Argazkia: Naiz


Musicologist. Retired professor of the Conservatory of Donostia-San Sebastian.

Although in this article the author refers to music, it is obvious that this analysis is also useful for other cultural manifestations, be they sports, artistic or poetic.


All definition provides a description of a methodological purpose, it is somehow programmatic, and in our case it should also be so. Music cannot be understood outside culture, inasmuch as it is a means of expression of culture. Therefore, the definition put forward by Edward Burnett Tylor may provide solid grounds to integrate music and culture in national building, highlighting some aspects and adding some other that interest us in order to adapt them to our situation:

That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a person as a member of society, also instrumental in arranging social life, dealing with communicative needs, providing cohesion to social relations and managing other references and expression model patterns needed to ensure identification and survival of a human group”.

It may be expressed and summarized politically that culture is the set of references shared generally by members of a political community”. So many definitions diffused as representing a political thought of a certain social sector are not valid, since they show partisan political stances, instead of expressing a sense of community, people or nation; they express internal confrontation within a society, instead of expressing social consensus. Therefore, our concept of culture only comprises basic traits referring to the major referential framework of a certain political community, its nationality, amenable to either communists or neoliberals.


In order for a culture or music to hold a national character, it needs to be conventionally established and socially accepted, with its make-up, strength and impact relying on the efficacy of means of communication and the social acceptance, as a result of presumable intrinsic values.

Along these lines, no special means exist in the domain of social representation for the Basques. The means for symbolic communication we use are exactly the same as established historically in Western culture, but in our case, of course, symbols hold special relevance in our particular conflictive background.

Music is endowed with an important strength to generate feelings, but as an expression of identity, its efficacy relies on social communication. A study of this consideration requires insight into social semiotics and communication of theory–however, the length of this article does not allow for an elaboration. To sum up:

1.-) The first task of the enemy or the assimilating agent is to express that we all constitute a single cultural and political community, i.e. “making believe we share a common history”. By contrast, our first duty is to proclaim that we form a singular community and crystallizing that proposal into practice. Therefore, in our case, national building requires that we make a stand against the cultural and musical object identified as a representation of the enemy. If we happen to assume the expression of that cultural object, we appear to be sharing the same cultural community, stripping our own political goal of political validity. Language is the main representation of a political community

2.-) We should take into consideration social semiotics in cultural and music representation. Accordingly, we should know that a phenomenon of contiguity belies initially all cultural and music expressions, e.g. places where fandango and arin-arin dancing take place are usually Basque speaking. Later, when that contiguity is lost, these cultural expressions turn into symbols for those who had the opportunity to notice that link between music and society. This procedure is useful for the purposes of classifying historical expressions and also when it comes to allocating everyday cultural expressions into their sociological context. Therefore, the gist of culture should be looked for in the means of social communication rather than the cultural object.

3.- ) Culture should be considered from a national perspective, which means that we should take into account both expressions related to power and those arising from counterpower in order to avoid falling into a socially fringe position. By the same token, we should take into consideration classical and traditional expressions known to be historically Basque and other that will come up in the future, but also contemporary ones.


It is well known that cultural objects mirror social values. A cultural agent, inasmuch as s/he comes from a given society, incorporates to a lesser or larger extent values and experiences from that group, often established prior to their birth.

However, true values are expressions regarded as paradigmatic by a society and for that reason also the cultural agent, i.e. their social behaviour and their political stance, with the relevance of language being likewise apparent in our context–I will not dwell on this point now. The personal stance of the actor, author or agent involved is a point of paramount significance in establishing the symbolic manifestations that stand for a certain community. If a cultural agent considers themselves a member of a certain community or if the cultural object developed is perceived to convey a feeling “held” by that cultural community, these identifications and connections create conventions, with the audience storing in its memory the statements issued by the author on their art object.

Thereafter, if that audience realizes that there is some kind of symbolic connection, they will think that these cultural objects reflect a feeling or identity belonging to that community, so on listening to music defined in that way, an imaginary link will take over the mind of the listener, bridging music and the referential culture or community known to the person previously.

Therefore, technical, stylistic or other considerations of cultural expressions, important as they are, are by no means restrictive or essential. On the other hand, the personal stance of a cultural agent could be so, in that it is the most effective aspect of a cultural object. Accordingly, praising cultural agents who agree, explicitly or tacitly, actively or passively, with our enemies due to their perceived revolutionary values, stand against nation building, besides being politically childish.