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Professor writes song about pandemic in native Basque

Begoña Echeverria wrote "Coronavirus Biru" in memory of her late aunt, Mari Carmen Echeverria Itcea

May 21, 2020
Author: Tess Eyrich
May 21, 2020

Begoña Echeverria’s instinctual response to the coronavirus pandemic was to communicate her feelings through music. 

Echeverria, a longtime singer-songwriter and professor in UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education, is the daughter of Basque immigrants to Southern California and studies Basque schooling, language, and gender. 

She’s also part of NOKA, a Basque musical trio that has performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, among other venues. 

Begona Echeverria
Begoña Echeverria is a Basque scholar and professor in UCR's Graduate School of Education. (Photo by Linda Iriart of Photography by Linda)

Following the death of her aunt, Mari Carmen Echeverria Itcea, from COVID-19 on March 31, Echeverria turned to song as a means of memorializing her aunt and expressing her optimism that love and togetherness ultimately will prevail over the virus.

In one day, she wrote the lyrics to what would become the Basque-language song “Coronavirus Biru.” 

The song, which has since been played on the BBC Radio show Music Planet, features the work of two French Basque musicians: Mattin Lerissa, who composed original music to pair with Echeverria’s lyrics and sings on the recording, and Mixel Ducau, who plays guitar.

Echeverria described “Coronavirus Biru” as part of a long Basque tradition; in fact, it’s songs like hers that have helped preserve one of the most unique languages still in existence. 

“Song has been one of the main ways Basque culture and history have been handed down from one generation to the next,” Echeverria said. “This is especially important as Basque is a language isolate — unrelated to any other in the world — that is also endangered.”

Eighty-four-year-old Mari Carmen, the song’s inspiration, was Echeverria’s father’s last surviving sister. She was born in 1936 in the Navarre region in northern Spain, married, and had four children.

“Known for her quick wit, open heart, work ethic, and graciousness as a hostess — but also her brutal honesty — Mari Carmen’s love for Basque culture, cooking, and family lives on,” Echeverria said. 

One of the most devastating aspects of Mari Carmen’s death from COVID-19, Echeverria added, was that her aunt — a devout Catholic — was interred without a funeral Mass, with only a few family members in attendance. 

Echeverria noted that her family hopes to have a formal burial Mass for her aunt after the pandemic has waned, but in the meantime, she hopes “Coronavirus Biru” serves as some consolation to those who have lost loved ones — “that they knew how much we loved them, even if we did not have the chance to say a proper goodbye,” she said.

“I hope it reminds people of how we are all connected to one another,” Echeverria added of the song. “Now more than ever is the time to do whatever we can to help each other, especially those who are most vulnerable, even those we may not know personally.”

Listen to “Coronavirus Biru” on The Cosmic Barrio with Betto Arcos; the segment starts at 16:40 and the song at 18:00.

"Coronavirus Biru"
Lyrics: Begoña Echeverria / Music and Vocals: Mattin Lerissa / Guitar: Mixel Ducau
In memory of Mari Carmen Echeverria Itcea

Coronavirusa etorri zaiku
Coronavirus came to us            
Etsai ixila bezala                

Like a silent devil
Gure etxeetan, txoko denetan        
Into our homes and every corner    
Gu ohartu gabe sartu da            
It entered, without our noticing

Gure osasun eta harreman            
Our health and our relationships
Lapurtzera heldu da?
Did it come to take them from us?
Elkartasuna indartu eta            
If we stay strong with one another
Virus hau gaindituko da            
This virus will be defeated

Egin behar duguna
What we must do
Nahiz eta aparte izan
Even though we are separated 
Elkar lagundu ‘ta maitatu        
Is help and love one another
Amodiok debrua hiltzen baitu            
For love kills the devil

Coronavirusa etorri zaiku            
Coronavirus came to us
Senideak ebastera                
To steal our families
Adiskidea ehortzi dugu            
We buried our friend
Adiorik ez erranak                
Without saying goodbye

Azkenagurra egiazkoa    
But the genuine farewell
Ez da hilobin egoten
Does not stay in the grave
Birua baita, elkar artekoa            
For the thread between us
Zeru-lurrak dena lotzen            
Is what ties heaven and earth

Egin behar duguna
What we must do
Nahiz eta aparte izan                
Even as we are separated    
Elkar lagundu ‘ta maitatu            

Is help and love one another
Amodiok debrua hiltzen baitu            
For love kills the devil