As the prime mover behind Kortatu and Negu Gorriak, two of the fiercest rocking punk-rooted bands you probably never heard, Fermín Muguruza is almost certainly the single most important catalyst in the development of the radical, Basque language rock/punk scene that flowered in the '80s and '90s. A political radical who believes in music as a vehicle for spreading anti-system ideas, his lyrics combine a fervent Basque nationalism with an anti-imperialist internationalism grounded in human rights and self-determination for indigenous peoples from the Zapatistas in Chiapas to the Palestinians on the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. All of which sounds way too no-fun didactic but fortunately, Muguruza is also a musical true believer in the pure sonic power of memorable hooks, rampaging rhythms, and high energy that connect on a gut physical level. He's a born songwriter with a flair for framing his ideological charges, calling for action and consciousness in catchy choruses, and a great producer who understands how to make the music explode out of the speakers. He also knows how to get the most mileage from a limited vocal range that's usually delivering agitprop rage or exhortation to action. Someone once wrote Lou Reed had the world's most expressive monotone and Muguruza turns much the same trick with his pit bull snarl. Always open to new music and collaborations, a staunch critic of a homogenized musical "mono-culture" (a clever wordplay in Castilian Spanish since mono also translates as monkey), Muguruza is a restlessly creative artist who explores different styles and incorporates facets he likes. And when one project has run its creative course, he moves on to the next with no regard for commercial consequences. Born in Irun (on the Bay of Biscay side of the Spain-France border) in 1963, Muguruza's musical inspiration was classic punk; a 1979 concert by the Clash in San Sebastian inspired him to buy a Telecaster. He recruited his brother, Iñigo Muguruza (bass), and Treku Armendariz (drums) to form Kortatu in 1982, developing a sound recalling the Clash, the Specials, and Jamaican roots reggae.
Between 1984 and 1988, Kortatu appeared on two compilations (Sonja, A Frontline Compilation) and released three studio LPs (Kortatu, El Estado De Las Cosas, and Kolpez Kalpe). The career-capping Azken Guda Dantza double live LP shows the enormous strides Kortatu made in evolving from learning how to play as they went into a powerful, versatile, and entertaining unit. But with the band at the peak of its popularity, Fermín Muguruza went to a 1988 Public Enemy concert in Paris and saw the same light in hip-hop he had in punk a decade before. He promptly shelved Kortatu, set aside his Telecaster for a mic, and formed Negu Gorriak with Iñigo Muguruza and Kaki Arkarazo, an engineering whiz who had fleshed out Kortatu's sound as the second guitarist on the final tour. Starting as a trio with programmed drumbeats, Negu Gorriak was a full band with a live rhythm section by its second album and developed a ferociously intense blend of hip-hop, punk, and hardcore that proved even more influential on albums (Negu Gorriak, Gure Jarrera, Borreroak Baditu Milaka Aurpegi, Hipokrisiari Stop! Bilbo 93-X-30, Ideia Zabaldu, and Salam, Agur). The group also put punk D.I.Y. principles into action by forming Esan Ozenki in 1991 to put out its own records and the label quickly evolved into the independent anchor of the radical Basque rock scene for more than just regional bands. Negu Gorriak's growing international profile and Fermín Muguruza's outside productions for groups like Tijuana No! enticed such like-minded groups as Madrid's Hechos Contra El Decoro, France's Zebda, Italy's Banda Bassotti, Argentina's Todos Tus Muertos, and Los Angeles' Chicano rappers Atzlan Underground to Esan Ozenki for distribution. But once again, Muguruza felt the band's creative path had run its course and Negu Gorriak called it quits in 1996. After an unconvincing stab at grunge with the band Dut (Ireki Ateak) and a compilation (Amodio Eta Gorrotzko Kantak), Muguruza picked up the international thread on his first solo LP Brigadistak Sound System. He described it as a travel book "in sound," recorded with friends ranging from Fishbone and Todos Tus Muertos to Manu Chao in studios as far apart as Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Havana, and Rome over a five-month span (December 1998 to April 1999).
It also marked a shift to largely Jamaican-rooted music; the hard guitars of the Negu Gorriak epoch are downplayed for lighter arrangements featuring horns and backing vocals. A dub fan since the Kortatu days (that group's "Desmond Dub" apparently was the first dub track recorded in Spain), he also released erREMIXak, an eight-track CD of remixes from Brigadistak Sound System featuring various Basque sound scientists along with Mad Professor. But Muguruza's dub mentality is definitely a modern world one, where choices revolve around which global dance flavors to mix into a reggae-rooted rhythm foundation. To take that music on the road, he formed the Euro-international group that appears on FM 99.00 Dub Manifest, the only Muguruza-related project since Negu Gorriak's Ideia Zabaldu with a high international profile thanks to its release on the German world music label Piranha rather than Esan Ozenki. The lyrical intensity and the commitment to political and ideological activism remained the same even as the music sounded sunny enough to suggest that Muguruza was genuinely having some fun. Or was, since the Musikametak website that seems to have supplanted Esan Ozenki as the center for Basque rock activity has a 2002 news item that, true to form, Muguruza has disbanded the FM 99.00 Dub Manifest band for now. According to an interview on the Esan Ozenki website www.esan-ozenki.com, he was in Israel and Palestine in 2002 to play three gigs with an Italian band and wound up as part of a European delegation attempting to relieve the Israeli army's siege of Yassir Arafat's compound in Ramallah. ~ Don Snowden