Fermin Muguruza

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Fermin Muguruza is one of the most important musicians from the Basque Country. In 1983 he formed the ska/punk band Kortatu influenced by the Clash and the Redskins. Since the 1980s his music has been part of the Basque fight for justice. Today he has a world wide following. Last month Fermin was in London for a gig where he spoke to Rafel Sanchis.

"I have always followed very closely what was happening here in movements against racism and against the Nazis. London had a big influence on me along with the music I heard at home in the 1960s when I was a kid, the protest songs from the Basque Country and from Latin America. The revival of ska and punk in England was a big influence on my first band, Kortatu, along with the two tone movement with Selector, The Specials and The Beat.

"Music from England got to us really quickly. We always knew what was going on in England and it influenced us a lot in the Basque Country. Seeing the Nazi skinhead movement that followed the National Front also had a big impact on us. They wanted to take over the skinhead aesthetic, which really belonged to people who loved black music.

"When we formed Kortatu, we were part of the 80s movement which identified as a more leftist current in punk, alongside the skinheads who liked black music, not just ska and reggae, but soul too. We worked alongside a band in England, The Redskins, and a French group, Bernoir Eroir.

"In the Basque Country there was our own form of punk. We had the old jackets used by the Basque gudaris (anti-Franco fighters) and we plastered them in anti-fascist patches. And the boots. We've got a rainy climate like yours and it rubs off on our personalities - we're right at home wearing boots all the year round.

"The relationship between social movements and music here is pretty much unique to the Basque Country. There aren't any other places in the world where you get images like those in the 80s: old women of 70 years old, mothers of the political prisoners, flyposting posters for Kortatu and La Polla Records. These were the solidarity concerts for the prisoners: it was the old women who did the publicity for the gigs and were in the front rows.

"In the Basque Country there was an intergenerational network of people who recognised that punk was anti-establishment and that we were rebels. All this mixture, what happened in Britain with punk and reggae, happened at an intergenerational level for us. It's reflected in the collaboration we had with the Basque music icon, Mikel Laboa, who comes from the cultural movement which fought to recover the Basque tradition, to answer back through poetry, to create music against the Francoist dictatorship and to defend Basque culture. He worked with us on our last record when we'd decided to sing exclusively in the Basque language.

"We now sing only in Basque. In 1981 The Clash came to San Sebastian to play a gig. I was there and I didn't understand a word of English, but I understood the whole thing. When I started to sing with Kortatu, I sang in Spanish because I didn't speak Euskera. I said I'd end up singing in it. All my bands since have sung in Euskera, a language which 800,000 of us speak.

"In all the countries where I do gigs, people sing the chorus in Euskera. They don't understand the words I'm singing, but at that moment they capture the message and there's an energy which sweeps people up. It's a great victory, for me personally but also for the people who have reclaimed the language. My kids now speak to their grandparents in Euskera. Our lost generation, born in the 60s when Euskera was banned under Franco, has succeeded in turning the tables. There were thousands of demonstrations across the world against apartheid in South Africa. But what happened when The Specials AKA released 'Free Nelson Mandela'? Suddenly we had an anthem. At that moment the whole world was singing the song and through it we all felt united against apartheid. The boycott movement and the demonstrations exploded through a song.

"I'm part of this global international movement of politically committed music. Of course, we want to have a good time through music, but we can also demand things. We can put out messages which might not be heard otherwise. For two years I've been a privileged witness to all that's occurred in the Arab world. It was an incredible experience to make documentaries (about world music) and share all this with the musicians there. There are documentaries on Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait and Sudan.

"We musicians are grillots, as they say in Africa, spokespeople for what the community feels: the hardship, but also the celebration of life. But we can also be a visualisation of what society should be like. I saw and felt all this. Traditional music mixes with new types of music. When I was in these countries they were run by dictatorships supported by the Western powers. The revolts began. But they aren't revolts which bring change from one day to the next. In the media they expect a revolution in two or three months, but this just isn't possible. It's going to take many years until we can talk about leftist movements which are organised. Although the left is emerging and has a vestige of support, it hasn't been able to get organised, to have groups which reach out and in which people can participate."