Although each of the members of the band are musicians in their own right and each has his or her own history of how they became involved with Basque music, the basis for this group of friends getting together to play music and help maintain the Basque culture here in the United States began back in 1989 when the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco decided to present a traditional Basque musical play called a “Pastorala” or “Pastorale”. The Basque Center enlisted the services of Roger Idiart, a well-known playwright and composer in the Basque Country, who custom wrote this particular “Pastorale”, “Nevadarat Joan Nintzan”, for the American Basque community. These “Pastorales” traditionally had bands that played along with the actors in the play and who provided musical interludes between the scenes.
Jean Flesher volunteered to put a band together for this play and enlisted the services of Christian Iribarren on Clarinet and Rene Caballero on bass drum among others to provide this music for the show. Out of this group the Jean Flesher Band was born with Christian playing the keyboards and xirula and Rene playing drums. Jean, soon after, sought out Pierre Igoa in Bakersfield to play the trumpet with whom he had spoken to several years before about playing. Christian Iribarren’s brother Daniel also began to play the bass along with the band. This was the original make-up of the Jean Flesher Orchestra and were it not for the incredible talents of Pierre, Christian, Daniel and Rene, the band would never have taken off as they all lived in different areas of California and there was no way to hold rehearsals.
As the members of the band got older and they began to have families, not everyone was able to make it to every gig and sometimes a larger orchestra was warranted so Jean’s good friend Jean-Pierre Etchechury began to play drums for the gigs that Rene couldn’t make and sometimes Jean-Pierre and Rene even played together with Rene playing the congas. Jean, who has dedicated a large part of his life to promoting Basque culture, was fortunate to have been involved in a project recording Basque songs with a very talented musician, John Ehlis, who at that time hailed from Southern California.
John soon began to share his amazing talents with the band on several stringed instruments including mandolin and jazz guitar at various larger gigs such as weddings and festivals. Jean was also lucky enough to entice Michelle Iturriria to join the band. Jean had watched Michelle grow up in Bakersfield, California, and was continually amazed as her musical talents grew along with her to the point that she could play several instruments and harmonize along with Pierre and Jean.
The last member to join the orchestra was Jean’s son, Jean-Jules, who literally grew up with Basque music at the feet of his father and who plays percussion and sings with the band as well. In light of all of the immense talent that makes up the band, Jean decided that it was no longer right to just call the band the Jean Flesher Orchestra, so some of the members got together and decided that “Amerikanuak” or “The Americans” would be a great name for the band and that they should record some songs for posterity to celebrate the almost 30 years that some of the members have been playing together. We hope that you will enjoy these recordings.