UCR Scholar, Singer-Songwriter to Perform at Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Begoña Echeverria’s Basque-American trio NOKA also set to perform at Riverside’s Culver Center and Stanford University in October

An image of the band NOKA.

The Basque-American trio NOKA (left to right: Catherine Petrissans, Andrea Bidart and Begoña Echeverria) with Mikel Markez. Photo Credit: Eider Iturriaga

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Begoña Echeverria, a professor in the University of California, Riverside’s Graduate School of Education, will perform with her trio NOKA at this summer’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the National Mall in Washington D.C.

NOKA, a Basque-American trio comprising Echeverria, Andrea Bidart and Catherine Petrissans, epitomizes the themes of this year’s festival, which are “Basques: Culture By Innovation” and “Sounds of California.” The Chino-based trio will play alongside the Basque singer and songwriter Mikel Markez.

With origins in the region spanning northern Spain and southwestern France straddling the Pyrenees Mountains, Basque people have formed communities around the world, with large U.S. populations in California, Idaho and Nevada. This year’s Folklife Festival will celebrate how the Basques have preserved their culture and drawn on their history to innovate in today’s rapidly changing world.

Once on the brink of extinction, Basque language, or Euskara, is now spoken by a million people worldwide. However, the language is not safe yet: most Euskara speakers use another language for everyday purposes and transmission of the language in the home is weak. Echeverria’s work has shown that some of the reluctance to speak the language is caused by the gender bias within the revitalization effort itself.  While Euskara is almost entirely gender-neutral (no “she” or “he,” for example), the ‘prototypical’ Basque person is usually portrayed as a rural, male speaker of the vernacular, raising the question: how willing might female speakers be to join this language community?  This gender bias is epitomized in what has happened with noka, historically an informal way to speak to a girl or woman with whom one felt trust or solidarity. Over time, these positive associations were overlaid with more negative connotations, so that noka is rarely used in contemporary speech.

Drawing from this research, NOKA records and performs songs focusing on women and that use noka.

“Although noka has almost disappeared from everyday speech, it is still used among some immigrants in our hometown of Chino. We focus on songs that use noka to narrate stories about Basque culture, identity and gender.  By singing in noka, we hope to bring more awareness to this important aspect of the Basque language and perhaps increase its use,” Echeverria said.

Founded in 1997, NOKA has recorded three collections, including many songs that Echeverria wrote or co-wrote. The trio has performed 38 concerts or lecture-performances in the U.S. and Basque Country.

At the Folklife Festival, NOKA will headline a July 1 evening concert on the Ralph Rinzler Concert Stage at the National Mall, performing again on July 3 at the Kennedy Center and July 6 at the Library of Congress. The group will also engage the festival’s youngest visitors through music and language workshops in the kids’ area. Echeverria said she hopes to perform songs about Basque “witches” to accompany excerpts from her historical novel, The Hammer of Witches, which will be available at the festival, as well as on Amazon. The novel, which is loosely based on the 1610 burning of “witches” in a small Basque Country town, was the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice for May 2015.

In addition to performing at the Folklife festival, NOKA will also play at UCR’s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts in downtown Riverside on October 13 and at Stanford University on October 21.

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