Jose Villanueva de Amezketa

1940's - Jose Villanueva, playing txistu with Ambrosio Apariasi.

Jose Villanueva de Amezketa, born in Bilbao in 1895, immigrated to the USA in 1917 with a trumpet in his suitcase and listing "musician" as his profession on his immigration papers. From his very early years, Jose was immersed in the music world, attending a music conservatory school in Paris at 12 years of age. His passion for music resulted in his becoming a professional musician and at 18 he was already playing in the brass band "Asociacion Musical de Bilbao". He played many instruments such as the baritone saxophone, tambourine, trumpet, and of course, txistu and drum. As a professional musician he knew how to read and write music and he actually composed his own txistu songs.

Throughout his life, Jose was a Basque Nationalist in close contact with the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV). Beginning in the early 1930s, he amassed a major collection of Basque cultural and political papers, which is now known as the Jose Villanueva Collection, housed at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center in Boise, Idaho. After 1937 he was named delegate of the Basque Government in exile for Idaho, and was invited by Ramon de la Sota, delegate of the Basque Government in the USA, to help the Basque effort in Spain. He wrote numerous articles and pamphlets which were published in different Basque journals.

Once in the United States, he came to Idaho, and despite working long hours as a sheepherder in the hills, he managed to keep playing music. In the 1920s he was part of the Idaho National Guard Band in Boise. He travelled with this group to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to play in a competition of military bands. After those years of experience he worked with other area Basques to create the young Basque music band the Vasconians, and was their leader and music teacher during 1933/1934. Joe taught these young teenagers how to play the musical instrument he/she had chosen.  According to one band member, Ramon Ysursa, playing with the band occupied their time and kept them out of trouble in their free time on the weekends which he said was a primary reason for the formation of the group.  

At 47 years of age Joe was working at the Yakima Sheep Co. in Emmett, Idaho, and later on in the Cascade Payette Mill in the 1940s, with many fellow Basques from Emmett. There, in the early 1940s he helped to create, with Cipri & Julia Barroetabena, and Lucy Garatea, the first Basque-American dance troupe in Idaho. The group was composed of nine young men and eight young women, including three non-Basques. He was not the only txistu player in the group. Ambrosio Apariasi also accompanied the group on txistu and drums.  They learned their dances during the summer of 1940 and performed at the Idaho State Fair that year to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of statehood. The outbreak of the World War II put an end to this first dance group in Idaho as many of the young men went into the military service.

Jose loved music and as a man of culture, he knew the importance of transmitting the Basque culture through music. In this way he influenced many young Basques.

His efforts to preserve and promote the Basque culture in America provided the early seeds that would later grow to become a renaissance of the Basque culture in Idaho. He passed away on April 29, 1981. Even on his very last day, Jose was still playing the txistu, fingering the tunes on his forearm.

His son, Tony, at age 13 was one of the trumpet players from Emmett who participated in the Song of the Basque performances staged in Boise in 1949 and 1950.


Source: Tony Villanueva Interview, 01/05/2015.

1910's - Jose Villanueva (second from the right) in a charanga band in Bilbao.

1920's - Jose Villanueva (third from the right) in Boise's National Guard band.

1950 - Tony Villanueva, playing trumpet in that year Song of the Basque production.

Jose Villanueva collection in BMCC, file from 1915 with Basque songs. The swastika was a common and ancient symbol before the use under the Nacionalsocialism in Germany.