Basque pushes all the right buttons

The fifth Ballincollig Winter Music Festival features familiar Irish acts such as Mick Flannery, Hermitage Green, Karan Casey and Comhaltas Ceolteoirí Éireann, and an international musician, Kepa Junkera. Junkera remains open to other influences, but is nourished by his Basque culture.

Basque pushes all the right buttons

A native of Bilbao, Junkera is a master exponent of the trikitixa, the Basque style of diatonic accordion. Of the differences between conventional accordions and the trikitixa, Junkera says “trikitixa style is very percussive, highly rhythmic.”

Junkera learned trikitixa informally at an early age. “I have fond memories of those early years when I learned to play. I was a self-taught musician and it’s a big honour for me to have achieved what I have. I could never have imagined it.”

The Basque group, Oskorri, were the first to recognise Junkera’s talent and he recorded and toured with them in the ’80s. In the following decade, Junkera was exposed to a variety of musical styles and traditions, including Celtic.

This journey began on Galician piper Carlos Nuñez’s acclaimed 1997 album, Brotherhood of Stars, and continued on The Chieftains’ exploration of the ‘lost Celtic province’ of Galicia Santiago.

“They have been incredible and rewarding experiences,” says Junkera. “Carlos asked me for one of my own compositions and recorded it on Brotherhood of Stars. It was great to work with these teachers. I am very grateful for that opportunity. It made me realise our Basque music is interesting and respected by other musicians, and it helped me to believe more in myself and what I can offer to others.”

Junkera returned the favour when recording his 1999 album, Bilbao 00:00h, on which The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney joined an international cast of musicians that included Bela Fleck.

“The beauty of music and cultures is that we have things in common and things that make us different,” Junkera says. “Many times, it is a source of inspiration and a strong emotion. Sharing is nice, especially for the response of the other. Music unites and helps us to feel other cultures.”

Quoting the Portuguese writer, Jose Saramago, from his liner notes to Junkera’s 2008 album, Etxea (Home), he says “the first challenge is to sing each other’s language.”

But Junkera has also found inspiration in his culture and in Bilbao. A recent album, Ultramarinos & Coloniales, pays tribute to the grocery stores of the city. “They are like small museums. They are very colourful and transmit values that inspire me. I’ve always thought about the importance of what we have. The Basque culture has a very special and strong energy. It has always given me strength to feel that we are part of a chain that goes back years.”

At the Winter Music Festival, Junkera will perform solo, but he would be open to being joined onstage by a percussionist.

“I love the challenge of playing my compositions with no one around,” he says, “but I would also invite any Irish musician to play percussion with me. I asked the festival organisers, but I don’t mind that we do not know, because I like the challenge of improvisation.”

* The Ballincollig Winter Music Festival runs at the White Horse from Jan 23–26. Latin Grammy Award winner, Kepa Junkera, headlines Upstairs at The White Horse, with special guests, Karan Casey & The Voice Squad on Friday 24.

Tickets can be purchased at the venue or online at

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