Fear of a Basque Planet
Damn, didn’t I just review this CD? Oh, wait: that was Basque reggae fanatic Muguruza’s first disc for Piranha, FM 99.00 Dub Manifest. That was my first review for PopMatters, way back in the fall of last year. Ah, good times. Anyway, if you want to know about that one, click here and check it out. If you want to know if you will like this new album, read on.
You will. You’ll love it. You can’t not. On your worst day, your pissiest most headachey can’t-find-your-keys-or-clean-underwear speeding-ticket dog-runs-away country music day, this album would still cheer you up through its relentless positivity of attack—provided, of course, that you’re not a big pro-globalization anti-human rights pro-capitalism anti-debt relief pro-Spain anti-Basque conservative meanie.
And if you are, that’s probably okay too: the album uses five or six different languages, and hardly any of ‘em are in English. Muguruza sings in Euskara, the strange and wonderful Basque language that makes for tropes like this: “Lurrak kixkalten du / Lama ez da itzalia / Ferekatzen zaitut eta / Orbainak agerian”. Fortunately, the lyrics are all translated into French, Spanish, and English, so we know what he’s singing about; in this case, it’s “The earth scorches / The flame won’t go out / I caress you / And feel the scars”.
“Hey, wait a minute, Cibula—we thought you said this album was happy! That doesn’t sound like no damned ‘relentless positivity of attack’ to us!”
Okay, so you have a point. Fermin Muguruza isn’t exactly upbeat about the state of the world right now. The media: bad. Killing people: bad. Treatment of Basque people and Kurds and Mapuches (and if you don’t know where Mapuche is you’re just not cool—even though I had to look it up): bad. The song “Puzka”, or “Blowing”, has a laundry list of bad: Mobil Oil, United Fruit Company, the IMF, the U.S. Marine Corps, “the Bank of AmeriKKKa”, GE, the World Bank, the United Press: all bad, according to Muguruza. He name-drops Public Enemy (“fear of a Basque Planet” is his joke, not mine) and Patti Smith, and he covers “54-46 Is My Number”, and his chord progressions still conjure up a whole Clash/B.A.D. vibe, so he fits right into the “music people who give a shit” club.
But it’s hard work sticking up for every single sad bad thing, and he sounds a little exhausted on some of the tracks; his voice, never a golden bird on silver wings to begin with, is starting to sound frayed at the edges. He’s even got two tracks in a row where he seems to give up: on “Harria”, or “Stone”, the chorus goes “I tried / I really tried / To lift the stone / That represents my people”, and the title of “Lagun Nazakezu?” is translated as “Can You Help Me?” This is apparently his last record with the Dub Manifest project, and I started to worry that he’s just going to disappear after hearing these songs but then he comes roaring back with “Brigidistak”, a smoking hip-hop track with lyrics that translate out at “The brigades are here now / And the lads are arriving / Hurrah for those who fight! / The solidarity volunteers are coming”. So all is not lost.
Muguruza is fairly canny about his choice of music. FM 99.00 was fairly uniform with its melodic patterns, but this record is much more diverse and warm. Most of it is grounded in reggae of one stripe or another, which is cool. It starts with “Urrun”, which reminds me of nothing more than Aswad in its measured serious lope, and closes with a dubbed-out Mad Professor remix of that song; in between, we get the sprightly almost-two-step of “Hitza Har Lezagun”, the ska-skank of “Newroz”, and the spacey chug of “Maputxe”, which borrows the melody from Manu Chao’s “Bongo Beep” to nice effect.
This “borrowing” is the key to Brigidistak Sound System. The number of guest stars is like an international socially-conscious-musician version of the New Hollywood Squares: no one A-list, really, but all working very hard to help the album succeed. Angelo Moore from Fishbone pops up to deliver a semi-rap on “Newroz”, and it’s cool to hear from him again, even though you can barely hear what he’s singing for some reason. We’ve also got Desorden Publico, described in the liner notes as “the best ska in Latin America” (inaccurately, though; haven’t these people ever heard of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs or Bersuit?), who liven up “Hitza Har Dezagun”, Spartak Dub International, P18, Todos Tus Muertos, and other groups who know and love the Muguruza and all his works.
Special standouts here are Mexico’s Tijuana No!, who kick out the jams on “Harria” and make you incredibly sad that they broke up, and Aztlan Underground, a rap group from L.A. who really shake the pillars of heaven in bilingual style on “Nazio Ibiltaria Naiz”. And don’t get me started on the most startling track here, “Oasiko Erregina”, which uses members of Cuba’s venerable Los Van Van to create a really hot skatalitic son groove. This song, which tells the sexy and mystic story of an “Oasis Queen”, who is “the last voice / In the waiting atomic desert”, also manages to mention Rosa Luxembourg and Federico Garcia Lorca—no mean trick!
Muguruza has really done something cool here: he’s created a deeply soulful and political album that also sounds great in your car when you’re cruising around. A really nice summer album, this—even though it was mostly recorded three years ago and no one knows what’s happening with him next. Hmmm. But I really like this disc, and you will too, unless you work for the World Bank and/or the Spanish government. And even then you can get into it, too—just don’t read the liner notes.