Franco’s Ghosts: An Interview with Waldo Losada of Etxegiña

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We somehow seem to have forgotten many of history’s lessons. Despite ample evidence that trusting bigoted strongmen to run bloated capitalist nation-states doesn’t usually turn out very well, uh, (gestures broadly at the world in 2021). In that spirit, France-based Etxegiña is here with a timely, well-crafted reminder that it’s hard work keeping the assholes of the world at bay—hard work that requires personal sacrifice, and doesn’t always result in unqualified successes.

Etxegiña (et-che-GHEE-nya) is a new project started by Waldo Losada, whose work in acts like Acedia Mundi and Gargantua previously caught this fine Toilet’s attention. Etxegiña is a much more straightforward black metal act than these previous bands. Their new EP Herederos del Silencio (or Heirs of Silence), out today, is firmly rooted in Spain’s tradition of leftwing activism and antifascist resistance—the album itself is dedicated to journalist Eduardo de Guzmán, an anarchist journalist who was later imprisoned and tortured by Franco’s rightwing regime, and the songs give an emotive look at the experience of struggle and defiance.

The first track is single “Nosotros los Etxegiña” (“We the Etxegiña,” the latter being a Basque name derived from the word for “home”—more on that later). It is a waltzing black metal track draped in warm production, the guitar and bass tone lending the track an intimate, sun-baked feel. The record’s first few songs start from a more grimly triumphant tone, almost a march into battle, but as the resistance falters and its fighters are locked away in Franco’s concentration camp, the mood shifts, becoming at once more desperate and introspective. Closer “Los Cadáveres Insepultos de Albatera” (“The Insulted Corpses of Albatera”) is a moody track, its melodic rush forward encumbered by crushed dreams and lingering resentment.

Herederos del Silenco is a compact record, about 20 minutes in runtime, but represents a deep dive into history that’s tempered with moments of galvanizing melody and tight musicianship. It is also one artist’s way of exploring a country’s long legacy of both tolerating and resisting authoritarian impulses, and as such can be read as both a working through of nearly a century’s baggage and a warning to those who forget such generational trauma.

I had the chance to correspond with frontman Losada via email about the project, his family’s relationship to the history within, the true end date of the Spanish Civil War, and the making of Herederos. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Theophrastus Bombastus: I’m excited for folks to hear Herederos del Silencio. We’ve actually featured your work before on the Toilet in acts like Acedia Mundi and Gargantua, both projects I’d describe as being more baroque than Etxegiña in production. This record has a certain warmth and restraint to it despite its fury. What influenced the shift in sound?

Waldo Losada: I’m very eager to release Herederos del Silencio. I’ve been waiting for this moment for two years now, and I’m out of patience! Etxegiña is indeed less eccentric or bizarre than Acedia Mundi and Gargantua. The main difference, I’d say, is that this is the first project that I launch[ed] handling the creative helm outside of just adding bass lines to pre-existing songs. As a musician, I may have a more traditional sense of melody. Acedia Mundi seeks dissonance; it [reflects] the harshness of being alive. Its core concept is to create chaotic pathways. It’s not an easy band to listen to.

Etxegiña’s approach, on the other hand, is melodic—singing-like one might say—because the band is fueled by stories of courageous individuals. This record talks about the Spanish Civil War, and I feel it’d be an insult to those we wish to honor not to add a bit of life to our music. It’s sorrow fighting the will to end it all. It’s not about the death of things, it’s about the road ahead. [Guitarist] Titouan [le Gal] really helped me transcribe this into music.

Etxegiña is both a politically driven and a historically driven band—Herederos del Silencio delves deeply into the Spanish Civil War between Franco’s fascists and the left. What was it that drove you to explore politics and antifascism in your music? Was this a recent shift?

To be honest, Etxegiña could have had another name and another concept because I didn’t plan right away to create something political. [Did I have] an interest in the RABM movement for quite a while, and was I eager to not contribute or work with bands tied to the far-right? Yes. But I didn’t feel like launching a very “frontal” leftist band. At least not in the traditional aesthetic way.

What changed everything was the documentary El Silencio de los Otros (The Silence of Others) by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar. This brilliant piece of film talks about the Spanish Civil War with a focus on the 1977 Amnesty Law. To give you a little bit of background, Spain was a dictatorship until the mid-‘70s. After Franco’s death, there was a democratic transition, and the aforementioned law pardoned and freed every political prisoner while forgiving the establishment, i.e., all police and executioners. That led to the fact that some people had to live three blocks away from the officers that tortured them.

