NEA National Heritage Tribute Video: Dan Ansotegui
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NEA National Heritage Tribute Video: Dan Ansotegui

My name is Dan Ansotegui. I am from Boise, Idaho and I am an NEA National
Heritage Fellow. My dad played the accordion for us, always
at holidays and then Jimmy’s band, the Jim Jausoro orchestra, they practiced, rehearsed
at our house and that was in the room directly below my bedroom and so you know at 9 o’clock
or 8 thirty or whatever time I had to go to bed, but I would hear them, they’d play for
another hour or so and they’d work on new tunes. So I always had that. And then the dancing came you know shortly
thereafter and, and danced with the young group who really didn’t have a name at that
time. They were just the young Basque dancers. And then I started with Oinkaris at 14. With my trip, my sophomore year of college
that’s when I began playing music because I was able to go to the town of O–ati in
the Basque Country. I would consider myself an American Basque. I’ve done all I can do to go back and try
to understand where my grandparents came from and what made them the people that they were
and how that has affected me. Yeah, we’re very happy and proud of Dan Ansotegui
and what he represents to the Basque community. He’s the one that learned directly from those
that brought the songs and the dances and the food directly from the Basque country. He perpetuates the traditions … he keeps
them alive, and moving forward. Predominantly the Basques in Idaho came from
a very small region within the entire Basque country. In the very early nineteen-hundreds it was
very poor. The oldest son or daughter got the farm and
everyone else had to kind of make do. My dad’s dad became a Merchant Marine at a
young age, 16, 17 years old. On his second trip over he jumped ship; got
together with a Basque gentleman in New York who kind of placed Basque people on ranches. Grandma Epi came over and she was used to
cooking bacalao vizcaina and she had choricero peppers which were kind of a mild chili pepper. But when Grandma Epi came here they didn’t
have choricero peppers. When she came here they didn’t have the salt
cod that they used for the bacalao and the things that they did they didn’t have fresh
fish and they had lamb and now instead of cooking for their little family at home, she
comes over here and she’s the head cook for thirty hungry Basque shepherds and the whole
ranch, everybody works on the ranch. Says, what am I going to do? So Basque cooking evolved incredibly in the
United States and you see that in the Basque boarding houses. So you have this style of Basque cooking in
a boarding house that doesn’t resemble anything you would see when you went back home. And it’s because they had to adapt. They had to adapt to what they had. I think that’s kind of what Basques have been
really good at, is keeping their culture and yet allowing it to change. I would imagine I was probably four years
old there and this is my father playing tambourine and Jimmy Jausoro playing accordion, who was
also a National Heritage Fellow in 1985. When Jim first put the band together in ’58,
because he had a lot of non-Basque people coming to these things, Jimmy started playing
old two-steps and waltzes and polkas and different kinds of things that he would mix. Whether it’s Basque rock and roll or it’s
traditional dance, we always start with the original and we and then we go from there. What do you hear? What do you guys hear and what, what do you
want to do in this to make it our own? If we were just trying to imitate, it wouldn’t
work and it would get a little bit worse every year. With our little button accordion group, we’re
establishing the base. This is what it is. This is Basque music; and I have a few original
tunes that I stick in there and I, you know, we learn those and they like those. But for the most part we’re establishing a
base. Then as long as you keep a foot in that, then
where you go has those roots and then you can still be original within that and that’s
what then helps it to kind of live on, I think. For me receiving the Heritage Fellowship from
the National Endowment for the Arts means it’s a show of appreciation for everything
that everybody has done around here. I didn’t do any music on my own. I didn’t do any, I didn’t open a restaurant
by myself, but I’ve been able to be there. And to me that’s the biggest thing: we’ve
got to live it. We’ve got to, if, if we are just imitating
it’s going to die. If we’re living it and having fun and teaching
others about it, it’ll go on.

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