Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Imanol Larzabal 1947-2004

Imanol, who has died aged 56, was one of the masters of Basque folk song and in later years a prominent critic of the separatist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), for which he had previously suffered imprisonment and torture.
Imanol became a member of ETA as a teenager growing up in San Sebastian in the 1960s in the days before the organisation carried out terrorism; as a result of his involvement, he spent six months in prison followed by several years in exile in France.
In the 1980s, when ETA adopted a totalitarian terrorist policy, targeting journalists, politicians, academics and artists who disagreed publicly with its anti-democratic stance, Imanol spoke out against it and soon found his name featuring in pro-ETA graffiti as a "traitor", an "españolista", like his close friend (and former ETA comrade), the anthropologist Mikel Azurmendi. When the leader of ETA, Dolores González Katarain ("Yoyes"), advocated an end to terrorism and was murdered by her erstwhile colleagues, Imanol sang in a concert of protest in 1986. He was forced to stay away from the Basque Country from the mid-1990s.
Imanol Larzabal, usually known simply by his first name, was born in the Antiguo neighbourhood of San Sebastian, where the Basque language had been marginalised. Resistance to Franco found many forms of expression, and the 17-year-old Imanol chose his by joining a folk dance troupe, Argia. He was a dantzari until 1968, when he switched to singing.
During his imprisonment in San Sebastian, torture was routinely used on members of ETA. Imanol used his confinement to develop as a songwriter. On his release, he fled to France, where he started his recording career. During his exile in Paris, Bordeaux and Bayonne, he became a prominent protest singer.
Imanol's early records were produced to raise funds for Basque political prisoners. When the post-Franco amnesty allowed him home in 1976, he regularly performed for prison audiences. After one such concert at Martutene prison in 1985, two ETA terrorists serving life sentences escaped hidden in the huge loudspeakers that Imanol had used to blast his music across the prison yard. He was held at police headquarters until it was established that he knew nothing about the planned break-out.
While the Basque country progressed towards its present status as one of the most devolved regions in Europe, Imanol invested his energies in the promotion of its ancient language and the renaissance of its culture. He was a co-founder of the Korrika, an annual road-race that raises funds for adult classes in Euskera.
Above all he was known for his singing - one critic defined his style as "thunder harnessed". He leaves a huge volume of work, most of it in Euskera, from his first "underground" tracks written in prison and recorded in the 1960s under the pseudonym Michel Etxegaray, to last year's album, Versos Encendidos (Blazing Verses), a poignant set of 15 songs reflecting on his exile from Spain and within her borders.
His hit albums included Herriak ez du barkatuko (1974), Lau haizetara (1977), Jo ezan (1981), Orhoituz (1985) and Muga beroetan (1989). In the 1990s, he widened his repertoire to include songs in the Castilian tongue.
Despite constant insults and threats from ETA and its camp-followers, Imanol refused to quit Euskadi until his mother died in 1999. From October 2000, protesting that he "could no longer breathe freely" in Euskadi, he settled in Torrevieja, in Alicante. Imanol ventured home from time to time, giving a recital in the San Sebastian Kursaal in February 2003. His last concert was in Lasarte-Oria in January, and his last recording was of two songs in Euskera, one a tribute to the Basque composer Julen Lekuona.
Imanol died on 25 June after a brain haemorrhage: political slogans were explicitly banned at his funeral.
He was unmarried.

  • Imanol Larzabal, singer; born 11 November 1947; died 25 June 2004 

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