Basque Country

The Music of the Basque Country

The Basque Country is located in the north of Spain, bordering France. This region has a rich culture of traditions that reflect its rural landscape. The language spoken here, Euskera, not related to any Romance language. The traditional folklore music of this region is associated with percussion and dance.

The most common dance, the aurresku, is comprised of four parts: aurrez-aurre, esku aldatzea, zortzico and agurra. This dance is performed by a chistulari or txistulari, a musician that plays the chistu and the tamboril at the same time, and a dantzari, a male dancer.

The Chistu

The chistu, or txistu, is a flute with three holes. One of the first of these flutes found in the Basque Country is 22,000 years old and is made from bird’s bones. Nowadays, it is made of wood and has a metal mouthpiece. This instrument is designed to be played by one hand, leaving the musician’s other hand free to play a tamborin, a type of drum.


The zortzico is a dance from the Basque Country with dotted rhythms. The dance is typically in 5/8, though there is controversy about the correct meter. It forms part of the aurresku and is used to accompany poems sung in Euskera. The Basque unofficial national anthem is a sung zortzico. The origins of this style are unclear, but there are some zorticos dating back to the 18th century.

Some theories argue that the word zortzico in Euskera refers to the value of the meter because zortzi means eight, relating to the use of eight notes. However, other musicologists argue that zortzi refers to the musical phrase that is always eight measures long; this way, the danztari (dancers) can anticipate what is going to happen in the music. Another theory states that the name points to the number of verses on the traditional Basque poem.


Most of the zortzikos are written with the 5/8 meter with dotted eight notes. It is also usual to find the measures 2/4, especially in sung zortzicos with a more cantabile line, and 6/8.

There are some differences between the rhythm in the instrumental and vocal music. The instrumental is more rigid because it accompanies a dancer, while the vocal is freer and allows the singer more flexibility.