That day, the whole audience cried. Our tears were like an ever-flowing river of sorrow. I remember it well. It was a Valentine’s Day, two years ago, and my girlfriend thought it would be a great idea to see that documentary. It was. When I got out of the theatre I was crushed. But I knew. I knew I needed to talk about it. And my new music project felt like the perfect vessel for it.

The record also has specific geographic ties, with preceding single “Nosotros los Etxegiña” mentioning martyrdom for Euskal Herria, or Basque Country, and Guernica. I also understand your band’s name means something like “home” in Basque and comes from your grandfather’s nickname. How does your family history inform this project?

I always knew my family wasn’t on the winning side of the Civil War. Even if this is an “old” conflict, it is still pretty taboo [to talk about]. So, it [wa]sn’t until recently that I learned the life of my great-grandfather Ciriaco Urigüen, a.k.a. Etxegiña. He was a master gunsmith that fought against the fascist forces and was imprisoned and tortured for it. He got to live until my second birthday. Ciriaco and his wife Pilar lived in Eibar because they fled Guernica when it got bombed by the Germans and the Italians in 1937. My great-grandmother Pilar tried to flee the country and ended up alone and pregnant on a boat to France. She gave birth in a concentration camp in the North, away from her loved ones.

Etxegiña means “house-builder.” And it feels like the perfect name for anyone wishing to forge something good with all the sorrow and suffering that fills his/her/their heritage. And that’s what “Nosotros los Etxegiña” is really about. Outside of the homage to Euskal Herria, it’s a call to arms. Anyone wishing to fight against injustice and fascism is an Etxegiña. It’s not just about the suffering of my family. It’s about the suffering of half a country. And I don’t care if the majority of the scene speaks ill of me for turning my hatred into something positive.

Herederos del Silencio is dedicated to anarchist Eduardo de Guzman, who was shut into a concentration camp by Franco’s regime in 1939 and tortured. Tell me more about his life and how it shows up in Herederos del Silencio.

Out of the four tracks of Herederos del Silencio, three are directly and immensely inspired by the work of Eduardo de Guzmán. The traumatic reading of [his books] La Muerte de la Esperanza (The Death of Hope, 1973), El Año de la Victoria (The Year of Victory, 1974), and Nosotros los Asesinos: memorias de la guerra de España (We, the Assassins: Memories of the War for Spain, 1976) is one of the key reasons Etxegiña is what it is today. Eduardo de Guzmán’s testimony and experience of the Civil War and the repression that reigned during the dictatorship of Franco is considered a gem by those who study this subject. And it is a shame these books haven’t been translated.

Eduardo de Guzmán was 28 when the War started. He was a member of the CNT and editor of the journal Castilla Libre. He stayed in Madrid until the city ended up defenseless and the fascists started parading through the streets. He fled towards the Alicante harbor, where he and many [other] socialists and antifascists were arrested, cornered by the Spanish fleet on one side [and] the Italian army on the other. He was sent to the concentration camp of Albatera, one of the worst camps of Franco’s regime. By the end of 1939, Eduardo de Guzmán was sent back to Madrid to be tortured before ending up in Yeserias prison. There, he was sentenced to death but released on parole in 1943 with no possibility of working as a journalist again. He started writing in the early 70’s to honor his lost friends and died in 1991.

Eduardo de Guzmán’s testimony offers a vivid yet horrid fresco of this fratricidal conflict. The song “La Montaña” (“The Mountain”) draws its lyrics from his testimony of the siege by the people of Madrid of the military barracks called La Montaña. This event is described in detail in La Muerte de la Esperanza. Guzmán tells us how the people of Madrid fought to secure their city as they feared the local military would join the fascist rebellion. Our song “Los Cadáveres Insepultos de Albatera” talks about the concentration camp of Albatera, as Guzmán describes in his book El Año de la Victoria.

I don’t think it’s as well known that Franco’s Spain had concentration camps as it is that countries like Nazi Germany did. Was this a widespread feature of the regime?

Widespread is the correct word. There were 298 concentration camps in Spain. There has been a complete and serious study about this subject done by Carlos Hernandez de Miguel that was published under the name Los Campos de Concentration de Franco. This study lists every concentration camp by region and longevity and asserts how they were part of a strategy of terror to [force the “reds” to submit].

These camps might have been overlooked by the fact we all associate the concept of concentration camps [with] the Third Reich. But people need to know that Nazi dignitaries visited Albatera in 1939 before the start of WWII. One of those visitors was one Rudolf Hess, Appointed Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler. The idea of using concentration camps to assert the dominance of the Nazi regime might have pre-existed Albatera, but the Franquists sure gave the Nazis some ideas on how to manage such hellish infrastructures.

