Basque American Klika Bands

Klika in America poster, 2008.

The klikas are something really unique to the Basque American community. Klika is a drum and bugle corps with a clear Basque-French tradition.

The klikas do not always have the same instruments, but drums and bugles are indispensable. Besides bugles and drums a klika might also have trumpets and larger drums such as a bass. In addition to the musicians, Klikas include traditional French military characters from the 19th century; the makilaria (baton major), the zapurrak (sappers, which represent combat engineers) and banderak (flag bearers). Of course, as representatives of the community, the banderak have an even older origin than the 19th century.

Because of their French-Basque roots, the klikas are only located in California where most of the Basques from Iparralde have settled.




  • The most recent klika of Rocklin (2007)


The Klikas have typically played two or three songs, “A vous les jeunes” “Beret rouge” "Osea" or “Garde a vous”. The bugle can only play four notes which limits the variety of songs the band can include in its repertoire.  Similar to military bands, the klikas were originally formed by men, however, with time, women have been incorporated into the klikas of California.

As a cohort of instruments, the klikas are unique; they are the only traditional brass bands in the Basque-American community and their clearly military traditions exhibit roots far different from other Basque instrumental groups. These traditions date back to the years of the second French empire (1852-1870) when the Basques living in Iparralde were recruited to military service in the French army. In those days, the French army had a large number of drummers and buglers directed by a baton major1. 

A French army Brass Band during the Second Empire (1852-1870)1.

According to many2, some Basque dancers from Iparralde were recruited for the dance troupes of the famous King Louis XIV, because of their well-known dancing skills. So, in a similar way, the French army took many of the young Basque soldiers as musicians for the brass bands of the armies during the 19th and 20th centuries. Upon completing military service, many Basques would know how to play bugle and drums and they would come back to the Basque Country with this knowledge. Actually, many of the first klika players from San Francisco and Chino, were immigrants who learned to play these classic instruments of the brass bands in the French armies3

The French army influence is obvious in the costumes of the zapurra and makilaria. The zapurra, with a tall black hat, came from the engineers and imperial grenadiers of the French army in the 19th century wars, who usually carried an axe with them. The makilaria were the baton majors in these military brass bands and they still wear similar hats.

The makilaria is the central figure in the parade. The function of the makilaria is to keep the beat for the drums and the bugles, signal the start of the songs and generally direct the group. However the makilariak are more than that. They are a spectacle all by themselves due to their ability to twirl the baton.

However, in the old country the klikas have traditionally been used in the parades of the Besta Berri (the celebration of the Corpus Christi Day in Basque) a feast day of the Catholic faith (the celebration of the body of Christ) but this day also provides an opportunity for all the people of the village to participate in a civic/religious parade. The celebration of the Besta Berri is a tradition not only in Iparralde (for example there are dances of Corpus Christi in Onate) but the characteristic of community parades is really specific to Iparralde villages4.

At this Catholic feast, which dates from the middle ages, the brass band would accompany the religious procession across town to the main church. Prior to the 19th century, the brass bands that accompanied these processions had distinct Napoleonic army influences. The flag carrier would likely have been a former soldier who had remained in the town and would then carry the flag of the village. Beginning in the 20th century the processions were accompanied by members of the French National Guard5. Nowadays the California klikas carry the flags of the United States, the Basque Country and France, to show pride in the different cultural roots that form their Basque-American identity.

In this way, the Besta Berri is a social-religious celebration where the different social groups, especially the young ones of the village, can show their pride in belonging to the community. Unlike the mostly religious context of the old world, the Basque American klikas kept only the social part: the klikas are a way of showing their pride in being Basque and belonging to a thriving Basque-American community.The 30th of August, 2008 a Klika in America homage was organized by NABO  inside the Chino Basque Club forty anniversary.

1 Miquel Pierre: Le Second Empire, Tresors de la Photographie. Relie, 1979.


3 Interview to Michel Plaa in the documentary Southern California Klika.


5 Aunamendi entziklopedia

Other Sources: Oiarzabal, Pedro J.; Gardeners of Identity, Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vitoria-Gasteiz , 2009.

November 30, 1987 - The Klika band from Bakersfield playing in NABO convention, parading with the USA and Basque flags. Jay Uberuega Hormaechea Collection - Bk 44 -13.

November 30, 1987 - The Klika band from Bakersfield playing in NABO convention. Jay Uberuega Hormaechea Collection - Bk 44 -13.

Audio Recording: 
Osean, 6.
Osean Zaharra, 6.
Besta Berri, 6.
Garde-vous, 6.