Fermin Muguruza: Brigidistak Sound System

Matt Cibula

Fermin Muguruza

Brigidistak Sound System

Label: Piranha
US Release Date: 2002-03-12

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.





Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.