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35 f

music called kaba (deep), e qarë (weeping) or vajtimi (of mourning); one instrument creates great arcs of melody, while the other medi- ates below, sometimes intensifying and sometimes tempering the emotional highs and lows of the lead.

Qirjo explains that both emotional content and formal structure have deep roots in the culture. “Playing kaba is not so easy; it is very free but you have to say something. If you don’t then it is not true kaba. You see, when a member of your family dies, during the night before the funeral we have to watch the body and perform all the rites from our tradition, but afterwards we have to express some- thing of his life, something good, and express our grief. One person, usually a woman, will lament with words, but it is very very hard on them, and so there must be another person very close to her to help her, to support her, until the dawn comes. Likewise, in a kaba the main role of the clarinet is to support is the violin, and vice versa.”

This pervasive melancholy is the hallmark of the polyphonic

music of Toskëria, and its two main towns Korça and Përmet. They are 70 kilometres apart as the crow flies but more than twice the dis- tance by the winding mountain roads that link them via the border town of Leskovik. The latter was home of perhaps Albania’s first saze, that of clarinettist Asllan Leskoviku, who spent much time working in Istanbul before returning home to play throughout the Korça region in the teens and twenties of last century. According to Qirjo (who himself trained as an orchestral conductor), Korça is the home of the finest instrumentalists while Përmet has the finest singers. Korça, too, was one of the earliest centres of the late-19 Century Albanian renaissance, home to one of the first brass bands of the region, and a cultural melting-pot where more than one musi- cal style was developed.

It was and is also a major source of migrant labour for kurbet, with the US, Romania and Greece being major destinations. Qirjo spent 20 years working as a music teacher in Greek Kastoria, and has now moved to London. Donika Pecellari and Adriana Thanou, from Përmet, are singers who were forced abroad to seek work in Greece, Adriana only recently returning to singing, while Donika would attempt to return when possible to perform at festivals and other events.


he loss of musicians to kurbet has affected musical life back home, as has the growth of an indigenous folk- based pop industry (clarinettist and music teacher Telando Feto moonlights as a session musician to pro- vide some local colour to its hit-makers like local diva Eli Fara), but Goertler has noticed a resurgence of interest in the saze by the young hipsters of Tirana, who organise shows by southern groups in their clubs and festivals. It still may be that it will survive because of its emotional value to the diaspora, who can cling to it nostalgically in their new homes while gathering round to hear and sing it on their return to their old ones.

The common experience of kurbet remains a defining factor of Albanian life, and a reminder that departure and the journey are the common experience of all humanity. The experience of kurbet may not always be negative: Qirjo’s view is that “Kurbet is experience, new and good, you can learn something different, something new”. And without multiple experiences of kurbet the group would not have come together to introduce their music to a foreign audience. Yet the grief of separation and loss that lurks behind even the most light-hearted of love songs from the saze tradition remind us of the need to understand what impels people to leave home and family in order to provide for them.

In the words of Aurel Qirjo, a violinist trained in the tradition of

Western art music and skilled in his own folk culture, born in a coun- try with three religions and multiple languages, which has been a colony of one empire and the planned prey of another, has under- gone occupation, dictatorship, and social collapse just short of war, who has been a teacher in Greece, a plumber in London, and a musi- cian everywhere, “We have to respect each other, otherwise it's impossible to live.”

Saz’iso’s album At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me (Glitter- beat) was reviewed last month and a track is on this issue’s fRoots 66 compilation. F

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