Drawing made by the prisoner Isidro Benet for the historian Isabel María Abellán

“Shootings in the Albatera concentration camp (Alicante).” Drawing made by the prisoner Isidro Benet for the historian Isabel María Abellán.

I want to stress that Albatera was a literal hell-hole. Originally build as a labour camp in 1937 by the Republic, it held 1039 prisoners during the war. After the fascists took over, the estimation of prisoners in said camp vary from 12,000 to 30,000 in a camp designed for 1000. Prisoners were fed one tin can [of food] every two days; it was one tin can to be shared by two prisoners; one loaf of bread for five. The lack of water led to bad hygiene. And as most of the prisoners slept outside and close to each other, it wasn’t long before intestinal diseases, scabies, typhus and tuberculosis spread. The camp was closed on October 1939 for being a sanitary calamity.

How does present-day Spain bear the scars of this period? Are there other artists and musicians out there exploring this dark slice of history?

There is a bit of progress here and there. I mean, when some of my uncles attended school in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Civil War was only mentioned by name and never studied. Nowadays, some streets are no longer named after fascist slogans. But my little cousins attended schools named after fascist generals not too long ago.

There is now a lot of documentation about the Civil War but the subject is frowned upon. People who bring it up are often dismissed as “stuck in the past.” There is a lot of talk about leaving the past behind and not reopening old scars, which is bullshit. If the flesh that lies under the scar tissue is sick, you cut it open to clean it.

I’m afraid I cannot give you a detailed list of bands addressing these issues. I don’t have a lot of contact with the rest of the Spanish scene, really. I’m sure there are a lot of songs about Guernica, for example. But I haven’t heard of other bands whose main focus is the Spanish Civil War. That being said, we can see that repression hasn’t vanished, even under socialist governments, as artists that sing lyrics against the Crown are incarcerated. This shows how contemporary some of our lyrics can be. Because the Spanish Crown is a mafia that steals hundreds of millions every year from the Spanish people.

You and the band live near Paris. How did you come to be based in France?

It’s simple, I grew up here. My mother is Spanish and my father is French. Etxegiña is both French and Spanish because I have both nationalities, speak both languages and because my ties with Spain are very strong. Not a year goes by without me going back.

When bands use specific narratives in their music, I’m always curious if that’s something they’ll continue to explore or if that topic ends with a particular album. What’s next for Etxegiña? Will you continue to work through the threads of the Civil War on future songs?

Yes. I was going to say Etxegiña might “evolve” as I plan on writing lyrics that tackle modern issues and reflect my political experience. But that was the plan all along. I always wanted Etxegiña to be able to maintain one foot in the past and another in the present. I don’t want to be the safe alternative to Marduk. I don’t want to fall in the obvious trap that lies before me: be another leftist that romanticizes the Spanish Civil War without being able to acknowledge the antifascist forces had sexist, xenophobic and racist behaviours and biases—which is a problem we still see in activist circles nowadays.

I’d say this: if I limited my creativity to what happened between 1936 and 1939, I’d be ignoring all the historians that say the war really ended around 1952. This is the thesis of Jorge Marco from the University of Bath. Franco did say in the fifties [that] “we’ve been at war for a decade now,” because the fight continued in remote areas in the form of guerrillas, for example. I say Etxegiña is about the Spanish Civil War but it cannot exclude the 36 years of dictatorship and the chaos that it created.

Is there anything else you or other band members are working on right now?

Oh, there’s been a lot of new music brewing for quite some time now. At the moment I’m writing the lyrics of Etxegiña’s next release. The foundation of three future records has already been laid down and the idea is to unveil two of them during 2022. I’ve also been working on my Dungeon Synth project Touza Senra (yes, I only chose names impossible to pronounce for non-Spanish speakers) that should be launched around October. Two releases are ready and I’m scratching my head to see what I’ll do for number 3. I’m also eager to see the release of the first Jazz-rock EP I got asked to record earlier this year.

A while back Titouan decided to step out of Etxegiña. It hasn’t been officially announced, but he’s got enough on his plate with his band Epectase and is waiting to drop new tunes. We’re both currently rehearsing and demoing the new Acedia Mundi album with Q and A. As for Prosper [Duffours, Etxegiña drummer], he is a fellow classmate of the American School of Modern Music. So, he’s recording a lot of stuff too. You’ll be able to hear it on Insolvency’s new record and a lot of jazzy stuff.

Herederos del Silencio is out today via Etxegiña’s Bandcamp page.

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