Basque-ing in the Warmth of a Big New Talent
There’s an old Basque proverb that says, “Ez ardo bizidunik, ez andre bizardunik”. Translated, that means, “Two things to avoid: sparkling wine and bearded women”.
Okay, maybe that’s not the most relevant old Basque proverb; I got it off a website. I don’t really know anything about Basque culture, or Basque history, or the real history behind their beef with Spain, or anything. But I do know that the Basques have their own way of looking at the world, and a beautiful language called Euskera with excellent old proverbs like the one above, and a talented globopop star in Fermin Muguruza.
Don’t be fooled by the title—FM 99.00 Dub Manifest is not dub music like King Tubby or Lee Perry would recognize it. Muguruza does use some dub echo tricks and some ska and reggae touches, but this isn’t a “let’s sound Jamaican” party. Neither is the sound very firmly in the drum’n'bass camp, or the techno-ethno camp, or the neo-Cuban camp, or the camps of any of the musical styles that get tossed in the pot on this record. It’s just good, fun, dancey ear-candy that everyone in the world can love.
Which I guess is exactly what he’s going for. When the opening title track goes from Skatalite horns and chugging reggae rhythm into a Latinate pop-funk workout, it’s not because Muguruza is trying to subvert genre or take on any kind of multi-part Radiohead-like epic—he just thinks it sounds good. And it does. When “Ekhi Eder” goes from easy skankin’ to power-pop Who homage at about the 1:34 mark, Oskar Benas’ guitar rips off the same chords from “I Can’t Explain” that Big Audio Dynamite II did in 1991 with “Rush”. Could it be that we are in an era where musicians are just as influenced by Mick Jones’ post-Clash band as by the actual Clash themselves? This album is pop music all the way, but Muguruza, like Jones (and Joe Strummer, really) is willing to break a lot of different eggs to make his omelette.
Overall, Muguruza’s themes seem to be (in order of frequency) that the Basque people need respect, that globalization of American culture is bad, that violence is bad, and that celebrities who try to effect political change shouldn’t just exchange fashion tips with the Pope. (This last one, on “Radical Chic”, makes for what I think is a pretty funny and gentle burn on Bono, but I can’t tell.) Unfortunately for us, the English translation is fairly confusing, so you won’t really know what’s happening in most of these songs.
But FM 99.00 Dub Manifest goes down so smoothly that it doesn’t matter. Instead, just groove on the fun stuff: the Euskara hip-hop on “Diru Espainol Zikina”; the drill-‘n’-ragga of “Big Beñat eta Korrida 2001 (Mundu Bat Bildu!)”; the fake ‘60s pop sound of closer “Irudikeriak”. No, this album isn’t going to change the world, and no, it’s not going to rule the charts either. But it’s a really good 51 minutes of music by someone who could be a star down the line. You end up with a generalized sense of Fermin Muguruza as a good guy with his leftist politics in the right place. And, as another Basque proverb has it, “Bihotzean dagoena, mihira irten”. The translation on that: “What is in the heart comes out of the mouth”.
// Notes from the Road
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