Surround Yourself in Song


About Oxtote Txanbela


Otxote Txanbela, which embodies the musical traditions of Juanjo Mena’s native Spain, is appearing at this year’s Festival as a special gift from Juanjo and a celebration of his culture. In addition to their pre-concert performances in Music Hall on May 25 and 26, the group will visit and perform in schools and community centers around the region. They also will give a free lunch-time concert at Fountain Square on May 23, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

Here is the story of Otxote Txanbela:

The Basque Country of Spain has a great choral identity that has become increasingly stronger since the surge in popularity of choral societies in the region toward the end of the 19th century. Although the tradition of small ensemble singing was already common at parties and festivities, the first references to the “Otxote” (an octet of male voices), which would later become much more widespread, are found within the choral societies’ records. In 1921, for example, the Bilbao Choral Society organized an Otxote competition among its members, with the aim of encouraging preparation for concerts, and thus improving the standard of the choir. The tradition was maintained in the typical “Sociedades Gastronómicas,” where the men cooked and sang, and from there went out into the streets and sang together as they socialized—often as “otxotes”—walking from bar to bar, usually with a glass in their hand, of course!

Otxote Txanbela was formed in late 2017 by its conductor, Josean Vega (pictured above, center front), following the invitation of the Cincinnati May Festival and its Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena, with the idea of introducing the 2018 May Festival to the Basque tradition of choral singing in this unique formation. Its members come from all over the Basque Country of Spain, and all have vast experience with choral singing, having sung in prestigious choirs and ensembles such as the Orfeón Donostiarra, the Pamplona Male Voice Choir (Voces Graves de Pamplona), Kea Ahots Taldea and the Coral Andra Mari from Rentería.

Its repertoire is largely based on Basque folk music, nearly all of which is sung in the Basque language.

The Otxote Txanbela takes its name from a traditional Basque wind instrument called the txanbela, which belongs to the double-reed family, like the oboe. It is similar to the dulzaina, but a little shorter. The txanbela was commonly played in Zuberoa, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, and as with other traditional Basque instruments such as the sumprino and the alboka, it was played mainly by the local shepherds.

Otxote Txanbela is grateful to the Cincinnati May Festival and Maestro Juanjo Mena for this wonderful opportunity to introduce you to the beautiful music of their country.