana's enthusiasm
dated from 1886, when he first
saw it danced in Durango.
Like almost all Basque nationalist
symbols, it had in its favour
its Biscayan origin, and in this
particular case Arana emphasised its majestically virile character,
which was otherwise lacking in dances
like the ribbon-dance (Arana Goiri 1987).

During his imprisonment Arana composed
words to go with the entry
march for this dance, which later
became the 'Euzko-Abendearen Ereserkia',
or Basque national anthem,
and which is the current anthem
of the Basque Autonomous Community
(Jemein & Lanbarri 1977:288).

Thanks to the Basque Nationalist
Party (Arana Goiri ibid.), a dance that
at the end of the nineteenth century
was performed in scarcely four localities
of the Duranguesado spread throughout
the entire Basque Country and was
used at most of the Party's functions.
In 1910, dancing-lessons commenced
in the Batzoki (PNV party centre)
in Bilbao (Camino y de Guezala 1991:65);
in 1932 the Bizkaiko Ezpatadantzari
Batza (Biscayan Association of
Sword-Dancers) was formed,
to be followed shortly by similar
organisations in other territories.
In 1933, on St Ignatius' Day,
275 Biscayan groups came together
to dance in San Mamés football
stadium in Bilbao.

During the same period the Gipuzkoan
branch of this association had
1,200 members and there were 600
in Alava and 500 in Navarre (Tápiz 2001:105). We may infer from the term 'ezpatadantzari'
in the names of these associations
that the designation 'dantzari-dantza'
was probably unknown beyond the Duranguesado region.

As often occurs in these cases,
therefore, a specific term, in this case 'ezpatadantza', can lack a precise meaning
or even a clear logic in many senses.

As far as the music is concerned,
for example,
it would not have been unusual
for one or two of the melodies to have
taken on this name. For these are
melodies that in one form or another
reappear in all the 'ezpata-dantzak',
though in very interesting variations,
as often happens in these cases.

However, in music the term 'ezpatadantza'
is more often used to denote a genre
defined by a particular rhythm; specifically,
the unusual rhythm of certain parts
of the 'Dantzari-Dantza'.
The first to note down this dance
was Wilhelm von Humboldt, after
a visit to the Basque Country in 1801.
Under the title of 'Children's dance
from this Duranguesado region' he
wrote four melodies in broken
6/8 & 2/4 rhythm.

At the beginning of the twentieth
century Azkue collected the majority
of the parts of the Berriz dance of 'ezpatadantzaris', in the process
drawing attention to the pipe-and-tabor
player (tamborilero) Hipólito Amezua.
To sum up, this rhythm, like the 'zortziko',
is considered to be one of the most characteristic of Basque music.

Source: Enciclopedia vasca Auñamendi
Author: Carlos Sánchez Ekiza
Eusko Ikaskuntza




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One of the most important things to be decided at the outset when recording a track is the tempo.

The Good Producer’s Guide recommends first trying it out at different times of day, given that our biorhythms vary with the hour: readings taken first thing in the morning will be different to those after a heavy lunch or at the witching hour of night..

I’m not going to reveal our secrets for choosing tempos any more than a good chef will explain his recipes, but I would like to point out that after the first ezpatadantza recording on an Alboka album (‘Launako’, 1994) the speeds of the sword-dances shot up dramatically in successive recordings, 'Iparhaizea' (1998), ‘Dantzau daigun/Binako’ (2000) and ‘Ekihaizea’ (2004), before returning to approximately the same speed as 1994 on the present recording of 'Hiru ahoko ezpata'.

Is there any musical expert or even psychologist out there who might make a short study and draw conclusions?

The duet by Fiachra and Juanjo on mandolin and bouzouki is a true delight. Sadly, it’s a delight that we’ll never hear again.

I’d like to thank Juanjo (Pepe to his friends) here for his sterling bouzouki work. His development on the instrument over the last 17 years is reflected in the many projects he’s been involved in so successfully.

The harmonic and rhythmic lines on these sword-dances are typical of his style and in many ways point the way for the rest of the instruments.

Eskerrik asko Juanjo!

As for Cormac Breatnach, to whom Alan dedicates the last tune on this track, we greatly enjoy his visits to the Basque Country, his mother's homeland.

And we remember with pleasure his help in getting to play at the William Kennedy Piping Festival in Armagh in 2009, where he joined us onstage.

Cormac is one of the international artists who play Basque tunes in their concerts, in Cormac’s case in his own inimitable way.

Eskerrik asko Cormac!




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