About a year ago, I posted a rare example of Albanian dance music (closely related to Epirotic music from Greece) recorded in the United States by Albanian-Americans. Now it’s time for some music from the same period, this time recorded in Albania ca. 1929. If you are unfamiliar with this particular type of Albanian music, it could turn out to be one of the most powerful musical experiences you may have – it certainly was for me.
Many have written about how the landscape of Albania must have contributed to the preservation of such a varied and musically unique (sometimes even jarring) group of folk musics. The word “isolated” is often used to describe the country, largely because of the rugged mountain ranges that surround it (such as the Bjeshkët e Namuna, or “The Accursed Alps”). To this day, the majority of the Albania’s mostly Muslim population live in rural areas – quite the opposite of other European nations.
The music of Albania, however, is so spectacularly different than the rest of Europe (with the possible exception of Epirus in Greece, where there is considerable overlap), that it seems to an outsider to be born of a different age altogether. Rodney Gallop, reviewing several 1930 Albanian discs for the Gramophone Company, called the music “uncouth” overall, yet was completely captivated enough, at that early date, to write positively about a series of discs with pressing numbers as low as 200 copies!
A year before the Gramophone Company recorded in Tirana and Shkoder, the Columbia Graphophone Company made nearly 300 recordings in Shkoder in November 1929, and had already recorded numerous Albanian discs in Istanbul earlier that year. Some of these records – a total of 49 to be exact – were pressed in very small amounts in the United States, specifically for the Albanian immigrant population (in 1920, the Albanian-speaking population of the United States numbered a mere 6,000). They were “dubbed” from 10″ discs onto new 12″ masters, in an attempt to charge more money for them – a not-so-uncommon practice, unfortunately, as the sound quality lessens during this process, and it appears to be a crass attempt to gauge more money out of immigrant buyers, who might place more importance on these larger discs. This is one of those.
This is the music of the Tosks, in southern Albania, and this piece was performed by an ensemble that appears to have been from the city of Fier in the southwest of the country. The most obvious (or maybe captivating) element of the music of the Tosks is the drone-like polyphony of the male vocalists in the background, who augment the lead singer with extended, nasal accompaniment on syllables such as “ay” or “e.” Another standout element is the halting and seemingly erratic rhythm of the string intrument (possibly the çiftelia) and the everpresent Albanian-style qernëte (clarinet), which sometimes seems to push the very limits of the instrument. In terms of the group, I could find nothing about them. A reader has helpfully indicated that the “Z.” in the title likely means “Zoti,” or “Mister.” “Kjuj” may be a different transliteration of the name “Gjergj.” Further information is always welcome. At any rate, I hope this rates high.
Z. Kjuj Pora Fieri – Sgrehua Mahmudi
Issue Number: 72027-F
Matrix Number: 294346
It goes without saying that Paul Vernon and Benno Haupl’s Albanian Village Music CD on Heritage is essential listening.
7 thoughts on “Z. Kjuj Pora Fieri – Sgrehua Mahmudi”
Now that’s a way to come back after a blogging break! Amazing record. If this is uncouth, give me uncouth. Who wants couth, anyway?
Exactly! Thanks, gracenotes!!
all I can say is: … uh … um … whoah!
Love that little major chord at the end, out of complete nowhere! Never saw that comin’! Very cool!
Hello there, i am glad to find some old material from albania, I am a highschool teacher in Greece and some kids made a short essay on the comparison between music from Epirus and Southern Albania. And yes indeed, i can say that culture has always been borderless… i can also say this as an amateur musician who has listened and played lots of ”greek” folk music, ”Epirotika” included .
So here’s my contribution, for i know that Erich and Doris Stockmann have made a great work on this matter. Moreover, there are several greek researchers on ethnomusicology who also have made serious work, eg Lolis and Peristeris.
PS1: i think i have several folk music cd rips recorded one take at various villages and i believe (as i am not a collector) one can’t find them that easily. If you are interested let me know.
PS2: and a descent experience on rebetika, too.
Hello, thank you so much for the music! An Albanian friend of mine told me that “Z.” stands for “Zoti”, which means “Mister”. He has never seen the name “Kjuj” and thinks it may be some sort of typo. That’s my two cents and thank you again for the blog!
I heard about your work today on NPR interview with Ari Shapiro. Thank you.
I first heard this music as a kid in LA.
Ismail Shahinaj is on YouTube. He plays music like this. I think he is from Vlorra. Also Orkestra Bubes plays this music, also on YouTube.
Albanian music just blows me away. It is so beautiful and strange, and so familiar at the same time. It is a world treasure.